Thursday, December 6, 2012

Unpublished GRAVE MISTAKE Interview

Oh, interviews ... I'm a slacker when it comes to doing them but they are always fun to do and it's hard for me to pass up an opportunity to run my mouth. A while back (2008 to be exact) my good friend Mike Riley asked me to do an interview for the second issue of his FIRESTARTER FANZINE. He sent me questions on 7/23/2008. I sent him answers on 1/1/2009 ... yeah, I suck. BUT ... it's now been almost FOUR years and HE HAS YET TO DO ANYTHING WITH IT!!! I came across this as I was searching through my email the other day (thank you gmail, I never have to delete anything) and figured that some of the stuff might still be of interest to someone out there (you make the call).

Anyways, I decided to post it up here for anyone interested in reading ... enjoy.

Alex

1/1/2009

A quick disclaimer/warning ... these answers are a bit long winded but I felt it was necessary. I probably would not even be doing a label if it wasn't for Mike. Aside from putting out the first 7" I was ever on, he has helped me from the start and even to this day. We have worked together on a handful of releases over the past 6+ years (LLR / INFAMOUS 7", RUINER 7", and both the PSYCHED TO DIE and ERGS 7"s that will be out in 2009). I felt it was appropriate to answer these questions as best I could (sorry it took half a year). If you are like me (with an attention span that usually can't make it through a minute long hardcore song), you will probably look in disgust at all of these words and flip past it to the record reviews ... but for those that make it through this, thanks for reading.

1. You and I teamed up together for what was the first release for both of our labels, although they both had different names at that time. Could you tell me a bit about what made you want to start a label and how that first release came together? 
 
I think I've answered the first part of this question in every interview I've done, so the brief answer is that I just wanted to release records for current local hardcore bands in the MD / DC area at the time (and obviously future bands as well).  There were some consistent bands in the area in the early 2000's that weren't really getting "national" recognition perse, so it was a good opportunity The bands may not have been the most stand-out bands of the time, but they were keeping things going in the area and I wanted to help spread the word.  I think the first release "Looks Like Rain / Infamous" split 7" came about because I mentioned to you I wanted to start a label, I originally really wanted to start the label with an FVK 7" (DC edge band circa 2001 featuring Firestarter ceo Mike Riley, Rich Miles, and Pat Vogel, not to be confused with the one from NYC).

You had mentioned you were starting a new label as well, and your plan was for a Looks Like Rain / Brace split 7" and you asked if I wanted to co-release it. Wasn't my original intention, but it sounded like a good idea; two cool local bands who had been staples in the local scene for the past few years. So to wrap up, BRACE couldn't record anytime soon, and THE INFAMOUS were a newer band from NOVA who had just recorded a demo I was really stoked on so I brought up the idea of using those demo tracks as the other side of the split. I think all in all it came out pretty well, despite both bands pretty much breaking up before the record came out.  Remember the record release for that? It was at the CCAS with LLR, THE INFAMOUS and Striking Distance I think maybe 10 people came out (this was at the height of SD if I'm not mistaken, shows how sweet the Baltimore scene was around that time), and you didn't even end up playing because your drummer was too busy shopping for a halloween costume and didn't bother showing up to the show.  The record release cover did however feature some sweet artwork of Curious George sniffing coke of a strippers ass, so that made up for it.

Around the same time as you and I were getting release #1 together, John from THE AFTERMATH (and later 86 Mentality and Set to Explode) was starting his label, MINOR DISTURBNACE (for pretty much the same reasons we were), and mentioned how he was going to be doing THE AFTERMATH 7" as his first release ... I said "hey I'm starting a label too can I co-release it? He was into the idea and that's pretty much how GM started.

2. Since that time, where have you looked for inspiration and guidance in running the label and how much have your ideals and views changed since the beginning, if at all?

 
Pretty much every label I've come into contact with over the past 6 years I've gotten some form of guidance and inspiration from.  I could name drop 20 labels right now but I'm not going to do that, but nerding out with other label friends, about everything from where to get a record pressed to where to buy boxes or package up your orders, is a favorite pastime of mine and it's kept me going strong.  I'm always learning and I'm always offering advice to other labels, it really keeps things interesting. My views have changed in some ways, and in others they've pretty much stayed the same.   Ways they have changed, I used to think that in order to sell records you needed to do limited runs, colored vinyl, needed a band to constantly be touring, needed to have some sort of "gimmick" or "hype," etc etc.  Over the years, I've come to notice that some of these things didn't matter as much as I thought they did.

When it comes down to it, I think working hard and building up a good reputation and solid relationships for your label is the best way to go, but also putting your all into every release, and making sure that you are releasing quality records.  In most cases, a record isn't going to sell itself (unless you already have some built up hype), you have to work to get the word out and to get the record out.  Also, I used to think that the audience that buys my releases was a lot more limited then it actually is (as in, how can more than 300 people possibly want an 86 mentality 7"?) Obviously, I learned this wasn't the case ... as several of my releases i've pressed thousands of copies of and people (from mailorder customers to distros, labels, and stores) still seemed to be interested in them.  So, I've learned not to underestimate the potential for a record, but I'm also cautious not to go pressing 3000 records off the bat.   Also going back, some of these releases are for bands who rarely play and rarely tour, wiping out the myth that a band needs to be active and touring for people to be interested in a record. 

3. What kind of advice do you give people who come to you with questions about starting their own labels?
 
 
I usually tell people to start small, keep things simple and let your label grow with each release.  Doing a label is a learning process of course, so there is no need to get in over your head right off the bat ... it will only discourage you. I tell people that doing a label takes a bit of work and sometimes a bit of time as well, and that if you want to do it for real then it involves more work than you probably would anticipate  ... everything from getting the record pressed to filing mailorders, contacting distros, working out trades, answering emails, the list goes on.  It will be hard at first, but as the label grows and you build relationships with distros, labels, etc, and you become a bit more established, things will start coming together easier ... so don't get bummed if your first release doesn't fly out the door in the first week. I always recommend trading with other labels, it's the best way to not only build up relationships with other labels, but it's a good way to get your releases distributed in different areas, increase visibility for your label, and also help other labels like your own by distributing their releases.

Another thing I try and stress is that good communication is always important, especially with bands you work with. Always try to lay out everything on the table up front (especially in terms of money and compensation related issues), it can prevent a lot of misunderstandings and conflicts down the line.  Some bands have a very poor or inaccurate idea of how a band / label relationship should work, or even how a label works. On top of that, if a band thinks a label is not telling them stuff, being shady, or lying ... then that causes even more problems. Luckily, I haven't experienced this first hand (at least not that I know of), but I've seen it before and a lot of times it just seems like a bit more communication was probably needed to clear up a minor misunderstanding.

4. At what point were you able to have the label operate on it's own, without you having to put in any personal money? Do you even keep label and personal finances separate at all? 
 
I think by the third release the label was operating on it's own,  first two releases came out of my own pocket, but as those sold or as I sold distro stuff, I was able to raise enough for the next release.  I used to be a lot more budget conscious, I couldn't afford to pay for recordings, if a band wanted more than a black and white cover I would ask them to put in the difference (i also used to sell a shit ton of bootleg CDRs to raise label funds) ...   As the label has grown, I've been able to do more for bands and releases, bigger pressings, more elaborate covers, paying for recording, etc.  I've always kept the label and personal funds separate for the most part.

I think the first "label money" I had was when the Looks Like Rain / Infamous 7" came out ... I remember we sold them at some Bane / Striking Distance show at college park and we actually sold a bunch of them (a lot more than I thought, at least). I remember this wad of what was probably $75 or so (mostly $1's so it looked more impressive than it actually was), I put it in my drawer and was like "this is label money" and that was the start of it. Sometimes I'll dip into the label funds if I'm short on cash at the moment (I do ALWAYS use label money to get quarters for laundry), or if I win something on Ebay and pay with paypal, but that's about it.  For the most part money I make with the label stays with the label for future releases, distro stock, supplies, shipping, "operating" costs in general.  One thing I do gain from the label on a personal level is that I have accumulated a plethora of records for my personal collection either through trades or wholesale from the label.

5. Do you have a favorite release or one that stands out for any reason at all? How about your biggest regret concerning a release or something you would have done differently? 
 
No, I really don't have a favorite release. A few stand out ... the 86 Mentality s/t because it was my first "popular" release and really boosted my excitement on doing the label, the IRON BOOTS "easy green" 7" because it was a "secret" release that came together really well, all of my releases in 2005 (frontline, 86 mentality, set to explode, ruiner, iron boots, wasted time, down to nothing/on thin ice split) because I felt it was a great sort of "cross section" of the va / dc / md area hardcore scene at the time, the GW 7" because it was the first time releasing my own band.  There is something I love about every release.  Conversely, there is probably something I regret or would have done different with every release, but never anything major.  A lot of it is layout related stuff, most of it is minor details I would have changed. I know this is one of those "fishing for a juicy answer" question, but I just can't really think of anything. I like to think I'm pretty particular when it comes to doing the label, from the bands I work with to what comes out and how it looks, that probably cuts down on the majority of regret one might have with something like this.

5. You just released your first 12", the Cloak/Dagger - We Are... LP, do you see that as a major accomplishment? How has that affected the label? How did you find working with a label like Jade Tree to be? Was it that much more complicated than working everything out on your own? 
 
Well the 12" came out in June so this question would have made a lot more sense had I answered it in July when you sent me this interview ... but yes the Cloak/Dagger 12" was my first LP and I did see it as an accomplishment.  Doing 7"s has become like second nature to me, so it was a bit of a challenge, something new ... it was almost like starting from the beginning again.  I found myself asking lots of questions about how to do things, something I did when I first started the label.  I don't really think it has affected the label too much, I just know that I can do a 12" if I want to ... and while I think 12"s are awesome I still prefer releasing the 7" format for some reason, it's a lot easier to deal with especially when it comes to storing them and shipping them that's for sure.

Since the 12" was technically a split band / label release, that took some of the pressure off of me working directly with Jade Tree. They really didn't get involved at all with the vinyl, they just said "compensate us in this way for the licensing, and put our logo on the back" and that was that.  I dealt with them on the Kamikazes single too, and it was fairly painless as well.  It's definitely kind of cool to see the GM logo right next to the Jade Tree logo on a record. I wouldn't say I am necessarily a Jade Tree "fanboy" by any means, but they definitely have put out some bands that I love, so is somewhat of an honor to have been involved with them on that release.

6. Along with the label, you operate the distro primarily through web-based mailorder, which is stocked mostly through trades. How much a part of the whole operation does the distro consist of? Have you ever considered shutting it down and just distributing your releases through wholesale orders?
 
 
The distro and mail order take up the bulk of my time, and it's also my main source for label income so I'd say it's vital to the overal operation and survival of the label. As the distro continues to grow, the mailorder tends to increase.  At first, I just had a few distro items available online as sort of "add on" items for people who were already purchasing GM releases.  Now it's become sort of a full fledged mailorder site ... something I've been working towards over the past few years.

The distro has gradually built up from the start.  First it was one box of 7"s, then maybe a box of 7"s and some cds or lps, then two boxes of 7"s and an LP box, etc etc ... it just gradually got bigger and bigger. As I was putting out more records, and records that people actually wanted, the trades became very consistent and I was able to trade for distro items that people actually wanted and that has helped a lot. In 2005, an acquaintance of mine offered to build me up a webstore ... probably the smartest move I have made with the label. I had messed around with paypal buttons on my website but that wasn't helping me move my distro stock.  With a webstore that let me add and maintain my stock and orders, I was able to put all of my distro online and that has helped tremendously.  As that grew, I decided I wanted to carry more than what I could simply get in trade, so I started buying wholesale when I had to. I really wanted the distro to reflect my personal tastes, which are a lot more diverse then the label releases would lead you to believe, and eventually grow into a full fledged mailorder like revhq, ebullition (at the time) or deadalive/buycrime ... unfortunately there are a lot of releases I can't get (or in the quantities I want) in trade, so I do end up buying wholesale a lot, or placing an order with a distributor like no idea, ebullition, or dischord. Right now I'd say the grave mistake distro stock probably consists of about 70% trade / 30% wholesale. It's almost like running an online record store, and I'm really happy with how it's going.

I have occasionally thought about canning the distro (usually when I'm neckdeep in mailorders), but never really considered it as a possibility.  As I mentioned, it's my main source for getting funds for future releases.  But more importantly,  I LOVE getting new records, I love getting packages in the mail. Some days at the post office it's like christmas in the sense that I'll get like 5+ big boxes full of records from trades or wholesale orders. My apartment is wall to wall distro records, boxes, etc etc and I love it (my roommate on the other hand, doesn't, but he tolerates it thankfully). I feel like if I ever got to the point where I wanted to just do the label without the distro, I probably wouldn't even be that interested in the label anymore. They are one in the same to me, if and when one goes, both will probably go. 

7. You recently removed the pressing information from the releases section of your website. Was there a specific reason for that? Is dealing with collector scum getting to be more trouble than it's worth. How much of your limited releases are due to pressing and plant errors and how much is intentional?
 
 
I actually removed the pressing info because I wasn't updating it and I felt that there was no point in it being up there if it wasn't complete.  I honestly don't really deal with that much "scum," I think it's awesome that anyone would want to collect something I've put out.  I've had a few people ask for pressing info since I removed it, but I don't mind. I plan to put it back up there one of these days ... I would love to get pictures like some labels have but I just don't think that is going to happen.  I like people knowing the pressing info, but at this point in the game it isn't a top priority.  I'm going to just start referring people to StefanSonic's trade list / photos.

Pretty much all of the limited stuff is planned, from colored vinyl to special covers. There are a couple plant errors, a few last minute temporary or tour sleeves made, but the versions are done for fun. I'm somewhat of a record collector, so it's fun for me. I don't press multiple colors in hopes that someone will buy every version, I think that sort of motivation behind limited pressings is just sort of pathetic (the whole "preorder all 5 colors!" schtick is lame). I guess in some ways, limited versions in general are a gimmick to entice someone to buy a record, but for the most part it's just all in good fun.  Most of the "here today, gone tomorrow" collector scum just ends up dumping all their shit on ebay anyways when they are over it, so in the grand scheme of things what does it really matter anyways, right?


8. What is the most ridiculous request you have received from a band on your label or that wanted to be on your label?
 
 
I've been thinking about this question for a while, I don't really have a good answer. I'm pretty up front with bands from the start about how I like to do releases, so any band that is working with me knows that I'm not going to go drop lots of money on unnecessary or ridiculous requests ... So in that sense, nothing major. Some bands (not naming names) do have a little bit more sense of entitlement than others, that's always interesting.

As far as bands that WANT to be on the label, well ... I say this all of the time (I even have a disclaimer on the website), I'm never looking for new bands. I usually like to stick to what my friends are doing and the local scene, so if I have no clue who you are or who your band is, there is like a .01% chance I will even remotely consider working with you. Nothing personal, that's just not how I do things.  Granted, I've made exceptions when I think the bands are incredible (Cardiac Arrest and Violent Arrest, coincidentally both split releases with NO WAY), but those bands also had releases under their belts that sort of blew me away so I took those opportunities when they came up.

On one hand, if a band is sincerely into the label, then I'm flattered but that's really not reason enough for me to want to work with them.  But in most cases, I feel like bands just send their crap out to every label they come across.  Furthermore, i'd say 75% of the stuff I get is so half assed, it isn't even worth listening to. CDRs of unmixed music with no vocals, 5 pages of lyrics, horrible pictures. If a band wants to send a demo (like a REAL demo with a layout), then that's cool, but if you don't have time to present your band in a suitable manner, then I don't even have time to check out whatever garbage you send me. I'm not going to "sign" you as it is, so just stop sending me shit all together.  I prefer bands who just resort to sending me cheesy myspace messages, because at least I can simply delete those.
 
9. How long do you see yourself doing this for? Do you have any goals of living off of the label? Can you see yourself at 40 or 50 years old and still putting out punk records? 
 
Good question, who knows? Honestly, I can't see myself doing this in 10 years, at least not the way I'm doing things now.  Right now, the label is sort of my main focus.  For some people, it's a side thing or maybe secondary to a band, career, family, etc ... for me it's what I focus most of my energy on.  It's a blast and I love it right now, but at the same time, this isn't what I want to do with the rest of my life.  Not to say there is something wrong with doing a label or band or even being "punk" in your 40's, but I just don't see myself making a career out of it and I don't think it would be as fun if I was to do it on more of a relaxed "part time" level.  Who knows though ... I guess we will see when the time comes.  I just feel like it's going to get to the point where I will accomplish everything that I've set out to accomplish with the label (I've already far surpassed any expectations I may have had when I started it) ... I think I'd rather just officially call it a day than reside into the "where are they now?" status, surfacing once every couple of years to put out a sporadic release.

Right now, I would love to live off the label, mostly because it would give me more free time. At the current moment, the label is what I do in my free time, so a large bulk of my "free time" just cuts into label time. Like, if I want to watch a movie or go to a show or something, I'm always thinking "damn I could be packing orders or working on a layout or stuffing records" ... if I could make the label the main focus in my life, not my hobby when I get home from my 9 to 5 job, I feel like I'd be able to put a lot more into it as well.  It's kind of tough right now, mainly due to the fact that I'm a huge procrastinator. I sit at work all day thinking about things I want to do with the label when I get home, then when I get home I just end up playing guitar or watching a movie or doing dumb stuff on the internet.  So when I finally get to working on label stuff, I only do the necessary stuff (packing up mailorders, trades, getting records out on time) ... I always have ideas for the label but only like 25% of them ever come to fruition because I'm usually so burnt out I never want to deal with label stuff when I actually have the time.  That being said, it would be great to live off the label but at the same time, I don't think I'd be able to for purely financial reasons ... i really don't make much doing this that's for sure. Yeah sometimes, I can get a little extra cash in my pocket but for the most part it's purely a labor of love.

10. What is your number one, all time, absolute favorite "Fear of a Black Hat" quote?
 
 
wouldn't you like to know

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