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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

How a Garage-Door Repairman Made Hell Night's First-Ever Vinyl LP Happen

Posted By on Tue, Mar 19, 2019 at 6:53 AM

click to enlarge Hell Night performed to a packed Ready Room for its record release show. - DAVID TORRENCE
  • Hell Night performed to a packed Ready Room for its record release show.
Hell Night's debut full-length slab of vinyl might never have seen the light of day if not for a persistent garage-door repairman named Dieter Pingel.

Sure, the guys from Maplewood's Planet Score Records shop had toyed with the idea of starting a label for years — decades, even. And Hell Night is, of course, one of St. Louis' more prominent and prolific metal bands; releasing an LP is a logical move. And yet ...

And yet.

Pingel, explains Hell Night guitarist Andy White, is a record nerd. The north-county resident's Instagram account is a sea of album covers, records he owns personally, including old-school hip-hop, metal and more. And he knew the band's drummer, as well as the Planet Score owners.

To hear White tell it, Pingel had been pushing Hell Night's members to release a full-length vinyl LP to add to his collection for quite some time.

Regardless of their plans or accomplishments, Pingel would crop up with the same question: Is there going to be vinyl?

"We'd be like, 'Hey dudes, here's a fucking album release we're doing, it's a fucking new CD. Here's the show, here's the event page, here's our fucking commercial, here's the poster, here's my dick, here's all this shit — get excited,'" White explains with a laugh. "And then the first post on Facebook would be Dieter: 'You doing vinyl?'"

White had long been hesitant to release vinyl with Hell Night, relishing instead the band's quick and cheap CDs-and-downloads model. He'd released music on vinyl in prior bands and simply found it to be more trouble than it was worth.

"I'm down with vinyl. I buy vinyl. But I don't like feel like I have to have it," he says. "With vinyl it's like there's all this thought and preparation and remastering and test presses and all this shit you have to send them. And you have to order them a fucking year in advance, and what if Record Store Day happens inside of that time? Then you're fucked. Then, like, how do you want to ship 'em? Because they are coming from the Czech Republic and, you know, there's only three places that make 'em...."

White trails off, then offers his thoughts succinctly: "I just think they're a pain in the ass."

But Pingel would not be deterred. One day while working on White's garage door, he again started needling the guitarist about his chosen medium. But this time, he also played matchmaker.

"Yeah man, those Planet Score dudes are fucking wanting to start a label — you should talk to them about putting something out," he told White.

"And then he was telling them, 'Yeah man, you should put out the Hell Night dudes' album, you know?'" White recalls. "I think it was literally this one fucking dude just making the discussion happen."

Praise be that he did. Hell Night's new LP, Unlimited Destruction, compiles eleven previously released tracks — all the songs from the Human Shelves CD, three from the Hell Night Songs CD and one from the Cancercise single — alongside five brand-new rippers that stay true to the band's punk-infected metal style. Limited to 300 records pressed on red vinyl, recorded by Gabe Usery at Encapsulated Studios and featuring cover art by local artist Lauren Gornik, it may have been a pain in the ass, but it's nevertheless a gorgeous pain in the ass — and the perfect splashy debut for a fledgling record label.

click to enlarge Planet Score Records owners Tim Lohmann and Joe Stulce became label heads with the release of Hell Night's new LP. - DANIEL HILL
  • Planet Score Records owners Tim Lohmann and Joe Stulce became label heads with the release of Hell Night's new LP.

As the Planet Score guys explain it, White and his bandmates — vocalist Brian Fair, bassist Eric Eyster and drummer Adam Arseneau — made it easy.

"It just came together really fast," explains Joe Stulce, 40, who co-owns Planet Score with Tim Lohmann, 53. "Those dudes are just workhorses, man. I mean, we barely had to do anything as far as the behind-the-scenes stuff goes. They took care of it all, and they're just super, super nice guys. It seems like every idea they had we were totally down with."

Stulce has known drummer Arseneau since his time working at a north county record store that the drummer frequented. And when Planet Score opened in Maplewood, White, who lives in the neighborhood, started coming in frequently, dropping off CDs and tapes to sell on consignment.

After customers started asking if the band had anything on vinyl — OK, one certain, specific customer started asking — Stulce asked White about it one day.

"Fast-forward a little while and he came to us and just asked if we’d be interested in helping them put out a record," Stulce says. "It’s pretty much a no-brainer, 'cause they’re a killer band, got a great following and they're just awesome dudes."

For Stulce and Lohmann, starting a label was something they'd toyed with for years. The two met when they started playing together in the early '00s in the dark-tinted power-pop act the Helium Tapes — Lohmann on guitar and Stulce on drums. They self-released a few projects with that group before it disbanded and wondered at that time if they should dip their toes into putting out some other local bands as well.

"We would listen to tapes of all these '80s and '90s punk bands and underground bands that [Lohmann] played in and was friends with," Stulce says. "And we were kinda thinking, 'Man, it would be kinda cool to get this stuff out there somehow, you know?' Just all the local talent in St. Louis."

Years passed. From his perch as a record-store clerk Stulce witnessed the decline of physical media firsthand, and the idea was largely (and probably wisely) shelved.

"I worked in a record store since the late '90s, so I watched it all kind of crumble," he says. "And then, slowly, it started to build back up."

That's when something strange happened: Vinyl saw a huge resurgence. Suddenly, starting a record label didn't seem like such a bad idea after all. Enter the perfect band and the perfectly insistent garage-door repairman, and next thing you know, Unlimited Destruction is stamped with "Planet Score Records #1."

Stulce and Lohmann don't have any immediate plans for future releases — best to see how this one goes first — but they say they're open to anything. And with half the copies of Hell Night's record already sold in less than a month, they just may be in a position to take the leap again.

Still, they're not going to produce just anything.

"Whatever we like and is interesting, we might go ahead and put out," Lohmann says.

"It's gotta stay fun, man," Stulce adds. "Just like when we used to play music together, I always said, 'Once it seems like a job and it's not fun anymore, I don't wanna do it.'"

And for now, it's still plenty fun. Hell Night's record release at the Ready Room brought out more than 200 people, and records have been flying off the shelves ever since. Hell Night finally has a proper slab of vinyl that even the skeptical White admits was wholly worthwhile, Planet Score has finally launched the label they'd dreamed about for so long, and fans finally have a record that they can cherish for years to come.

And Dieter Pingel? One presumes he got the record he dreamt of. Music fans will have to wait to see what he achieves next.

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