March 11, 2016 Interview – Anti-Conjuror Dan Sperry
Magic is one of the oldest forms of entertainment known to humanity. While entertainment has changed over the centuries through advancements in technology and lifestyle, there have been illusionists which have kept the art-form alive. One in modern times is the highly talented American Anti-Conjuror Dan Sperry, who has built a name for himself as one of magic’s leaders over the last decade. Growing a passion for magic while still a young boy, Sperry has gone on to a professional career that has seen his act broadcast on television, residency shows in Las Vegas as well as New York City, and most recently tour around the world. Take a closer look into Sperry’s twisted world of mind-tricks inside a discussion with him about his love for illusions, the key for him to keep things fresh, playing off the audience, and more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been a practicing Illusionist for some time now, and you have really built a really strong name for yourself over the past decade or so. Looking back in hindsight, could you have ever imagined you would have achieved this?
Dan Sperry – No, not at all. I am not trying to say I never had goals, but my goals were never this high. I totally would have never thought that I would have the opportunity for exposure. Earlier on, I was a full-time kid’s party type magician; I would do birthday parties and stuff. As long as I could do that consistently and just make a living with magic, and survive with that, I was totally happy; and anything else was a bonus. There’s been a lot of icing on the cake, career-type happenings that I’ve really kind of gone down the past few years. I never thought at all.
CrypticRock.com – Sometimes those surprises are the best ones. When you do not really expect something to happen and it happens, it is really special and redeeming. Interestingly, your tagline on your website and promotional material is “magic no longer sucks.” That is pretty cool. Obviously entertainment has morphed through the years and people are clearly stimulated by other things, and just so many other forms of entertainment, over the years now. With that said, what did inspire you to get into the world of magic?
Dan Sperry – What got me so curious about it was seeing David Copperfield when I was a little kid. I know that I had seen magicians before. I don’t really recall, I am sure I had to have seen one at a birthday party. I know there has been magicians that came to my elementary school for school assemblies like magic of reading or something like that. When I was five, my grandparents took me to see David Copperfield. I didn’t know who he was either, I just knew we were going to see a magician. I was more excited I got to stay up that late on a school night, ya know, going to the city and to a theater. I had never really been in a theater before either. Basically, I didn’t know magic can be that theatrical and kind of over the top.
The first thing he did was this bit that was this escape called The Death Saw where he gets chained to the table and he has to get out before this giant, spinning buzzsaw comes down and cuts him in half. There’s no boxes or anything like that, he is laying on the table. You are watching this all go down and something goes wrong supposedly. The blade falls too early and you see him get cut in half. As a little kid, I thought I just saw this guy die, and I freaked out because I didn’t know magic can be like that. I just thought it was clowns and school assembly guys. I lost it and had this big spazzing moment. We had to leave the theater because I was being so disruptive. I never saw him get back together, that’s what really got my attention. After that, I was shown toy magic kits from the toy store and stuff to sort of straight, telling me, “No, it’s ok, it’s just a little magic trick.” That’s what kinda really got my curiosity going with it.
CrypticRock.com – That is a pretty interesting experience; pretty intense for a five year old. Magic and illusions are really perhaps one of the most fascinating, classic forms of entertainment in humanity. Everyone likes to keep their act unique and you definitely have a unique act and craft. How important is it for you to sort of keep things fresh for your audiences night after night?
Dan Sperry – It is pretty important for two reasons. Someone can go to a concert and a song will start playing and they will go, “Oh my god, I love this song! It’s my favorite song,” but you go to a magic show and it’s something they are familiar with, they will go, “I’ve seen this before, I know what’s going to happen now.” I am not saying everybody does this, it happens a lot more with magic than anything else. Trying to keep that mentality at bay and just get the audience to just let go and have a good time is important to basically keeping the show fresh. Even if it’s not fresh with all new material, finding other ways to keep it fresh by updating anything; trying to keep things current and modern.
The other way to do it is that I don’t really adhere to much of a script. I just let things roll, especially when I’m interacting with people from the audience. I kind of just let it roll and find its own path. Sometimes you get surprised as to what might happen or what might go down because people are interesting and people are weird. There’s a video I put on my YouTube of this girl that I had on stage in New Zealand. She was like on shrooms or something. It just happened to, it’s not set up in my show, they are not plans that are set up ahead of time. I really don’t know what I am going to be walking into. That is always a way to keep it fresh and interesting for the audience and for myself as well.
CrypticRock.com – Actually, that is pretty cool, like you said, you are keeping the audience on their toes and you are also keeping yourself on your toes because you don’t know what is coming at you with someone you may bring on stage, or someone you interact with in a crowd. From the stage, you’ve also gone on to many a television appearance as well. How would you compare performing on television opposed to on stage in front of a live audience like that?
Dan Sperry – I prefer the live audience, it’s more just anything can happen. TV, even when it’s not scripted, they need a plan and you have to adhere to the plan. It’s a half hour TV show, or whatever; they have to make sure there is time for commercial breaks, so you are very constrained, or at least that’s how I feel. I definitely prefer a live audience. The only difficulty I have been busted on when I’ve done TV, there is sometimes, when there’s a live audience at the studio or where we are filming this, is I just naturally perform for the audience when I am supposed to be playing more toward the host or play to the camera for the people at home. I’ve been busted because I forget that, it’s weird playing to a camera and nobody is on the other side that I can see anyway. That makes the energy and the vibe a little different. I play off the vibe and the energy of the audience. That’s always really weird as well.
CrypticRock.com – Completely understandable. It is almost like an actor performing in front of blue screen and they are supposed to be pretending they are in front of this massive landscape which is not really there. Speaking of performing on stage, you had a hit show off Broadway in NYC; it was very successful. Now you are continuing to tour around the world, you got shows over here in the US and you have shows in Germany as well this month. For those who have not seen your illusionist tour for the show, how would you describe it to them?
Dan Sperry – It’s really more over the top, it’s got a huge sound and light rig that we use. The music was written custom for the show. Most of the time, depending on the size of the venue, it’s performed with a live band. Some shows, especially some of the places we roll into, are expecting an orchestra, something like Phantom of the Opera style. We will have a live band with a DJ. There are also live video cameras that go into flat panel video walls. You can really see everything up close. Some of these places we play to 3,000 seats, so if you are in the back row, it’s still going to feel like you are right up close getting to see this stuff right underneath your nose. That’s a couple of the things we do to sort of modernize and wrap it up a little bit.
CrypticRock.com – That is cool and it sounds like an exciting experience. People would certainly want to check that out. You spoke of music as well. Beyond magic, is it safe to say you have been influenced by music and film as well?
Dan Sperry – For sure. I played bass with little, dirty garage bands in school. I played in a couple of those. I have friends in the music industry. The same thing with film, because magic is almost kind of like film in way, but you see my special effects live, opposed to on a screen. Magic in a film can be very similar in how strong they can be to sort of transport the viewer into a situation that almost hypnotized them in a way. You forget about what you gotta do when you get home, about the test or the deadline with your job when you are watching a movie that you really enjoy. The same thing goes with a magic show too, or you listen to a band or a singer, it has that sort of ability to take you away for a little bit.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely, that is what makes it so wonderful. It is that ability to suspend reality for a little bit and let you just get lost in something rather than worry about everything all the time. Beyond magic and performing, you’ve also developed your own coffee blend, Zombie Java. What brought that project around for you?
Dan Sperry – I’ve always been like a big coffee junkie. I had been trying to, always in the back of my mind, think of, “What if I needed a retirement? What if something happened where I get slammed in a car door or something and I can’t do magic tricks? What are some things I can do?” Being that I always really loved coffee, I thought I’d love to just have my own coffee brand. It was when I was on tour in South America when the idea kind of came to me. We were in Colombia, actually, and I thought I should look into it. I was looking around, doing some research, and this was when I was still living in Manhattan. A buddy of mine knew this company in Brooklyn, it’s the oldest coffee importers in America. I went and met with them and I explained to them what I wanted to do; they were really cool people.
It kind of came to social media, I was thinking about it before I even met the guys in Brooklyn. I tweeted out, “Thinking of starting a coffee brand called Zombie Java, would anybody even buy this if the coffee was good?” A lot of my fan base was responding very positively, so that’s when I knew I should give this a try. I started with just two blends; a regular diner-style blend and then a flavored roasted bean. Because it was coming out around Thanksgiving time, I wanted a coffee that maybe tasted like pecan pie or something like that. That’s how it came, it took off really well, and been growing ever since. It’s all done online and through social media; I don’t have a coffee shop, I don’t have any distribution. I just sell it all through the internet, it ships all over the place.
CrypticRock.com – Wow, that is pretty cool. Would you ever consider possibly getting distribution, or do you want to keep it independent?
Dan Sperry – I’m not opposed to full on distribution, but I kind of like that it’s still a little underground thing. There’s another interesting coffee brand called Deathwish, and it’s sort of like the same thing. It’s kind of big if you are into coffee, if you aware of it, but you are not going to find it in Walmart or Target.
CrypticRock.com – Exactly. That is very interesting. It is great to have different outlets to go to creatively like that.
Dan Sperry – Yeah, that’s what it is. It’s a creative outlet that has been fun and a challenge that I’m proud and happy to do. It’s another thing that I enjoy, I love good coffee, so it’s just a no brainer.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely, if you have a passion for something. Back with music, you actually were asked by Jane’s Addiction to work with them on a stage production. How did that come about?
Dan Sperry – Back in 2011, their album that came out, The Great Escape Artist. For their live tour, Perry Farrell wanted to incorporate some magic type of illusion aspects to the performance. He had seen some of the stuff I’d done. The producer of the show I was in at the time knew their manager. Their manager contacted our producer, talked to me after Perry had seen a couple video clips. We met with him at his house, which was pretty cool just sitting in Perry’s house. We just went over ideas of what they wanted to do and how he envision doing stuff to emphasize the singing. We came up with a few things and used a couple of the things I was already doing in my show, and he just wanted to do it in his. That’s how it went down. It was really cool and was a fun experience.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like a cool experience, it was a vivid, quite elaborate stage show for Jane’s Addiction. What type of music are you into yourself?
Dan Sperry – Oh man, it’s like one of those things where it depends on the day and it depends on the moment. I’m not trying to label myself; people would say, just because I look Gothic, but it doesn’t mean I’m listening to London After Midnight all the time. It just really depends on the mood. I’ll listen to The Doors, but I’ll listen to Misfits, then I’ll also listen to just a little bit of everything. Sometimes I’ll listen to Disney songs, whatever strikes the mood at the time. My Spotify playlists are very different that I create.
CrypticRock.com – It is good to be diverse in your musical tastes. Disney tunes could be fun. The Frozen (2013) tune, “Let it Go,” got outplayed big time.
Dan Sperry – I’m not even into Frozen, that movie was overrated, I was more of a fan of the movie Tangled (2010). Tangled didn’t get its time.
CrypticRock.com – Well, now everyone should see Tangled (laughs). My last question is actually pertaining to movies because on CrypticRock.com we cover all areas of music and we also cover Horror/Sci-Fi movies. If you are a fan of Horror/Sci-Fi movies, do you have any favorites?
Dan Sperry – I am a fan of Horror movies. I have an interesting story about the original Saw movie from 2004. I am very interested in Horror movies that could actually be real. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) is a classic, but nobody is going to come out of my dreams and kill me. That is not going to happen, but it’s fun to pretend. Then there’s the ones like The Shining (1980) for example, where, well that could happen. I could totally see that happening, guys have gone crazy and killed their families. Then I like the really weird shit like Begotten (1990), which isn’t technically supposed to be a Horror movie but it was weird. I don’t know if it’s technically labeled a Horror movie. It creeped the shit out of me when I was watching it in daylight, and I remember the first time I saw it years ago. I was just like, “What the fuck is this, this is creeping me out, I don’t like it.”
Regarding Saw, when it first came out, I was in my late teens. I had not seen it, I had seen the previews, but I really didn’t know what it was about. It was a lot of hype though. I remember I went and I saw it later at night and I had a show the next day, a birthday party show the next morning. I went and saw it, it didn’t scare me so much as it fascinated me in a way, thinking, “So this is where we are going now.” It’s like getting on the ground floor of Apple, it’s kind of hard to describe. They’ve made what seems like twenty Saw movies now. With that first one, I felt, “Whoa, this is far out!” It really makes you think, if I was in that situation, could I do that? I’d have to, I’d have to try and cut my own foot off. It was just disturbing and creeped me out too.
I was up all night after Saw, just thinking, “What the hell was that movie? What was going on there?” I overslept the next day because it just sort of freaked me out and got my head going, thinking about it. I slept through my alarm and I missed the birthday party show. I totally didn’t show up to a kid’s birthday party to do a magic show because I had seen the movie Saw the night before. It overtook my whole thought process for that night. I was up way too late, I totally slept through my alarm, and missed the birthday party show.
CrypticRock.com – That is pretty crazy, like you said, Saw was kind of the perfect mix of Psychological Thriller and Horror, and it had its gore. It was a really good balance of both, it made you think and also freaked you out.
Dan Sperry – Exactly, that first one was amazing, I thought. It kind of reminded me of Seven (1995) a little bit. In a way, it has a feeling of Seven to it, but way more over the top. It wasn’t hyped in a way like The Blair Witch Project (1999) and then you go see The Blair Witch Project and you are like, “Ok, come on. What is going to happen? What are you going to do?” It really goes nowhere, and you are just waiting and waiting. In its own right, The Blair Witch Project was a really great ruse though, so it’s right up there.