Based in New York City, Ship to Shore Phonograph Company is the latest in a slew of new vinyl labels to appear on the scene in the last few years. However, they take a little different approach than most of the labels out there; rather than focus on film scores, Ship to Shore has assembled the soundtrack to Troma's 1986 cult classic, Class of Nuke 'Em High, featuring cuts from artists like the Smithereens and Stormbringer. After a few delays, the LP started shipping last week, and the response online has been enthusiastic. We spoke with the label's Aaron Hamel by phone about how the label came to be, as well as their future plans.
STARBURST: Being based out of New York City, we guess that makes working with Troma fairly easy?
Aaron Hamel: Yeah, well, actually I used to work for Troma, myself. During college – my junior year of college, so that would've been 2010 – I interned at Troma and then, upon graduating in 2012 ,I went to work on their latest film, Return to Nuke 'Em High, and I was the assistant director on that picture. And then, after the movie was over, I ended up working in their sales department for about a year. So I got to be very familiar with Troma!
So we imagine that made doing Class of Nuke 'Em High as your first release an easy decision?
Oh, yeah! Well, me and my partner, Justin – we're longtime fans of Troma, so we always wanted to see the Class of Nuke 'Em High soundtrack get released. We always loved the theme song and all the songs on the soundtrack, so it was an easy decision, and a good decision for our first release, because we knew Troma so well.
It seems like putting together a soundtrack rather than a film score would be a lot more work, just because of the artists involved.
Yes, it certainly was a lot of work. It took a long time to get everything going on it. I mean, simply tracking down these guys was tough, because a lot of them haven't done a lot since Nuke 'Em High, so the hard part was just finding them all. Once we got in contact with them, though, most of them were extremely excited just to have this stuff released, since it had never been released in a lot of cases. So, most of them were very happy to be involved with the project. But, yes, it did take a lot of work. We started this project probably last October, so it's been a long time getting it together.
Some of the songs were released on CD several years back, but this makes the debut for quite a few of these in any form.
As far as I know, the Class of Nuke 'Em High theme has never been released on any physical format. You can download it from the composer's website, but it has never been released on any format.
Same for the song, “Emotional Refugee,” played in the introduction of the film. When they do that long tracking shot across all the desks and they show the cretins and everything, that's the song they play there. That song has never been released in any physical format, either. A couple of the metal songs like GMT's “Angel,” Stratus's “Run For Your Life,” and Stormbringer's “Rock 'n' Roll Paradise” had all been released previously on their own, on those bands' albums, but I don't even think those songs were released in America. As far as I know, they were only released in Europe, so these songs are pretty rare.
What is cool with this release, is the digital version comes with track-by-track commentary. That just seems like a next level to the whole soundtrack game. Bands have already done things like that when they put out new albums, but the idea of making it exclusive content is really novel. How did you guys come up with that idea?
I had been going on Spotify and I saw around that time Judas Priest's new album had come out and they did a thing where they had the little spoken pieces in between the tracks for the Spotify release. And you know, of course, working for Troma, I knew Lloyd Kaufman very well. So we posed the idea to him, because he loves to do commentary tracks for his films, and he loved the idea. We went up there, we did it, and it was a lot of fun!
People are really going to like his commentary. There's a lot of great information that he gives that even I didn't know, and I'm practically a Troma historian. It's like, for instance – I'll give you a little taste of the information. When he's talking about the Smithereens song, “Much Too Much,” he talks about how when they were filming that scene that the Smithereens are in, he had originally wanted them to do the entire scene in hazmat suits. But, of course, they wanted the exposure, so they didn't really like that idea, but that was apparently Lloyd's original concept for the scene. It's all stuff like that, it's really fascinating stuff.
The release got pushed back. Has this changed your view going forward? Does this change how you're doing it going forward in terms of releases?
When we started this – Justin and I – we started this, because we're average record collectors ourselves. We love obscure music and we never really wanted to pigeonhole it as just a soundtrack label. So some of the other things we have planned are not necessarily soundtracks, but we have a few other soundtracks waiting in the wings. We wanted to be diverse, is what I'm trying to say!
But yeah, in terms of release scheduling, we definitely want to plan that better so we don't have our customers waiting so long. There's a lot going on with delays. It's disappointing to me as a producer and as a fan, as a consumer.
When you say “obscure” music – and we’re not trying to get you to divulge your upcoming releases – what are you guys fans of?
Well, Justin is more of a '60s psychedelic fan, so he likes a lot of the '60s deep cuts. I personally am a big soundtrack fan; '80s, late '70s/early '80s punk, new wave, so we have a lot of things in that vein coming, as well. Unfortunately, that's all I can say at the moment.
I can tell you, though, that we're actually going to be launching a Kickstarter very soon for a project for which the licensing is extremely high, but I think it's something that people are going to really enjoy. There's a game called Earthbound. Earthbound is actually the sequel to a game that was released in Japan, but that first game, we are planning to do the soundtrack. I've been negotiating with a company for the rights and we've reached an agreement, and we're going to try and raise the money that way.
What appealed to you about the music from that game?
What's interesting about that game is that it was so popular in Japan, that they released a soundtrack to it. It came out in 1989, and was so popular, that they took the expense to fully orchestrate the music from the game with a complete orchestra and even gave it vocals in English – which is extremely strange. I can't think of another example where that happened. So that uniqueness is what appeals to me, along with just being a fan of the game and the series itself. It's just a very odd and unique piece of history. I think people are going to really, really enjoy it.
We’ve noticed that what seems to be the problem of getting material from those movies that came out in the '80s is that they were not made with an eye to posterity.
Before our first release, we tried to get The Toxic Avenger, but a lot of the songs were either lost - like the masters were completely gone! In the case of that funk song that plays during the Mexican restaurant fight? That song is completely lost. The only version that exists is the version that the guy who composed it re-recorded ten years later. So The Toxic Avenger's is one that's hard to do, unfortunately, because I love, love that soundtrack, it's so crazy!
Even Class of Nuke 'Em High was hard. A couple of the songs had to be sourced from the original vinyl pressing, just because the masters were lost. I don't know if they just didn't care, or just didn't think it would matter in the future, but a lot of these things are just not around anymore. Luckily, the guy who composed the theme did keep the original master tapes for that song, and he had actually remastered it himself a few years ago when Return to Nuke 'Em High was coming out. That's how I originally got in contact with him; I reached out to him because I wanted to use the theme in Return to Nuke 'Em High, so I had known him from that and he'd remastered the song for that reason. Then, we used that and mastered it for vinyl of course; but we used that for the album.
The artwork for Class of Nuke 'Em High is very distinctive. How did that come to be?
Well, the artwork was done by a British fellow named Godmachine, a great guy. That print actually had been done for a company called Scuzzles in the UK. They're a sort of Mondo-esque company, but in the UK. He had done that print while I was working at Troma, I think they did about 150-200 copies of it. When we were looking at artwork options, we had contemplated commissioning a new piece, but I had remembered that there was this great piece of art that, you know, not many were made at the time, and it looked very cool. So we talked with Godmachine and we were able to license that piece of artwork for the cover. He was really excited, because his art has never been used for a record jacket before, so he was very happy to be a part of it.
That's totally cool. Is that legitimate black light?
I don't think it's printed with black light ink, but yeah, that's the style that he was kind of going for – an old black light poster, which I love. It was really great to have that as a part of it, because I've always liked that poster. Certainly better than the original poster!
Ship to Shore Phonograph Company's CLASS OF NUKE 'EM HIGH soundtrack is available now. The “Dewey's meltdown” vinyl variant is sold out; but you can still get your hands on 180-gram black vinyl, if you act quickly – head over to the website and order now!