Interview: Jon Dobyns, Founder of Tiger Lab Vinyl

by Zac Bertschy,
Tiger Lab Vinyl recently announced that they'd be releasing the soundtrack to the classic Yoshiaki Kawajiri horror anime Wicked City on limited edition vinyl. They're the first record label to release classic anime soundtracks on the resurging format, and we sat down with the label's founder and co-owner, Jon Dobyns, to get the details.

ZAC BERTSCHY: Can you tell us a little bit about the label, how it got started, and your involvement in it?

DOBYNS: Sure. About a year ago I… you know, I've been a record collector for years, I've always loved film scores and soundtracks, and I have a pretty extensive collection. You know in the past few years we've seen a crazy resurgence in vinyl sales, and soundtracks getting pressed on vinyl, and I became friends with all the peers involved and one thing I always thought was that nobody was releasing classic anime scores. And that's like, you know, stuff that I really grew up with. I grew up on horror films and it was such a... like the stuff that we're going to be catering towards was a huge gateway for me into this world. I fell in love with all the soundtracks and the scores from when I was a kid. No one was really putting out anything--it seemed like there was no intention to do anything like that so I kind of figured: "well, instead of waiting around for something like this to actually happen, I trust myself and I'm actually just going to do it myself. And then the co-owner, Clint, I've been friends with him for a long time, we used to tour in a band together. We were both electronic musicians and a lot of the stuff we want to do is very electronic based, very early-80s and early-90s titles. You know, I just brought him onboard and that's how Tiger Lab really got started.

So your focus is entirely on horror-themed OVAs and movies from the 80s and 90s?

Yeah absolutely. We're focusing on that genre for the most part. So that exciting time in the mid-late 80s and 90s when there was a lot of crossover appeal and specific titles were reaching the US fans. That's our main focus.

Right so, so here's an idea: for your webpage you want a navigation menu that's just a photo of the VHS anime section of Blockbuster Video circa like 1988 and like you'll be set.

[laughs]

It will invoke that nostalgia, right? That's when all that became famous.

Right. [laughs*]

So you're starting with Wicked City…

Right.

What's your personal connection to this? How did you discover that film?

It was one of those movies that had this notorious reputation growing up. I'd say I discovered it probably when I was around 13, 14 years old. So, like I said, I grew up on horror films and so, you know, searching at stores, going into VHS sections, the cover caught my eye and I got really interested. It was all about the imagery as a kid when you're growing up and into that genre. So I rented it, watched it, like, fell in love with it as a kid and that's really how it started. And then… as I discovered more and more, I just had a deep connection with it because it was one of those… I felt like it was one of those anime that, um, I'm not a huge fan of the live action adaption but it had such a sense of real… of a real horror film to it.

Right.

And then the score itself I just thought was really, really cool because Osamu Shooji's composition is, like, lounge piano lines and it had this very cool 80s James Bond vibe to it and the way everything cross-pollinated, I just fell in love with it.

What do you think the market is for classic anime soundtracks on vinyl? Like, who's your customer?

Well, at first I'd say there's basically two demographics: I'd say one is "people that grew up with these classic anime titles, and grew up with them as a kid, have a strong connection to them, and when they see it it's like 'oh wow, I can't believe it, this soundtrack came out?' and it would kind of, like, get them back into the OVAs. And the other… like I said before, there's a huge… a giant group of people and demographic that listen and collect all types of film soundtracks. Right now, they're usually pressed on vinyl and there really isn't… this market hasn't been discovered yet. So I kind of wanted to reintroduce people to these titles and to the scores themselves, because the titles that we're carefully choosing are scores that we really connect and define with. So, it's kind of like a one-two punch.

As your initial offering did you select Wicked City because of how much it resonated with you? Or was it more like "well, it was sort of a cross section of 'this was sort of an important title back then' and also 'it was relatively easy to get the rights to publish the soundtrack here'?"

Ah, no. It was actually one of my top 5, 10 anime films from when I was a kid. It was always on my top list of anime, so it was just one of those things that I thought of like "wow, that would be really cool, I'd love to see Wicked City, The Soundtrack come out and I'd love to work with the composer," and we just made it happen.

What kind of a print run are you looking at for this initial offering?

There's a thousand copies available with five hundred on green and five hundred on black.

Are these going to be in stores or is it just through the website?

They'll be in stores across North America and then they'll be on our site as well, and then the folks at One Way Static and Death Waltz Recording Company will have the soundtracks available over in Europe. We're also distributing it with Light in the Attic in Seattle, so they take care of our retail. So if anyone's interested in supplying their store with copies they can reach out to Light in the Attic.

So moving forward: after Wicked City, what are some of your dream titles? What would you love to put out?

Well, we have… we're gonna go into production in the beginning of May for our next title, which hopefully will come out in early October, maybe the first week, and I can't spill the beans too much on it…

Right.

But this is something that I loved, this particular title and score so much. It's by a very well-known composer and I guess I could tell you that the intro to this OVA is one of my absolute favorites and I think a lot of people will agree.

All right, cool. So moving forward, what people can expect from you will be more in the line of something like Wicked City. In other words, don't look to you to be thinking about releasing something like Yoko Kanno soundtracks on vinyl.

Yeah. If you're more of a fan of the stuff like Wicked City, the more adult-themed OVAs, then that's our mission statement.

So you're talking Ninja Scroll, you're talking…

Right.

What else? Biohunter?

[laughs] Yeah, I haven't looked into Biohunter, but yeah, that kind of area. Also there is one title that we have been playing around with that's actually from a series that came out in the mid-00s.

Okay, so you are looking at more recent stuff.

But it's also one of… it falls in the line with the Wicked City aesthetic. It's a darker, more adult content.

Okay. So the big crossover here, there are fans of what you're talking about and there are people that are maybe more interested in stuff that's more mainstream, but the obvious crossover is Akira…

Sure.

Which is sort of the obvious: are you thinking about Akira? But I don't know if that's already released by someone else.

That is… that's always the number one question from anybody.

I'm sure.

One of the other things I really wanted to focus on too was that a title like Akira, it's been released a few times, it has major bootlegs out there. There actually… a bootleg was released nine, ten months ago… I think as a double vinyl, too. It's widely available whether it's a bootleg or not. I kind of want to focus on stuff that people can't even get their hands on. I want to reissue stuff for the first time actually in America. So that's… a lot of our titles have never, ever seen domestic release from these particular composers or titles ever.

So, out of curiosity, do bootleg pressings on vinyl LPs, does that seriously damage your ability to make money? If somebody had bootlegged Wicked City, does that eat up the small market that currently exists?

I wouldn't say… as much as you'd think. There's a very loyal demographic out there that wants to purchase licensed records done the right way, because when you're buying a bootleg, you're buying something that wasn't even licensed through. Whether it's a record label or a composer, there's no fees that were given, and it's kind of a little messed up. So everything that we do is legal, official, and everyone is paid the way they're supposed to be paid.

Oh sure. But my point was it's more a basic business reality. "Okay, we're releasing something that maybe 800 people, maybe, in the US actually want to buy. If there's a bootleg out there that's regularly available, 450 of those people will buy that bootleg and then we don't have anyone to sell this record to," that's what I'm talking about.

Well you know, if that's a case that happens and there's a bootleg that comes out that we're actually planning on doing, which I can't spill the beans too much on this, because something actually recently happened, we'll just go above and beyond and we'll give a better package. And since we work directly with the composers and publishing companies, we'll get liner notes from the composer, from the director, and do something very special that a bootleg can't offer.

Are you doing anything in terms of liner notes?

We will be in the future. We didn't do liner notes with Osamu, but we have some stuff planned for our next releases, yeah.

 


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