While David Cronenberg’s contributions to cinema have not been understated, the focus has, historically, been paid towards the director’s unique visual and metaphorical blend of sex and violence.
He has contributed an immense amount to the body horror subgenre — in many ways, so much so that his name has become synonymous with it — but his work has transcended ‘genre’ films circles, achieving a sense of unified acclaim throughout nearly all annals of cinema appreciation. One aspect, however, that often is overlooked when his work is being discussed is the music. Along with his long-time collaborator Howard Shore, the soundtracks of David Cronenberg’s films have featured an equally measured, impressive blend of raw emotion than that of the visuals.
As part of an ongoing effort to collect and re-issue these works, Mondo and Death Waltz Recording Company struck a deal with Howe Records (Howard Shore’s company) to release a number of Cronenberg-Shore records, remastered and featuring stunning new artwork and packaging design by the ever-reliable roster of artists in Mondo’s stable. Launching with the LP release of Scanners/The Brood, Mondo and Death Waltz went back to Shore to release three of the composer’s other collaborations with Cronenberg and among some of the Shore’s best work: Naked Lunch, Crash, and Dead Ringers.
Launching Death Waltz Recording Co. in 2011, Spencer Hickman can — if not completely — largely be credited for launching the vinyl soundtrack revival movement that has, in the last few years, ramped up at an incredible speed. Where there used to be only a handful of releases available in any given month, it would seem like there are, now, hundreds of announcements dropping per week.
With the Cronenberg records as well as the long-awaited score for Twin Peaks freshly pressed and a few more heavy hitters on the horizon, Screen Anarchy caught up with Hickman to talk about the history of the label, how the merger with Mondo has effected work, and what we can look out for in the future.
Click through the gallery below to read our interview with Spencer Hickman and more about the releases.
Each of these records is notable for unique reasons but Naked Lunch emerges as the most ambitious. Teaming with the late, great jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman, Howard Shore concocted a complex and feverous score for the Burroughs adaptation. When viewed along the visuals, the score has the tendency to blend in; the film is such an assault on the senses that the equally raucous composition falls in line. When detached from the visuals, however, one can get a far more nuanced, deep understanding of the work that went into its creation. Naked Lunch is more than a great score, it’s a great album. While this may sound like an unnecessary comment, it is not. There are plenty of great scores that are not so kind on the ears when detached from their original purpose.
Shore/Coleman work both in unison and at odds throughout the album in order to create a structured sense of frenzy. Broken beat crescendos consistently build towards seemingly no conclusion, while Coleman’s restless sax screams notes of ecstasy. All the while, Shore conducts a moodish orchestration in the tune of noir. Close your eyes and you can envision Peter Weller’s Bill Lee crashing on his typewriter keys in beat with the band, the wet and dark streets of Tangier just outside his window.
Screen Anarchy: Prior to Death Waltz, you’ve had other notable contributions to horror and music that people might not be aware of. Can you talk a little about what you worked on before DWR, especially the zines you worked on?
Spencer Hickman: The fanzine [Psychotic Reaction] was something I just wanted to do. I used to read stuff like Steve Puchalski’s Shock Cinema, and there was this local fanzine called Pretty Poison, run by this guy called Gary Gittings. He was older than I was and he totally got me into all these weird, totally fucked up juvenile delinquent films and opened my eyes to a lot of stuff. At the same time that I was doing Psychotic Reaction, I was running a 24-hour horror marathon; I did one at the Scala, which was like UK’s 42nd Street, a legendary theater that actually got closed down when they screened A Clockwork Orange when it was still banned [author’s note: they were forced to close when they were sued by Warner Brother’s for playing the film without acquiring the proper rights, as it was still undistributed in the UK]. I would do small horror shows there. We would screen stuff like Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste and Texas Chainsaw Massacre — we screened that when it was still banned but we had a special license to screen it. My two loves have always been horror and music, and that’s always been there.
You’ve also been involved in music, and even had a bit of label experience prior to Death Waltz, correct?
I grew up in record stores. When I was 14 I was working a Saturday job in a local record store called Vinyl Dreams; they had a goth section, thrash section, punk, rockabilly, etc. And then in 1996, I started a little label called Snowblind and we released a record by San Diego’s Spanakorzo and NYC Dhalia Seed record and toured the Swing Kids around Europe. So hardcore punk — that DIY background — that’s where I first began putting records out. But we didn’t make any money basically [laughs]. This was pre-Internet, obviously, so we put these records out and people would send us a postal order, check, or stuff money in an envelope for us to send the record back to them. I kind of feel like if I was doing that now, it would have been way easier. And you didn’t get paid by distributors half way across the world; so, after two records, you are just a couple thousand dollars down and just thinking, ‘I’m not rich enough to do this as a side.’ After that, I didn’t do anything for a long time.
So what was it like getting the first few releases out, I can’t imagine that the transition from DIY punk/hardcore to film — where suddenly licensing and royalties are a major component — was simple?
Interestingly, it was fairly easy to begin with and I think that was pure luck. You gotta think that, when I first started Death Waltz, no one was really doing this. Death Waltz and Mondo, interestingly enough, put their first records out within a couple months of each other. I had the idea percolating for well over a year before we launched, and I was actually really devastated when Mondo announced they were doing Maniac. It was like, ‘holy shit, this is what I wanted to do.’ But the first few releases were quite easy. I tracked down who owned the rights to Zombie Flesh Eaters and just sent them an email. You know, I just said, ‘hey, I’ve got this idea that I want to release some of your stuff on vinyl. No one has really done that. Would you guys be up for that?’ And they just came back and said, ‘yea…as long as you pay us.’ Because the Italian guys, like Daniele [De Gemini] from Beat [Records] — who we work with a lot; he looks after Fabio [Frizzi] and their catalog is vast — they’ve just been ripped off so many times in the industry. So they were a little weary but I was like, ‘look, I’ll just pay you up front.’ The same for Silva Screen for Escape from New York. They didn’t want to do the vinyl; Back then they thought it was crazy. It’s been a really steep learning curve and you have to think on your feet, especially not coming from a background in licensing. It was like a whole new ballgame.