Aaron Hamel

We recently reported on the Kickstarter campaign that has been launched with the goal of giving the Mother Original Arranged Soundtrack a western release. In just four short days the campaign smashed its funding goal and is now well on its way to reaching some stretch goals as well.

We had the chance to sit down with Aaron Hamel, one of the masterminds behind the project, to discuss the campaign, what the future holds, and why you should play Mother.

Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us. Would you please introduce yourself to our readers?

My name is Aaron Hamel, I'm the co-founder of Ship to Shore PhonoCo. We've put out three releases so far, well, the third is being pressed right now and should be out in May or June of this year, and we're working on the Mother Original Arranged Soundtrack Kickstarter. It's been quite a success so far!

This project coincides with the 25th anniversary of Mother's original Japanese release, which came and went with surprisingly little fanfare. What inspired you to pursue this release?

Well, when I started doing these records with my partner Justin Martell, this was definitely something that I wanted to do from the very beginning. I love the album so much. I love Mother – the game and the series – but I'm particularly fond of the original. I think the story has a very strange quality to it. It definitely has the quality of a 1980s Famicom RPG. There's a lot of grinding, but I think the story itself is… it just feels like a game made by somebody who isn't a game maker. I think that makes it interesting, like Earthbound, and the music is excellent! It doesn't really sound like any other Famicom game.

The music is the same way. Hirokazu Tanaka programmed a lot of the music, but he was helped by Keiichi Suzuki who was in a band called Moonriders in Japan. It just seemed to be the kind of thing that was lightning in a bottle almost. It's made by people who aren't in the games industry, so you come up with this weird thing, and this arranged soundtrack is a definite extension of that bizarreness.


From what I understand, it actually is a game made by people who weren't involved in the games industry. Wasn't Shigeru Miyamoto initially hesitant to let the series be made?

At the time in Japan, the Famicom was so huge that a lot of celebrities were willing to slap their name on any game just for a quick buck. When Shigesato Itoi, who is a celebrity in Japan, approached Miyamoto with the idea, from what I understand, he was hesitant because he didn't want it to be a cash-in. It took a lot of convincing, but eventually we got the Mother series and the rest is history.

As a label interested in bringing rare and unusual products to consumers, such as Tiny Tim's Nobody Else Can Love Me (Like My Old Tomato Can) cylinder record, did you consider releasing the Mother OST in any other formats?

It was always planned as a vinyl release. The Tiny Tim thing was a special project. My partner Justin is a big Tiny Tim fan, probably the biggest Tiny Tim fan you'll ever meet. Tiny Tim's music certainly lends itself to the Edison cylinder; he was so obsessed with that old style music and even when he was alive he had pursued doing an Edison cylinder for many years. That was a very special project and the stars kind of aligned to make that possible. For the Mother project, I always wanted it to be an LP because it had never come out on LP and that was really it. I just wanted to bring it out on a format that it had never been brought out on.

Why did you decide to use Kickstarter as a platform to fund this project?

The licensing costs for Mother are extremely high. It's been about a year to get to this point, and it's much more expensive than any project that we've done before. The only real way to get it done was through the Kickstarter. It was the only way to make it happen and I wanted to be a part of the label that put it out. [Laughs]

I've been collecting records for years, and ever since I heard this arranged album I've wanted it on vinyl. It didn't make it out on vinyl in its original release in 1989 or the re-release in 2004, so when I started talking to the people we licensed it from I knew that it was either going to be me or it was going to be nobody.

Probably the most interesting person we've found so far is Linda Hennrick... She told us that it was always intended for a global release and that's the reason it's all in English.

What can you tell us about the process involved in a project like this? Were there difficulties in acquiring licensing rights?

A lot of the process is simply getting a big company to notice us. We're small, we've had two releases – at the time I started talking to them we only had one – so you can imagine that it took a long time to even get them to notice my requests. Once they did notice us, the long process was going back and forth between Japan about clearances and that sort or thing. It's just a long bureaucratic process.

So, not as interesting of a process as one would hope?

No, not really. [laughs] It's all tied up in forms and paperwork, going back and forth with Japan on this and that. It's really not as interesting as people probably think, unfortunately.

You mention on the Kickstarter page that you've been “tracking down the original artists that contributed to this album and collecting information for a 'behind the scenes' look." Can you tell us who from the original team you've been working with and what you're working on?

Oh yeah! So far, we've got Jeremy Holland-Smith and Jeremy Budd, the two boys who sang in the St. Paul's Cathedral Choir who sang in "Eight Melodies," "All That I Needed (Was You)," and "Bein' Friends." We found them and they told us some pretty interesting things about the recording process.

Probably the most interesting person we've found so far is Linda Hennrick who wrote all of the English lyrics. She was able to tell us about all of her initial meetings with Itoi, the process of writing this, and how strange it was that it was all in English! She told us that it was always intended for a global release and that's the reason it's all in English. Because of the way things lined up and worked out, it never got released here, but apparently it was always intended to. We're also trying to get in touch with Suzuki who composed most of the music for the game to get his input. Were still working on that, but we're hoping that it can happen.

Were you able to track down Catherine Warwick?

We have tried and are still trying, but she is quite elusive. [Laughs] There is no record of her around. We've looked on every Facebook page, every LinkedIn profile, but we can't find her! If anybody out there knows where Catherine Warwick is, I want to know. I have so many questions!


When you initially reached out to the people involved in the original soundtrack, how did they react to your pitch? Were they excited or even interested?

Every person we've approached has been happy. I think they're a little incredulous and they can't quite believe that people still care about this thing they did almost 30 years ago now. We asked Linda Hennrick specifically if she was aware of the fandom of Earthbound and Mother in the west and that people were still listening to this album. She was surprised that people were even listening to it back then! [Laughs] She just couldn't believe it, but she was very happy to be involved.

Most people were just surprised that the fans cared about it. The boys in the choir were just stunned that anybody would even ask them about it. They were happy to contribute, but it must be odd to have people ask you questions about something that you had forgotten about. They were just all very happy to be involved and they want to see it happen too.

How do they regard their work on this game, 25 years later? It sounds like it didn't occur to them at the time how influential Mother would be.

Certainly not! The boys in the choir said that people from the record company showed up the St. Paul's Cathedral Choir and asked them for two of their best tenors. They were sent over, recorded the songs, and they didn't think anything of it until a CD showed up. One of them actually told me that his voice has obviously since changed, so he uses the "Eight Melodies" song to show his friends what he used to sound like as a tenor. [Laughs]

Linda Hennrick was brought in very early in the process, before the game was even being programmed... Even at the time she didn't think much would come of it, but then she started receiving royalty checks and she knew that something had happened.

Linda Hennrick was brought in very early in the process, before the game was even being programmed. She told us that she was brought in for a meeting with Itoi and he kind of explained to her the general feeling of the game and songs, and just let her figure out the lyrics on her own. Even at the time she didn't think much would come of it, but then she started receiving royalty checks and she knew that something had happened. [Laughs]

It is mentioned on your Kickstarter page that Fangamer, the company behind the release of the MOTHER 3 handbook, lent a hand. What has their involvement been in this project?

I love Fangamer's products immensely, and I backed the Kickstarter they did last year for the Earthbound handbook, which I can't wait to get! When we were talking about doing a Kickstarter I knew that they were the people to call given their experience with Mother-related Kickstarter campaigns. I got in touch with Dan Moore who works there and he has helped us a lot with the whole process. He's actually helping us track down Suzuki and they're going to help us put together the behind-the-scenes booklet which is going to be really nice. They've generally just helped us along with their expertise, which has been invaluable at this point. It's been really great working with them.

Beyond the announced embossed packaging, obi strip, and CDs, do you have any other stretch goals planned for this campaign? Any other changes to fill out the complete package?

As far as the packaging goes, we have some flexibility, but as it is a licensed thing we can't just do whatever we want. The embossing and obi strip we thought would be nice touches. We've also gotten a lot of requests for CDs, so we decided to make that a stretch goal. As far as other stretch goals, if we make it past $80,000, which would just blow my mind, I hope that we can just press more copies of the record so everybody who wants one can get one.


Can you give us some background on the art prints that you're offering?

The first two artists are good friends of our social media guru Cassandra Baralis who have been helping us out a lot. They are friends who love Earthbound and Mother and the whole series, so they wanted to be involved. The third piece, The Paradise Line, was done by a guy who we found on DeviantArt who had some amazing art that looked like movie posters of the Mother series, we asked him if he wanted to be involved and he jumped at the chance. He was very excited and came back with the image in just a few hours. It was really amazing. I love that image. I can't wait to have it framed!

You reached your funding goal in four days, so the fans have obviously been excited. How has fan reaction been? Were you expecting to reach your funding goal this quickly?

When we started I didn't really know what to expect. I thought on the first day we'd do good, you know, if we did $5,000 to $10,000 I would have been really happy. That was my most optimistic prediction. To get to over half of our goal on the first day was crazy and the fans have been great! Mother fans are some of the best fans in the gaming community. They're so enthusiastic and I count myself among them! The fan reaction has been really amazing. Every time I see a new donation come in, and this is going to sound corny but maybe it fits with the whole Mother thing, but it really warms my heart.

The fan reaction has been really amazing. Every time I see a new donation come in, and this is going to sound corny but maybe it fits with the whole Mother thing, but it really warms my heart.

The majority of Ship to Shore's catalogue consists of film soundtracks, but your Kickstarter page mentions that you hope this will open the door to more video game music. Do you have plans to release other soundtracks in the Mother series following this one's success?

I can't really go into specifics, but talks are being had. I do want to release more video game music on vinyl though because I have a few records myself from the 80s of game compilations, and I just think that listening to chiptune music on an analog format like vinyl is such a kind of surreal and cool experience. I want to put out other stuff, and I'm glad that this campaign has been successful because it's kind of a proof of concept that video game music is a viable thing on vinyl and I hope that this will open the door on a lot more projects.

Do you feel that companies such as Nintendo should sell more soundtracks directly, even if they're download-only?

Nintendo does put out some pretty cool soundtracks, even through Club Nintendo. I just got the Super Smash Brothers double CD. I thought it was great. I was a little disappointed that there weren't any Mother related tracks, but overall I thought it was a great package! I think that video game music has become such an important part of popular culture. One of the top selling ringtones of all time is the Super Mario Brothers theme. I think the time will come when people give video game music the respect that it deserves, and I think that time is approaching rapidly. I think the companies will follow suit and put these things out. That's what I hope, anyway.


It seems like a lot of indie companies are focusing on their soundtracks and putting them out through Bandcamp and other similar sources.

Yep, It's great. The Shovel Knight soundtrack right now is one of my favorites. There's lots of great stuff in the indie space as far as soundtracks go, and we are looking into doing some of those indie game soundtracks on vinyl, so that's another thing that we're definitely open to. But of course we've gotten a lot of requests in the comments and messages for stuff like Castlevania, Mega Man, Metroid, that kind of stuff, but it's just going to take some convincing. We need some proof of concept and I hope that this project will be that proof.

What is your personal soundtrack dream project?

Oh, boy. I think my dream would be the Earthbound soundtrack. I think it's a masterpiece. Beyond that, definitely the original Metroid, Kid Icarus, Zelda II, Mega Man 2. I could go on for days! [Laughs]

Nintendo controls their IPs very tightly, and who could blame them, but I'd love to do something like Castlevania 3, which I think has some of the best music on the Famicom, especially if we use the original Famicom version with the extra channel of sound. I think that would be incredible. We'll see what the future holds. I envision good things though.

Was there anything else that you wanted to add?

I just want to really thank the fans. I look at this project every day and feel humbled by the response. It really means a lot that people want to see this done as badly as I do. I just want to thank the fans for making my dream possible to do this. My gratitude is the one thing that I really want to impress on people. Every day when I look at that Kickstarter I can't believe how far we've come. It's amazing.

I would also recommend that people who haven't played Mother play it. It's sort of looked upon as the black sheep of the series, but I think that it really has a lot to offer as far as the story and the music. If you can get past the grindy nature of the mechanics, I think the game has a lot to offer. Hopefully this soundtrack release inspires more people to play the original.

We would like to thank Aaron Hamel for taking the time to speak with us. You can see how the campaign is progressing over on its Kickstarter page.