· By Rachel Clinesmith
Interview with Jet from Vampirefreaks.com!
What gave you the idea for VampireFreaks the social media network and how did that come about?
VampireFreaks had already been a website for over 4 years before I created the social networking site in 2004. It started as just a personal hobby/pet-project, and it was mainly a message-board with some picture galleries of me, my spooky friends, as well as some flash animations and scripts I had written.
I was going to college for computer science at the time, learning software programming while I also taught myself some website programming, so VampireFreaks was just a way for me to test out website design and programming while catering to my interests in goth culture. I was inspired by the success of sites like Myspace and Friendster, and I decided to make a social-networking site.
It took me a few months to code, and it really took off right away, as we already had an online following that was really excited to make their profiles and interact with other members.
VampireFreaks has always had a big focus on music. What can you tell us of your involvement in the music world (DJing/events you host in NYC)? Maybe tell us about some of your favorites?
Music has always been really important to me. I discovered goth/industrial music as a teenager and it really resonated with me. I've been a DJ and event promoter for more than twenty years, and it's always given me a rush to create events that bring people joy! There's just a special kind of energy at a music event, and it's a pleasure to be able to create these experiences for people.
What was your favorite thing about VampireFreaks when it was a social media network?
I met my current wife on the VampireFreaks social network, so I would say our relationship is my favorite thing that came out of it! She was living in California and I was living in NJ, and when she came to visit, we just really hit it off. She wound up getting a job on the east coast, and the rest was history. (Sometimes I joke that I had to create a social networking site to meet my wife!)
A lot of people actually met friends and partners and made other connections on that social network, so it’s really great hearing the stories of how it brought people together.
You made the choice to switch over to a “store-only” model and you carry a lot of really cool spooky merchandise. What can you tell us about that?
I ran the social network for twenty years and it was a really great time. We reached millions of people over the years. However, the last couple years of the social network were just not so enjoyable, to be honest. It had started out as this beautiful, supportive community, and that spirit thrived for quite some time, but things changed. (Really, I think the overall vibe of the internet changed!) Ultimately, the social network started turning into this negative thing where it just wasn't something that I was proud of anymore. My heart wasn't in it, and it was negatively impacting my mental health, so I laid it to rest and focused on our online store. It felt like the end of an era for me, and I was sad at the time, but since then VampireFreaks has actually really grown as a company.
We have a large warehouse space for our online store. We've released many VF exclusive products. Our staff is bigger than ever and we've been really experiencing a lot of growth as a company. So while it felt sad at the time to switch our focus away from the social network, it actually turned out to be a great move for us as a company and I've been a lot happier with our direction.
VampireFreaks is doing better than ever now and we're excited about our growth as well as some fun plans for the future!
Darkside of the Con is a huge convention you host in New Jersey. What can you tell us about how that came to be? What do you see for it in the future?
We've been doing club events and concerts for a long time and Dark Side of the Con just felt like a natural progression. A 3-Day convention is something much bigger than your typical club night or concert. It's been wildly successful, we just held our fourth Dark Side of the Con recently, and each time we do it we just grow by leaps and bounds.
It really is a beautiful experience. People come from all over the country for it and we even get people coming from other countries. It's a ton of work for months leading up to the event. Then, when the event finally comes, I'm running around all over the place making sure everything runs smoothly. I wind up
getting blisters on my feet from just running around all day, and it can be exhausting. Still, it's actually a really emotional and positive experience for me, just seeing all the joy it brings to the attendees. Everyone just really has a great time, especially this last event! After 2 years of Covid-reschedules, and not being able to have live events for so long, it felt amazing to finally be able to bring everyone together again! I even found myself just crying randomly a couple times because I got so emotional about being able to experience this beautiful community and give everyone that great experience again.
Everything has been going really smoothly. I'm so thankful for our supporters and Dark Side of the Con is something I really look forward to.
What is your favorite fictional depiction of Vampires?
100%, Anne Rice’s vampires will always be my original favorite. She's just the Queen of vampire literature and everything else feels like it pales in comparison.
When I came up with the name 'VampireFreaks', I was like 15 years old, and a huge Anne Rice fan. I so badly wanted to be a vampire!
Since then there's been a lot more depictions of vampires and I'm not so much of a “vampire-nut” anymore. Maybe I'm just an Anne Rice purist?
Are there any favorite projects or celebrities that you’ve gotten to work on or with over the years?
I've had the pleasure of booking Stabbing Westward a few times, which has always been an amazing experience for me! I was such a huge Stabbing Westward fan as a teenager, I would just listen to their albums constantly, and they always felt like this amazing larger-than-life band that constantly had their music videos playing on MTV and their songs would be on the radio. Getting to actually meet them, and talk to them, and work with them was like a dream come true! I've worked with many bands and some can be divas and very egocentric, stressful to work with. Even bands that aren’t that popular. Meanwhile, Stabbing Westward, in my mind, are these huge, epic rockstars, (literal gods of music!), and they're so down to earth and friendly and easy to work with. I'll always have huge respect for them and I’m
thankful that they are so nice.
Another favorite is Daniel Myer from Haujobb, he's such a cool guy and I was a huge Haujobb fan in the 90’s. He'll always be a legend to me, and he's so down to earth and just a likable guy. He actually reminds me of my dad, (RIP,) but yeah you can just tell he's got a good heart.
Is there anyone you haven’t gotten to work with, or any project you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t yet?
My favorite band is The Cure, so it's always been a dream to do something with Robert Smith. He's always been an idol to me. They say ”Don't meet your idols,” so I'm actually OK with admiring him from afar. There've been a couple bands that I've worked with that I was a big fan of their music and then actually after meeting them, or working with them, it just soured my opinion of them which sometimes sucks because then you don't really want to listen to their music anymore.
Sometimes it's best to just love a band for their music, and not worry about trying to meet them.
Is there anything else you’d like to share that you are currently working on?
We're currently working on making a lot more VampireFreaks exclusive products for our store. We've already made a few plush toys and housewares, as well as a few clothing items. We're working with a team of designers to really step it up to the next level with a brand new clothing line and lots more VampireFreaks exclusive items.
It will be a shift away from carrying mostly other brands to really focusing on our own custom creations. We’ll still carry other brands, but we've noticed that our own exclusive products are our best-sellers, so our current growth strategy is to focus on that strength.
Of course, we’re also going to be growing Dark Side of the Con, and we’ve some other fun event ideas in the planning process!
Thanks for your time!