I remember seeing your name on the Bay Cities releases of soundtracks, you certainly released some great film music on that label, how did BAY CITIES come about?
I’ll try to give you the Reader’s Digest version – but I helped get Varese Sarabande started back when they began, got them into soundtracks (their first soundtrack release was to my film, The First Nudie Musical, had a chance to own a third of the company for something like $2500 and passed because at the time they were only doing obscure classical releases. I knew I’d made a mistake when I got them into soundtracks but by then it was too late to get involved financially. When they got their Universal distribution deal they went into a whole other world and somewhere in the late 80s I knew that had I invested I would probably be a millionaire. Out of that was born Bay Cities – I found two people, we each put up a small amount of dough, and like Varese we began with classical albums and soon thereafter graduated to show and then soundtrack reissues.
BAY CITIES issued a lot of classical music but always seemed to release not obscure, but shall we say more interesting film soundtracks, such as CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT by Daniel Licht etc, as well as items such as THE THREE MUSKETEERS by Legrand was releasing lesser known scores something that set out to do rather than sticking with the mainstream material?
Bay Cities was designed to be eclectic. And we right off the bat wanted to support new film composers like Daniel and Randy Miller, but we were also able to get some great reissues like 1941 and Musketeers. Us getting 1941 was such an annoyance to Varese – it made me laugh. I mean – they were ANNOYED. And us getting the soundtrack to Misery annoyed them even more and led to what was ultimately an offer that I couldn’t really refuse given the problems Bay Cities was having.
Sadly, Bay Cities ceased production, why was this as the label seemed to have a solid following?
What killed most small labels back then – distribution. We went through three or four with the common theme being they were so slow in paying what was owed to us that it was difficult to keep up and it got worse with our final distributor, where we couldn’t even get them to pay at all. During all that drama, Chris Kuchler at Varese called me and said I could come there, start my own line, earn a good living, and do whatever I wanted without interference – so given we would have gone under anyway thanks to corrupt distributors, I grabbed that opportunity. It was a difficult decision but, in the end, it turned out to be a good thing for all of us.
Your Kritzerland label also has a catalogue that is filled with some wonderful soundtracks and musicals etc, how do decide on what soundtracks that you will release?
Mostly it’s a simple thing with me, because I’m the company – I must like the music. Yes, there are maybe two releases I could point to that I did because I knew they’d sell well that I didn’t love, but even then, I didn’t hate them and made them into good albums. So, it’s really my taste in things. I wouldn’t release all that 80s and 90s and now 2000s stuff that everyone lives for – other than a handful of scores, that doesn’t interest me. I do understand that financially we perhaps should have looked at least more to the 80s but that crazy nostalgia thing for people who grew up then was and is like nothing I’ve ever seen (although it’s about to be surpassed by the 90s and then 2000s in terms of crazy nostalgia) and I just couldn’t bring myself to grab those titles, not that most of them were gettable because other labels were fighting over them. So, I just went about my business and got the stuff I liked.
I was really pleased when you released JULES VERNE’S ROCKET TO THE MOON, this I think is a very good early score by John Scott, do you have contact with the composer when you are going to release one of their soundtracks, if so do you involve them in maybe selecting the cues that you will include on the release and do you think there could be more Scott soundtracks in the pipeline, THE LONG DUEL for example?
In the case of Rocket to the Moon, we were just releasing the LP program. I was in touch with John because he’s a good friend, but he didn’t have anything extra on the film. I’ve always loved the score, so it was a treat to do it. I have The Long Duel on a list at Rhino – we’ll get to it at some point, I’m sure.
What would you say has been the most difficult soundtrack to produce and for what reasons?
I don’t know if difficult is the word I’d use, but the one that took the longest, because both James Nelson and I were maniacal about it, was Poltergeist 2. All those other releases I’d not liked in terms of sound, and I knew that was partially due to the digital tapes being used – so for the first time ever, I pulled the analogue tapes that were done at the same time and there was all the loveliness, space, and air that I wanted. We must have worked for three solid weeks on that getting it to sound as great as we could get it. And there was a lot of drama about it, but in the end once people heard it they knew that sound-wise there would never be better and even with yet another reissue last year, that has proven to be the case. Otherwise, there really hasn’t been anything difficult other than getting a project, which can, of course, be daunting.
Before KRITZERLAND you were at Varese in the labels early years, how did you become involved with the label and why did they suddenly stop releasing Broadway show recordings?
I was at Varese from March of 1993 to the end of December 1999. By then, the entire vibe there had become so irritating and kind of sickening. There was a year when Bob Townson and Chris Kuchler weren’t even speaking to each other, that’s how crazy it was. They’d gone down this rabbit hole by hiring a marketing person, and he, IMO, hurt us terribly. Yes, he helped with certain titles, but suddenly it all became about marketing – not the albums, but how do we sell this. Well, for the first five years there everything sold well in my division – and certainly the huge winners took care of anything that may have lost a little money. But that’s because we had the market pretty much to ourselves and I was doing nineteen original albums a year, which was insane but fun. Then all the majors got back into the game because they saw how well we were doing. And suddenly nothing was selling as well – all labels go through patches like that, but Chris was, well, not smart about it, kept complaining, and ultimately came to me and said, “We’re out of the Broadway business.” It was a) stupid, and b) negated what he’d told me when I’d shut down Bay Cities – that I had a job for life. So, there was nothing for me to do but leave. And to show you how stupid his decision was if he’d been patient another three years, the entire business model of doing cast albums changed to the show producers paying for their own albums – I helped spearhead that even though I didn’t have a label at the time. Impatience breeds stupid decisions. But also, I really couldn’t stomach what had turn into art by committee, with endless, painful meetings about what would sell and what wouldn’t.
I’ll give you one anecdote that will sum all of that up in a nutshell. When Titanic came out and immediately turned into an all-time box-office winner, the soundtrack was selling millions of units and every label was doing whatever knock-off they could – Music They Should Have Played on the Titanic, Music They Might Have Played on the Titanic, Music They Would Have Played on the Titanic If the Ship Hadn’t Sunk – it was crazy and they were all doing well even though they were all crap.
And I got a brainstorm – to do a Titanic album – with lots of score cues from the Horner, but also music from other movies about the Titanic and even from the Broadway musical – and because the soundtrack album had left off the single piece that everyone wanted – the piano-only version of the Rose theme, I included that. I went in to Chris and pitched it. His response? “Who would buy it?” I tried to explain the phenomenon and he’d just look at me and furrow his brow and repeat, “Who would buy it?”
Then he called in our marketing “expert” who was, as he always was, wishy-washy, agreeing with Chris because that’s who paid his salary. This went on for two weeks, and finally I walked into Chris’s office and said, “You know what, I’m doing this, and you can thank me later.” He looked up, bemused, and said, “Well, if you feel that strongly about it…” And I said, “I not only feel that strongly about it, I’ve had an orchestrator working on it for two weeks, and we’re going into the studio to record in a week-and-a-half as I’ve hired the band and the conductor.” End of the story – it comes out, enters the Billboard Classical Crossover Chart at number two and remains on the chart for forty-nine weeks or something. It sold over 100,000 copies. I was never thanked. He never acknowledged his initial hesitance, and the marketing guy tried to take all the credit.
Do you have a personal preference or a favourite recording that you have produced?
Of the ones I’ve produced that are original, there are several I’m very proud of during the Varese days, but they’re all my children so I don’t single them out. Of the Kritzerland reissues, the favourite would have to be not a soundtrack but the original Broadway cast album of Follies. The LP and mix of that show was legendary and not in a good way – one of the worst-sounding cast albums ever – and it didn’t help they’d truncated the score. Everyone always blamed the recording itself, the engineering.
I got it into my head to see if that was true – it took me a year to convince EMI to license it to me (it’s never been out of print on CD) for a limited edition. I pulled the original eight-track tapes and completely remixed it from scratch – and voila – it suddenly sounded like a gloriously recorded album because it was only the original mix that was horrible – done in a day. We released it and I heard from every living member of the original production and the response from them, starting with Mr. Sondheim, who called it a miracle, was overwhelming as was the response from the buyers. It’s one of my proudest moments. Soundtrack reissues, I’d have to say there were several I was thrilled to finally bring to CD, including Two for the Seesaw, Heaven Can Wait, and most importantly, One-Eyed Jacks.
Stepping away from production, do you think that contemporary film scores do lack a thematic identity, by this I mean do you feel that the opening credits title theme is something that is now in the past?
Sadly, yes – that is until some brave sole writes a main title with an actual tune and that film becomes a hit – then everyone will jump right back on that bandwagon. All the scores today pretty much sound the same, even from the talented composers and that’s because they keep temp-tracking with scores from the hit films of the last decade or so and insisting that the composer follow that to the letter – there’s no art there at all. You can’t have a score like To Kill a Mockingbird or Psycho today – those were original because the directors didn’t temp their film and the composers could do their job and understood the function of what a film score should do. Today it’s all committee, from the director and the producer down to the studio heads – everyone’s got an opinion, and if a film isn’t “working” the first place they look is the score, which should probably be the last place they look.
How have things altered over the years in the production and release of soundtracks, film music has always been a somewhat limited market, is this made even more difficult these days with the likes of Spotify and I Tunes around and what some call the dreaded download?
Yes, some love their downloads – I don’t do that. I like physical media, I’m afraid, but then I’m not twenty. I like things I can hold and look at and play. But I’m not at all sure soundtrack downloads are such a deal in terms of scores – maybe the soundtracks with a lot of songs – but not scores. The reissue market was very lucrative for many years until the market got glutted with so many releases that no one could afford to keep up anymore. I warned everyone about it and not only would no one listen, I was derided for it. Except I was right and pretty much every label has felt it and if you look at the way releases happen now you will see that that’s the case.
Soundtracks such as THE MOLLY MAGUIRES, CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT and THE JERRY FIELDING FILM MUSIC compilations, I don’t think have been re-issued, would this be something that you would consider as a future project for Kritzerland?
We sold our 1500 Molly Maguires, and that took a year – I’m not sure there’d be enough sales left to justify it – Children of the Night – no one would care, although it’s a terrific score – and the volumes of Fielding I think have all been reissued multiple times by now. I’m not so interested in revisiting things – I know some labels love to do things that have been out two, three, four times but I like new stuff. I’ve cut back in the last two years. Much saner that way.
At what age did you begin to take an interest in music of any kind, and what are your memories of the first song or piece of music that you can remember?
I loved music from the time I could process thought. We had a nice record player that played 78s, 10-inch, 45s, and LPs and we had all of those. We had the usual cast albums – South Pacific, etc. some Danny Kaye records. The first movie theme I remember being obsessed with was a 78 of The High and the Mighty. My father was in the restaurant business but also owned several bars in LA that had juke boxes. So, I would get all the 78s and then 45s that were discarded, and that’s how I learned about music. And I remember all of it. As the years went on I was insatiably curious and took chances on all kinds of music. I was an odd child.
Is there anything, soundtrack or musical that you have tried to release but have not been able too?
There was a time we were looking at Li’l Abner, the movie soundtrack. I was given all the pre-records but then Sony did a CD-R release of the soundtrack through Arkiv and that was the end of that. I’d love to do a proper The Court Jester, but that doesn’t seem possible. And there are a handful of soundtracks that I’ve tried for and am still trying for – stuff that no one else would care about but that I love.
Do soundtracks sell because of certain composers or is it a genre thing do you think?
Certain genres seem to do well – horror, sci-fi – just the same as in-home video. Anything with the name Goldsmith seems to sell, no matter whether it’s not great or is from a horrible film or if it’s the twelfth reissue of a reissue of a reissue. It’s funny to watch. John Williams sells. Hugo Friedhofer, one of the greatest film composers in history, not so much. And certain films hold great nostalgia value for people – stuff like The Goonies – and so those do well, I suppose.
A few of the other soundtrack labels have started to do a very limited run on some of their soundtracks, one I know just does 300 per soundtrack, when you are planning a release is it economic for you to maybe press a lower number and wait and see what the reaction is to the initial run before re-pressing?
We’ve been doing 500 runs this year and it’s served us very well – anything under that number is pointless. But any major soundtrack release will automatically get 1000 – Advise and Consent being the latest of those.
If you decide to release a soundtrack and the tapes are not in very good shape, what can you do to try and improve the situation or is it a case of tapes are bad, so we don’t proceed?
Up until three or four years ago, certain scores just were in such bad repair that there was no way to do them. That all changed with A Place in the Sun and It’s a Wonderful Life. I had those tapes forever and they were just so bad you couldn’t even think about it. Then along came Chris Malone. On a whim, I sent him the three worst tracks of A Place in the Sun and said, “Is there any way, anything that can be done here?” A few days later he sent me the three tracks back and whatever he’d done blew me away – it was astonishing. Sent him the rest and finally we had that soundtrack in listenable sound. Wonderful Life was even worse – all acetates, every cue in pieces with multiple pick-ups – it gave me a migraine just thinking about it. I sent him a few of those tracks and asked if he could make sense out of them (thankfully everything was slated) – after hearing the incredible result I sent it all to him, and he somehow figured it all out and again the result was astonishing. He’s kind of a genius at this stuff and I can’t say enough about him. But I also must give equally strong kudos to James Nelson, who’s done amazing work on most of our projects.
What is on the Horizon for Kritzerland?
More stuff from Sony and Rhino, more from Fox, and then who knows? That’s the beauty part – you never know what will magically appear.