Aaron Mahnke is a very busy man. Creator of podcast Lore, he pulls us into the mystical, visceral realms of folklore. With every episode he recalls historic tales bound in mystery, fear and true accounts. I sit on the other end of a line connecting me to Mahnke and, with a friendly, vibrant hello, I recognize the voice that has brought not only entertainment, but scares in abounds.
His tone is friendly and engaging, a calming voice that can sell death and the macabre while still sounding like someone we can trust as he unhinges hell through tales shared through time.
In the show’s first episode, ‘They Made A Tonic’, Aaron describes the story of Mercy Brown, a key tale that helped him connect history to the otherworldly layer of folklore. This is one of over 58 episodes: a story of a woman pulled from her grave, her heart burned and ashes mixed with water given to her brother, who was believed to be ill because of Brown’s influence from the grave. This pilot episode set the tone for what would become a successful podcast, growing to reach over 55 million listens in its second year.
There’s no way someone could make Lore without a certain level of passion. Where did that obsession with folklore begin?
“My passion goes back to childhood, I discovered strange and unusual true stories at an early age; I’ve chased that interest ever since. Its part of who I am at this point, it’s been around most of my life.
People will say to do the thing you’re interested in and you’ll find success which I think is a big fat lie, now and then someone manages to achieve the cliché, I think I’ve actually done it in this case.”
Lore has grown into this living entity. Aaron explained for anyone wanting to start a podcast today, “I would say to give it time and put in the work, be patient.”
“Treat yourself as a computer, learn to hack the system so it can do more for you.”
Have you always felt like a storyteller, or is it the subject matter that gives you the drive?
“I have this passion for sharing things that I learn. Maybe there’s a part of me that’s a teacher; I learn about things that I find interesting then I have this compulsion to share them. Storytelling fits that because it has an element of preparation and intent.”
Before Lore began, were you known for telling these stories in social settings? Or do you prefer a script and a microphone?
“No. Before Lore I kept my folklore interest limited to the novels I was writing. There’s a lot of research left over, those are the seeds that grew into Lore.”
You’re also a writer–are there any episodes of Lore that we might recognize hints of in any of your writing?
“There are bits of folklore used in the book that get mentioned in episodes. That’s the beauty in this thing that I do, it’s a bottomless pit of material.”
Aaron speaks of his organizational skills and figuring out how he likes to work:
“I call it doing an autopsy; looking at failures, or an experience that didn’t go the way you wanted it to, do an autopsy. What could you have done differently? Learn how to hack the way you work. Treat yourself as a computer, learn to hack the system so it can do more for you.”
How did you make the decision to start podcasting?
“Lore started out as a written document. Trying to market novels, I wanted to write a collection of essays, my five favourite New England myths. I had this epiphany; record myself reading them. If you sign up for my fiction list I’ll send you these audio stories. I sent it to a friend who said he loved it, but I had to put it out as a podcast.”
“I was out running with a kite; at some point the wind came along and it took off.”
At what point did you realize you were on to something big?
“About a month in I noticed an uptick. Apple had picked Lore for their ‘New and Noteworthy’ section, which gave it visibility. Six months in, I had TV offers which I thought was a weird idea at first but I since warmed up to that.”
Did you ever intend for the podcast to become such a huge part of your life, or was it simply a creative outlet?
“People will say you’ve got to plan out your dream, but how often does that really stick? It’s like flying a kite: you need the wind, something you can’t control, and you run, which is something you can control. Success is this mixture of controllable elements and uncontrollable elements. I was out running with a kite; at some point the wind came along and it took off.”
On the podcast, you’re always careful to tread the line between fact and myth as delicately as possible–both exploring the fantastic and keeping a skeptical grounding to the narrative. Would you consider yourself a skeptic?
“I want to believe, but also love knowing the truth. There’s something deeply satisfying about both sides of that. Lore is less about disproving an idea and more telling the story as the people involved experienced it. To them it was true; it was this thing they swear they saw. I want to tell the stories as accurate to their experiences as possible.”
I know you probably can’t give too much away, but you’re currently working on the upcoming Lore TV Show – what can you tell us about that?
“Its an anthology TV show, each episode is a contained story with a brand new cast every episode. The goal for us was to make sure that long time fans could watch the TV show and say that it feels like Lore.”
“If you want to go out and tell stories, then consume stories.”
What’s been the most challenging part of moving your home-grown format to the screen?
“The challenges have been the skills I have to learn. To allow the story to unfold with the tools that film has, that audio doesn’t. Its like someone handed me a brand new backpack full of things I didn’t own, then they say, ‘Now you have to use these.'”
What would be your most important piece of advice for those who want to tell stories for a living, whether it’s on the screen, the page…or the headphones?
“I tell people that a good story is planned. If you want to go out and tell stories, then consume stories. Read a lot. Pay attention, but also just be patient. Stephen King says if you want to write well you need to read well.”
If this were a movie of your life, I imagine this part would be the montage with the spinning newspaper headlines…so what comes next?
“Insanity! I have this never-ending fortnightly podcast, its hungry. I’ve got a national tour this year, promotional obligations for the TV show and book series. I don’t know if I’m going to get much sleep. But it’s fantastic, it means Lore is healthy. I’m looking forward to a lot this year but the tour is what I’m looking forward to most because of its interactive nature.”
The Lore TV show is set to debut later this year and you can listen to the podcast at lorepodcast.com