Friday, June 22, 2012

Interview with Ben Snakepit

I became familiar with Ben Snakepit's work through Razorcake - the DIY magazine that focuses on rock n' roll music, especially punk. It's a great mag that focuses on punk culture, which varies from the beer guzzling to the straight edge movement (see their article on Tenement) and all sorts of art that are wrapped up in it. They have a bunch of comics in each issue that are really all over the place, but the one that really stuck to me was Ben Snakepit's in the most recent issue. It was about how people can be stubborn in facing modernity, but it's always been like that. People really are only shooting themselves in the foot when they do that.

I was really impressed with the concept and the light air with which he treated the subject. I looked online at some of his earlier work, which was really cool - some of it can be read HERE.  This is some of his daily stuff, which deals with daily life, rather than the conceptual pieces that he does in Razorcake. In addition, he is in three bands, which he covers in the interview. He talks about how punk music and ethos, which clearly impacts him a lot. He also talks about a new collection of comics coming up. You can check out some of his earlier collections HERE.

It's pretty cool and the interview is fairly short, but I think you understand the guy a bit more and see where he's coming from. I definitely recommend hitting up the local punk newsstand or hole-in-the-wall book shop to check out Razorcake and Ben Snakepit's column.

Jordan: How long have you been creating comics?  What made you start?  Who influenced you?
Ben: I started my daily diary comic in 2000, after I found out Jim's Journal by Scott Dikkers wasn't real. I figured I could do it for real and it would be a cool project to try and do it for the rest of my life. So far I haven't missed a day in twelve years.
Jordan: Where did you first publish comics and do you still do so there?
Ben: I started of doing them myself, just making copies on a Xerox machine. After a while my friend Tod Parkhill of Young American Comics offered to start publishing them for me. That went on for a few years, and then Razorcake/Gorsky offered to publish my first real book. After that I moved on to work with Microcosm Publishing, who released three more Snakepit books, and finally in 2009 I did a book with Birdcage Bottom Press.
Jordan: What was it like working with razorcake?
Ben: Todd is a great dude and I've been honored to be a part of the magazine for ten years. 
Jordan: Do you feel like Punk music has any impact on your work?
Ben: Absolutely. It's the single most important driving force in what I do. 
Jordan: How would you characterize the subjects you tackle?
Ben: My daily comic is just that, daily. Went to work, ate dinner, watched TV. When I do my razorcake column I just generally try to pick a topic I know something about or am interested in, or tell a funny story or something. 
Jordan: What about your artistic style? Does t or has it changed up much throughout your drawing career?
Ben: You can see a clear improvement as the first few years progress, but I feel like around 2007 I sorta plateued.

Jordan: How many comics do you do?  Do you work on one at a time or multitask?
Ben: I do the daily one every day, and the razorcake one every two months. I also draw record covers and t-shirts for bands and stuff. 
Jordan: Are you involved in other creative endeavors?
Ben: I play in three bands: Shit Creek, Ghost Knife and Modok. 
Jordan: Whats in your future in terms of artistic output?
Ben: Planning to do another 3-year book covering 2010-2012, I'm in talks with a couple of different publishers right now. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Interview with Ken Dirtnap from Dirtnap Records

Dirtnap Logo

I cannot believe how much good music comes out of Dirtnap records. My first experience with the label was with the Exploding Hearts' "Guitar Romantic," a great powerpop record that never spawned another due to death in the band. From there, I checked out a bunch of Mark Ryan's work, like Marked Men and Mind Spiders, both punk bands that draw from separate sources - though both rooted in pop sensibility, the Mind Spiders seem to have a bit more nervous energy and a vocalist not unlike Jay Reatard. Dirtnap Records seems to put out records constantly, too. Just recently, they released a new Mind Spiders LP, a Mean Jeans LP, and Guantanamo Baywatch's debut LP, which are all bound to be favorites of 2012.

Simply put, I don't know how they do it. Great bands flock to this label and then tour A LOT. I have been incredibly happy with what they've done so far and am really looking forward to White Wires' forthcoming album WWIII, which is due in July. They don't seem to be slowing down any time soon, as is apparent in the following interview, which is a great thing for lovers of rock n' roll.

You can learn more about them from their website HERE and order albums at very cheap prices HERE

When I got in contact with Ken, he was great - he gave me very detailed answers that ended up getting me even more excited about the labels future as well as the music that I love.

Here's what happened:

Jordan: How and when did you start Dirtnap records?  Did anything or anyone
inspire you to start a record label?

Ken: I started it in late 1999 as an extension of Dirtnap Radio, this internet radio show I was doing at the time. I've always been real fascinated with record labels and drew direct inspiration from a lot of the local Northwest ones at the time, Kill Rock Stars, K, Sub Pop, but especially Empty. Blake & Meghan at Empty helped me out a lot in the early days.........

Jordan: Were you involved in the music business before you started running
the record label?

Ken: Yeah, I worked at Rhetoric (label and distribution) in the 90s, and when I started Dirtnap, I was working at Mordam distribution. Got laid off from Mordam in late 2002, and even though I did not think so at the time, it wound up being one of the best things to ever happen to me, since I have not had a full time job since. If they hadn't laid me off, though, I'd probably still be working there! (well, except for the fact that they don't exist anymore, but you know what I mean!)

Jordan: Would you say that you have a few staple bands that allowed you to
cement running a business (i.e. not go completely broke)?

Ken: Oh yeah, for sure. We can afford to lose money on some bands/releases, since we make a fair amount of money on other bands/releases! Also, these days we definitely aim to get bands that are going to be stable and around for awhile, and will be able to give us multiple releases. For example, we just put out the 11th release with Mark Ryan (Mind Spiders, Marked Men, High Tension Wires) on it, with the 12th on the way and the 13th in the works!

That is one way in which the label today is going much better than in years past. For awhile there it seemed like every time we put out a record the band in question would either immediately break up, or sign to a bigger label. (Hell, even the Marked Men left us briefly for Swami, although they later saw the error in their ways and came back!) We did just lose (with no hard feelings whatsoever) the River City Tanlines to another label, but other than that, it's been awhile since that's happened!

Jordan: How do you run the business?  Do you try to release one record at a
time or do you have a big schedule?

Ken: We definitely do not release one record at a time, we have a big schedule. A BIG schedule.  An absurdly big schedule. At any given time we have at least 10 or so releases in the pipeline, I am usually thinking about a year out when it comes to scheduling. (I think I currently know what the next 12 or 13 releases are going to be)

Obviously I like to work this way or I wouldn't do it, but it does have some drawbacks in that you lose a certain amount of flexibility. Like sometimes you get an opportunity to release a great record, but there's just no way to fit it into the picture cause you're scheduled a year in advance. Occasionally, though, we get offered SUCH a good record that I have no choice but to MAKE room in the schedule, which happened recently when this band called Legendary Wings sent in their demo and totally blew my mind.

Jordan: Is there a way to characterize the music that you release on Dirtnap
Records?  There certainly seems to be a rock n' roll root, but, beyond
that, is there a trend in bands whose records you release?

Ken: I don't know. There is a certain continuity that I am looking for in a release, like not only how good the record will stand up on it's own, but how well it's going to fit into the bigger picture of the label as a whole. I consider Dirtnap a punk rock label, but that is delving about as deeply into the hair-splitting sub genre game as I care to. Like we tend to release stuff with a pop element to it, but I definitely don't consider Dirtnap to be a pop punk label. We tend to release stuff that is firmly rooted in the continuum of rock n' roll, but I definitely don't consider Dirtnap to be a "garage punk" or "power pop" label. Just call it a punk label, and I think that's close enough.

Jordan: Did any musicians or artists influence the kind of music that you prefer to release on your label?

Ken: Well, sure, too many to list, really. It is kinda funny, though, in that a lot of older bands (especially more obscure power pop stuff) that our bands get compared to in reviews, I had never really heard until our bands started getting compared to them in reviews!

Jordan: What is the relationship between Dirtnap and Green Noise Records?  Is
Green Noise the mailorder/distribution aspect of the label?  Do you run both of them?

Ken: Green Noise is a record store. It's been around in one location or another since 1989. In late 2004, I was casting about for ideas on how to make more money that did not involve going out and getting a job. I knew the people who owned the store at the time, and started talking with them about taking it over. From the time I first heard it was for sale till the time I dropped everything in my life and moved from Seattle to Portland happened extremely quickly, like a matter or weeks. Have never regretted it, when I was a teenager my two dream jobs in life were to either run a record label or work at a record store, and although it took me 20 years, now I get to do both.

Jordan: Do you get involved with any aspect of touring?

Ken: Not really. We do try to offer bands who are willing to tour a limited amount of support to do so (like we have our publicist work on promoting the tour, getting posters made, advancing bands a little money/records, etc etc) but we don't directly book the tours.

Jordan: Are you involved in any bands yourself?

Ken: Nope! I am thoroughly talentless!

Jordan: How have the last couple months been with the mind spiders/mean
jeans/guantanamo baywatch releases?

Ken: Great! Really seems like things are firing on all cylinders at the moment!

Jordan: Any other releases you all have coming up that you're especially excited about?

Ken: Yes, a ton! July will bring a new Red Dons 7". We had talked with them about doing a single since literally the start of the band. (maybe even before the played a show, I don't remember.) Took awhile, but it was worth it, I honestly think the A side is the best song they've ever written.
Also in July is the 3rd White Wires LP, they are one of my very favorite bands, and this is their best album yet.

Late August will bring a split 10" between Something Fierce and Occult Detective Club. Something Fierce is definitely one of the top bands on Dirtnap @ the moment, and even though we've never actually released anything by Occult Detective Club, we've been following them since their start, and sound-wise they fit right in on the label.

Later in the fall we are going to simultaneously release new 7"s by Mind Spiders (Mark from the Marked Men's current band) and The Novice (Jeff from the Marked Men/Potential John's current band in Japan), with more Novice and Potential Johns stuff to come.

After that will be the debut LP from Legendary Wings, which I am really excited about! Kinda sounds like a "Dirtnap band", but is very unmistakably midwest! Kind of refreshing to NOT be releasing a band from Texas, Canada, or Portland for a change!
We are also doing a line of cassettes as split releases with other labels. Burger/Dirtnap  will be releasing Mean Jeans On Mars and the Guantanamo Baywatch albums on cassette, and Dirt Cult/Dirtnap will be reissuing all 4 Marked Men albums on tape. Not really my favorite format, to be honest, but hey, the public demands it!

In addition to all that, we also have several existing Dirtnap bands making noise about recording new albums for 2013 (The Estranged, Something Fierce, Mean Jeans, Bad Sports, Mind Spiders, off the top of my head) so it does not look like things are slowing down any time soon!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Interview with Dan McGee from Spider Bags

Dan McGee in a John Wesley Coleman shirt

The first time I heard of the Spider Bags was in 2010 when I met Patrick Stickles at a Titus Andronicus show.  He mentioned something about the amazing scene in the triangle area and slipped the name Spider Bags to me.  I listened to them and then got to see them at the Last Year's Men record release show soon after the Titus Andronicus show.  It was then that I picked up a copy of Spider Bags' record "Goodbye Cruel World, Hello Crueler World" as well as a copy of their newest single at the time, which was "Take it Easy Tonite."  I had already picked up a bunch of their other 7"s at Bull City Records and got a big kick out of them.  I thought they were good, but I didn't go crazy.

Then I saw them open for the Golden Boys, sandwiched between their set and John Wesley Coleman's and oh my god, they blew my mind.  They came back with new songs with a lot more energy and rock n roll than I had seen before.  I couldn't believe how good they sounded and were.  Between Dan McGee's wine guzzling, Steve Oliva's rad bass, and some tight drumming from Ross Forbes, I was hooked.  I saw them three times within the next month.  And each time, I got to know Dan a little bit better.

The thing about Dan is that he's ultimately one of the friendliest people you'll ever meet.  He loves meeting new people and connecting and making people happy with the music that he makes.  He really welcomed me to the scene and was one of the first people, along with the girls in Midtown Dickens and Chaz from Bull City Records, to make me feel really at home in the Triangle scene in North Carolina.  Dan & I hung out a bunch and stayed in contact.  The thing is that Dan doesn't have a computer.  He has to borrow his wife's, so when I e-mailed him a couple months ago with questions, he took a while.  He told me later that computers give him a sort of weird anxiety, which I can understand.  I prefer phone interviews anyway and it was great to hear his beautiful voice on the other side.

A few months ago, he gave me a master copy of their newest album, "Shake My Head," which will be out in August on Odessa records.  I think it's my favorite album of 2012 so far.  I've listened to it so many times.  I listen to it on the way to work, while I bike, while I run, while I read.  I can't believe how good it is.  And it manages to sound like a Spider Bags record while also moving the band in a rock n' roll direction, which is awesome.  I think it's also their most cohesive album - all of the songs sound like they're in the right place and it shows so easily.

Here's what he said about the fun-times:

Jordan:  So what is a Spider Bag?
Dan:  I don’t know, when you’re a kid and people ask your name, you want to be anything but what your name is.  I remember when I was four or five, I couldn’t wait to change my name to Bill.  I was like, man, when I’m 18, I’m going to change my name to Bill.  I never did that though.  I didn’t really think about it much.  There’s always names floating around my head for bands.  It’s not like I had a plan for it  My friend just came up with it and we rolled with it.
Jordan:  Has the band always had the same members or does it change?
Dan:  It’s changed a lot.  The first record “Celebration of Hunger,” we did in North Carolina over a weekend while touring with a different band and that was with a group of guys that had moved here to North Carolina from New Jersey that I had grown up with.  None of those guys are in the band at this point.  The main member who has mostly stayed with everything is Greg Levi, but he just recently moved back to New Jersey, so now the band is myself, Steve Oliva, and Ross Forbes.  Ross has been with me for two or three years and he’s awesome.  The band is pretty much me, Ross, and Steve at this point.  But yeah, it’s changed.  I don’t even know how many have played in the band at this point - probably at least ten.  We did a lot of touring before my baby was born.  It’s not like people left for personality reasons, but when you’re touring a lot, sometimes you have no choice because it’s not a lot of money.  It’s not how it was in the 70s when people were getting a living out of it.  It ends up being a question of priorities.  I personally love being on the road and I couldn’t give it up.  When another person says that they can’t do the next tour, I just ask another friend if they want to play the position that needs filling.  That’s how it’s been for a while, but now that I’m not on the road as much, this line up is pretty solid.  I’ll be touring in the fall, but nothing as heavy as I’ve done in the last 10 years.
Jordan:  The first Spider Bags record came out five or six years ago?
Dan:  Yeah, I’m pretty sure “A Celebration of Hunger” came out in 2007 or 2008.
Jordan:  So you played in other bands before that?
The Take it Easy Tonite 7"
Dan:  Yeah, just one other band.  I didn’t start playing in bands until my late 20s.  I always played guitar and wrote music, but I didn’t have the itch to perform in bands until I was in my late 20s.  I was in a band in New York City and we were called the D.C. Snipers and we put out a couple records and did a lot of touring.  That’s actually how I met my wife - I came through Chapel Hill and met here and ended up moving down here and that put an end to the band I had up North.  At that point, the first record with Spider Bags was already done and about to be released, so I ended up moving down here and focusing on that band.
Jordan:  How has having a family and settling down impacted what you’re doing with the band?
Dan:  Well, like I said, it’s different.  I can’t travel as much, but I’m getting a lot of recording done.  It’s really hard to tour and make records.  It’s difficult, especially with a rotating cast of characters - you have people that need to be taught songs and then you go on the road and hope you can record with the same band, but that inevitably breaks up, so you have to find another group and teach them songs and try to record, but it’s been good to be in town and not be traveling as much.  I can rock.  Steve and I can hang around and record and my friend Wes is a really good engineer and we’ve done a bunch of recording with him.  The focus shifts.  Even before I was in bands, I traveled for long periods of time, but now that I have a family, I have to.  It was a little scary at first, but she keeps me busy.  It’s also really cool to have this other focus.  When you’re younger and think about having kids, it’s really scary, but when it actually happens, you find out it’s just another thing, which is an incredible responsibility - it’s the center of my life right now, but it’s not so heavy that you’re asking “oh my god, when do I get to play my guitar?”  You have to shuffle things around.  So I’ve been concentrating on recording and I have a huge backlog of songs that I’ve either recorded or have demos for and I’m going through that.  I have plans for about three or four albums.  If I stay focused, I can probably get them out within a year or so.
Jordan:  Wow.
Dan:  Yeah.  I’ve got a shitload of stuff and I’ve never had the time to record it.  It’s like I said with the computer, I just can’t sit still for very long.  Now that I have the baby it forces me to stay put and concentrate.
Jordan:  Definitely puts a hold on touring and stuff I imagine.
Dan:  Yeah, well, we’re going to do small runs and tours when the record comes out.  We’re going to the major cities.  I mostly miss seeing my buddies in different cities.
Jordan:  Any plans to come to Chicago?
Dan:  Sure, for sure.  We’ll be up in Chicago.  I’d like to get to Chicago some time in September and do Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus, Louisville.
Jordan:  Weather should still be nice then.
Dan: Oh yeah, and we could do that in like a week.
Jordan:  It’s a nice drive anyway, too.
Steve Oliva's Screenprint for the Show with Golden Boys
Dan:  It is, man.  It is.  I love that part of the country.  I have a bunch of friends in Cleveland and Columbus and friends in Milwaukee, Detroit and Chicago.  Should be fun.
Jordan:  It was funny I just saw Double Negative. [Dan: Oh, yeah?] Yeah, I saw them at this house show and I was reading because the space wasn’t open yet and I was bored and I look up and there are four punks and Daniel Lupton walking.  And I was like, “Daniel” and it was really funny, but it’s awesome when people from North Carolina come through here.  At least it was then.
Dan:  Yeah, of course.  It’s one of the great things about music and traveling.  It’s so fun to see your friends in different settings and it makes you realize how awesome it is to be alive.
Jordan:  That’s a good way of putting it.  So why did you end up moving to Chapel Hill?
Dan:  My wife, man.  I was on unemployment in New Jersey because I had gotten fired from driving a truck and delivering janitorial supplies - toilet paper and stuff like that.  I got in too many accidents and they fired me, which was fine because it was hard to juggle that with touring and stuff, so I was collecting unemployment in Jersey and touring with a band and basically living out of a duffle bag, which I had done for about a year and my wife was friends with my friend Paul who runs Odessa Records and was in the Spider Bags for the original line up and toured with us for a while.  He introduced me to her and we just hit it off.  I wasn’t really planning on staying here.  I was planning on making it out to the West coast or stopping in Austin.  I wasn’t planning on staying anywhere, really.  I realized though that I had been living here after about a year [laughs].  It was like, oh shit, I guess I live in Chapel Hill.  Here I am.  I never would have thought I’d settle down in North Carolina, but it’s been good.  It’s been a really healthy experience.  I feel good and positive.  And if I’d never met my wife, I wouldn’t have had this little baby.  A lot to think about.
Jordan:  So is your wife supportive of you having the rock band?
Dan:  Yeah, she keeps me realistic because I have other responsibilities and all that traveling did a number on my health.  She’s realistic about that too.  If it were up to me, I would have done it until I couldn’t and would have ended up with really bad health.  She’s a positive force on my life, so I take her advice and there are times when I wish I could be twenty-two, free and easy.  But she reminds me there are other aspects of life.  I love her and she supports me.  She loves my records and my music and she helps me remember my songs.  If I ever write a new song, she videotapes me so I don’t forget it, because I always forget them.  She’ll show them to me on a video and I’ll say “oh, that’s pretty good!”  She’s really supportive.  She’s my wife.
Jordan:  It seems to me that your newest album is less twangy - it seems like it’s straight-up rock n roll.
Dan:  You know, I don’t know.  The D.C. Snipers were a straight-up rock n roll punk band.  Like Cajun style rock n roll band.  I just write a bunch of different songs and the twangy songs ended up on the first couple of Spider Bags records.  I still have a bunch of twangy songs, but this record is really a rock n roll record because we made it in Memphis.  Where you make the record ends up defining what you bring to the process.  We were in Memphis, TN and had all my rock n roll friends with me, so I just decided on using the rock n roll songs that I had.  
"Goodbye Cruel World" Cover
I don’t know if you know this, but music totally sounds different in different places and has different feels to it - Memphis is the place where you want to hear fast, loud, sloppy and raw rock n roll.  Good times.  That was it.  We made the record last March and knew it was going to be the last week long trip I would take before Belle was born so we were trying to figure out where we would go to make a record.  We talked about New York, Louisville, Austin, but my friend Andrew who engineered the record suggested we go down to Memphis.  His girlfriend had just moved out and all she left behind was the recording equipment.  He was like, “I have this big house and recording equipment, so we can just party and make a record,” which kind of cinched the deal.  But if we had ended up in one of those other towns, it would have been a very different records.  Plus, all my friends in Memphis ended up recording with us and partying with us and I’ve always liked the Memphis nightlife where you go out to bars and meet other musicians.  That ended up being a rock n roll record.  We haven’t really been playing more of the country stuff, but that also happens because of the guys in the band.  Ross is an amazing drummer, but he’s also a rock n roll drummer.  He can do anything on the drums, but you feel the energy from him saying that he just wants to rock, and Steve’s the same way.  It’s rock n roll so that’s how it happens.  Unplanned, but just the mood that you’re in.
Jordan:  So what have the changes been in recording your 3 LPs and shit-ton of 7”s?
Dan:  Like I said, the first record was recorded over a weekend and it was with my buddies in North Carolina, so that made it the record that it was.  The next record “Goodbye, Cruel World,” if you look at the liner notes, has about twenty different musicians on it and that’s because it was over the period of a year while we were touring.  It was a difficult record to make because it was dictated by being on the road so it was different.  We had to put the guys together, go on the road, record the songs, and cycle that.  With that record, I think maybe I didn’t pick all the right songs to put on it, and that was hard.  When you spread it out over time like that, you lose a bit of focus it becomes really loose.  This record was done in a week so it’s a compact thing and just gets done.  In terms of singles, after I did “Goodbye, Cruel World,” having it all spread out ended up making me scrap a bunch of songs because I didn’t want to hear them anymore, so I just wanted to do two songs at a time.  If we were going to be touring all the time, I didn’t want to tackle an album.  It was easier to do two songs at a time.  Whenever it seemed like I had two songs that matched, we would just go to the studio and record them.  That was really easy for a while.  Now that I’m back home again, I can focus on doing Long Players again.
Jordan:  So what kinds of bands, ideologies and stuff influence the music that you’re making or the shows you play?
Dan:  Well, I don’t really know, to tell you the truth.  I listen to a lot of music, but I don’t know.  I just write songs and I never know why.  I don’t ever really know what’s influencing it.  Sometimes I can look back and see where I got something.  To tell you the truth, I don’t know the answer to that question.
Jordan:  Do you have any favorite bands?
Dan:  Oh yeah, sure.  The smiths.  My favorite record from recently was probably that Apache Dropout record.  The Rolling Stones are my all-time favorite.
The Gang
Jordan:  So what do you try and doing with the music you make and perform?  Is there an end purpose?
Dan:  That was the thing - when I was younger, I thought that there had to be.  The only reason to do it is for an end purpose, but there isn’t.  The reason to do it is just to do it for whatever reason.  I’ve thought a lot about why I still play shows and put out record.  I think I’m just compelled to.  Beyond that, I’m not doing it to make a million dollars.  If I were, I’d be making a different kind of music.  I’m not doing it to be cool because I have a wife and a kid and I don’t have to worry about being cool.  I’m not doing it to impress people because I already have a family.  So I have to ask “Why am I doing it?”  At the end, I think I just enjoy it and I always will.  An audience is great and it’s awesome when it gets bigger, but then I have to think, “would it really be great for the audience to get bigger and bigger?  What would be great about that?”  You can only know so many people and a lot of why I like making music is meeting people with similar interests and it makes me feel connected to the world, but in the end, does it actually matter if the audience gets bigger?  I don’t think so.  That’s the only thing is that I need people to help me organize the production of a record.  Once I finish recording a record and doing the artwork, I don’t have any interest in pressing the record or getting the sleeves done and shit.  I don’t like talking to record stores and stuff.  I don’t have the energy for that, but as long as I have people who want to help put records out, then I guess I’ll always put them out.
Jordan:  So what’s the name of the new album?
Dan:  It’s called “Shake my Head.”  I just got the CDs yesterday at the plant.  I’ll mail you one if you give me your address.
Jordan:  Sure, should I e-mail you or just tell you now?
Dan:  Just text me.
Jordan:  Sounds good, I’d love one.
Dan:  Yeah it should be great.  The artwork is amazing.  My friend Mikey from Louisville did the artwork.  The CD looks awesome and the vinyl copy is going to be a gatefold.  It’s a really good package.
Jordan:  I’m geeking out already, man.
Dan:  [laughs] We should get the vinyl by the end of the month and I’ll mail you one of those too.
Jordan:  Yeah, I listen to it so much, especially when I’m biking.  It’s an awesome summer album, to be honest.
Dan:  That’s awesome.  It’s a party.  It was a party making it and hopefully that translates.
Jordan:  Well, I think that’s about all I have for interview stuff.
Dan:  Cool, I’m walking over to my neighbor’s house to play some chess.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Interview with Bill & Lisa from Trouble in Mind Records

Trouble in Mind Logo

Bill and Lisa are expecting a baby soon.  As in probably this month.  But it didn't stop them from putting out kick-ass records or responding to this interview - they ended up doing both.  I've been a big fan of Trouble In Mind Records for a while - they ended up putting out the amazing Mikal Cronin LP of 2011 and got me into France's Limiñanas, and don't forget about that amazing four-way split they did for record store day.  Unreal.  And Bill even works at Permanent Records on top of that.  They're totally rooted into pop songs, which is something that I especially appreciate.  They put out a LOT of 7"s, which are always really cool and also a bunch of really cool LP's like that Limiñanas one I mentioned earlier and the Paperhead LP.  I really enjoy their releases and the way that they package their records.

You can learn about their business HERE

There's not a whole lot that I can say that they don't answer in the interview so I'm going to let them talk and I'm not going to say anything more.

Jordan:  How long have y'all been in Chicago?
Bill: I have lived here since 1992 - I moved here from Weatherford, Tx to go to college at The Art Institute of Chicago...
Lisa: I moved here in 2001 from Columbus, Ohio.

Jordan:  Do you have much of a focus on local acts?
Bill: I don't know if I'd say we "focus" on local acts - we just release music by bands that we love, first & foremost no matter where they're from. We just released the second awesome album by local band Hollows called 'Vulture'.
Paperhead LP Cover

Jordan:  Do you get to work with Chicago record shops like reckless often?
Bill: Well, I work at Permanent Records so if we work with any one record store more often than another it would be Permanent. Great store! I shopped there even before I worked there. A couple of bands we've released have done instore performances there (Moonhearts, Ty Segall, Limiñanas, Night Beats, Apache Dropout, Mikal Cronin). 
Lisa: Our hearts belong to Permanent but Reckless definitely supports the label too and the staff there is super nice, especially to Ronnie so that is cool.

Jordan:  What role do you think you all play in the Chicago music scene?
Bill: That's a difficult question to really answer ourselves. It's almost like asking a band "what do you sound like?", because the role you play (or whatever) could seem different to you & to someone else. I hope we have some sort of impact on the local scene, be it from releasing great local acts, or releasing a record that people love, listen to & draw inspiration from.

Jordan:  When did you start the label?
Bill: the label started in August of 2009 with (what would prove to be) our old band CoCoComa's last single "Ask, Don't Tell". We actually had plans to release The White Wires' "Pretty Girl" single (TIM002) first, but we thought since our band had some sort of a name out there (being on Goner Records & all) that it would help build a nest egg to release more records... it did, & here we are...

Jordan:  How did you and your wife decide to start the label?
Bill: Our band had just gone on hiatus & Lisa was pregnant with our first child, Ronnie - we were unsure if the band would continue after she was born, so in our minds starting a small label seemed like a way of sorts to keep music in our life. Not sure if that was a romantic or idealistic (or naive) notion...but it made sense at the time. It very quickly became bigger than we'd anticipated, so that was a nice surprise.
Limiñanas Cover

Jordan:  Your website says you believe in the 2.5 minute song.  That's awesome.  I believe it too.  But what did that belief come out of?
Bill: I guess it was just a mission statement I made up (or needed to have) when we started the label. We just wanted to focus more on the MUSIC. That's why our singles come in "company sleeves"... no band artwork, no pretty pictures to distract you or influence your opinion on the music contained therein. All you have to go on are the tunes. But I really think that the 45rpm single is a powerful medium. It's the ideal & ultimate statement a band can make - You have 2 to 4 minutes per side to make your case. When it works - it's fucking awesome.

Jordan:  Is that a central belief to releasing records on the label?
Bill: Lisa & I have to agree on each thing we release 100%... if there's any doubt from either person, then we don't do it. We need to be able to stand by & believe in everything we release.

Lisa: the 100% vote thing is one of the toughest parts of doing the label together because there have been times that one of us is really sold on something and the other just doesn't hear it...ultimately, I think we'd both agree that even though it causes a little momentary tension sometimes, it's been for the best.

Jordan:  How do you determine who you release on the label?  Do you go for a certain style?
Bill: We just keep our eyes & ears open. When we hear something we like - we pay attention. Again - we don't look for any particular style or genre really, just music we love. Our tastes align with a very small segment of the general populace, but we're grateful for those people, because they buy vinyl & have great taste!

Lisa: I really feel like there is a common thread through all the releases though some may be more strictly pop or psychedelic, they all speak to us somehow and we hope that the folks that consistently buy our records hear it too.
The Awesome 4-way Split 7"

Jordan:  What is yalls background in music?  Were/are you in bands or has it always been a releasing thing?
Bill: I've played in bands of a serious & not-so-serious nature since I was about 18 years old... CoCoComa was our band we started together after we were married in 2004. It started out as a duo (Lisa on guitar & myself on drums & lead vocals), but we added our friend Mike Fitzpatrick soon after whom I played with in a band called The Latest & Lisa played with in their awesome band, Headache City. Lisa & I actually met at a show one of my bands (Stag Party) was playing.

Lisa: I was raised on music. My parents owned a record store and have some pretty insane stories about their pasts in the music scene in Cleveland in the 70's.  I started playing in bands in my mid-twenties.

Jordan:  How do you do the whole putting out of music thing?   Do you basically do one release at a time or are there ever contracts?
Bill: Not sure what you mean by "how do you do it"... I guess we just researched how it was done & then just dove in head-first. That tends to be how we work (with the label & in life). We decide on something & just go for it. We were very fortunate to have had a few connections & friends that ran labels who were VERY helpful & informative. Brian from Douchemaster & Kevin from Dusty Medical Records in particular were EXTREMELY honest & open with me & all my dumb questions about seemingly obvious stuff. As for releases, we do have contracts for the full-length LPs. It's (in our minds) the most "artist friendly" contract we could muster. We tend to release our music in "batches" - 2-4 releases at a time. It helps each release sell the other. People are very open to buying multiple things to save on shipping. I'm the same way.

Jordan:  What do you all do outside of releasing records?
Bill: well aside from wrangling our 3 year old daughter Ronnie, I work at Permanent Records.
Lisa: we had our second kid a few weeks ago and that has been pretty time consuming, trying to adjust to life on small chunks of sleep.
Bill & Lisa Roe with Baby

Jordan:  Do you have any favorite bands right now?  (not on your label so as not to step on toes haha)
Bill: a few of my recent digs that we didn't release anything by; White Fence, Royal Headache, OBN IIIs, Radar Eyes, Bitchin' Bajas, Cheap Time, Total Control, The Twerps, UV Race, Straight Arrows (been on a serious Australia/New Zealand kick lately)... older stuff: Faust, Cluster, Flower Travellin' Band, Wire (for probably the 4th time in my life), The Clean, The Bats, The Byrds, Harry Nilsson, Soft Boys, Del Shannon
Lisa: Alla what Bill said plus I like the Spacin' record which I know Bill likes too.

Jordan:  What do you think about the trend in the releasing of music and the money from it?
Bill: well I dunno who you've talked to, but there's not really any money to be made releasing records. We both still have to work day-jobs full time. Seems like it's always been that way, at least in the genre(s) that we operate in. If you're doing this to make money, then you're in the wrong business.

Lisa: I think we're just happy that the label pretty much pays for itself at this point.

Jordan:  What about the trends in music?  Is there such a thing?
Bill: I'm not sure what the question is.

Lisa: I mean to the extent that everyone is all of a sudden into shoegaze again or psych or whatever, there do tend to be curious cycles that come and go but, yeah, what's the question exactly?

Jordan:  Are your kids going to be real rock n rollers?
Bill: HA! We'll see. The running joke is that one or both will end up a Republican or something. I just hope they at least appreciate & listen to music of some sort, whether we like it or not. Ronnie asked for a "blue drumset" for Christmas this past year, so we got her one... she plays it almost every day. Her favorite band is The Monkees - she can name them all by first & last name. It's funny & cute & weird. She's the best. Not sure what our son will be like - we'll see!
Mikal Cronin LP Cover

Jordan:  What can we look forward to in the future of the label?
Bill: More records, more records, more records! This summer we'll be releasing the second (awesome) album from Bloomington, IN's Apache Dropout called "Bubblegum Graveyard", as well as amazing singles from Melbourne, Australia's Woollen Kits, Chicago's Marble Vanity, & this guy Jacco Gardner from The Netherlands - he makes this truly amazing baroque psych-pop... we're stoked for all of it!

Lisa: And we just confirmed a new LP with MMOSS from New Hampshire which is soooooo great. We're very very excited to get to release it.  That will hopefully come out this fall along with the second Paperhead LP.  

Jordan:  Anything else to say?

Bill: Trouble In Mind Records: Cop it, don't swap it!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Interview with The Transistor's

The Members of The Transistors in a Car
I am so glad that I got to the Guitar Wolf show at Local 506 early.  I hadn't heard of either of the opening bands, but when I saw the second opener, the Transistors, I was blown away (perhaps even more than the Guitar Wolf headline).  These guys put so much energy into their show I couldn't believe it.  I'll admit I was excited when the lead singer/guitarist James Harding came onstage wearing a Sonic Youth "Goo" t-shirt, which is something that I want for my personal catalogue.  Simply put, these guys rock.  Hard.  They write amazing pop songs, but their live show is truly something with which to reckon.  At one point, James sprung off the stage with his electric guitar in hand, landing somewhere in the middle, and played in the punk-rock legs-apart stance that we all know and love.

James is Jumping
I bought two 7"s after.  I just had to.  Surprise, surprise, they kick ass.  I saw them, I believe, in March, and they just finished up a HUGE tour with Guitar Wolf, which must have been really nuts.  I believe that they are back in New Zealand working on a new record, as they cover in the interview, but I cannot wait for them to keep making music.  You can check them out on their facebook page HERE or their tumblr page, which can be found HERE.  The Tumblr page has a lot of awesome videos of them live and some great pictures, so you should definitely check that out to see what I'm talking about.

In terms of getting recordings, they're all free on their bandcamp, which can be found HERE

Luckily, I got to hang out with them a little bit after the show and they agreed to an interview, which follows.

Jordan:  How'd the band start?  Have you guys all been playing for a while?

Transistors:  We started jamming in high school so we've been playing together for a pretty long time. We all picked instruments at around the same time and that was when we first started mucking around in our garages, we learned together.

Jordan:  What's the new Zealand garage scene like?

Transistors:  There sort of isn't really one specifically, in Whanganui in the North Island there's the Stink Magnetic label which puts out a bunch of bands and there are bands dotted around the country but in terms of a proper scene we don't really have one.

Jordan:  Who all makes up the band?

Transistors:  Olly Crawford-Ellis - Drums/Vocals, Colin Roxburgh - Bass/Vocals and James Harding - Guitar/Vocals

Jordan:  What sound are you guys trying to make?  What influences your music?

Transistors:  I think really we just want to write good catchy songs with a lot of energy and power behind them. We've always been influenced by punk and garage bands as well as more out there crazy sounding stuff. When we first started out we were heavily influenced by a lot of sixties pop music but what came out ended up just being really rough punk songs so we just naturally headed in that direction. We've always tried to write poppy songs I guess.

Jordan:  What do you guys do outside of the band?

Transistors:  We all work, Olly is at University doing a Masters Degree in English, Olly and Col play cricket, just pretty normal stuff really.

Jordan:  How many records have you all released?

Transistors:  We released our first album Shortwave in 2009, then we released an EP called Flux Pentaphile in 2010 and we put out an online single last year which is going to be on our new record. They're all available for free on our bandcamp page.

Jordan:  What is in the future of record releases for the transistors?

Transistors:  Our second album is due for release this year.

Jordan:  Can we expect to see them stateside?

Transistors:  We don't have international distribution for our first two releases but we can ship overseas if people email us, we're almost out of both of them now though. Our new album will hopefully be released in the states.

Jordan:  How's the tour with guitar wolf going?

Transistors:  The Guitar Wolf tour was amazing! One of the best things I've ever done, we had an incredible time travelling through the states and met some awesome people. 

Jordan:  What have been your favorite shows you've played?

This is the show Set up
Transistors:  Portland was probably my favourite show of the tour, we played in an enormous old theatre and Steve Turner from Mudhoney was there. I also loved playing in New York, Minneapolis and San Francisco but everywhere we went was great.

Jordan:  Which new zealand bands should we check out?

Transistors:  Street Chant, T54, The Situations, Rackets, Shaft, Teen Fortress, Psych Tigers...I know I'll be forgetting some here.

Jordan:  What goes into a live show?

Transistors:  HEAPS!!! Don't piss around, people have come to see a show so give it everything.

Jordan:  What can we expect for the future of the transistors?

Transistors:  We'd like to go to Europe and Japan and come back to the states of course. Our main priority right now is getting the new album out.

Jordan:  What about the most exciting releases coming up? 

Transistors:  If you mean from us, we just put out a new video for a song called Abandoned which is on the upcoming album. You should check it out.