After dropping two EPs, SoulEater and MoonEater, in August Orlando’s Magnolia Park are getting ready to release their new album Halloween Mixtape II later this month. On the self-described “spiritual counterpart” to the first Halloween Mixtape (which was released in 2021) the band showcases how much they’ve grown over the course of 17 tracks. They incorporate elements of phonk, pop-punk, hip-hop, nu-metal, and emo as they explore anxiety, heartbreak, the political state of the US, and much more along with offering four special tips for the Halloween season. Halloween Mixtape II will be out on October 27 via Epitaph Records and Magnolia Park will be touring the US starting later this week.
Punknews editor Em Moore caught up with guitarist Freddie Criales over Zoom to talk about the new album, building the Magnolia Park fictional universe, Halloween, and so much more. Read the interview below!
You’ll be releasing your new album Halloween Mixtape II on October 27 and you’ve described it as the “spiritual counterpart” to 2021’s Halloween Mixtape. How do you feel you’ve grown as a band since the release of the first Halloween Mixtape?
Since releasing the first mixtape we’ve grown a lot, mostly in the songwriting aspect. I feel like our songs are a lot stronger, a lot catchier, and more well put together. The production has improved as far as the sounds we choose and how we go about using them. On Halloween Mixtape we were still figuring out how to write a song like, “What’s too much? What’s not enough?” and maybe we were focusing on a part of a song that’s not as important as another part. Whereas on this one, things came out way tighter.
What drew you to the Halloween aesthetic initially?
The idea of adding in Halloween was really Tristan’s idea. In the early days it was mostly just me, Josh, and Tristan, but me and Tristan did a lot of talking about how to market this band like, “What’s the overall vision?” He came to me with the idea of Halloween Mixtape because everyone in the band really loves Halloween and our fans and our supporters are also big Halloween fans. The scene just overall has an obsession with Halloween and everyone’s really into it so that’s why we went with Halloween. You take the stuff that you like, you take the stuff that other people like, and you put it together. It’s very organic. We just knew people like Halloween and we like Halloween. It wasn’t like we were looking for, “What do people like? Oh people like this, let’s just sell this”. It was natural.
That ties in with the cover of the album too. There’s a Jack-o'-lantern face and there’s a Japanese character on its forehead. What does the character translate as?
I think it means ‘baku’. We have a character named Baku and he has a little kanji on his head. I think that’s what it means, I think that’s where it came from. Tristan and Jess created that character and added the kanji and ever since then we’ve put it on our albums. We also like anime and we’re inspired by Japanese art and culture, so we incorporate a little bit of that as well.
Along with Baku, the album also has appearances from your other characters Soul Eater, Dream Eater, Moon Eater, Heart Eater, Pumpkin Eater, and The Reaper. What inspired your characters?
As far as the world building and everything, Tristan does come up with a lot of that. The whole band, I think everybody likes the Gorillaz, but he really loves the Gorillaz and he wanted to create a world in the same sense that they have. It’s all one big build up to our hopes of creating an anime or some kind of Netflix series where all of these things are going to make sense. People are figuring it out now. They’re seeing it like, “Ok this is a character that’s a part of something”. Baku does have his own story and everybody is going to play a role in this world that we’re building.
Would your anime focus on the characters and the band or just the characters?
The characters. That’s still a little early. We want to do a Netflix series at least but - it’s a lot of money and you need connections - if for some reason that didn’t work out then we would probably do something where it’s a music video but it’s also a whole art piece kinda thing. That could be another alternative.
Do you have a favourite character?
I really like the way Baku looks. He’s inspired by punk aesthetics. He has a punk vibe. That’s what I grew up listening to.
How would you describe your songwriting process?
It’s very complicated. The songwriting process is a little chaotic but essentially to break it down into simple terms, the main songwriters are me, Tristan, and Vince. We write a lot of demos like I’ll write a demo, Tristan will write a demo, and Vince will write a demo. Me and Tristan meet twice a week to write our music. I’ll have a demo and then I’ll go to him like, “Look, I wrote this thing” and if we both like it then we’ll both work on it together. Or he’ll write something and we’ll riff on it both together or we’ll create something new from scratch. Same with Vince. Vince is in Germany so when Vince comes over we’ll meet up and all three of us will write. That’s one way.
The other way is we go to the studio and we work with Andrew Wade and Andy Karpovck at the Audio Compound. It’s almost the same thing, they might have a chorus or an idea and then we’ll come up with something with them from their ideas. Or they look at our demos and they’ll pick their favourite ones and break those down.
The other way is writing on the spot. We go to LA occasionally to work with different producers. A lot of the time they don’t want to work on a pretty much done demo. They like doing things from start to finish. We’ll show up and they’ll go, “I have this idea” or they’ll sit down and be like, “Ok, what do we want to talk about?” That’ll be a whole new song from scratch. We worked with Matt Malpass and he’s pretty receptive to ideas. We’ll have a whole demo and he’ll want to work on it to make sure it’s the best it can be. That’s how we did “Feel Something”. We went to Matt’s place and he had this demo. He was like, “I’ve got these five songs” and we were listening to them and then we had this one track we liked which became “Feel Something”. We rearranged it and added extra production from me, Tristan, and Vince and that’s how that song happened. Collaborative is the best word to describe it.
This album features guest spots from 9 different artists including Ethan Ross, nothing, nowhere, and Kailee Morgue. How did you decide who to work with?
That stuff is also kind of organic. It’s organic but it’s also calculated. We make a list of people we think would be cool for a feature and we send that to Epitaph and our management to see if they can work something out. With nothing, nowhere for example, we just came to them and were like, “Hey, we would like a feature. Maybe nothing, nowhere could do it?” and they reached out to him. Tristan went to see him in Tampa and he talked to him like, “Hey! Did you hear about that feature we were talking about?” and he was like, “Oh yeah! I’m going to do it. ‘Breathing’ is sick!” That one was cool.
The other way, the more organic way. Ethan Ross is a friend of Vince. Vince is a producer and produces for other artists. Ethan is someone he produced for a couple of years ago. They’ve always been in touch and Ethan started growing to a pretty decent sized artist. We were doing phonk rock on “Do or Die” and Ethan does phonk so we were like, “Ok, let’s get Ethan”. Same for PLVTINUM, PLVTINUM was somebody Vince had produced with previously. He’s also a decent sized artist. He had a blow up with a song called “Champagne and Sunshine”t. It was on TikTok. Vince was like, I could ask PLVTINUM if he wants to feature and we were like, “Yeah! He’s sick”.
Honey Revenge is from the scene so we got them for “Unholy Heart”. On “Haunted House” we have Lost Trees. Jonny, our TM, plays in a band called Lost Trees so we were like, “Yo, get on a song!”. The whole mixtape vibe and the whole idea is to have all our friends in one place.
Everyone lifting each other up.
That’s our overall goal, like a rising tide lifts all boats. We want to bring everybody up with us. We don’t want to be like, “Look at us all the way up here”. Some people are strange about that. We’ve gotten a lot of help so it seems fair.
Do you have a dream collab?
I don’t have one but I think just speaking for the band, probably Bring Me The Horizon. That feature would be amazing. Or a Corpse feature, that’d be pretty sick.
Throughout the album there are four spoken “Halloween Tips”. How did these come about?
That one’s really cool. So the idea me and Tristan had way back with the first Halloween Mixtape was that we wanted to put in these little skits in and create a bit of a story. We wrote up the script and we did everything. We hired someone on Fiverr and the voice acting was really bad. [laughs] We didn’t have a whole lot of time and we didn’t have a whole lot of money. I think we paid for that out of pocket. It was really bad so we were like, “We’re going to scrap it. We’re not going to do it for this mixtape because we can’t do it right”.
This time around me and Tristan were talking like, “I want to do the skits again”. I have this program called ElevenLabs which is like an AI voice module. So we could do it this time because we wouldn’t have to get an actor. I could just create the voice. I went on Splice which is a royalty free sample-based website and they have these video game effects. It’s mostly for music but if you want to make a video or something they have a lot of bleeps and bloops. They have a lot of voices too so I got a couple creepy voices off of Splice and I put it in there so I could use the voice. Then I wrote the script out with Tristan and did some trial and error. With ElevenLabs, you can make it say anything as many times as you want and it’s always going to be different with different inflections. If we didn’t like the way it said the word “haunted house”, I’d just keep hitting it over and over again until we found one that said, “haunted house” the way we liked or the best that it could. Then I spliced it together in Ableton. I would send it to Tristan and he would put a bit of music behind it and that’s how we did them. They came out pretty well, pretty solid. It just took a little bit of extra processing from our end. The things you can do with AI at this point are crazy.
I thought it was somebody talking and vocal effects were added.
That’s something you can do on Uberduck. You can say something and put it through a Drake module so it sounds like him rapping. That’s how people do those covers, some of them. You can get kinda stupid with it. We just used it as a tool. If we had money money, we could have gotten someone to do the voice but we don’t. [laughs] Maybe next time. We’ll be bigger and better. H3, maybe that one will have the anime.
“Halloween Tip 4” and “Fell in Love on Halloween” both reference the Rocky Horror Picture Show. What impact has this movie had on you?
On me, none. Tristan’s girlfriend Jess really loves Rocky Horror and there was a missing line in the chorus so Tristan put that line in there and it filled out the whole chorus.
That song has a Nightmare Before Christmas vibe to it too.
Yes! That song was really cool. Tristan has a bunch of words on his phone and we call them “power words” because they’re good words to use for songs. He was like, “I can’t come up with anything for these words” so he gave me all the words and the very last one was “Fell in Love on Halloween”. That was the first one I tried to write a song to but I couldn’t figure it out. I wrote all of those songs in the span of two weeks. I write really fast when I know what my aim is. When I have something, I pretty much just do it. I couldn’t figure out that song and one day I figured it out and I had the verse, the pre-chorus, the rough idea. Me and Tristan work on everything together so I wrote it on my phone and recorded it as a voice memo and I went to him like, “Dude, I got the ‘Fell in Love on Halloween’ idea finally!” It took me three months probably to figure out the right words because I tried and tried and it never hit. He heard it and was like, “This is really good”.
Everything there is intentional. The Jack and Sally, the Nightmare Before Christmas, the Rocky Horror, all that was intentional. We wanted to have the best Halloween song we could have. Neck Deep has “December” and so we have “Fell in Love on Halloween”, our heartbreak song. I love that song, that song means a lot to me.
You can feel the care that went into it.
[laughs] You can hear the multiple efforts.
On “Breathing” you talk about dealing with extreme anxiety. What helps you when you’re feeling anxious?
Usually I do a couple things. I do a lot of grounding. It’s really weird talking about what works because everybody’s different. The idea of grounding is looking for five things that you can see, four colours, or whatever so if I told someone that, it would just freak them out or send them spirling even more. I do that and that helps me. If I have anxiety I try mindfulness, it’s an easier way of meditating. I do that and that’s what helps me the most aside from making music. I think music is a source of a lot of my anxiety sometimes. [laughs] Just figuring out what’s good and what’s not and dealing with all of the self-doubt and things that go into it. I try to have a really high standard of what I do and that’s very destructive on the mind but it’s what I like to do. I wanna be the best, we wanna be the best. We want to be as big as Bring Me so it has to come at a cost of something.
You have to take care of yourself too.
Yeah! That’s why I do the other stuff. Music is still my release but the other things help. I like skateboarding too and getting outside to get some air. Catch a vibe. [laughs] Go outside, touch some grass. If you stay holed up in your room all day you start going kinda crazy. Are you from Canada?
I can kinda hear it. Canada’s cool! We’ve been to Canada three times I think. We’ve been to Toronto. It’s cool! Very nice.
Do you have a favourite Canadian thing?
No, I don’t think I’ve been there enough. I had crepes there one time that were pretty good. It wasn’t a lot of money either. It was street crepes, essentially. [laughs] I was like, “It’s pretty fancy for just being on the street but it’s healthy”. Can’t go wrong.
Playing them and having a good time. We just created a bit of a set so I’m excited to use that. We’re also playing some new songs and we’re creating a stage set so there’s going to be a lot of new things for the West Coast. I wish we could have done them for the East Coast but you gotta build and improve as you go. I think this one is going to be pretty sick. On our very first tour, we had a pretty cool prop. Tristan’s uncle made this thing out of wood for us and so it was painted black and Joe cut out this pumpkin. While we were playing it was set up to the lights so lights would show off the pumpkin. It was pretty hard to maintain because that was also our first tour. That was with Lil Lotus and we were playing these smaller venues. You had to break it down and then you had to put it together with a drill. It was a little heavy and then you’re in a little cramped area trying to put this together that’s pretty wide while everyone’s walking past you.
But this one’s going to be pretty doable. It’s going to be pretty sick! We’ve got these inflatable pumpkins that we’re going to put on each side of the stage. They’re going to be four feet tall. That’s probably going to be the funnest one. We’re also bringing a skeleton that we’re going to dress as Baku and put it by the merch table so people can take pictures with it. We got the idea from Mayday Parade when we toured with them because they had a mannequin dressed like their character, this guy in a dress suit called Umbrella Man, and people could take pictures with it. We were like, “That’s a really cool idea!” It plays into the whole experience because that’s what concerts are. People don’t really want to just see you play, they want to have a good time.
Which new song are you most excited to play live?
Probably “Unholy Heart”. Our set’s not finalized yet so I think we’re going to do “Unholy Heart” but we might not. We’ll have to see. For now, it’s in there but it might be taken out. There’s five of us so it has to go through five different people.
When you go on tour you post a video on social media asking your fans to help you create your setlist. How many songs on the setlist are fan-chosen and how many are chosen by the band?
I would say most of them are fan-chosen. The way we account for our set is we go on Spotify For Artists because it tells you what you’re most popular songs are at the moment and then it tells you what your top five of all time are. We take more into account than Spotify, but Spotify For Artists is the easiest one to access. We take that data like, “Oh people must want to hear these songs live!” “Liars” and “10 For 10” are both in the all time top five so we obviously have to play “Liar” and “10 For 10” because those are songs people really like. This always translates to the apps because I always see in the comments, “I want to see ‘Liar’! I really want to see ‘10 For 10’! I really wanna see ‘Do Or Die’!” It’s a good thing that what they’re saying on Instagram and TikTok is translating to what the data’s showing because otherwise it would be harder. If we were to play deep cuts, I don’t know. It’s always risky to play a deep cut because we’re also getting a lot of new people at shows. We’re still new and we’re so active on social media that I always see new people following us based on the more popular songs so if you don’t play them then the new people are going to get turned off. You need to find the balance.
How would you describe the scene in Orlando?
I feel like it’s almost better than it’s been in a couple years. It feels like there’s always someone new and people just really want to go to shows here. I remember before when I was playing in a band - they’re still a band and they’re actually blowing up now - called I Met A Yeti, it was about 2014 and there wasn’t a lot of bands around. For a moment of time, we were playing with a bunch of old people and it felt like they did it for a hobby. That also might have been our own inexperience of looking for shows but now it seems like mid-level and high-level bands want to come to Orlando and I see more new bands coming out. I see that more newer bands who are getting bigger and growing are from Orlando like Meet Me @ The Altar. They came from Orlando around the same time that we did. Our friends 408 they’re having their moment. Yeti’s having their moment. Our other friend Scott’s three-peice is kinda having their little bit of a moment. Seems like everybody’s really liking the stuff coming out of Orlando so that’s good. There’s a lot of interest in being in a band here at the moment which is good because like I said before, it was like we’d be playing in these bands with these older dudes and it was like, “No one’s here. No one wants to see this”. There’s everything, whatever you want in Orlando. If you want to see hardcore or metalcore, Orlando’s great. That seems to be a constant thing. As far as metal and heavy music goes, I know Florida has a history specifically Tampa. There are so many pop-punk bands from here like A Day to Remember and New Found Glory and post-hardcore like Sleeping With Sirens, Tides of Man, and Once Upon A Time. The Florida/Orlando area has always been a hotbed of music. It’s not like LA or Nashville but it’s still a pretty good spot.
A healthy, thriving, growing scene.
And it’ll probably continue to be that way.
Do you have any plans for Halloween this year?
No. I think we’re going to be on tour. Last time we were on tour too. I’m not the biggest Halloween guy, it’s everybody else. I think it’s cool, I’m just not into stuff that scares me and that seems to be a part of it. [laughs] Last time we were driving back home on Halloween. We were playing Creepypastas and stupid scary YouTube stories. We’ll probably do that again. It’s probably going to be November 1 by the time we get back into Orlando. I usually get home around midnight. I’m not the last one with the van but I help drop off Joe and help him drop off all his drums and we drop off Jonny and help him unload all of his stuff.
Is there anything that you’d like to add?
We have a Discord that we do a lot of really cool stuff with. We’ve only done one so far but we occasionally do give-aways. We do a lot of what I call “exclusives” like we’ll show a music video early to everyone on the Discord or we might tease a song way early for everyone in the Discord. Everyone in there is really cool and really nice. It feels very community based.
My friend Scott’s band, Grieve, and I Met A Yeti are really good bands from Florida so if you want to continue to support Florida music, those are some good bands. We’re going on tour so come check us out if you’re on the West Coast! Buy those tickets! For our last VIP, we just had people singing our songs. [laughs] It was random because one person did a cover of “Kids Like Us”. I don’t remember if he asked or if we asked if he would like to but he played it then someone else was like, “I want to sing a song!” We were like, “What song do you want to sing?” So we played and they sang. We played some extra songs. We usually only do three but we did five. We do pictures and people get posts and laminates. It’s all on Instagram. It’s a good time.
A campfire vibe.
At least for that one. It was unexpected. We’ll do it again if anyone wants to! We hang out too. We don’t just play and leave. I just stand there and if anyone wants to talk to us, we’re right there. We’ll hang out until doors upon if it’s not too crazy.
The only reason we’re here is because people want to support us. If no one liked it, it would have never blown up on TikTok, it would have never have gotten us signed. I would be out working at Walgreens. I think people lose sight of that sometimes when they’ve been in a band for a little bit. We’re very grateful. It can all go away. It can all end right here and I’ll be right back at Walgreens! [laughs] One day maybe no one is going to want to support you. You never know. We try really hard to have good quality. It feels like if you like Magnolia Park, you love Magnolia Park which is what we want. That also means that if you don’t like Magnolia Park, you probably hate Magnolia Park. [laughs] But that’s what you want! You don’t want everyone to be in the middle because the middle is the grey area where no one truly fucks with you and no one truly hates you, you just kinda exist. That’s kinda like Blink-182, I think I heard somebody say that about them. You either love them or you hate them and that’s why they’re so big because that many people love it. Not many people are in the middle. We’re very appreciative of everyone who supports us.