Between the Night Vale World Tour and the novel version of Welcome to Night Vale, fans of phantasmagorically delicious podcast had a pretty great 2015. Now that 2016 is here, what should fans of Night Vale be getting excited about? Well, if you love horror, H.P. Lovecraft, and the genre-spanning writing of Victor LaValle, then maybe you want to listen to Kevin R. Free—“Kevin” on Welcome to Night Vale—narrate LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom!
We sat down with Kevin to get his thoughts on Welcome to Night Vale, voicing sci-fi/horror books, and what it’s like to be famous online.
Ryan Britt: You’re the voice of “Kevin” on Welcome to Night Vale, specifically Night Vale’s “rival” Desert Bluffs! Briefly (if possible): how has that changed your life?
Kevin R. Free: My Twitter and Tumblr following increased exponentially in 2013 when the Buzzfeed article came out about Welcome To Night Vale. I had no idea what was happening. But I am constantly doing something, so I had always hoped it would happen for SOMETHING. My favorite WTNV fame story is about the day I first appeared onstage with Cecil (and everyone) at a live show in Brooklyn in 2013. I had heard already that someone posted on Tumblr about my smile and my face and how they were incongruous with the creepy voice of evil. But I wasn’t prepared to hear all the whispering and chattering before I opened my mouth to speak that night in Brooklyn. My heart fluttered. I could tell they were all wondering if it was actually me. And then, when (I stepped out of the vortex) I said, “Hello!” The crowd went wild! My stomach did back flips. I wanted to scream, “THIS IS WHAT I’VE ALWAYS WANTED. EXCEPT PLEASE GIVE ME MORE.” So—my life is pretty much the same—only better.
Britt: Cecil Baldwin has told me that being “internet famous” can be tricky: what’s your take?
Free: I have always believed that I am famous; I have been waiting since I was 15 years old for the rest of the world to realize it. Seriously. I’m that guy. And because I am working on a bunch of different projects regularly, resulting in varying degrees of fame (ranging from very to not at all), I recognize that being famous in one arena is so not the same as being famous in others. So—I can be semi-famous on the interwebs, but it won’t get me anywhere in the American Theatre, unless someone in charge knows who I am from my internet fame. So when I can’t get an audition for a play or a film or a TV show because I’m not famous enough, all I can do is stand with my hands on my hips and scream to the skies, “BUT I’M FAMOUS!” And then I get back to work on making that true enough just to get me the next audition. [That said, I’ve had some issues with the WTNV fandom, but I’ve always been able to work them out with a well-placed word about etiquette and expectations.]
Britt: Talk to me about how your approached the narration for The Ballad of Black Tom?
Free: The first thing I do with all of my books is figure out who is telling the story. Who is narrating this book? Is he sardonic? What does his voice sound like? Is he witty? Is he non-partial? I decided that the narrator of The Ballad of Black Tom is definitely a man who is well-acquainted with the time period depicted in the story. That he knows why Tommy Tester would make the choices he makes and hasn’t judged Tommy Tester to be anything but a man of his time, who wants to get out of his time.
Britt: Were you familiar with Victor LaValle before?
Free: I placed Victor LaValle’s name on a list with one of the audiobook publishers for whom I’ve worked a lot, because I wanted them to see if they could get me some of his work. Me likey literary horror.
Britt: What about H.P. Lovecraft?
Free: I know H.P. Lovecraft, but I have never read much of his work. I once worked on a project (and failed miserably) where I was supposed to write something based on one of his ideas.
Britt: You also narrated another Tor.com novella, The Sorcerer of Wildeeps. How did that come about?
Free: I received an email last June 2015 from someone at MacMillan Audio who had received my name from someone else. I imagine they also listened to clips of me online. I went in to audition, so they could send my voice to the author (Kai Ashante Wilson) to get his approval. Then I recorded it over a couple of very hot days in July.
Britt: There’s some kind of narrative thread between Night Vale, Wildeeps, and The Ballad of Black Tom? Some kind of under-the-surface fantasy-horror? How would you describe it? Am I crazy?
Free: I don’t think it’s under-the-surface at all! That’s the thread: writers (geniuses!) who are either creating new worlds that are either as scary or more scary than the real world; or, as in the case of The Ballad of Black Tom, using the horrors of the real world as a backdrop to an even scarier supernatural world. It’s exhilarating! It is my new favorite genre (though I love all the other audiobooks I record these days). Also, you might be crazy, but I don’t know you well enough to verify it.
Britt: How did you come to voice-over work?
Free: Auditions. My manager sent me to my first audiobook audition in 2000. I finally got my first book in 2001. I had no idea I could do this when I moved to NYC in 1995. I came here to be a musical comedy star (and, of course, sitcoms).
Britt: What kind or assignments do you prefer?
Free: I mostly just like good ones. Honestly, if I read a book and I can tell the author is passionate about the subject or story, I have a great time recording it. I have done some books that some people would call not good, but I have LOVED recording them. Also, I am the narrator on some amazing gay romance and mystery series. I really love doing those, because I get to know the characters in new ways every time I record, and I feel so invested in those stories and authors.
Britt: Have you always loved science fiction, fantasy, horror? Are there some sci-fi/fantasy voices you loved in the past?
Free: I LOVE HORROR. I love horror movies and action movies and other things that help me to escape into scary spaces. I enjoy Terence Taylor’s work a lot, and I really love Mat Johnson, too.
Britt: What’s next?
Free: I am writing and planning Season 2 of my webseries Gemma & The Bear at the moment. And, you know, the usual: GET FAMOUS.