Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Interview with Daniel Lupton from Sorry State Records

Sorry State Records Logo

Sorry State Records is one of the premier punk rock labels in the country at this point, though it seems to have miraculously been started simply in the right place at the right time.  Daniel Lupton, the brains behind SSR, believes that he released his first 7" in 2004 and has since released about fifty records.  The bands at Sorry State are largely punk-rock based but vary from there a lot.  Some of the best known bands from there are Double Negative (Raleigh Punk Royalty), Libyans (a poetically-sound hardcore band from Boston) and Whatever Brains (one the triangle areas staples in new music).  And these bands are all completely different.  Listening to Whatever Brains is kind of like being in that weird tunnel in Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory if the chocolate were all LSD.  The members of Double Negative have been floating around in hardcore bands for a long time and have a straight up balls-to-the-wall punk rock show that is transcendent. I've never seen Libyans live, but they're more melodic, crafting punk songs shouted by a wonderful frontwoman.  The only thing these bands have in common is that they're released on Sorry State Records.

Double Negative Logo

Recently, Sorry State released 2 killer LPs (I mean, these suckers are glued to my turntable).  Joint Damage released their album "Strike Gently" earlier this year and Stripmines released "Crimes of Dispassion."  These are absolute modern classics.  They're both fun North Carolina bands that wax and wane to a unique emotional spectrum.  Fucking smart.  The Joint Damage LP has a bit of controversy following it, as a "Juggalo Rap" group was named the same thing and issued a cease and desist to the band.  It's ludicrous!  On the back of the Joint D/ album (they had to change their name), we understand the reason for this lawsuit.  "As a juggalo...I found it an anti-juggalo record" says one of the members of clown rap group Joint Damage.  That thing had me cracking up for days.  The LP comes with the letter of the cease and desist order.
The albums are also always really cheap and come in sweet packaging.  The Double Negative "Daydreamnation" LP is a shiny dude with lyric sheets and a sweet logo.  These records can be found all over the place from The Sorry State Website to local record shops like All Day Records and Bull City Records.
I was pretty curious about the record label and e-mailed Daniel Lupton about it before we settled on a time we could talk about his vision and record label.  Daniel had a lot of good things to say about his view on punk rock, the triangle area, and the creative process in music and music marketing.
Jordan:  So, Daniel, when did you end up starting Sorry State Records and how did you know that you wanted to release punk music?
Daniel Behind Ketchup, Milk, and Water
Daniel:  I think the label started in 2004.  A lot of people have asked me that lately and I’ve been meaning to check, but that’s my best guess.  As far as punk music goes, it’s kind of the only music I’ve been super interested in.  I like plenty kinds of music, but most of my favorite music ever comes back to punk.  I’ve been both influenced by officially punk bands or bands that have the punk ethos.  It’s really the world I know from going to shows, making friends, and being part of the scene.
Jordan:  Which bands in particular have formed your opinion on punk?
Daniel:  The band from when I was a kid was Minor Threat more than anything.  I think I got the CD with all of their stuff on it when I was around fourteen years old.  It was one of the first punk albums I got and it blew my mind.  I was straight edge for years and years pretty much because of that record.  So much about it.  And as I started reading about it, the whole Dischord attitude of being fair to bands and the punk scene being big, productive, and revolutionary, rather than something  to consume or being the stereotypical nihilistic punk.  I was an art kid and that whole ethos was immediately attractive to me.
Jordan:  So what would you say Punk’s role is now in terms of the spectrum of bands with positive qualities or, like you said, the more nihilistic version?
Daniel:  There’s always bands with different people and I definitely have a healthy appreciation for the more nihilistic end of it; bands like Black Flag and the Germs that are darker and scarier, and there are still people who push that angle and there are still people who push the positive and productive angle.  I think there’s room for both and punk has that dynamic where the two poles play off of each other and I think that’s why it’s remained vital.  Either of those takes would get stale on their own if they were left to just grow, but there’s always the push and pull between those two founding tenants of punk.
Jordan:  So, in the case of Sorry State Records, do you find that you release one version of punk music more than the other?
Libyans -  A Common Place (Cover)
Daniel:  No, I think my tastes are pretty wide and the label is often a reflection of what I like and am interested in so there are bands like Shards who are this drug-fueled, nihilistic mess, really.  Then there are bands like Libyans who are composed, poetic, and thoughtful in a way that I think a lot of people don’t associate with punk.  Frankly, either of those things can catch my ear and I think as long as I’m putting out records, I’ll be pulling from everything that punk is, and punk is really just about anything when you get down to it.
Jordan:  Are most of the bands whose records Sorry State puts out from North Carolina?
Daniel:  I don’t know what the percentage is, but it’s close to half and half at this point.  I think I’m kind of the default punk label if you’re in North Carolina.  A lot of bands will send me a demo.  This comes from a lot of different experiences, like touring with my own band, getting to know people, even from all over the world.  A couple of our bands are from Sweden.  We have one band from Japan. But I like that punk is fiercely local.  There’s a lot of hometown pride and I’m incredibly proud of what we have in North Carolina, but I want to also use this global connection.  Basically, any moderately sized city in the world, I can have loads of fun and someone to hang out with and drink a beer with.  I think all of those things are great.
Jordan:  The Whatever Brains in particular seem like a totally different band than the typical punk-sound.  How did you get connected with those guys?
Daniel:  Actually, I wanted to put out their first record.  They started playing shows and I immediately loved them.  I basically said if they ever wanted, then the door was open: if you need anything, I’ll do it.  I put out the Crossed Eyes’ 7”, which has members of Whatever Brains, which was garage, but I think at the beginning, I think at first they thought they would get labeled as a hardcore band, not that anyone who listens to five seconds of their music would ever do such a thing, but they didn’t want to go that standard route.  I don’t know what changed but, if I remember correctly, their fourth 7” was coming out and their label was needing some money and very last minute, they proposed doing this release and I basically helped pay their pressing plant and they slapped my logo on the back of the record and sent me a couple hundred copies.  That went really well.  I don’t know if that got rid of the band’s reservations, but now they record something and send it to me.  I’m on the band’s listserv and I get the demos when they send it right out.  I just loved that band from minute one.
Daniel:   I think a lot of the retro-hardcore scene has lost a lot of its energy in the past couple years and I was definitely caught up with that, and I was in a band called Cross Laws and our goal was to make music like it was 1982 and we never heard a record after that.  I think that puts you in a corner and after a couple years of that, we got bored.  I think that a lot of people start like that and get better at their instruments and decide they want to write a song instead of an explosion and it’s a natural progression.  I think when you look at the history of punk, there are times when everyone coalesces around the same idea, like the ’77 punk scene in Britain or the early 80’s hardcore scene.  There are times when there’s an excitement around a certain idea, and then there are times when people start to value creativity and artistic ambition, rather than fulfilling a template, like post-punk or the 90’s hardcore scene, and I think it’s a natural dynamic when you go through a cycle.  I really love them both.  I like feeling like I’m part of something that everyone’s on board with.  But I’m also an art person at heart and I love to see people being ambitious aesthetically.  I like that too and I’m glad I have a label that can handle those changes and I’m excited about the bands we  have and what they sound like.
Jordan:  Have you always been located in the triangle area while you’ve had this label?
Daniel:  Yeah.  I grew up in Virginia and went to college in Richmond and moved early to Chapel Hill in 2002.  I started the label around 2004.  I remember sending off the order for the first 7” in my apartment and getting the record in the mail shortly after I knew how.  It’s been a North Carolina thing from the beginning.  And that was part of the name too.  The first 7” I put out was by this band Direct Control and they were based in Richmond, but all three were from North Carolina.  And it seemed like we were all saying “Hey, we’re all from the same Sorry State.”  There wasn’t a lot going on at the time, so it was a little bit of a pun.  Now it’s not like that at all.  There’s tons going on.
Jordan:  What has the expansion of the label been like?
Daniel:  It’s been really organic.  I put out a record, then sold those records, then the money came back and then I put out another record.  It goes on and on.  There have been times when I’ve got a little ahead of myself.  Last summer I put out, I think, four LP’s and 2 7”s at once, which was completely obscene.  I didn’t really have the money and found some way to scrape it all together somehow.  But there have been times when I’ve had to push further to expand a bit more, but really it’s been totally organic.  Since I’ve made the label into a proper business and registered with the state and started paying taxes, I’ve been reading about business a bit and it seems like I’ve actually done it in a smart way.  Measured growth and not doing more than I should at any given time.
Jordan:  So how does the distribution fit into the whole scheme of everything?  Do you only distribute your own records?
Brain Flannel Live
Daniel:  I have hundreds of hundreds of records that I carry.  That end of things kind of supports the label.  If you just did a label and didn’t also distribute other records or trade with other labels, it would be really hard to make that financially viable.  It’s cash-intensive.  You press a record for 500 copies and send out 300 or 400 copies to distributors and that money doesn’t come back, at the very least, for months and months and months.  So distributing records and trading in small quantities with labels keeps money flowing through the bank account and it actually is kind of profitable, whereas just releasing records is, at best, a break-even proposition and usually not even that.  It’s also cool just having a ton of packages sitting on my porch every day when I get home and I’m able to see what’s happening with new music.  If I’m curious about a band, it isn’t like I’m spending $15 to order that LP; instead, I’m just thinking that I’ll order 5 copies from the label and listen to a copy.  If I like it, I may take it and if not, I’ll just sell all 5.
Jordan:  Yeah, today, when I was getting done with my day, I had Maximum Rock N Roll sitting on my porch and it was a godsend.  I just needed it.
Daniel:  Yeah, I got mine yesterday and definitely just sat on the porch and read it (laughs)
Jordan:  Exactly!  So, something that I’ve been cracking up about a lot recently has been the Joint Damage thing with the lawsuit.  Can you talk about that at all or is that something you’d rather brush under the rug?
Joint Damage - Strike Gently
Daniel:  It’s just sort of a bummer.  This band who, from everything I can see, thought of the cease and desist order seems to have the emotional intelligence of a three-year-old and whenever he comments on my facebook page or the label’s, I just think that he’s just making himself look like a complete idiot, and I never say anything because the person’s doing a just fine job of making himself look (pause) stupid.  Really, I just want the whole thing to go away.  It sucks because they threatened me with a lawsuit and I don’t even have the money to fight a lawsuit.  That’s the thing.  When someone does this to you, it’s going to be thousands of dollars right away.  If they win the case or not.  Just the threat of it is enough.  I had a lot of sleepless nights and grinding of teeth, but I haven’t heard anything about it for a while.  We changed the band name and did what we needed to do so hopefully people don’t keep harassing that band on their facebook page and people will forget about it.
Jordan:  Do you find that you have to stick your name out for your bands a lot of the time or does stuff like this just not really happen?
Daniel:  I know at least one person well from pretty much every band on the label and if there is ever someone in a band that I don’t want to work with, I just won’t put out a record for them.  Stuff like the Joint Damage situation doesn’t really happen and even this wasn’t Joint Damage’s fault.  Who looks up to see if someone has a band with the same name?  Who cares?  There are probably 15 bands named Double Negative and 10 named Shards.  When I first got the letter and called the guys in Joint Damage and said “I wish I could be totally punk with this and say ‘Fuck you,’ and fight this, but I can’t afford it.  I don’t have time and I can’t hire a lawyer”  Fortunately, I’ve never been in this kind of situation and hopefully they don’t come around very often because it wasn’t fun.
Jordan:  Do a lot of bands on your label have a lot of crossover in terms of people being in multiple bands either on your label or elsewhere?
Daniel:  Yeah, it’s a bit of both.  It’s a natural cycle of bands at one sense.  I know the same thing happened with Crossed Eyes morphing into Whatever Brains.  My old band Cross Laws turned into Devour and now we’re not playing anymore and we’re all in different bands.  Really, I’ve put out around 50 records at this point and it seems like it’s been permutations of about a dozen or fifteen people, especially if you look at the North Carolina people.  These are the people who are on the same wavelength and it seems like we’ve almost grown up together or at least have the same reference points. They just do what they’re trying to do and I respect that.  I’m happy to just stick with this and the people I have and know what I’m getting from a personal angle in terms of commitment and morality even.  I know they’re ambitious and know that they’re going to blow my mind every time.  Seems like I’ve just developed a bunch of great relationships and I’m really lucky.
Double Negative's Scott Having Fun With His Friends
Jordan:  Does live music affect your business at all?  What are the effects of a band on your label wanting to do more shows?
Daniel:  I don’t ask bands to do anything.  In terms of live shows, it can make a difference.  If I know that a band is going to do a lot of touring, I know that the band is going to help get the word out about their record and I know that I need more copies.  At the same time, for instance, Joint Damage plays Charlotte, Raleigh and Atlanta and I think that’s probably all the three cities they’ve played and it’s probably not going to change.  It affects me in the sense that I only press 300 records with a pretty high wholesale price and I’ve almost sold all of them already.  Some bands love to tour, but some bands don’t.  It may affect how many records I press or whether I am into doing super deluxe packaging, but I don’t really care (laughs).  Bands can tour or not, but I still get to see bands that are close by, so that’s what I really care about.
Jordan:  Can you say anything about releases for Record Store Day?
Whatever Brains LP 2 Cover
Daniel:  This year was my first one.  It’s a limited Whatever Brains record.  I had the idea to do it about six weeks ago or something and quickly e-mailed the pressing plant to see if I could get the records on time.  They’re showing up tomorrow (April 17, 2012) and Record Store Day is Saturday.  I just got it in the nick of time.  I e-mailed the Whatever Brains and they recorded the song that night.  Then they had some odds and ends and outtakes that they used for the rest of the EP.  It’s a cool thing to do.  For the first six or seven years of the label existence, there was no local attention.  The tightknit hardcore scene bought our records but no record stores sold my stuff.  SchoolKids never took my stuff.  CD Alley didn’t.  Chaz of Bull City Records was the only person who was super supportive from Day 1.  Besides that, people didn’t care.  But then Bryan C. Reed started writing for the Independent and wrote about Sorry State releases and shows and I had this big show two years ago when the Libyans came down from Boston and I did a big show for them.  The Independent wrote about that and there was a big crowd and I put out limited records and tote bags.  Then I did the Whatever Brains record and they’re such a big local band.  So Sorry State’s on the radar now and people have heard of the label.  It’s strange to meet people who aren’t a punk or local who have these records that we’ve put out. People will say “Oh, I have that Double Negative LP” or “I have that Whatever Brains LP.”  That’s super weird to me and I used to be distrustful and even scared about it, but since that happened, it allowed the label to get bigger.  All Day Records has been extremely supportive.  The Whatever Brains and Brain F (Brain Flannel) have become local phenomena.  They’ve sold tons of those records and really personally recommended them to people.  I wanted to do something to say thanks.  So the Whatever Brains record is only available in North Carolina and Virginia record stores.  The idea was just to make local people excited and get out to the stores.  We’ll see how it goes.  I just hope the stores all sell them.
Jordan:  Yeah, I’ll definitely be picking that one up.  I got on the Sorry State train last year because Chaz basically played Double Negative and Libyans for me and they blew my mind and he was like “yeah, this is a local label.”
Daniel:  Awesome!  (Laughs) Yeah, Chaz is the best.
Jordan:  So what can we expect for the future of Sorry State?
Daniel:  I don’t know.  I’m just taking it one day at a time.  Right now I have a pretty solid roster of bands.  I basically put out a record and by the time I’m ready to put out a second record, the next band has recorded one for me, so I’m pretty settled in the cycle.  Next month I have Bukkake Boys, Double Negative, and the new Whatever Brains LP and after that a bunch of bands are starting to record like Manipulation are starting an LP, Dark Ages are starting on a new LP, and this one new band.  I keep telling myself I won’t put out something by a new band, but there’s this new band called Broken Prayer and they’re from Chicago and I’m putting out an LP from them and it’s just awesome.  It’s sort of like hardcore mixed with postpunk mixed with synths.  I don’t know if you’ve heard that Total Control yet?
Jordan:  I love that album!  (I’m actually interviewing them later)
Daniel:  Yeah, this sounds like Total Control mixed with early 80’s hardcore.  It would have a hard time picturing that in my mind what that means, but they’re doing it and it sounds original and exciting. So every day I’m just waiting and hoping they send me rough mixes, but they haven’t yet.  I’m going to keep putting out records and get better at selling them and not losing money, but, you know, I’m doing my best.  (Laughs)
Jordan:  Nice!  Any last words for the interview?
Daniel:  Yeah, I just want to say thanks.  Yeah, it’s awesome to have people doing stuff like this locally.  It gets me excited

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