Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Interview with Josh Cheon of Dark Entries

I caught onto Dark Entries a little late. I discovered the label when my friend introduced me to the Patrick Cowley compilation that was recently reissued (er…issued?). It’s a startling collection of songs and sounds. Some of the inserts are perhaps not for the faint of heart – and there is that warning that comes with the seal on the front – but it’s an interesting time capsule of sorts. Musician turns gay porn soundtracker. Unfortunately, even when Patrick died in 1982 of AIDS, at a time when it wasn’t even called AIDS, he was not well known and probably never thought anyone would reissue his records, least of all his gay porn scores.

As an obsessive type with a massive addictive personality, I was fascinated by an individual who exhibited the same sort of prying, digging, pillaging behavior with which I seem to identify. Josh Cheon of Dark Entries is one such person. His label has released some things I never really expected to get reissued, specifically the first Kirlian Camera record, which he is about to reissue as an LP with an included flexi-disc. I think I discovered Kirlian Camera in the English translation of an old L'Ame Electrique magazine and never really expected to hear their first record as a possessed object.

Dark Entries has put out a fairly astounding amount of releases for its brief five years existence. It doesn't really look like it's slowing down any time soon. I'm not going to ruin any of the surprises that Josh includes in the interview, but I'm going to be honest and say that there are a lot of pretty incredible stuff on the horizon for his label. 

Give the label a "like" on Facebook and check out their Website while you're at it and buy yourself a little something, you filthy animal.

J: Everything going well today?

JC: Yeah, I’m actually scanning in Psychic TV artwork.

J: For what?

JC: For a reissue coming out on Halloween.

J: Can I ask what it is?

JC: Yes – it’s a 12” single.

J: All right. I’m getting excited.

JC: It has three remixes – one from the band and two from contemporary artists.

J: Awesome. Psychic TV is one of my favorite bands so that totally just made my day.

JC: Yeah this is one of their Acid House songs.

J: I actually really like those.

JC: This is an atypical one because Genesis doesn’t sing on it. There aren’t many songs without Genesis singing other than back in the day they didn’t have h/er singing. No maybe not even then. I love the early stuff so much but it’s impossible to track down Alex Fergusson who owns half the publishing rights. He’s an old school British punker of sorts and no one has been able to track him down for a long while. I think a lot of these reissues are sort of gray area, like the reissues of their first couple albums, the more hazel, psychedelic stuff.

J: I don’t remember the last time I scanned anything.

JC: I do it a lot.

J: I bet you do.

JC: I want everything to be just how it was.

J: Do you do everything at Dark Entries?

JC: Pretty much. I have a designer named Eloise Leigh who is in Germany right now. She’s American but lives in Berlin and she does all the design, layout, and art. I do production and track sequencing and stuff.

J: What made you start the label?

JC: I had wanted to do something to give back. I’m such a consumer of music and been buying records since I was fourteen in Manhattan. I’m from New Jersey, but I amassed all these records until I was twenty-seven and started the label so it had been about thirteen years. I had always thought that it would be cool to have a record store and continue the cycle. When I moved to San Francisco, I bought records off this guy named Phil who ran a blog. I can’t remember the exact moment, but he had said something about a band that had contacted him on his blog looking for a label to reissue their material. He basically told me that I should do it and I was like, “well, yeah, I should do it” (laughs). I had interned at record labels in college and even before. I had all these contacts for pressing records and artwork – just a huge cache of people who could help out and it just all came together that way.

J: So that band was Eleven Pond?

JC: Yeah.

J: Do you still have copies of your first records that you sell?

JC: Yeah, I try to keep everything in print that I put out. Not everything is in print right now, but I’m trying I should say (laughs).

J: When you do reissues do you have to get a license for them?

JC: Yeah. Always.

J: How does that work?

JC: I track down the songwriter and composer – sometimes it’s not the same person. Sometimes a label will say that they own rights to a song and I have to go through a label.

J: What’s the hardest you’ve had to work to get something reissued?

JC: There’s a bunch I’m still trying to get! (laughs) Some artists are very resistant to having their material reissued because of negative associations like drugs or trauma. I’ve had many people say “No that was the past and I’m in the present.” It took me a long time to track down a Japanese artist who used a pseudonym. Eventually I found the photographer who had taken pictures of models that the artist had used for the jacket. The photographer gave me his real name. From there I found a website and a cafĂ© that he owned. Little by little I got in touch with him.

J: Has that release been reissued or is that something that you’re working on?

JC: That’s still in the works. Since I found him, another label contacted him. I don’t know if it was since I was posting things like “I found him.” Maybe they went on their own excavation. It was funny seeing that after I found him and he agreed to the reissue, while he was looking for the tapes for a few months, he was approached by a label and he’s got the opportunity to decide between the two.

J: That seems frustrating.

JC: It’s a little frustrating, but it’s not out of the ordinary. It isn’t necessarily common either.

J: Tell me a little bit about the upcoming Kirlian Camera reissue you have coming out.

JC: That’s another one! I’d been trying to get those guys to reissue stuff since 2009. Over five years I’ve been begging, pleading, e-mailing, and just hammering at Angelo and it has been a string of no’s. “No, we don’t own the rights. No, we don’t care about that.” Every few months I’d send him another e-mail and after this time, he somehow said Okay. Now it’s been incredibly smooth and he wants to do more. We have a bunch in the pipeline. They also just got their rights back. I think it was Italian records, which got licensed to something huge – Universal BMG.

J: I saw some of your newer roster at the Empty Bottle – how was that tour?

JC: Fantastic. It really turned out well. Everyone got along and I think that it was productive. Each night the bands felt better and better. By the time we got home, everyone was feeling good about it so that was really nice.

J: Do you think you’d do something like that again?

JC: Of course! Actually there’s another tour with me and Bezier. We’re going to Spain for Thanksgiving.

J: That’s a ways away.

JC: That’s a ways away but it should be cool.

J: I always associate some of the more synth-driven music with Europe though, so I guess maybe that makes sense.

JC: I think you’re right. I think we’ll have a different type of crowd. Spain has a big population into the 80s music. A lot of the stores you go into expecting to find cheap, amazing European stuff, but it’s all at collectors’ prices. They really have a strong handle on the going rate or demand of the music. I think there are a lot of music dorks there.

J: Do you think people travel to certain record stores in Europe just for stuff like that?

JC: I don’t know. I think people in Europe either look for those giant flea markets in the parks or smaller stores or personal collections in houses. But now there are also those tools where you can look up records and see what they’re worth like ebay or discogs, which drives up prices quickly.

J: Yeah, I’ve done that.

JC: Yeah, I’ve definitely done that too. When I moved here I was reselling stuff so it definitely happens.

J: I think it’s a good thing, though. Just recently, I read The Acid Archives and I was looking through a bunch of old private pressings – stuff that was never at your fingertips – and checking on discogs and being able to see “oh, this just got reissued a year ago” or “Oh, well, there’s a bootleg, but people say it sounds good.” Stuff like that makes it a useful resource.

JC: Totally true.

J: Tell me a little bit about the Patrick Cowley record you put out.

JC: I’m part of a DJ collective and in 2007 we went to the former owner of Megatone Records, which was Patrick Cowley’s record label, John Hedges' house and he was giving away his records. We were the last people to go over and we saw two crates of reel-to-reels there. One of our guys asked if we could take them and he said “yeah, otherwise, I’m going to throw them away.” So we basically saved these from the dumpster. Since I had the record label starting up and was using a tape-transfer facility, I took a bunchy of tapes over and was really blown away by how eclectic the stuff that Patrick had been making. Some of it was out there and spacey and some had the didgeridoo.

JC: Two years later in 2009, one of the tapes was reissued by a German label. It was a project called Catholic that Patrick had done with Jorge Socarras. We had a release party in San Francisco. Leading up to that, I had been in charge of interviewing Patrick’s friends and family. We had the interviews playing on little mp3 players that people could put on and listen to. During the release, two guys approached me and asked if I had found the scores that Patrick had done for porn flicks and I was surprised. “What?” “Oh, yeah, Patrick did scores for gay porn.” I had heard something about that. One of the interviews may have talked about it, but once these guys told me about them I was really on the hunt for these soundtracks.

JC: Then I found them and it was right there, clear as day. “Music by Patrick Cowley.” He didn’t even use a pseudonym. So I had to track down the director, which took a few years actually. That was another difficult one. He’s still alive. He’s living in Los Angeles and is seventy years old. Total survivor. Then it took me another year to go down there because he refused to take the tapes and mail them to San Francisco. I went down to Los Angeles and brought them all back. Then I realized that we had some of the tracks before but there were so many new ones that eventually made it onto the reissue or compilation I guess.

JC: There’s more too. School Daze was only one of the films, but there’s another one called Muscle Up and another called Afternooners and we’ll be reissuing stuff from those next year.

J: Do you have a typical amount of releases each year?

JC: No. You can see that it increases each year. This year there’s a pretty huge amount. In 2009, I think I put out three records. I started in July and I think I put out one in July and two in December. In 2010, I think I put out twelve or something like that. I think last year it was around thirty and this year it’s more than that. I don’t really want to do more than I have this year.

J: That’s a lot of releases for any label to put out.

JC: I know, but I have so much stuff from my childhood that I want to put out. I’m at the point now where I can contact these bigger names like Psychic TV or Severed Heads and ask them if they want to be part of my label. There are also smaller guys that I’ve just discovered in the last four or five years that are more cassette-based European artists that sometimes haven’t made it out of their country or town and I end up getting a cache of that. Plus there are new bands that e-mail me, or I catch live!

J: How do you find the small artists that’ll have like fifty cassettes in Europe?

JC: I use YouTube a lot. Sometimes someone will e-mail me something random their father’s band or something at a smaller level and upload a video. The video will be a rip of a cassette or a song. That’s how I found The Product. I think they put out fifty copies of their cassette, which never made it out of Denmark at the time. I used to go on YouTube binges where I just got lost in a black hole and found a lot of cool bands.

J: Do you make music yourself?

JC: I do not.

J: You ever want to?

JC: I think about it sometimes, but it’s not on the top of my head. I am more focused on putting out other peoples’ music. First off, I don’t really know how to play any instruments, but many people tell me that that isn’t as important.

J: What all is in the immediate future for you guys?

JC: Well, we have the Opera Multi Steel, a French band from 1984. We have a New York no wave 12” from impLOG, who most recently were featured on the New York No Wave vol. 3 that Yard compiled. They’re a legendary No Wave band that used to play with a power drill on stage. I’m going to reissue the record that has the power drill – it’s kind of proto-industrial from 1980. Then the Kirlian Camera record will come out with a flexi disc too. BART vol. 2 will come out, which is Bay Area Retrograde, a comp of new wave and postpunk from the late 70s and early 80s from the bay area. That will have bands like Chrome, Tuxedomoon and a bunch of others. Then we have a compilation of solo material from Tom Ellard of Severed Heads – it’ll be the solo stuff he did from 1982. Many of them have never been released and most have not ever been on vinyl. Then I’ll do two Italo-disco 12”s. Then the Patrick Cowley & Jorge Socarras record will come out on vinyl. I’m going to do a double LP with two bonus tracks not on the CD. And then the Psychic TV record will come out…as well as the first album by this Italian band called Die Form. Then there’s a crapload more that I’m not going to talk about, but that will get you through Halloween!

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