Mondo’s Mo Shafeek talks ‘Batman Returns’ and bringing the best film soundtracks to vinyl

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Batman News was the first to announce that Mondo would press the Batman Returns soundtrack to vinyl for the first time in 25 years and now the album is here! This impressive reissue was released in two versions, a 2XLP on sale now, and an exclusive 3XLP available only at last month’s Mondo-Con. We have photos so you can take a closer look at both options, but we also thought it’d be great to talk with the label manager for Mondo Music and Death Waltz, Mo Shafeek, and learn a thing or two about how this project came about in the first place! It’s a pretty lengthy discussion, but Mo’s passion for music is infections and he even teases a few details about Mondo’s 2018’s reissue of the BATMAN (1989) soundtrack.

What are a few of your favorite movie soundtracks?

I’m all over the place. I’m a huge fan of Danny Elfman’s 80’s scores (Batman, Edward Scissorhands) and John Williams’ essentials (Jaws, Close Encounters, Star Wars) but I’m also a huge fan of everything from John Barry’s James Bond scores, The Dust Brother’s Fight Club soundtrack, Jon Brion’s Magnolia, and Joe Hishashi’s music from his Studio Ghibli films.

How about soundtracks from films released this year, any favorites?

I really loved Hans Zimmer’s Dunkirk. Continuing the tradition of being my favorite element of Nolan’s recent films. I was also pleasantly surprised by Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score for Wonder Woman. I don’t really like the “wahhhhhh” guitar theme for Wonder Woman, so I was happy to find out that the score wasn’t only that. I loved the mix-tapes for Atomic Blonde and Baby Driver. Also, it may not technically fall as a 2017 title, but I loved RADWIMPS soundtrack to Your Name.

What are you listening to currently outside of movie soundtracks?

I’m really into Japanese Breakfast, the new Movielife album ‘Cities In Search of a Heart’ and Le Matos right now.

This old question: does vinyl really sound better? Personally, and I know I’m not the audiophile you are, but personally I don’t think it sounds better. However, I enjoy listening to it more because vinyl makes listening to music more of an experience. The act of listening becomes the occasion. With digital music it’s all so easy to set up that the tunes just become background, but with vinyl I’m holding something real in my hands and I have to put in the work to make sure everything’s running right. As a result I don’t want to multi-task while I’m listening. 

I’m not an obsessive audiophile, but I come from a lineage of one. My grandfather was obsessed with his stereo equipment, and preserving the audio quality of his records. But he, and my family subsequently were very quick to jump to CD, then digital. And they honestly don’t get why I make vinyl records for a living, haha! Which is all to say I’ve had a lot of time to think about why it is that I am obsessed with collecting records, and I’ve settled on the fact that it’s not about sound quality– although, I do, like you, enjoy the process (I think there are so many types of sounds and music that vinyl isn’t the best format for everything) — but that said, I love listening to records. And they certainly do sound better than compressed streaming tracks. Does it sound better than CD or FLAC files? It sounds different, but I would never die on the hill of it being “Better.”

The covers of the 2XLP and 3XLP are identical and look gorgeous.

What’s your own listening setup like? I’m talking turntable, receiver, speakers, etc. What do you use to listen to a Death Waltz album when you’re at home?

I currently listen on an Audio Technica LP120, a couple of amazing Klipsch speakers, and an outdated Pioneer receiver that I desperately need to update– I’ve been eyeing a Macintosh amp.

What’s the crown jewel of your own private vinyl collection?

My crown jewel is my Prince collection. Nothing specific, just how much Prince I own. About 45 LPs, singles, and assorted side-projects. I’m still building it too.

Were you into vinyl before working at Mondo?

Yeah, but I worked in the music industry and it wasn’t really around. So what I had was from the few bands in the scene that still sold records. For the longest time, aside from some classics like Thriller, Songs in the Key of Life, Dirty Mind, etc. all I had was records by Get Up Kids, Thursday, Jets to Brazil, Death Cab for Cutie, etc.

How did your journey to Mondo begin and do you have advice for any readers who wishes they could have a career like yours?

It was totally right place, right resume, right time– I moved to Austin in 2011 after a stint managing the shipping and receiving department for a webstore. After five years of being a tour manager, I applied for a part time job at Mondo, as a fan, and my resume was what they were looking for to elevate their webstore and shipping department. The music thing came up organically as the company started evolving their product line. I was the only one at the company with a passionate love of collecting music, and listening to records. I took over managing the label from the second release. My only advice is to continually follow your bliss with your career– you may not realize you are on the right path. I certainly didn’t think I was with the shipping-receiving job, but it turned out to be the key to unlock my dream job. I guess in less words, follow your dreams, but diversify your skill set.

Interior of the 2XLP by Kilian Eng showcase the Gotham sewers

You’ve been with Mondo for a while now, are there still projects that intimidate you? 

Oh, of course. This Josie and the Pussycats soundtrack made me so anxious because I was so honored to be doing it. Working on the Back to the Future Trilogy was one of the most intimidating years of my life. Nearly every one of my dream projects give me mini-panic attacks. But they all end up being incredibly rewarding. I have yet to have an experience that has ruined the film or music for me. If anything, they’ve given me new found appreciations for them.

The 3XLP provides extra canvas for Eng to work and he takes us deeper into the sewer’s tunnels on one side, and to Shreck’s department store on another.

How long has the Batman Returns album been in development and what’s the production timeline like for the average Death Waltz album from the idea all the way up to the stamping of the vinyl and printing of the cover?

I’ve been working towards Batman Returns for almost three years now. A comprehensive timeline doesn’t really exist for Mondo / Death Waltz. Sometimes projects come together in the course of 6 weeks. Sometimes you put your hat in the ring for a title, and then two years later you get a green light… and THEN you have to actually make it happen. That’s kind of what happened with Batman Returns. It was one of the first titles I went after early on, and when we finally were given the rights, it felt surreal but then we spent pretty much the last 12-14 months working on it and Batman (1989) simultaneously.

Kilian Eng’s artwork is gorgeous. How did he come to be involved with the project? Was the theme of focusing on all of these beautiful set pieces from the film his first pitch? If not, what were some other concepts he floated around?

We love working with Kilian Eng, and early on when we were talking artists for the project he was high on the list because of his love of Tim Burton’s cityscapes and backgrounds. With certain films, you are limited to only working with concepts and themes– meaning, you can’t draw the actors– so Kilian worked within those limitations expertly and produced two pieces of art that stand by each other really really well.

How did the idea come about to do liner notes in the style of an issue of the Gotham Globe?

That was all Jay Shaw, our absolute genius Creative Director. Jay has done layout for Kilian’s Alien albums (Alien, Aliens and Prometheus) so when John Takis delivered lengthy liner notes, we realized we needed a lot of space to have all of that information, as well as performer credits. So Jay and I brainstormed some ideas and he came up with the idea of creating a replica newspaper.

It’s a cool idea, making the notes a Gotham newspaper. A lot of really extraordinary designs have come from Death Waltz in just the past year. Just to name a few, there was the Gremlins album that changed in sunlight or contact with water, the Fight Club album that I had to rip in half AKA “destroy something beautiful” in order to access the records within, and the Anomalisa soundtrack that folded into a sort of pop-up diorama of a hotel room. Do you have any examples of other really out-there ideas you guys have experimented with that didn’t work or weren’t cost-effective?

Cost effective is more of a problem than things not working. Almost every brilliant idea that Jay Shaw (Music for 2001, Looper) or Alan Hynes (Fight Club, Anomalisa) have come up with has been do-able. It’s been a matter of having to scale it to make sense for the scope of the project. Looper, which required us to create custom canvas bags that were hand embellished, sanded, and painted was a turning point where we realized that there is a threshold that we can handle as a company to realize a creative vision versus being able to sell it for a price that anyone would buy it for. I’m super proud of that project, but we now work from both sides now, realizing that we need to make it affordable and one-of-a-kind.

The image of Shreck’s infamous cat is also included with the 2XLP, but as a substitute for the Gotham Globe liner notes found in the 3XLP.

What’s your favorite piece of music from Batman Returns?

Absolutely “Kitty Party – Selina transforms.” It’s brilliant. It gives me goosebumps even thinking about it. It’s the moment where the movie becomes an Opera. There’s so much emotion, and Danny Elfman has never been better.

Did you have access to the original master tracks?

Yes. Our producer Neil S. Bulk worked on the CD reissues of Batman (1989) and Batman Returns and so he was able to return to all of the original material to make his dream album out of all of the content.

The 3XLP also features black, grey, and white vinyl whereas the 2XLP includes only black.

Were there any cut pieces or alternate takes that made it onto the new vinyl printing?

On Batman Returns, no but on Batman (1989) there will be a cue or two that have never been on any previous release. Nothing major, but for the true completionist it’s as close as it’s ever been.

 

You can get the 2XLP now at Mondo by clicking HERE and if you’d like to hear more from Mo, you can follow him on twitter @moshafeek.

The full track list of the BATMAN RETURNS 2XLp is hidden behind this spoiler tag:

SHOW SPOILER ▼

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