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Raw & Uncut - The Full Blood on Black Wax: Horror Soundtracks Interview with Jeff Szpirglas and Aaron Lupton

Album Reviews Wednesday, 10 April 2019 21:30
Raw & Uncut - The Full Blood on Black Wax: Horror Soundtracks Interview with Jeff Szpirglas and Aaron Lupton

Blood on Black Wax: Horror Soundtracks on Vinyl is available to order on Amazon USA

A look back at nearly all the music from the greatest horror cinema classics will be released on May 13th, 2019! No, we are not talking about a rerelease of all these tunes, but instead, we will get an opening of a time capsule which looks at the unique history and artwork of these works. Blood on Black Wax: Horror Soundtracks on Vinyl will get multiple releases too. The core product, a hardbound, full-color, 240-page book spotlights the intricate (and often rare) artwork on the LP sleeves, as well as album reviews, release details, and wild backstories.

Jeff Szpirglas is the guy with the long last name who reviews albums and old movies for Rue Morgue Magazine, and the list does not end there. He's written many books for young readers and is a second-grade full-time teacher. This vocation puts him in an interesting position should he decide to demonstrate his love for horror to impressionable minds. Aaron Lupton os the music editor for the said magazine and is a passionate and nerdy collector of horror soundtrack LPs. He also is the co-host of From My Parents Basement podcast with Eric Gaudet and Gary Pullin.

In what prompted the decision to create this book was when Szpirglas approached Aaron about putting together a special edition digest issue of the magazine focusing specifically on horror soundtracks. At the time, Rue Morgue had been releasing special editions on subjects ranging from horror collectables to Canadian horror, and he felt that a soundtrack book was a no-brainer. In his own words, "So much of what makes these films effective often comes from sound and music working in conjunction with the images and the rhythms of editing."

AL - I felt the book should be more than a collection of mini reviews. As much as I love horror soundtracks, it’s a really difficult topic to make fun, interesting and accessible. There are many books out there but many are well, boring to read. My inspiration came from the reissue labels like Death Waltz and Waxwork–they found a way to make horror soundtracks as cool to collect. So my idea was to build a highly visual book that reflected the current trend of collecting these on vinyl. That way we appeal to soundtrack aficionados, record collectors, and horror art junkies.

What can people expect to see when they pick up your book?

JS - The book does a good job of showing the breadth of album covers and artistic styles that have graced horror movie soundtracks over the years. And while the book is not 12” x 12” (at one point, we’d debated publishing it that way), the final product showcases the art in a big way. Those early Varese Sarabande albums often adapted poster art for their covers, which were sometimes the best parts of the movie (Forbidden World is a great example). These early albums came from a time when movie posters had the space to breathe and not rely on selling the movie as a thumbnail-sized image on Netflix.

There’s a nice balance between these older releases and the new, deluxe editions from companies like Waxwork where the art (as well as the vinyl itself) is a major selling point. But the book really afforded Aaron and I the opportunity to approach a number of composers and conduct in-depth interviews. We tried to highlight a lot of these for the book, and often the composers were able to bring a lot of context to how a film was made or how their work impacted the finished product–such as the musical palette and orchestral choices that Mark Korven was able to use in a film like “The Witch” to give it a signature sound. It was also a real thrill to be able to speak at length to some of our heroes like John Carpenter and Christopher Young.

Al - You will read something that will make you as excited to go out and buy John Carpenter and Goblin records as you were to go out and buy the new Guns n’ Roses album when you were a teenager! You will learn weird facts like how Stelvio Cipriani made the sound of the tentacle attacks in Tentacles using broken glass. You will hear the stories behind the soundtracks, like how it took three different composers to ultimately create what Brad Fiedel did on Serpent and the Rainbow. You will see all kinds of crazy and colourful art that you will want on your shelves and on your turntable.

Was it difficult to establish the categories to which all these albums fit under?

JS - Some were certainly easier than others. The sci-fi/horror subgenre, Italian horror, and rock and roll chapters have more clearly defined boundaries than, say, a chapter on more experimental music in horror films (“Different Beasts”). As we worked our way through the different chapters, we ended up paring down certain sections and building up others.

An initial chapter on “Classic Horror” would have lent the beginning of the book a more antique feel, and visually, the goal was that the final product would look more heterogeneous than appear simply as a chronology of films and album releases.

AL - Yes, because truthfully what are the categories that hold horror soundtracks together? Chronology? Eras for horror films? Electronic vs. symphonic? Like Jeff said, some records just had to be there, like the section on classic Italian horror, which really tells the story of certain directors and composers: Dario Argento, Goblin, Lucio Fulci, and Fabio Frizzi. The compilation albums for everything from Return of the Living Dead to Teen Wolf belong together conceptually. But even within something like sci-fi horror, what is the connection between Jerry Goldsmith’s Alien and Susan Justin’s Forbidden World? Musically, there isn’t one. My advice is to not read too deeply into the chapters and categories and just dive right into the book and all the amazing music.

We think it's fabulous that Blood on Black Wax has special release editions with a bonus vinyl to play at home. However, will there be anything for the enthusiast who wants to listen to the tracks digitally while on the road?

AL - Unfortunately not at this time but there could always be another pressing! I tried to think of a way we could build a turntable you could use in your car but Jeff eventually convinced me this was impossible.

What are some of your favourite horror soundtracks?

JS - My preferences tend to skew to more orchestral and classic sounds. Dimitri Tiomkin’s “The Thing” is a masterwork, and I really love the approach that James Bernard took to the Hammer films. But I’m also drawn to composers who try unorthodox approaches to creating sounds designed to unnerve audiences, even if the music is so experimental that it makes for a challenge to listen to outside of the film, such as Mica Levi’s “Under The Skin,” or Disasterpiece’s “It Follows.” I also have a deep, undying love for the “Teen Wolf” soundtrack.

AL - Everything in the book! Seriously though that’s part of the beauty of getting into, and listening to horror soundtracks. It’s not one genre of music. Each one has the power to affect you in different ways, from the frightening to the beautiful to the hair raising. This is music with the potential to touch all your emotions. For me personally, I don’t think anything will make me stop being a John Carpenter fan. It amazes me how he got these dreamy sounds out of synthesizers and created structures that are so basic and yet no one has ever been able to touch - something that he has continued to prove with his solo career in original faux soundtrack music on the Lost Themes records, that are better than all the faux soundtrack artists who were inspired by him: Slasher Dave, Videogram, Pentagram Home Video, the list goes on and on.

Then you start talking Howard Shore and the music he came up with for David Cronenberg’s films and you are talking about music so powerful it is beyond description or explanation. As much we love Cronenberg here in Canada, his films like Videodrome and The Fly owe so so much the epic awesomeness of Shore’s music. He managed to add that same quality to movies like Silence of Lambs and even non-horror stuff like Cop Land.

What are some of the rarest and hardest to find?

JS - We were really lucky that Aaron has been collecting horror soundtracks for such a long time that he had a lot of titles that fetch a princely sum these days. Getting our hands on an original “Nightmare on Elm Street” or “Halloween” was a real coup.

AL - Without a doubt, it’s original Beat Records vinyl. I don’t think I have ever seen it in person. If you own some, please contact me. I have a couple of homes I could sell.

Do you prefer the original release or the fancy re-releases?

JS - As the guy who collects CDs over vinyl releases, I tend to go with “which one has the most interesting liner notes?”

AL - I lust after original soundtrack LPs. Every horror fan has at least one thing they collect and blow their money on and stay up at night wishing they could find without sacrificing their children's RESPs. That’s mine. But that is purely from a collector/nerd perspective. The 180-gram reissues tend to offer better sound quality, more satisfying packaging, and a more complete listening experience as they tend to be based on later expanded CD reissues.

What are some of the best companies doing horror soundtrack rereleases these days?

AL - I think Waxwork is at the top of the horror soundtrack reissue thing. They are seen as an 80s horror company but they have covered all kinds of stuff like Popol Vuh’s Nosferatu and Komeda’s Rosemary’s Baby. Death Waltz is still doing God’s work as far as Euro-sleaze stuff goes. They are responsible for putting out one of the holy grails of horror soundtracks recently–Riz Ortolani’s House On the Edge of the Park. Lunaris managed to reissue the impossible to find Rocktober Blood and Paul Sabu’s brilliantly cheesy Hard Rock Zombies, so they are a fun label. 

What horror movies from the past never had a soundtrack release that you feel still deserve one?

JS - Some titles that have only appeared on CD are ripe for vinyl re-release. I’d love to see John Beal’s “Terror In The Aisles” get a proper vinyl reissue, for instance.

AL - The music in Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the most important horror soundtracks ever made. It is a prime example of musique concrete, the avant garde, and experimental music designed for a horror film. Whatever reason you come up with that makes this film the classic that it is, the movie’s sound design is right there with it. I know, there are no master tapes for Tobe Hooper and Wayne Bell’s sounds and  blah, blah, blah. You can’t tell me that in this day and age, from a technology standpoint, that there is no way to make a decent, official, soundtrack release for this unparalleled classic.

What happened to the Horror Musical? In Rock n' Roll Nightmares, we have a group of films with a music focus and those that are truly a musical. Couldn't this section be split up?

JS - That's a good question. Chapters and titles were certainly shuffled around as we built up (and ultimately pared down) the list of albums to be included. Ultimately we decided upon fewer chapters (which required their own two-page spreads and took up space) to allow for more content within each section. A lot of these categories are pretty fluid, so we didn’t want to pin down anything too firmly.

AL - When you see things like that in the book, it’s mostly a situation where design principles took precedence. I myself don’t listen to a ton of musicals but there are some pretty good horror musicals being made these days–like Toxic Avenger and Evil Dead. I have some of those soundtracks on CD and even I like to rock out to them sometimes, but don’t tell my girlfriend.

I noticed there was no mention or entry for Cabinet of Caligari in the aforementioned film. Is there a reason behind why this movie was missed? Usually it is played with a live musical accompaniment.

JS - Part of the challenge (and nerdy fun) of the book was debating what to include and what to omit. There are some scores I wish we could have featured. Sometimes it came down to the merits of the music, or how eye-catching the cover was. It would have been unthinkable not to include a feature on Jaws (and we were lucky to get a few choice quotes from Jaws 3-D composer Alan Parker), but we did end up dropping some titles (Death Line, for instance) in favour of others.

AL - I didn’t think it was ever released was it? Do you know something I don’t?

With this book being all about cinema, is a book on all the great television scores in the genre in the works. Is that being saved for another book? I'm thinking of The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Friday the 13th the TV Series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Tales from the Crypt et al.

JS - There was a long conversation around this very subject, given the breakout success of so many new television franchises (Stranger Things, anyone?). But there was a limit to how big the book could get, so we kept our focus limited strictly to theatrical releases. I must confess I did seek any opportunity to include shout-outs to Classic-era “Doctor Who,” hence the inclusion of “The Legend of Hell House,” which was scored by BBC Radiophonic Workshop alumni Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson. The sound design of that television show was a huge influence on me. If Blood on Black Wax proves to be successful enough, it would be a lot of fun to revisit these television soundtracks in a sequel or other edition.

Where can people buy the book?

AL - It officially comes out on Record Store Day, April 13th. This edition is signed by Jeff and I, and comes with an exclusive 7-inch of the Prom Night soundtrack: two pieces of Paul Zaza and Carl Zittrer’s score and two of the disco songs written and featured in the film. This is technically the first official Prom Night soundtrack release of any kind so this 7-inch is going to be a major horror collectors item.

It’s up to your record store to order this edition, and even then they might not get it. RSD is a bit of a lottery. After that, the regular edition comes out May 13 and will be available at all the usual places: Amazon, Indigo in Canada and major book retailers.

Written by  Ed Sum

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