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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

In Conversation: Jonny Trunk

Photo by Steve Stills.

Trunk Records specializes in ‘Music, Sex, and Nostalgia’ but make sure you don’t call it a reissue label. Dale Marshall talks all things music soundtrack with the mastermind behind the label, Jonny Trunk.

When did your love of film music begin to blossom?

When all my mates at school were buying new pop records I was listening to Henry Mancini and buying film records - ‘Midnight Cowboy’ that sort of thing. There was some very good late night TV when I was growing up especially on BBC 2 where they would show really interesting films from by-gone eras. I would watch these films, hear the music, and think that some of the scenes in the films were the sort of scenes I’d like to live out in my real life, so, I started getting more and more into film music and kind of what it meant I suppose. There also used to be a very good shop in Soho called “5-8 Dean Street Records” - you could never call them “58” they got quite shirty about that – and they were a soundtrack specialist. I didn’t know these things even existed. Coming from suburbia you have an ‘Our Price’ and a local record shop. And from that it just became this mad addiction. I couldn’t stop myself really. I found this huge world of film music that I never knew even existed and started pursuing it and trying to learn more about it. Then it came to a point where I thought I’d got all the film music I wanted and all the ones I didn’t want, didn’t exist. So I thought, the only way to do this then is to release them myself. I started working out, quite clumsily, how to make these records exist. That was the start really.

How do you go about releasing this obscure material?

You have to know what you want to do, which comes from purely selfish desires. I only kind of make things exist that I actually want myself and hopefully other people might want it as well. From that you have to find out if it exists, if there’s a tape somewhere, if the composer’s alive, is the orchestra is still alive, is anyone involved still alive, who owns the film, who owns the publishing, who owns the rights. It’s massively complicated.

Are there any soundtracks you have been unable to release or source?

Absolutely tons! A lot of these things are still locked away in archives and though I spend time chasing them up the chances are I cannot find them or they no longer exist. I would say the average hit rate is one out of ten. For every ten projects, one probably ends up existing in the end. You have to be totally and utterly determined. I watched an interesting piece of animation recently with this beautiful, divine piece of music, and within five seconds I was on the phone shouting at people trying to work out who owned it. Within a couple of days got to the owner of the film and it was a blank no. I get that a lot. Normally, the composer is just utterly thrilled to have some one get in touch with them. The other side of things is where you get the composer saying “What that old pile of shit?” I phoned up one of the Radiophonic Workshop composers Brian Hodgson who worked on ‘The Legend of Hell House’ with Delia Derbyshire to ask about the soundtrack. It is a really funny film, full of really scary fabulous electronic music and I phoned him up and said “Brian have you got that reel anywhere?” and he said “what that old crap I threw it out in 1972, threw it in the bin”. Just like that it is gone forever, that’s it. One reel in a bin, gone forever.

Are there any particular genres/eras you enjoy most?

Well, I do like late 60s, and the early 70s, but if the music is beautiful it doesn’t matter what era it comes from.. I think when I was younger I was obsessed by certain periods of music but that has kind of gone a bit now. I guess I have grown up. I am just interested in good things…Tits! I’m still quite interested in Tits.

Well, there does seem to be a risque side to Trunk Records...

Yeah there is a bit of rudeness running through everything. It’s just being honest really. I have always been into sex. Wait, that’s the wrong way of putting it. I’ve always been intrigued by 50s, 60s and 70s, I think pornographies the wrong word it gives you the wrong impression, but I’d say nudity and glamour that sort of thing. Some of the publishing from those eras is beautiful. The aesthetics are just fabulous. I bought some amazing pictures here (Spittalfields market) a few weeks ago and they are actually beautiful. I won’t go into what they were doing, it was very funny, very entertaining, slightly naughty but, really beautiful to look at. By that, I mean beautifully photographed, and beautifully lit. I used to deal in 60s and 70s porn movie posters, so skin flick posters. Back in the day you could buy them at auction for a couple of pennies and sell them for quite a lot of money, because they were “groovy”. You could put ‘Dracula Sucks’ on your wall, or ‘The Love Pill’, or ‘Keep it up Downstairs’. Related to that is ‘Come Play with me’ which is by David Sullivan who, is my sisters other half. By accident, it was by accident, my sister became this porn star and started appearing in David Sullivan’s newspaper. I guess he kind of thought “that’s a lovely looking lady” and that was it. Anyway, I had left work and she asked me to do some work for her, as an assistant type of thing. As a result of that experience, I did this funny sort of musical project based on letters written to her and it became a book, show, and record. I mean it is flagged upon the website “music, nostalgia and sex” because I think it is quite interesting. Those rude records I put out show an interesting side of human beings. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, but I realise some people have been put off slightly. The BBC will not link to my website because it is too rude or something like that.

You also release your own music through Trunk Records. How did that come about?

That was all because I wanted to prove to myself, that it wasn’t difficult to make a record. That without any musical ability I could make a record by teaching myself how to use a sampler. It was setting myself a bit of a task to see if I could actually make a record and sell it, and not get slagged off. The other one, the follow up, is the result of the off-cuts from the first one hence the name ‘Scrap-Book’. They all sold, so people seem to like it.

It seems like anything with the Trunk label on will prick up the ears of record collectors.

Pretty much everything I do both my own work and the things I release through the label disappear really quickly. If you are not quick enough it’s gone then you won’t get it at all. A lot of the out of print records especially the vinyls go for a lot of money now. What happens now is people end up buying two copies of what I do, keeping one back and flogging it later on, which is a bit out of order but there’s nothing I can do. I mean, realistically nothing sells that well anymore. The markets so different now, there are hardly any record shops. You have got online retailers but it is a very different musical market to how it was when I first started. Back then you could sell four thousand vinyl records of something really weird. You cannot do that now unless it is some famous artist. But there is a little bit of demand.

So, do you just buy the original soundtracks, or get the rights to release them?

Well they’re normally (tape) reels as there are certain rules I have, in that most of the time the recording has to be unreleased as otherwise it would just be a reissue label and that is easy as you don’t have to do anything. You just phone up a major label and go “oh hello can I issue these recordings” and they go “Yeah! Give us the money”. I think that is why people kind of like the label because they know they will get something they can’t get anywhere else.

A good example is the ‘Life on Earth’ LP we just put out. The guy who composed it, Edward Williams, originally made a hundred copies for the orchestra but it wasn’t properly released. It sort of does exist, but a hundred records most of which were probablyly chucked away. The composers got ten of them so there’s probably forty in existence. I think that falls into it as it was never licensed, and never even issued. I mean, you are never going to get one of those are you? Another one is Desomnd Leslie’s ‘Music of the Future’. He made these weird hard acetates, almost like shellac vinyl and gave them to his friends. They come in these great sleeves where he has written copious notes all over the back and front, and what he’s done is got glue and glitter and then put ‘Music of the Future’ and thrown glitter all over it. So sometimes it comes from copies the composer had made for their friends but as a rule they tend to come from master tapes. When it is digitally enhanced it sounds like shit.

It is also surprising that some of your label’s output was not released before such as ‘The Wicker Man’ soundtrack.

The thing about ‘The Wicker Man’ is it was a B-Movie so it was never supposed to do any business at all. It was a bit of a joke really. I think they planned to do a soundtrack but then they kind of thought “Bollocks”, and that’s probably why it didn’t exist before.

Speaking of B-Movies, you have also championed the fantastic 'Pyschomania'...

Ah great film, absolutely hilarious film. Nasty and weird soundtrack by John Cameron. You see that sort of existed as they was a seven inch released. You see they are all sort of cult films, apart from ‘The Wicker Man’ as that has become a big film now, like a top ten film. You have to remember, that twenty years ago you couldn’t mention a film like that, people would just go “ey?!”. You could mention something like ‘Get Carter’ and expect the same reaction. It’s all thanks to people like Alex Cox really. Alex Cox did a really good program on BBC2 where he’d pick all his favorite films and they’d always be a cult weird ones, and because everyone only had about four channels in those days people would be watching these amazing films. That is why my generation is different from yours because if you wanted to do or find something you really had to dig for it. Where as now you type it into the keyboard and “ding,” you can get anything you want. You can see anything you want, or find anything you want instantly. I spent twenty years finding single records, where as now you can find them in seconds. You Google a composer and he comes up, contact details and everything.

But does that make your job harder in a way as now you have got more competition?

There is and for a while I got quite paranoid about it. But now I have built up a little bit of a reputation and a kind of strange aesthetic. Sort of by accident really. A sort of weird, funny music. I always call it funny music but it is reliably interesting and always sounds good. I think there are a lot of people putting out any old shit actually. They don’t have the kind of quality control in place and I don’t think it is consistently interesting or consistently good. I think that is where I differ. I’m quite careful in what I do where as they have put out loads of stuff for reissue.

Do you get many suggestions to put out stuff.

Yeah, constant e-mails. What is weird is they only suggest six different things and it is always the same things - a bit of Russian stuff, a bit of European stuff, a bit of weird lost English stuff. But it’s just the fact that people are happy to give me their ideas, which is amazing. Communication with anyone who enthuses with what you do always makes it worthwhile.

How did the radio show (The Original Soundtrack Show on Resonance 104 FM) come about?

Resonance had been going for about a month and I was asked to go on a friend of mines show, I talked about the Clangers I think it was. Went to the pub afterwards, got completely drunk and I think I was rabbitting on about weird music they had never heard of and they said you should get a show on Resonance. I had actually written a proposal for one anyway, and they e-mailed me back saying can you start Saturday.

Have you ever got to a point where you think you’re running out of stuff to play or new show ideas?

No, never and that’s what’s so weird. I mean, it is an enormous area to work from. You think of all the eras of film and the angles you can take. It’s not just about “we’re only doing films from this era, or that era” there’s millions and millions of ways you can play film music on the radio. It just does not run out. Especially with people who want to come on the radio and talk about their collection of film music, or their influences from films, or just the fact they like film music. It’s an amazing outlet actually and gives the collection a bit more of a purpose as well. Every weekend when you do the show you pull out the ones that are relevant and you say “Oh I forgot about that”. I bought it ages ago and finally its day has come. The show lets you reflect on all the work you have put in and how good all the records are.

So, is the record company and all the stuff affiliated with it essentially your career?

Yeah that is what I do. To be honest, I kind of make it up as I go along. There is also djing and music research where I get paid to find people music; bits of advertising and film. I write for magazines and books too. I just try and invent things to do. As long as I am working for myself it is fine, and I’d recommend it to anybody.

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