People Who Podcast: ‘Tanis’ Creator Terry Miles Obsessed With Black Tapes, Rabbits

This is People Who Podcast, where we talk to the people behind some of the most fun and interesting podcasts available today. Why do they make their shows? What do they love about them? And is podcasting actually a viable career option to today’s recent batch of graduates?

TANIS, a podcast on the fictional Public Radio Alliance. Photo via PRA

If you’ve spent any time listening to fiction podcasts, then you’ve probably heard of Tanis and its sister show The Black Tapes. They tell stories that are deeply obsessed with mysteries and weave true or rumored strange tales or legends into a compelling narrative. They both feature lots of interviews with oddly sympathetic characters, and soon in the course of investigating these mysteries, larger forces begin to embroil them.

Take a listen and you’ll be enveloped by radio static, eerie music and a narrator that’s eager to plunge into a deeply complex world and leave no stone unturned on the journey.

And that narrator in the show Tanis is also the writer and producer Terry Miles who plays an investigative journalist named Nic Silver. Nic is aided by a character that goes by her internet handle, Meerkatnip, or MK. She digs up information for him on the deep Web in exchange for bitcoin and provides a great sounding board as he tries to discover just what exactly is the myth of Tanis. Is it a mysterious force? Is it a place? Whatever it is, it’s a playground for sci-fi, fantasy and mystery nerds to geek out on, providing unlimited speculation.

Terry goes to great lengths to make the show seem real and plausible by tying in the various mysterious historical oddities with tons of supporting notes and interviews and photographs on the website. He also lets fans call in with their theories about what’s really going on. Many of them express concern for Nic, advising him on what characters on the show he should be careful around and urging caution on some of his more dangerous jaunts.

In the Black Tapes, Nic assists another investigative journalist with her work in exploring the paranormal. The host of that show, Alex Reagan, investigates ghost stories that could not be disproved and are appropriately called The Black Tapes.

The production styles on both shows, and the new one called Rabbits, are of a whole cloth to each other with each episode featuring the host expounding on the mysteries and catching the audience up on what they know and what they hope to find out. Additionally, they all have fantastically inventive intros and a haunting backbeat of music throughout.

The mystery on Rabbits is even harder to describe than the other shows since we have no idea what it is so far. Carly Parker, the host of the show, is investigating the disappearance of her friend who was thought to have been playing a game with people across the world. The game has no known official name and has supposedly been played off and on for many years. In this way, Rabbits is closely tied in to Tanis, as they are both primarily concerned with old mysteries whose origins have been lost in our digital world.

I got Terry on the phone to talk about making these shows. I was a little lost when I started asking him questions about some of the creative aspects of the show because he treated it as real and said that Nic was a real person. Afterward, I realized that keeping the mystery alive was a key to making the hugely interconnected worlds work. If you Google Tanis or The Black Tapes, the suggested search will bring up the phrase “is it real?” Some percentage of the fans so enjoy the experience of gaining some of the wonder of the world back that they dive headlong into it, and Terry surely doesn’t want to let them down.

The closest he’s come to giving it away on the shows is on Episode 2 of Rabbits where the host confuses Terry’s and Nic’s voices and remarks that they sound exactly the same. In a more than subtle wink to the audience, Terry responds that they get that a lot.

I hope that he keeps this up. The world could use some more mystery, so as Nic says on the sign-off of every episode of Tanis, keep looking.

RABBITS, a new podcast from PRA. Via PRA

Observer: You have a lot of episodes of Black Tapes and Tanis. There are a lot of hours of listening here. How long does it take to make an episode?

Terry Miles: It takes at least a week to write the narrative. The physical production and the interviews are dependent on the situation, but that’s generally something that can be done within a one week period. It’s certainly not all seven days.

And do you have a studio that people come into for the other parts?

We do it where it’s meant to be. If it’s a living room, we do it in a living room. The narration is recorded in studio and some interviews are recorded in studio at the desk. The post-production is what takes the longest. That’s a good solid two weeks of twiddling the knobs, and playing with the music, and some composing too.

How many other people work on the shows besides you, and who is Ashley Park?

Ashley Park is my band from a previous life. There’s a small production team. Everyone’s really good at their job, so we like to keep it small.

Is Ashley Park the band that composed the music for the show?

Yeah. The first song for Black Tapes and Tanis are Ashley Park songs, and then I do the music. Ashley Park was just kind of the name of a revolving cast of bandmates back in the early 2000’s. But it’s just me with a keyboard these days, and I love it. I love making music for the shows.

Before everything started did you have a team in place? I can’t remember which show started first.

Black Tapes was first. I executive produced it with my partner Paul Bae. We do that under Pacific Northwest Stories, and Tanis is just me and Nic on the executive producing side. It’s separate from the work I do with Paul and the Pacific Northwest Stories, so we put it under that banner because Nic is in the same world as Alex. It’s the same group, but nowadays we have two sister networks. We have Pacific Northwest Stories, and that’s just me and Paul. The Black Tapes is Pacific Northwest Stories; TANIS and RABBITS are Public Radio Alliance, which is just a branch off with me and Nic, and Tanis sort of straddles both worlds. Rabbits is our new show and was No. 1 on iTunes for a short while, which is very exciting.

Are there characters from Black Tapes or Tanis on Rabbits?

Nic gets interviewed by the host of the show Carly Parker in one of the early episodes.

Okay so the characters from Rabbits are familiar with Black Tapes and Tanis, so how does Nic fit in?

He did a special episode of Tanis for our Patreon supporters about the mythic video game called Polybius. It’s referenced in Rabbits when Carly talks to Nic about it. All of us are into the same kind of arcane weird games and mythology. We got it bad over here.

Every storyline, every touchpoint in the shows, is from something real. You’re not making up anything. You’re just taking something existing and using it right?

It’s real life. There’s wonder and magic in real life.

Well how hard is it do dig up some of this stuff? That Devil’s Bible thing just floored me.

It’s just an obsession of ours. That one’s not really that arcane for us. Paul and I are like, “Oh, yes, Devil’s Bible, of course, the Codex Gigas, yes.”

Do you do all the research for the shows yourself?

For Black Tapes, Paul and I do the research. For Tanis and Rabbits, it’s me and Nic and Carly.

You’re saying you and Nic, like Nic on the show though, right?

Yeah, my cousin Nic who sounds like me on occasion.

So how did the show come begin?

I was a filmmaker before, and I had a few features at the Toronto Film Festival. I actually did a podcast in 2006, but it was like a how-to independent film video podcast, and I just let that go. I was like, “Well, podcastings probably not gonna catch on.”

Yeah, that’s what I thought in 2006 too.

It was a lot of work to do a video podcast, and I was making little movies, so I quit that. Now, I had this idea for looking into the myth of Tanis for a long time, so in 2014 I talked to my friend Paul and told him we had to make a podcast. We started doing the research into The Black Tapes, and we thought for sure that someone else would do something like this. However, nobody did for a long time. Limetown came out about six months after, and The Message about nine months after that.

We love all that stuff, and we love digging into this world and exploring that sort of tone and that sort of paranormal. Is it real? Are there such things as ghosts? That wasn’t enough for me, so I had to go recruit my cousin Nic, and go digging into the myth of Tanis.

Podcaster writer/director/producer/musician TERRY MILES. Photo by Cate Cameron

I like the concept that something has been lost in the switchover to digital. We’ve lost a whole world, and we may never get it back.

There really is isn’t there. It just feels that way sometimes. Sometimes it remains full of wonder like when we discover new planets.

Seven of those recently right? Do you think that might fit into an episode of the show?

Well, you never know. We’ll see where the research takes us.

It seems like on Reddit the show has almost taken on a life of its own. Do you ever get involved in the Reddit forums talking to people?

No. Reddit is impossible. I really like the people who are excited and are deeply digging into what could be going on. Reddit is where I would be if I was listening to Tanis and Black Tapes and Rabbits. I find that Reddit has just so much to wade through to get to those people. We have a 100 percent no Reddit policy. For our Patreon supporters we created a group where you can be free to speak more positively about the show. There’s a lot of rage on Reddit.

With all the work it takes to make one episode, why do you do so much more work with all the extra twitter accounts and notes and pictures and everything on the website?

I would want that if I was a fan. I wish we could do more. I do the notes sections on Tanis and now Rabbits. I try to make them as full as possible, but it always feels like we’re chasing the mix of the next episode. Like the night before we’re still mixing and quality checking. I’ve heard these episodes so many times by the time we air them. I don’t even know what’s going on half the time just because I’m listening for mistakes. It’s very draining when listening like that, but hopefully my pained listening results in a more effortless listening experience for the audience.

You have these great commercial spots that incorporate the shows storylines into the product message. My favorite is the one that’s like, “When you’re alone in the Pacific Northwest being pursued by mysterious cult members, you’re gonna need these socks.”

We rely on the sponsors, even though they don’t cover the full cost. It’s tough when you’re diving deep into some ancient scary myth, and you have to break to sell mattresses, but it’s necessary.

Was there a conscious decision to try and reach a larger audience with the podcast?

It’s all just what we want to make; there’s no sort of consideration for anything else. It’s exactly what we would want to listen to. We’re huge podcast nerds. I listen to so many podcasts, but the audience is like wow. It’s approaching 35 million downloads right now, and it’s only been a year and half, and Rabbits just came out, and it’s exciting times over here. We love having such an engaged audience. It makes it so much easier to do those two weeks of mixing and editing knowing that when you press send, it’s going out to people who care.

Do people send you a lot of stuff?

We were getting sent Craigslist ads about Tanis weekly for a long time. People were posting them all over the world. I have a file that’s just filled with Craigslist Tanis ads. We also get tons of fan art and fan audio. There are a lot of fans who want to create their own narrative about being lost in the woods, so I don’t generally include those in the bonus episodes of the podcast.

Do you think you would ever take the show live or do a re-enactment somewhere?

We did a live Tanis at the Now Hear This Podcast festival in L.A. last year. It was so much fun. I think it’s under a bonus episode. They were having some audio issues, and a fan recorded the episode on his iPhone, and we were able to use that audio.

Have you ever tried to go on the deep Web yourself? That’s where MK gets all of her information from right?

I’ve downloaded a Tor browser before. It’s very creepy down there. It’s not for me. It feels like at any moment helicopters are gonna fly overhead and people are gonna swarm in.

 What is something you would want the audience to know that they don’t necessarily know about Tanis and your new show?

The trick to these things is delivering the narrative as it happens. I can’t think of anything that they don’t know, which is kind of the trick of it I guess.

How long do you think you’ll go with the shows?

We can only go as long as the story is there to follow.

Was this something you always dreamed of doing when you were making films?

There’s been a kind of audio nerd in me all along. I had 30 speakers in my bedroom when I was a kid. On a couple of my albums there are only a few tracks, and there’s kind of a connective tissue between my work, and songs like The Beatles’ Abbey Road, except not as good clearly. I’ve always been obsessed with a nonstop kaleidoscope of sound if you will. On my first albums there’s people talking and sounds of radios, and all of the stuff that is in Tanis and Rabbits and to a lesser degree Black Tapes.

You have so many narrative threads. How do you keep them all together? Do you have like a pin board on the wall?  

There’s some serious murder wall action at the Public Radio Alliance. There’s string and bulletin boards and whiteboards and bits of yellowed paper and photographs. It’s insane.

But no pictures?

No one’s allowed to take pictures of the war room. You have to put your cell phones in a microwave when you walk in [laughs].

All that murder in the Pacific Northwest. I hadn’t heard of that. Is it true that a huge percentage of serial killings take place in a small radius out there?

There’s a lot. I don’t know if you’ve spent time up here, but there’s a dark emerald green mist that hangs over everything and it’s always there. I love it. It’s not negative. There’s something about the air that feels like the TV show The Killing all the time.