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.
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!