Ideas worthy of existance

    Mysterious Universe

    When it comes to podcasts, only an extremely small number of them are ever good enough to sustain a paying subscriber base, and that is because very few are as well produced, or as entertaining as Mysterious Universe. Every week (twice weekly for paid MU+ subscribers) Benjamin Grundy, and his cohost Aaron Wright, provide their listeners with the latest news in the unexplainable. Between the podcast and its extensive accompanying blog, the topics covered by MU include: UFO Phenomena, Cryptozoology, Ghosts & Hauntings, Modern Mysteries, Spirituality, Science & Technology, Conspiracy, and the generally Bizarre, to list a few.

    I had the opportunity to talk with Ben and Aaron, for about an hour the other day, via Skype, and the time just sped by, and enjoyed every minute. They are both just as entertaining to speak with in conversation as they are to listen to on their show. The following are some questions and answers that we covered in an interview (note: my meandering questions were trimmed down significantly for your convenience).

    Josh Mormann | von Creedy: How long have you been interested in the mysterious and the unexplainable?

    *Benjamin Grundy | Mysterious Universe: * Well, for me, the interest in the paranormal and some of the strange and “out-there” topics, kind of stemmed from those really big questions I had when I was young. It got to a certain point, probably early teens, where I thought, “What’s the meaning of life? What’s the point of being here?” And that’s when I really started to explore religion. I read the Bible, I read Buddhist scriptures, I even read some of the Koran, and nothing really grabbed me, except for some of the eastern teachings, like Taoism, and Buddhism. Some of that really grabbed me, so I started looking into that, and I got into meditation. There was a Thai Buddhist Temple a few minutes drive from where I used to live in New South Wales, so I used to go out there, and visit the monks.

    So I was very into the Eastern thought, which is a real proponent (especially Buddhism) of the idea that everything in this physical world is an illusion, and that the Real World, is imperceivable, to us [humans]. And that opened my mind a bit, and allowed me to look at some of these topics, which I was looking at, at the same time, on the internet. I was looking at UFOs and channeled material, and thinking, “…there has to be a reason that people are seeing all these things, and talking about these things.” And it tied in well with some of the Buddhist, and Eastern practices that I was dabbling in at the time.

    *vonC: *How old were you?

    *Ben: *Probably 15 or 16.

    I remember the first time I actually sat down and tried to meditate. It was really simple, it was just like a counting exercise. I sat in a chair, you count from one to ten, and then back down from ten to one, and I did that for thirty minutes, but the effect was incredible. I just could not believe that my body and my mind were so far removed from what I was used to, just from doing this thirty-minute meditation. Afterwards I felt like I was on a high, like I was on cloud nine. My body felt super relaxed, I had never felt that kind of relaxation before. So just that first experience made me think that all these Eastern practices talk about quieting your mind, and concentration and meditation. I thought, just from that small, little exercise, and how it had such a profound affect on me, I thought, “there must be something to this.” And at the same time I was doing martial arts as well, so I was very interested in Eastern thought and philosophy.

    It definitely shaped my exploration of some of these paranormal topics, because I think it created a foundation to have an open mind, and to be able to look at things [perhaps] without preconceptions or preconceived ideas, which I think is really important, in this genre.

    vonC: I think that’s apparent in the show. Just listening to it, you’re pretty wide open to everything. Not necessarily embracing everything, as a “Reality” like some of the “Believer-type” shows that are out there, but you’re open-minded to a lot of that, which is great.

    Ben: One of the things I kept on saying to Aaron, in the early days when started recording, was, “You have to keep telling yourself, that you don’t know everything,” and you have to keep telling yourself that what you know, might not exactly be true from a higher perspective. So when we look at these topics, it’s kind of good to step back and examine your own mind, and your own notions, and your own preconceptions, and when you take a step back, it’s pretty easy to see, that your judgment is clouded by what you think is real.

    Aaron Wright: That’s science all together! (laughs)

    Ben: And it’s funny how much Aaron has changed since he started doing the show. Because when we first met, he was saying basically, “I want to bring a really skeptical scientific angle to Mysterious Universe,” and then after our first meeting, he had this amazing paranormal experience.

    Aaron Wright | Mysterious Universe: It’s funny listening to you, because you and I have got such polar opposites in the way we’ve approached this topic and we’ve come to this, but we still get along amazingly well. It’s just weird, how, with two different realms that we come from, that we still ended up at the same point.

    With my approach to the paranormal, I grew up in Queensland, and in the house I lived in, things always happened, there were always strange happenings, and my father used to claim that “watchers” would turn up, and it always used to scare me because it was around the time of The X-files. So I’d be watching The X-files expecting to get abducted.

    And I was never really interested in school, and then all of a sudden I was pulled out in front of a school parade, because I had gotten the highest score in the school for the science test. So I thought, “Oh, maybe I want to be a scientist, okay.” So I ended up following down this road, and I went into science because I wanted to know what the hell was going on inside my house. And as I got older, I just kind of lost that, just went, “ah, well, it’s all garbage.” I ended up, as Ben has said to me before, “You’re a really hard-nosed scientist.” And I was, I was arrogant, I was a product of the universities and the job. I actually ended up as a forensic scientist, and I did that for a few years. And I reached this point, where I thought, “I just don’t want to do this anymore, I’m not finding what I want, it’s not going in the direction that I want it to.” So I ended up getting in contact with Ben, and I said, “I want to do Mysterious Universe, and I want to make it far more skeptical, and far more scientific to try and bring in that subscriber base.” And then it would have been that week, I went home late one night, and my flatmate wasn’t there, and I turned around, and here’s this guy, standing there wearing 1930s clothing with the watch with the chain on it, and I was like, “Okay, this is not good!” (laughs)

    It was funny because I had friends that would stay there, because I acted as a sort of halfway house for my friends in Canberra, and they’d come up and stay, and say the doors would rattle at 3:00am, and my housemate, who’s deeply religious, she moved out, and she won’t talk to me about what happened. She’s like, “I don’t want to talk about it, I don’t want to talk about it.” So, my perspective on the whole Mysterious Universe thing changed. So the next time I saw Ben, I’m like, “Yeah no, I’m not going to make it that scientific.” (laughs)

    vonC: Just your tone of voice, Aaron, over the course of the show, since you’ve been on has changed. Not just because things had changed for you right at the beginning, but over the course of the show as well, your skeptical tack has changed, and now you’re buying salt lamps…

    Ben: (laughs) He really has changed hasn’t he?

    Aaron: It’s scary, I’ve always said in my life, “I won’t change, I won’t change,” and here I am, “Oh, I’ll get a salt lamp! Okay!”

    Ben: We do this full time, so every day we’re exploring these fringe topics that don’t necessarily fit into a mainstream view of our world, and if you have enough exposure to those things, you just start to realize that there’s more out there than what you watch on Fox News or read in the newspapers.

    vonC: So you must both read a lot of stuff getting ready for the shows… the reports that you cover, etc., but you must read lots of books as well.

    Aaron: A lot of it certainly is reading, and it’s funny, a lot of it is a filtering out of all the garbage that’s out there, because there’s some really out there, and it’s almost like (after you get through reading through a really long article), “You know, I really want those last ten minutes back.”

    When we build our session for what we’ll be doing for a particular day’s show, we’ll end up with sixty or seventy articles, and Ben and I will just have to sit here, and we’ll go through it and we just end up saying, “Cut it! Cut it! Cut it!”

    vonC: Wow, so with all that kind of preparation for each show, when you originally decided to do Mysterious Universe, did you realize there was going to be that much work involved? and does that have anything to do with why it took a hiatus there for a while?

    Ben: Oh absolutely! When I started the show, it kind of crept up on me how much it was, because it started off as a fifteen, twenty minute show, and then it got to forty minutes, and then it went to an hour, and then I started doing the extra shows for paid members, and because the quality kept on getting higher, and I had to match that quality every week, handling it all myself. I think back to how I did it before, and I can’t believe that I used to do three episodes a week on my own. It was just so much work!

    People don’t realize, we do this full time, and we do two full shows a week now, and those two shows, we’re managing the research and the reading, and the post production, and managing our paying customers, and the website, that’s a forty-five or more hour week for each of us, so it’s definitely a full-time effort. So the hiatus, definitely, was due to me being just completely burnt out, and snowed under.

    Aaron: It’s funny that you should make that comment Ben, because I was really naive about how much work this was going to take. Because I actually didn’t know if Ben wanted to come back, and I was actually going to buy the back catalog and the rights to Mysterious Universe off Ben, and take it. That was when I first approached Ben to work out what I was going to do. And fortunately, Ben said, “Oh no, no, I want to bring it back.” So it worked out really well when we ended up bringing it back, but I was so naive as to the amount of work required to run the show. I had no idea.

    It’s funny because we get such great emails, and such great support from our fans, but there is the occasional one or two people that will email in with the most disgusting, offensive emails about the fact that we’re charging for it.

    Ben: We got one this morning!

    vonC: What’s amazing about your show, to me, is that it’s worth at least the money you charge for it. There are a number of other podcasts out there, that use various different methods of trying to monetize their shows, either by asking for donations, or various advertising schemes, and if it works for them that’s great, but Mysterious Universe works as a paid subscription, because it’s not just the content, it’s the production value as well.

    Ben: Thank you for noticing! The reason the production quality is up so high, is because it takes time and effort for us to do that kind of a quality show, and it seems there’s a bit of a misconception that when you record a podcast you basically sit down, you jabber on for a while and you upload it, and then you’re done. But the reality is that even if you put aside the full day of research and more that we do for our show, afterwards, we’ll finish recording at like five o’clock at night, and then Aaron will sit here in the studio, and edit through the night, so that he can get it uploaded, so I can sit down and do the mix the next day. So I’ll be collecting music and we’ll sit there and we’ll run our audio through a number of processes to get it to the quality it is, which includes compression plugins and outboard gear. We do multiple stages of compression to get the sound where it is, and that takes time and knowledge so…

    Aaron: And let’s not forget the studio itself. We’re sitting in a padded room!

    Ben: Right, Aaron’s dedicated a whole room of his house here, to have this studio built. We’ve installed all these acoustic panels and that’s why we sound good, because we put in the effort, and that effort takes time and a lot of work.

    Aaron: And money! (laughs)

    vonC: I don’t understand how people can complain about it, but, like you say, it must be only a few that actually complain about it because anyone that listens to your show knows that it’s worth what you pay for it.

    Aaron: We do get so many great emails. It’s sort of funny because there will be days where you’ll be, not down, but like, “Oh God, I got to edit again,” or something like that, and you’ll load up your email, and there’ll be an email here from someone going, “Oh, it’s the first time I’ve emailed you, but you’ve got such a great show!” And it just reenergizes you, and gets you to go, “Yep, I’m doing the right thing, I’m really enjoying this.” So for all the occasional bad emails we get, we get a hundred wonderful emails, which just keep’s us going.

    Ben: I’m checking my inbox now, and our feedback inbox just since December, there’s 870 emails just since December! So (laughs) we get a lot of feedback, so if anyone emails us, and we don’t get back to them straight away, that’s why.

    vonC: I understand your interest in the topic, but what about your background interested you in doing a podcast Ben?

    Ben: While I was growing up and getting to the end of my high school years, and deciding what I wanted to do with my life, the other parallel interest I had along with Eastern philosophy and these paranormal topics, was music. I was heavily into electronic music, and electronic music production, and in my first year of university I was studying Chinese medicine. But the year before, I had taken a year off after high school, and worked all year to save up for all this studio gear, so I’d go to university during the day, and then I’d come home and I’d make electronic music at night. So after a couple of months of making music I sent it off to a local Sydney record label, a couple of them, and one of them signed me! So, I was just a kid, fresh out of high school, first year of university, and I came to this decision where I had to decide what I wanted to do. Should I keep doing my Chinese medicine degree, or should I pursue this music career? This record label was offering me a cash advance, and money and this million dollar studio, and I was like a star-eyed kid. I was like, “I’ll do this music business!” So I signed up with this absurd contract with them, it was absolutely ridiculous. I really wish I had had a really good lawyer back then, because they signed me to this really long, multiple album deal for a very small cash advance. I worked for them for a number of years, and I put music forth, but they never released anything on the label. The guy who ran it was a perfectionist, so I knew where he was coming from, but he was almost to the other extreme, where he was so much of a perfectionist, nothing was ever ready or done. So, eventually I saw what was coming, and I left the label, 2003 I think it was, and eventually the label went under. But I still had this creative drive, and that experience had tainted my love of the music industry, and I especially didn’t want to get involved in the music industry again, but I still wanted to be creative. And then I started listening to podcasts and I thought, “I can do this, I know how to make electronic music, I know my way around a studio, I know how to work with audio, and I love these paranormal topics so, why not do a show about this stuff?” So that’s where it came from.

    vonC: So Aaron, what caused you to jump on the show? It sounds like you wanted to actually buy, or pick up the show, but what possessed you to want to do that?

    Aaron: I was living in a city called Canberra, which is the capital but a really small city, but before that I left high school and thought, “Well, what am I going to do with my life?” So I jumped on the internet and I applied to universities, and I ended up getting in medical science, and getting a degree in medical science. The whole time, I really enjoyed it, I did really well, but I couldn’t pinpoint what I wanted to do, so I ended up doing some forensic science subjects and getting into the police force. I did that for a while, and it never really gave me what I wanted. It was always monotone, the same thing. “This is another break-in, oh, another body…” I had a lot of experiences, but at the same time, it just became the same!

    And I had my mentor who was incredibly bitter. He’s in his sixties and when I joined up with him, he’s like, “Get out while you can!” (laughs) Any government department though, is the same. I worked for the government previously. He was an ex police officer, and he had gone into forensics and he’s like, “I can’t sleep. I worry about things. The memories of things that happened thirty years ago, come back up in my head.” So I moved up to Sydney to handle some of the drug investigations up here, and that was even worse. All the time it was just pulling drugs out of shipping containers, dealing with people that were importing drugs, and I just realized that I was never dealing with good people, and that included within and outside the organization. We were always dealing with criminals. Police are very, not naive, but idealistic. “That’s the law, and that’s the law we must follow!” It doesn’t allow for any element of variance or any element of compassion. And there’s certainly no creativity in forensics at all. And I like to think that I’m a reasonably creative person, and it just didn’t allow for any of that, so it got to a point where I went, “Is this what I want to do?” I had people that I really respect in the industry that were saying to me, “Get out while you can…” And I’m never going to make more than a hundred and twenty grand a year. Not that I’m motivated by money, but you reach a limit, and you can’t go any higher than that. I thought, “Well, is this what I want my career to be? Do I want to be here in ten years?”

    It was funny because I had done a few jobs and it was occasionally playing in my mind. I’d be sitting there having breakfast, and all of a sudden this image of this dead body lying on a hotel floor would flash up in my mind, so I thought, “Well, this is not good.” Even after my first autopsy, I went to have a beer with one of my mates, and I could taste the smell from this autopsy on my palate as I was drinking the beer. That’s when I started going… (laughs)

    Ben: That’s messed up man.

    Aaron: My dog would get up on the bed during the night, and he’s got this thing where he’ll stand over me (I don’t know why) and he’ll breathe on me, and when he was breathing on me, that smell came back, and I woke up, and shot up in bed, because I thought I was back at this autopsy!

    I became sort of immune to death after that, and I didn’t like that. I didn’t want to be immune to death. I felt like I was becoming numb.

    Long story short, I started thinking about what I wanted to do, and what’s going to allow me to be creative, and I emailed Ben, just out of the blue. I just thought I’d give it a try. I didn’t even have Ben’s email address, I just had the sign-up-for-the-newsletter email address. And I shot Ben an email saying, “look, just drop me a line if you want to talk about me buying Mysterious Universe from you.” And we met and everything went from there!

    vonC: You were obviously listening to the show then at that time, as just a listener I would imagine.

    Aaron: It’s funny you should say that, because I did, I used to listen to it through university. It used to come out every Tuesday or Wednesday, and I used to love it! I used to go rushing home after this lecture to download Mysterious Universe to listen to it. It got to the point where I had to stop for a while because I was actually getting really freaked out about it. I had an alarm on the front of my house, but I was too scared to leave my bed room to turn the alarm on! So I took a hiatus but it actually worked out well, because my sister continued listening, and she was living over in the states at that time. She was living in Virginia, and she called me, and she’s like, “Ben left Mysterious Universe!” I said, “What?” So there were all these theories that Ben was abducted, taken by black ops.

    Ben: My favorite one was that I was touring with my band.

    Aaron: With your millions of dollars that you’d taken, yeah!

    vonC: I remember there was so much of a scandal over that. It was even on Wikipedia that you had a great show, but had too many complaints.

    Ben: It definitely snowballed. It snowballed to a point where I was spending more time answering emails and support requests than I was working on the show. And it just snowballed. It got out of control. Looking in hindsight, of course hindsight’s twenty/twenty, I could have handled it a lot better. But, at the time I was just so swamped that I was actually really depressed on how everything was turning out incredibly depressed at how the show was going. So I just had to pull the plug. I sat there for weeks afterward, and I refunded everyone. I refunded all the money, and my account was empty. And then, to read things saying that I had run off with millions of dollars, and I had scammed all these people, that was really hurtful, because I basically emptied me bank account to pay everyone back.

    Aaron: The problem was, it was only a small handful of people that behaved in that way, but unfortunately because they were so vocal about it, it was really harsh, it was really wrong.

    *vonC: * It was terrible. I hated seeing that stuff. I had figured it must have snowballed, because I can imagine, just dealing with that number of people, with complaints alone.

    Ben: I wasn’t sleeping either because first of all, I was stressed. I was staying up all night stressing about it, but I was also up all night, trying to answer these support emails.

    It was my fault that it went down like that, because I didn’t manage it properly, and I wasn’t experienced, and I bit off more than I could chew. And the good thing that came from that is that I know that I’ll never let anything get to that point again, because I can look back and see mistakes I made. And now that Mysterious Universe is back, we can take steps to ensure that it’s not going to happen again. The new system we have is much more user friendly, and we don’t do as many things manually as I used to do. There’s a lot of automated stuff, and Aaron’s here to share the workload. So it’s fun again! The show is really fun. In those closing weeks and months when it ended in, I think it was early 2008, it wasn’t fun anymore. It was hell.

    vonC: Well, I’m glad you’re back, and that it’s not hell anymore, and I’m glad Aaron’s along too. It’s really turned into something outstanding. The broader reach and entertainment value of the show has grown to where you almost don’t notice the high production value anymore. I love your episodes with your past life regressions.

    Ben: That was so much fun, and the response was huge, but for us, they were the most fun shows we did, because we were going out there and exploring the topic directly, and we really want to do more of that stuff. We’ve actually got something lined up. Is it next week Aaron?

    Aaron: Yeah, the fifth of March, so the week after.

    vonC: Is it an alien autopsy?

    Aaron: (laughs) Oh God no! I’ve had my fill of those.

    Ben: Yeah, in March we’re seeing a local psychic.

    Aaron: Well, the catch is going to be that I actually saw her when I was thinking about, “What am I going to do, in my future?” So I’m going to play back some stuff about what she said back then. It’s really funny because a number of things that she said came true. There were two things I was thinking I was going to do. I was going to do Mysterious Universe, or I was going to go into finance. And I’m so glad I didn’t, because it would have just been really, incredibly boring. At the time I was pretty disillusioned. I said I might be doing finance, and she said, “No way. You won’t be doing finance.” So she was right about not going into finance but she didn’t really tell me what I was going to do, but she did state about where I was going to buy my home and that sort of thing, so I’ll play that back, but we’re also going to do another reading, and then go from there, and just see how it turns out.

    Ben: He chickened out of doing the Ouija board.

    Aaron: Yeah, I’ve got to find another way to do that.

    vonC: Yeah, I was a little worried about the Ouija board myself.

    Ben: So was I! I was trying to convince him not to do it. He eventually came around. Because I don’t want anything loose in the studio. I don’t want to be attacked while we’re recording, it’s not very practical.

    (all laugh)

    vonC: You have enough to do as it is, so…

    Aaron: That’s right, unlike an exorcism.

    vonC: (paraphrasing) Well we’re drawing close to the hour. And I want to make sure that we cover what makes you continue to do great work, even when it’s tough. What makes you tick? What makes you get up in the morning, even when you’re discouraged?

    Aaron: It’s fun. The one thing that I can think is that it’s a heap of fun. It really is, and the lifestyle we live, in regards to our careers, I think is really good, because we’re not each other’s boss, we’re partners, and that pushes each other to ensure that we do things. But at the same time, we’ll go and get a coffee, and we’ll, just do what we have to do. And even if we’re working late into the night, it’s fun!

    Ben: Yeah, we set our own hours and if this thing succeeds or fails, it’s entirely on us.

    Aaron: That’s the drive.

    Ben: For me, it’s often the content, because we say we are an entertainment show. We’re primarily entertainment, and we know that a lot of the stuff we cover is pretty crazy, but it’s fun! It’s fun to cover this stuff. But at the same time, there are certain topics that we talk about which I think it’s a shame that they’re not covered widely in the mainstream media. And the fact that we can get that information out there, and people appreciate us giving that to them, that really makes a difference to me. I feel proud that we can do that.

    There are topics like UFOs. People see things in the skies. There’s objects people have seen for dozens of years if not throughout history, that just aren’t acknowledged by mainstream science or mainstream media. It’s often ridiculed, but people have experiences, and people see things. There’s just an overwhelming amount of evidence out there, but it’s really hard to really get that information, and I think we’re doing a service in getting some of that stuff out there.

    Our big challenge now, and the next thing for Mysterious Universe, is stepping things up to the next level. We do have plans for video eventually. We do have plans for more on-site investigations, and getting more people involved. So there are more things to come, but that is the big hurtle for us: that we are so busy now, doing these two audio shows, we’re trying to figure out how we expand into other mediums for Mysterious Universe. It will be interesting to see how that pans out in the future.

    vonC: Definitely. Is there anything that you’d like to say for the blog, for the record?

    Ben: Uuuummmm…. Hmmm, where’s our sales pitch Aaron?

    Aaron: (laughs) Why are you looking at me when you say that?

    Ben: Well, definitely check us out. Now, we’re a business, we’re a paid show, but we do have a free show, so if you’re just curious, and you want to give us a shot, check out our free show, it’s over an hour every week, and totally free, and if you do want more, you can join our Plus membership and get more, but definitely check out our free show at mysteriousuniverse.org.
    Visit the following links to learn more about Mysterious Universe:

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    Written by Joshua Mormann