In a very short time, Waxwork Records have quickly established their place in the soundtrack community. An impressive debut, Richard Howard Band’s 1985 score for the Stuart Gordon classic Re-Animator, helped to quickly capture the public’s eye and kept it with the follow-up, the radically different Rosemary’s Baby. Composed by Krzysztof Komeda, Rosemary’s Baby features a jazz-infused composition that relies on tempo as a means for creating hysteria. With two distinctive scores on the table, there was only room to grow. Now, Waxwork have unleashed five scores—including Day of the Dead, Creepshow, and the recent Chopping Mall—and are looking to the future and ways to expand. In light of their recent work with Chopping Mall and the forthcoming Friday the 13th, we got the opportunity to chat with Kevin Bergeron about the formation of the label and some of the early hardships, the relation of music to the movie monster, and where Waxwork is headed in 2015.
Noisey: What were the initial challenges of starting Waxwork Records? There are so many more factors that aren’t really present when operating a "normal" label?
Kevin Bergeron: Some people didn’t understand what I wanted to do. I didn’t have a lot money to start Waxwork. It’s hard getting a business loan when everyone at a bank gives you a blank stare when you propose your business plan as a record label that only releases vinyl; like you’re speaking another language to these people. Everyone just asked me, “They still make vinyl? Well, they don’t make turntables anymore, do they?”
So, I sold everything I had, and that barely got me enough funds to pay for the Re-Animator jackets.
When I finally got Waxwork going, and people were taking notice, I started getting emails from folks who were curious about what we were doing. We locked in Rosemary’s Baby within just a few months of existing, and when we announced it, it was like this bomb went off. I was contacted by people in the industry that wanted to know more about us and what titles we had lined up for release. At the time I didn’t want to let anyone know what we were working on, but we were sort of backed into a corner.
There isn’t any beef that I know about, but we were the new kids on the block for a minute. We just pushed forward to get ourselves established.
So, yeah, the biggest challenges of getting Waxwork rolling were people not understanding us and turning us away, and those who did understand what we were doing weren’t initially very accepting.
Had you had prior label experience? What is your background?
I had experience pressing vinyl and recording. I played in hardcore punk bands for a long time, about 15 years. Play in a punk band that cares about what they’re doing for long enough, and eventually you’re going to cut a record. The whole process of making a record fascinates me and I really like being in a recording studio. So, I became the go–to-guy in the band to get everything done. In my last band, no one contributed or helped, so I was put in this position to learn everything and hold everyone’s hands. I became the guitarist, the booking agent, the publicist, the merch guy, the guy screen printing t-shirts at 3AM, the road crew, the guy that wrote all the songs, paid for recording and studio time, paid for cutting the records, shipping records, and so on—keep in mind there were four other guys in the group. I even played guitar AND bass on a record because our bass player was such a fuck up. I know this all sounds like I’m complaining but I’m really not. I just kept moving and got the work done. Eventually, you don’t expect anyone to contribute. You’re driving the bus and that has a lot of benefits. We eventually became the first American band to ever tour Cuba, and when we got back to the US, the other guys in the group made it clear that they couldn’t hack it on the road. I was already working on booking a tour in Russia! We had a band meeting, and our singer and lead guitarist quit and I kicked out our drummer; it all happened in the span of maybe 10 minutes. So, I said, “fuck all this,” and decided to pursue running my own record label, Waxwork.
Can you take us through the process of actually obtaining the rights to these releases? It seems like a difficult, expensive process.
The first step is to find out who actually owns the rights; rights can also be co-owned by different parties. You also have to be careful because there are people out there who will try to license something when they have no ownership at all. Once you know who owns the rights, then you ask for permission and work out a licensing agreement. You also have to obtain a separate mechanical license. It’s a little more complicated, but that’s the basic idea. Licensing can be a difficult and pain-staking process. It’s always different. Sometimes we lock in a title in a couple days; sometimes it takes over a year. Sometimes 20 different people have their hands out asking for royalties.
That being said, what led to acquiring Re-Animator as your first release?
Composer Richard Band was the first person to take a chance on us! Seriously, that’s how it happened. I got him on the phone, pitched what we wanted to do, and he took a chance on a new label. The dude is great. Richard Band is also good friends with composer Harry Manfredini. When Richard saw that we were legit and how excited we were about releasing Re-Animator, he put us in touch with Harry and that’s how we started to lock in the Friday the 13th scores.
One thing that can be noticed early on is that your current releases differ greatly from each other. With the exception of all being horror film scores, they are completely different styles. Was this intentional?
It wasn’t part of our agenda by any means, but I’m happy that it turned out that way. I don’t want Waxwork to become synonymous with one style of music. My only intention from the beginning was to release great scores from films that I grew up with and love. I literally made a wish list and went after those titles.
The next two slated releases—Chopping Mall and Friday the 13th—are marked by a strong sense of style-meets-the-monster. What do you think a score can do to build up a monster/killer/character?
It can completely create an identity for the monster. A good example is Friday the 13th; we only hear music when the killer is present.
For instance, in Chopping Mall we are given this hyper-electronic score, which matches the robotic security guard killers. Can you describe a part of the film where the soundtrack is particularly effective in highlighting a mood?
The opening scene of Chopping Mall, featuring the main title of the score, completely sets the mood for that film. Everything about that movie’s opening credits and main title is representative of the period in which it was made. It puts their budget and what the filmmakers’ goals were on display. It’s just brutally lowbrow 1980’s fun.
Of course, with Friday the 13th, there is an obvious ode to Psycho and Bernard Herrman’s score, but the infamous “ch ch chi, ah ah ah” is something that has become inescapable from Friday’s killer(s).
It’s actually taken from when Betsey Palmer’s character says “Kill Her Mommy”….Ki-ki-ki- Ma-ma-ma. Composer Harry Manfredini provided some really informative liner notes for our Friday the 13th release, where he talks about how he created the iconic sound effect. When scoring the film, he whispered and recorded the first consonants of “Kill” and “Mommy” into a mic then ran it through a delay. It was just this off the cuff thing he did to create an identity for the killer, and it became this super iconic thing: really brilliant stuff.
Other than scores you’ve released, what scores do you think best match mood to character? Jaws? Halloween? It doesn’t have to even be horror.
It’s hard to think of it that way. With Jaws, and especially Halloween, I don’t think the composers could have known just how much of an enduring thing they were creating. John Carpenter is known for scoring his films pretty quickly.
I think Tobe Hooper and Wayne Bell methodically scored the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It was a low budget film and super DIY, but I think those guys knew well that a big orchestral score, or even an electronic score on the cheap, couldn’t work for that movie. So, they created the most fucked up soundtrack ever without the use of actual musical instruments. I don’t even think it can even be called a “film score” or a “soundtrack,” it just works perfectly.
Your business is strange, in that there are a few strong labels currently operating towards achieving similar goals. As you focus on re-issues, is it difficult working with a more finite amount of scores?
It’s not really that strange. I mean, some of the other labels have released stuff that I would have loved to put out on Waxwork, but I’m not losing sleep over it. We’re also very selective with what we release. I guess it is somewhat competitive when it comes to the iconic scores, especially since new labels are sprouting up. Even older labels that only release CD’s are making the switch back to vinyl.
With Waxwork, I’m always thinking about what’s best for the label, and what’s going to keep it running strong, how we can attract more people with similar interests; forward movement and all that. I think there’s going to be a shift, and some of the record labels are going to branch out into other non-film score related projects. We’re already discussing doing this. Ideally, we’ll be working on something that’s really cool, and won’t be bothered if another label is releasing a great film score we had our eyes on. Hopefully, the fans we’ve acquired will come along for the ride.
Sounds like you are evolving. Are you planning on expanding outside the horror, sci-fi boundaries?
Definitely. We have The Warriors coming out in 2015, and some more titles that I don’t think anyone is going to expect we would ever put out. We’re planning on expanding outside of soundtracks, too.
What is one release that you’d love to be a part of?
Honestly, I would really like to obtain the audio stems of just the background wind, and phone calls from Black Christmas (1974) and release it around Christmas time. That movie is terrifying.
Do you have any desire to work on current releases; offer vinyl releases for new scores?
Already in the works!