Image: Katlyn Wright
“Alex Matsuo is a paranormal researcher, singer, and author. She is the founder of the Association of Paranormal Study and runs the blog and YouTube channel, “The Spooky Suff.” If it’s weird, spooky, unusual, scary, macabre, or haunted, she wants to write and talk about it!
Alex was recently seen on Travel Channel’s “Most Terrifying Places in America.” In addition, she is the host of the podcast, Informal Paranormal. Alex has written several books about the paranormal including, The Brave Mortal’s Guide to Ghost Hunting, The Haunting of the Tenth Avenue Theatre, More than Ghosts: A Guide to Working Residential Cases in the Paranormal Field, and The Haunted Actor.
Alex holds an MA in theatre from San Diego State University and currently resides in Raleigh, North Carolina. She has been featured on KPBS – San Diego, Fox News, and The Washington Post for her various endeavours.”
I first got to know Alex when I met her through a Paranormal Fiction Writing online class back in 2014. Impressed with her ability to single-handedly run the show when the original host dropped out, I have since followed her career as paranormal investigator, actor, singer, author and social media influencer. Her unique perspective informed by inclusivity and intersectionality in the field of the paranormal has been a breath of fresh air in a community lacking in both. Kind, and generous of her time and knowledge, I recently had the opportunity to meet up with her over Skype, both of us surrounded by our own personal clowders of cats. This is the first time either of us have spoken directly, face-to-face since the writing class, and we are both excited for the occasion.
Megan: What first got you into the paranormal? Did you have any paranormal experiences while you were growing up? How did those experiences shape you?
Alex: I had experiences when I was a kid. What was interesting was, I lived in a conservative Christian household. I couldn’t read the Goosebumps books. I couldn’t watch Are You Afraid of the Dark?. Anything that had anything to do with anything weird or the occult was not allowed in the house. It was just: No, hard stop.
When I was between the ages of seven and nine, every summer I would go to Kentucky and spend time with my grandmother – well my grandmother’s family – I’d travel with her. My grandma was born on this property, my great-grandfather died on this property. This was a small river town in the tri-state area between Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia. So, it was the boonies! A lot of woods. So, one of my first experiences was in the house where my grandmother grew up. It was very alarming, and then I wanted to understand it more. What was also weird was, there was always somebody in that house, like, knocking on the walls. But you couldn’t see anybody. You would hear the knocking and my Mamaw would say, ‘Oh that’s the devil trying to get in. You’d better pray, child.’ If it was me today, I’d be opening the door like, ‘Hey!’ (laughs)
There was a lot of really strange lore in that area. In the mountains, Appalachian beliefs. A lot of really weird stuff. And I loved those stories my Mamaw would tell about our family, in that area. I loved those stories and wanted to hear more, but then it was like, ‘Mamaw, you’re scaring Alex!’, and I was sitting there like, ‘I’m not scared.’ Like, ‘Shhh, Mamaw’s talking.’
Megan: Keep going, Mamaw!
Alex: Exactly! Keep going, Mamaw! My mom was very conservative Christian, which is going to be really interesting as we talk more about my story in the future. It just wasn’t allowed in the house. But of course, when you do that to a kid, what do they do: they go and find it.
So, whenever I was at the library at school or the public library, I would pick out a book and I would read it in the library, and then I would stick it back on the shelf. I would either dog-ear it or put a piece of paper to save my spot. So, I was reading the stories, and of course some of the first books I read were by Ed and Lorraine Warren. Cause they were very prominent back in the 90s, and a little bit of Hans Holzer too. So that’s basically where I got my start in the paranormal, and it just grew from there.
Megan: How has your Christian background played into your work?
That’s a good question. So, I had a very Christian-angled perspective of the paranormal for years. Especially when I started having more negative experiences. Even though I grew up in San Diego, I was raised in a Southern Baptist church. Our church was part of the Southern Baptist Convention, so it was a legit Southern Baptist church. My grandmother grew up in Kentucky, you know we had Free Will Baptists, and Southern Baptists…I mean, we were a Baptist household. (laughs) When I started having the more negative experiences, the whole idea is there are no ghosts, it’s all demons. Or demons disguised as our loved ones, and it’s not true. It’s not true. It’s definitely not true.
As someone who has dealt with more darker cases, there’s a difference. There’s a difference in feeling and vibe. As I’ve gotten older though, I’ve found myself not really going to church. It just didn’t really fit with my life anymore. As I started working more in the paranormal, and taking on residential cases, I was working with people from very diverse religious backgrounds. I grew up in a very sheltered, Christian household. My senior year of high school I homeschooled so I could join a Christian mime drama team. I mean, that’s how hardcore I was. (laughs) We’re talking: we couldn’t date, we could only “court”. A lot of my friends from that chapter of my life got married at 18-19 years old and they have, like, 4 or 5 kids now. Those kids are becoming teenagers, and I’m sitting here like: “Holy crap!”. (laughs)
So, we’re talking speaking in tongues…I look back at it, and I’m like, “Well, it was definitely fear-mongering.” I was in these groups during the prime of the Bush administration. But getting back on track, I was exposed to a lot of different religious backgrounds doing residential work. I think what really tripped me up was seeing the non-Christian practices, especially when it came to like, blessings and cleansing houses of stuff, were just as effective, if not more effective than the Christian approach. Which told me something about faith. Like, “What is faith? Does it just come from us, and our intention behind it? Or is it really coming from God – some guy in the clouds –or are we God?” It gets into some pretty heavy topics.
Also, at the time I was a Christian, but I had to respect the fact that if somebody wanted a Hindu approach to cleansing their home, I had to respect that. That’s something that I think really helped me evolve and be more open-minded to other religions. Cause oh my gosh! Early ‘00s Alex and her Christian world? “Wait do I have to be flexible with Hindu religion, what?!”
Alex’s adorable calico cat jumps on her lap.
Alex: Oh, Callie says ‘hi’!
Megan: Oh, hey Callie!
Alex: She likes to snuggle when I’m working here.
Cat lady shop talk ensues..
When it came to just my spiritual upbringing, and my spiritual evolution, so to speak, I was put in a position where I really had to be open-minded. I’m grateful for that. It’s really helped me shape into who I am today as an investigator. I believe in the power of intention and manifestation. Before, I had this really, really bad car accident. It was a terrible car accident. My ex, who I had been fighting with at the time, had told his girlfriend at the time, “I hope Alex gets hit by a car.” Lo and behold, it happened. Not only did I get hit by a car, but I got thrown over the guard rail and I fell 25 feet.
Megan: Holy shit!
Alex: Yeah, it was intense. He’s the one I wish karma would pay a visit to soonish…but considering karma hasn’t hit him yet, I’m just like, “Ooh bitch has got something cookin’!” (laughs).
Megan: How did you ‘come out’ as a paranormal researcher?
I took a break from the whole paranormal thing with college. I’d had a disturbing experience when I was about 18, and then it happened again after my car accident. I picked up an attachment when I was at the hospital, which was fun. So, really when I got into grad school, I started gravitating back around it. Mainly, cause my mentor pointed out that all of my projects had some sort of supernatural tie to them.
Callie shifts to Alex’s other side.
Alex to Callie: You comfortable?
I gush, calling her a Very Sweet Girl.
Alex: She’s gonna lay her little head on my shoulder too.
Me: I’ve seen in videos from you, that this seems to be her favorite position.
Alex: Yeah, she’s becoming a little celebrity! She’s got her own little fan club.
Yet again distracted by cat obsession, we turn back to the topic at hand.
Alex: I was covering plays like, I did this whole analysis of supernatural beliefs in Shakespeare, and how Shakespeare demonstrated the beliefs of his time in his plays. I did one on Marlow, with Dr. Faustus as my focus. So, I was covering stuff like that. When my mentor brought that up to me, I thought, “Huh. You’re right! Interesting.” It was about 2010, that was when I started watching Paranormal State. I was a little behind. That was when Ryan (Ryan Buell of Paranormal State) was talking about doing the classes and everything. So, I signed up for the first paranormal class. I still wasn’t officially ‘out’ yet. I wasn’t officially ‘out’ until I started my team in fall of 2011. I had shadowed some teams too. I was very honest when I contacted them. I said, “I’m interested in doing this, but I don’t know if I want to dive head-on. Would it be okay if I shadowed you for a couple investigations? Basically, I took what I liked from each experience and started my own team.
After I had classes with Ryan (Buell) as well. They were good classes…when…they happened…they were great classes. Which is a shame. I think there could have been something really great there. That’s basically it, when I had my first radio interview like a week after starting my team, that was a public thing and I remember telling my mom about it. She was like, “Do you actually think you’ve found your calling now?” It was almost like she had always known this was something I was interested in. Cause like I said, she was very discouraging of me going into anything paranormal, especially after all the negative shit happened. She thought I was possessed a few times. I think that was just mother/daughter drama. Both of us explode into laughter.
We would fight and she’d stop, and she would point at me and say: “Get out of her, Satan!” Both of us break into laughter again.
And I’d sit there smiling, cause I’m like, crinkles nose, “What?”.
Megan: It’s like, no it’s not demons, you’re just going to have to wait for those teen years to pass, Mom.
Alex: (laughing) Exactly! She was just like, “Why are you laughing!? You wouldn’t be laughing if you didn’t have Satan in you!” And I was like, “No, I’m laughing cause it’s ridiculous. This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”
Megan: It’s not called “demons” it’s called “hormones”.
Alex: Oh my mother, bless her heart.
Me: She just wanted what was best for you.
Alex: (agreeing) It was from a good place. (laughs and nods)
Megan: How did people react once you told them about what you did?
Alex: Most of my friends – who were all theatre people by the way – were like, “That’s awesome!”. They wanted to go with me on investigations. My roller derby family at the time (cause I was playing roller derby at the time, (sighs) one day, again) were a little more like, “Okaaaay….” (pulls a sceptical face). We’re talking majority butch, pansexual badasses covered in tattoos – total roller derby stereotype. They were more like, “Oh my God…that’s kinda weird.”
Megan: Have you seen an evolution in people’s ideas about the paranormal?
Alex: I have a bit. People have become a little more open-minded about it as years go by. I think one of the things I’m asked the most is, “So is the stuff on TV actually true?”. Or, “You’re into the paranormal, here: I’m going to tell you something weird.” Or, “You’re going to think I’m crazy, but…”. It’s like, no, no. If it’s real, you know, I’m not gonna say you’re nuts. I’ve gotten mixed reactions.
Megan: What have been some challenges you’ve faced while working in the field?
Alex: The Paranormal community is a bit of a challenge itself. It’s a very diverse community, but it’s also not very diverse. It’s a lot of white people. I can count the number of people of color in the community on one hand, and I’m one of them technically, if we’re going to go super technical. I’m a quarter Japanese and I have not met another Asian person in this field. I know only one woman of color. And…(pauses)…that’s it!
I only recently found out how many of them (people in the paranormal community) were offended by the show Ghost Brothers (a show featuring Black paranormal investigators). Which is interesting. They were saying stuff like, “Why can’t we just be Americans? We’re a melting pot, and blah blah blah. Then we’re going to have all female teams, and Mexican teams and queer teams.” And I’m like, “What’s wrong with that!?”.
I do know of at least one or two queer paranormal teams. I tend to gravitate towards them, and be like, “Hey, you know, let’s work together!”. I did have a very diverse team in San Diego, but it was also because I was in San Diego. We had two Black men on my team, and one Filipino person so, you know, they’re the others I would count on my hand.
But yeah, so if you look at the paranormal community, it’s very Caucasian-heavy. Which, nothing wrong with that, but at the same time, we don’t have a lot of diversity because – and I refuse to believe it’s because they’re not there – I know they’re there. But why aren’t they participating in the paranormal community? There’s gotta be a reason for that. There’s gotta be a reason.
Same thing with women. When events were happening, I wanted to put out a challenge for all the paranormal events around the country: fill your guest speakers 50/50. 50% women, 50% men. Get women of color, if you can, get LGBTQ when you can because right now, ironically, it’s for a Paraunity Con (Parunity: events geared toward community togetherness in the paranormal field) they have 16 guests, 4 of them are women. 4 out of 16.
Megan: Incredible. How does sexism in the paranormal field show itself?
Alex: I haven’t even heard of some of the male speakers, and I’m like (shrugs shoulders, holds up hands), “Why? Why?”. I do blame the paranormal TV world in part for this. You’ve got Ghost Adventures: no women, Ghost Nation (even though it just got cancelled) – team of 5, 6, 7 – 2 women. Same thing with the original incarnation of Ghost Hunters. I don’t think they even had women in the beginning. Kindred Spirits: it is 50/50, but can anyone name a TV show with just a woman as the front runner who is not a medium?
I can tell you the women who are most commonly used guests for Paracons: Amy Bruni, Katrina Wiedman, was Lorraine Warren for a bit, and then Amy Allen from Dead Files. It’s usually those 4. And it stinks, cause there’s so many talented women out there. There are all female paranormal podcasts. My favorite one is The Ghosty Girls: total Southern California, valley girl podcast. I love it! They’re very entertaining to listen to. I don’t agree with them 100% of the time, but they’re entertaining to listen to. I’ve been trying to support more all-female paranormal projects as much as I can. I have a smallish platform, but I’m willing to use my platform to put a blast out there.
Like there was an all-female team that had press coverage recently, and I thought: “Well, this is awesome! let’s put it out here!”.
Megan: Yeah, put it out there! Because all-female teams exist! They’re everywhere.
Alex: Exactly, and it’s so funny cause a few event planners did take offence to me saying you need to fill your guest speaker slots with more women. Some said, “Well some of them (women) flake out,” and I’m like, “Okay, so are you saying that women are flakier than men?” C’mon.
Megan: That reminds me of concert festivals where there’s been a lot of pressure about having 50/50 gender representation.
Alex: Yeah, like saying, “Well, they’re not coming forward,” and that kind of thing. I was like, “I don’t recall you putting a call out there saying, “Hey, we’re seeking guest speakers.” I mean, Dragoncon even does that.
So, I kind of get to this point where, you’re asking your friends – which is fine – but, this also tells you who you’re surrounding yourself with and you need to diversify your community a bit.
Megan: Absolutely and also the rich sources of different perspectives that are out there when it comes to the paranormal are so valid and necessary. I mean, we’re just seeing one reflection and one approach. It’s really a problem, and the thing is I’ve also noticed it – there was this show that Zak Bagans did for a while that was, they get these two investigative teams to go and examine a haunted location in competition with one another.
Alex: Oh, yes. There was some female team on there…was it Paranormal Hot Squad?
Megan: Probably something like that, yes.
Alex: Yeah, a lot of fishnet and bondage gear, that type of thing.
Megan: Which, like, that’s cool and all, but it’s also like, “I see what you’re doing and it drives home the point that in order to be recognized in the paranormal field, women have to be hot and sexy and dress in a certain way”, and that’s just as big of a problem as lack of representation.
Alex: Yes, for example, if you look at the cast members of the latest Ghost Hunters with the two women: they look alike. There’s a very specific type, and we see that in other women in paranormal pop culture: there’s a specific type to them. They all look alike. It’s the exact same.
I’m not saying it has to be me, but are we going to ever see a plus size female paranormal investigator? Or are we going to see a non-binary investigator on a show? Or are we going to see a trans woman on a show? On any show.
This is where a lot of people have been gravitating more toward YouTube and Amazon Prime, for example. On the more independent circuit shows. Which is good, but even in what I’ve been trying to research: I want to find an all-female team that has their only show that they’ve got going on. Just something. It’s not really there yet. And I’m like, “It’s 2020. Why? Why is this not ‘it’ yet?” What is the holdup?
I’ve heard it’s because ratings won’t be great. But it’s like, well you put out shows that last for three episodes. I come from the entertainment business. I come from theatre and being in L.A. I know the business. I get it! (laughs)
Megan: And I’ve noticed that the shows that do prominently feature female investigators, they have huge followings. Amy Allen from The Dead Files, everyone’s obsessed with her (who follow Dead Files), and Katrina Wiedman is awesome.
Alex: (nods) She is.
Megan: She’s been doing a hell of a lot of good work for years now.
Alex: She has been. And even when one show gets cancelled, she’s working on another. It’s amazing: her track record is so consistent, which is fantastic. Who else do we know in this industry, just in the entertainment industry for that matter, where, “I have one show going, I have another show already cooking.”?
With my Stormy Daniels article, I can’t tell you how disgusting some of the comments were. I’m pretty sure they were politically motivated but, there were comments that said: “How is she going to investigate with her boobs?”, “Her boobs are too big to hold the camera,” or “I’ll only watch if she’s naked,” “I’ll watch if she’s bouncing around”.
Or, “She’s a porn star, she’s not welcome here.” And, okay: 1. Her background does not matter, but you’re also saying if someone’s worked in porn, they can’t be a paranormal investigator? I hate to break it to you, but Stormy is not the only adult entertainer that’s in the paranormal community. And right now, what you’re saying is “nobody in the adult entertainment community can be in the paranormal.”
Megan: It’s just total slut shaming at its finest.
Alex: Exactly. I’m sitting here like, “y’all are bagging on Stormy, but, um, ZAK BAGANS. (both laugh) Like, come on! Or [name redacted] the guy who tries to contact celebrities after they’ve died. You know, he was a producer of torture porn and “forced sex” porn.
Megan: Whoa…don’t like the name of that at all.
And the same people who are following him and worship the ground he walks on are the ones who are also slut shaming Stormy Daniels.
If Stormy can’t be in this community cause she has a background in porn, you’d better tell [name redacted] he can’t be in it either.
It’s just so interesting how a guy can do one thing on TV and then a woman does the exact same thing and “Oh no, she’s stupid”, “She’s not experienced enough”. That was the other thing: people going after Stormy saying she’s not experienced. How do you know? She could be this amazing investigator, and you wouldn’t know because you won’t give her a chance.
Megan: There are so many shows where it’s celebrities doing ghost/paranormal stuff, and no one has a problem with that. So, what’s the problem with her? If this is what she wants to do and is given the opportunity to do it, what’s the big deal?
Alex: The show I really like is The Lowe Files. Robert Lowe wasn’t a ghost hunter. It was just him going on ghost hunts with his son. I thought it was a great show to watch, it was really sweet. For me, at least, it’s kind of refreshing to watch paranormal shows when – and I’m not saying Stormy is like this – but watching it through someone’s eyes who hasn’t experienced this before. I find that approach a lot more refreshing than a know-it-all on camera who may or may not be correct in their information.
Megan: Or extremely biased.
Alex: Or extremely biased, which is sadly a thing to. You know, there are lots of know-it-alls in this field, a lot of them are men. I put out a blog today, it was basically a list of what you should put in your ghost hunting kit. And I was keeping at a high level, cause right now much of my audience is Gen Z and younger, so I’m starting to write more for them. I’m also targeting more new ghost hunters, or people who don’t know this world. I find it really refreshing, cause it’s like a new set of eyes.
There is a boy on Instagram who reached out to me, and I’ve been talking to. Just giving advice and answering questions. He actually ended up buying my book, and took a selfie and sent it to me. It was so, God, I kind of cried a little bit (laughs).
Stay tuned for Part Two of Dark Habits’ interview with Alex Matsuo coming soon