Sunday, February 24, 2013

Interview with Chris DeFusco of Negative Fun Records

It's surprising to me that I never ran into Chris DeFusco while I was still in Durham. I "met" him basically as I started my blog and got a twitter account. I guess he liked the stuff that I was doing, which was really flattering and we shared a fairly similar taste in music and humor. So between seeing that Chris was in touch with a bunch of really awesome bands, a cool dude, and starting a record label, it was pretty easy to stay in contact.

I preordered the Red Hex 7" that he released pretty much because I trusted his taste in music. If you read my earlier interview with the gang at Red Hex, you can see that I was a huge fan and ended up picking up their debut single.Then I also picked up the other Negative Fun record at the time, which was the split 7-inch between She Rides and Dripping Slits, which is a really cool blast of punk, and a revery for what I see as theatrically huge vocals on the side dedicated to She Rides. Dripping Slits has a bit more thrash into it and some serious guitar playing. The vocals are spitfire delivered and reminiscent of an earlier iteration of Damian Abrahamson. It rocks, to say the least.

So yeah, I've been impressed with Negative Fun Records from the get-go. These two first records comes across as confident and engaging. To put it simply, they don't come across as the first releases from a label and it's really cool to see a rocket-launch start from something that has been a dream for a long while.

You can check out the label's website HERE, listen to the records on BANDCAMP, and check them out on FACEBOOK

Jordan: So you've been involved in music for a while? When did you first start? In what capacity did you start taking an active role in music?

Chris: I spent most of my high school and college years going to hardcore shows in the Boston and Providence area. I went to Providence College in RI, which was a pretty conservative school. Here I was, a vegan straight edge kid. I ended up becoming really involved in the local hardcore scene mostly because it gave me something to do other than sitting in my dorm room eating cheeseless pizza.  I published a fanzine and did a radio show, then I started booking shows at clubs, vfw halls and basements. I always liked doing more than watching.

J: Have you ever played in a band or made music yourself?

C: Yeah, I played in a hardcore punk band called Paindriver. Before I joined the band they were a three piece, but the bass player wanted to sing full time. I wrote something about the singers old band in my fanzine and he approached me at a show and asked if I could play bass. I lied and said yes, bought a bass and was practicing with them a few weeks later. They already had a single on Sound Pollution Records before I joined the band and not too long after I learned the songs we recorded a 12” with Kurt Ballou from Converge at the first incarnation of God City Studio. The guitar player and I decided to put it out ourselves. We basically sold all of our belongings to raise the money to put it out. We called the label Takeover Records, but when the band dissolved so did the label.

J: Aside from the new label what all have you done in terms of other music oriented stuff

C: I spent the better part of ten years working at a record store chain in New England called Newbury Comics. My label partner Jon and I worked together for years at a store in New Hampshire. I was his boss, then he was my boss. Then we started travelling all over the place together to see shows and festivals. When I decided to start the label he contacted me and asked how he could help almost immediately.

J: What bands or shows made you think that you wanted to start a record label?

C: I don’t know if it was any particular band or show, but I was definitely finding influence from a lot of small record labels. I’ve always been drawn to those labels with a distinctive look and feel to them. Trouble In Mind and Sacred Bones come to mind, as do old Sub Pop records, even Fucked Up records. That was the idea from the start, but we haven’t really figured out how to look distinctive without being a rip-off. I think its one of those things that just evolves. There was a while when I wasn’t really paying all that much attention to music, which was weird because I was working at a record store at the time, and some friends from Memphis turned me on to Mr. Airplane Man. That got me obsessed with Sympathy For The Record Industry.

C: Lots of local NC labels have been really inspirational and supportive, like Sorry State, Churchkey, To Live A Lie, and Three Lobed Records. Cory from Three Lobed has been super helpful while we’ve been getting our legs under us.

J: How did you start the label itself?

C: I had been trying to get a music and sports blog off the ground, but that frustrated me. I like to write, but I hate my writing, so it felt like work, and I wanted an escape from work. One day I just decided that I would take some of the stock options that I had from my day job and cash them in and put it towards this label idea. I figured I usually just used that money to pay bills or buy household items, why not do something productive with it? Then Jon came into the picture and we became 50/50 partners, so it gave us a little more to work with, financially.

J: Where did you get the name Negative Fun from? I love it!

C: I have a reputation of being pretty negative, especially on facebook and twitter, so I was playing with that idea. It basically just popped into my head one day. I did a google search to see if the name was taken and didn’t find anything. It sounded like it should be the name of something. I did a little more digging and then realized that it was a Simpsons reference from the episode when Lisa becomes a vegetarian. “Hi, I’m Troy McClure. You might remember me from such educational films such as 2-3 equals negative fun”. I mean...right?

J: How has it been starting a label when you have a kid and a wife? Seems like there's not a whole lot of time!

C: That gave me some pause at first. I thought my wife would think I was crazy, but she has been super supportive. I may have sold her by naming the label after a Simpsons quote.

C: One of the things I least expected from fatherhood was the creative rush it gave me. Its a lot of work, and I wish I had more time some days, but I’m a busy body by nature. I have a hard time sitting still. It helps that I have a partner too, if I was doing everything myself and working and being a husband and father it would be a lot tougher.

C: I guess this ties in with your question about my influences. A few months after my wife and I found out that we were having a kid I went on a road trip with Jon to Memphis for Gonerfest 6. Bill and Lisa Roe from Trouble In Mind Records were playing that year with CocoComas. They had brought their baby (and I assume their kid’s grandmother) with them and were hanging out at the Goner store and some of the day parties with their whole family. I couldn’t stop thinking about how awesome that was. I was still in “holy crap I’m going to be a dad” panic mode and it made me realize that I wouldn’t have to give up all my interests if I wanted to be a good parent. In fact, I think it makes you a bad parent if you give up everything for your kids. The last thing I want is to be resentful of my child if I look back and feel like I left something on the table, so to speak. Hopefully one day my kid will think its cool that her daddy runs a record label, instead of not knowing what I do when I go to work every day.

J: What have you released since the beginning of Negative Fun records?

C: The first thing I put up on our Bandcamp page was a digital version of the Paindriver record. It was out of print and I found it up on Mediafire, so I figured someone might want it. I pretty much put it up so I could start figuring out how Bandcamp worked.

C: In December we released our first record. The She Rides/Dripping Slits split 7”, then we followed that up with the Red Hex 7”.

J: What has the process behind getting bands to put out records been like? Has it been similar for the stuff that you've released?

C: When I started up the label I made a facebook page for it and posted an announcement. George from She Rides replied almost immediately that they were looking for someone to put out a split 7”. I had seen them play a poorly promoted Monday night show in Raleigh a month prior and they still played their asses off. It was impressive and I knew that they were the type of band that I wanted to work with. She Rides had played with Dripping Slits while they were on tour, so that pairing came together pretty naturally.

C: My friend Ashley from Tacoma, who I had known while we both lived in Portland, Ore., tipped me off to Red Hex. He sent me a link to a bandcamp compilation with their song Weird Bruises. I couldn’t get enough of that song, so I contacted Sam about buying their self released single and asked if they were looking to put anything else out. They were interested and took a chance on working with a brand new label. I’m really proud of that release. I’ve had rough versions of those songs since last September and they still sound fresh every time I listen to them.

C: The next release was going to be a Record Store Day exclusive, but there was an accident at the pressing plant that we use, so we’ve decided to take the foot off the gas with that one. Though we hope to make it a regular series of releases. Jon, the other half of the label, manages a Newbury Comics store in the Dartmouth College area of NH. There is a collective of musicians up there from NH and Vermont called What Doth Life. We’ve developed a nice relationship with those folks and decided that one way we could work together with them was to issue a series of split singles featuring bands from up north and bands from here in North Carolina. The label has two homes, so why not feature them?  One of Jon’s regular customers at his store is Ryan Hebert, who is a really talented multi instrumentalist. He’s had a pretty prolific recording career. People may know him from the psych/drone band Heavy Winged who have a bunch of records out. Well, Ryan was playing drums in a band which was breaking up and started a new band called Carton with some of the guys from this really great rock and roll band, Pilgrims It turns out that they are freaking incredible so we asked them if they wanted to be a part of this idea. With Alpha Cop, I had gotten to know Corbie Hill, their singer/guitar player through twitter and really liked what I had heard from the band, so I approached him with the idea. The funny thing is this could have been disastrous because we didn’t know what Carton was going to sound like when the idea hatched, and Alpha Cop was in the midst of evolving their sound, and adding members to the band. It came together beautifully. There is a really distinct mid-90’s Dischord/Quarterstick/Touch and Go Records vibe coming through the record, without sounding too nostalgic. I think people will really dig it.

C: Finally, we’ve got a seven inch planned with our friend Chris Pupecki from Doomriders new doom/psych project called Wormwood. Chris started this duo with the original Doomriders drummer, and it sounds massive. Hopefully they’ll put a live incarnation of the band together and play some shows. They’ve gotten some serious buzz in Boston already, and have a 12” coming out on Magic Bullet Records soon. Chris approached me about working together when I posted that first facebook update about the label. Jon and I have known him and his wife for years from working at Newbury Comics together, so it was a natural fit.

J: What do you find the significance of physical media to be?

C: I just love the entire package. I love that it sounds different through different record players and speakers. I like that artwork can have nuances. Its a thing, rather than a series of data. I like that its an old technology often made by one person operating a machine with care.

J: What else do you have in the future for Negative Fun?

C: We’re co-sponsoring a SXSW day party on March 16th at a tattoo parlor called Triple Crown Tattoo. That should be a lot of fun. Our friends from New Orleans play in a great rock and roll band called DiNola who will be on the bill, and The High Tension Wires are playing as well as a few other bands. She Rides was supposed to play but they had to scrap their tour at the last minute, unfortunately.

C: We want to try and sponsor or co-sponsor a day party during Hopscotch Fest in Raleigh this September, so we’re looking into what it takes to put that together.

C: We’ve got enough funding for the first four releases, so after that we just have to wait and see. The goal was to always roll our money back into future releases and not stretch ourselves beyond our means. We’ve got some feelers out there on a few future releases, but we’ll be concentrating on promoting the label and our releases for the near term.

J: What would your dream record to put out be? You can even do a top 5 if you'd like just so you can make it unrealistic.

C: We’d love to put out a Spider Bags 7”. It would be cool to do something a little outside the ordinary like a comedy single. Putting out an unreleased Mr Airplane Man single would be incredible. I’d kill to put out a Super Wild Horses single, or really anything from an Australian garage band would be killer.

J: Anything else you'd like to say?

C: Thanks for the interview and all of the support you’ve given the label. Buy records from record stores and support indie labels. Come say hi at South By Southwest.

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