If you love movies and movie artwork, you’ve likely heard of Mondo. The small, Austin-based company has made a name for itself over the last decade by producing inspired, beautiful movie posters for cult classics and major hits alike and selling them in small quantities that are notoriously tough for fans to get their hands on.
Posters only make up one part of the Mondo business, however — since 2011, the company has been applying its same sense of aesthetics to movie soundtracks. Take its release of Looper. In the film, targets are sent back in time for the mob to murder with burlap sacks covering their heads — so Mondo made the album’s slipcover resemble those sacks, complete with a big, gaping shotgun hole in the cover as if the record itself got taken down. Jurassic Park featured an amber yellow vinyl record with a mosquito “trapped” on the label, a clever callback to John Hammond’s iconic cane. Mondo has even cut records into the Superman and Batman logos, throwing the traditional circular vinyl form by the wayside in an effort to produce something memorable.
Today, Mondo is branching out again by releasing its first-ever video game score on vinyl: Naughty Dog’s post-apocalyptic survival game The Last of Us is getting the full Mondo treatment. Oscar-winning composer Gustavo Santaolalla’s scores for both The Last of Us and its follow-up episode, Left Behind, are included in a lavish, four-record set with original artwork by Olly Moss and Mondo creative director Jay Shaw.
Mondo pursues whatever media its employees fall in love with
As Shaw tells me, there’s no secret to how Mondo finds soundtracks it wants to release — people in the company fall in love with a piece of music or a film associated with it, and then they just go after it. "[The Last of Us] struck a chord with everyone who played it, so we went after it pretty aggressively," Shaw says. "It’s like that with everything we do: you fall in love with it, and you want to do something with it, and that’s really it." Last year’s release of the Jurassic Park score was similar: "We have people who work here, and it’s their favorite film of all time, so of course we’re going to pursue it," says Shaw. "It’s what we’re in love with."
Shaw worked as an artist for Mondo for years before becoming one of its creative directors, and he says the vinyl format really lets an artist stretch their creative abilities. "You've got this great giant canvas to work with, but now you're not limited to [poster] screen printing — you can go nuts," he says "You can paint, you can use photos in places if you want. There’s the big gatefold to work with, and then the records themselves that can be any kind of color combination, and then you have their labels as well… there’s a lot of canvas to work with." Shaw took advantage of the canvas offered with The Last of Us — slipcovers for the four records link together to form a large, 48-inch mural of the signature infection that takes over humanity in the game.
Mondo's first foray into video game music — but not its last
The process for getting the artwork right for The Last of Us illustrates how Mondo collaborates with the original owner of the work. "Olly Moss and I were working on the artwork for it over a year ago, but when we submitted it to Naughty Dog, they had some issues," Shaw recalls. The cover originally featured one of the game's most notable enemies, the infected "clicker" zombie, but done in a style that tried to make the grotesque creature more beautiful. "They liked it, but didn’t really see it as a soundtrack cover — so we released it as a poster instead." At Naughty Dog’s suggestion, Moss refocused the cover back on the core relationship between Joel and Ellie, the game’s two protagonists. Moss came up with the idea of the characters holding hands, with Joel’s symbolic broken watch prominently displayed.
While The Last of Us might be Mondo’s first foray into video game music, it likely won’t be the last. "We haven’t gotten much into video games before this, but now we’re looking at games the same way we look at movies," Shaw says. "This medium is just as ready for vinyl as anything else." Mondo has benefited from the current vinyl resurgence, along with the internet’s ability to find a fan base for a business that likely couldn’t exist until recently. "Convincing studios that vinyl is a format still worth focusing on would have been very difficult a decade ago," Shaw says. "But now when we go to Universal and other large studios to say, ‘Hey, we'd like to put your soundtrack out on a record,’ they don't laugh anymore!"