שיחת רפש // ראיון עם גרג אנדרסון, Southern Lord Records

SUNN_Osloselects24_creditJonKristiansen0808

צילום: John Kristiansen

אין צורך להציג את גרג אנדרסון, אבל אני אעשה את זה בכל מקרה.

בגדול, מדובר באדם שהיה מעורב בכמה מהלהקות החשובות ביותר שיצאו בסצנת המטאל המחתרתית, וככזה, אני חושב קצת בהגדרה, איש חשוב. רשימה לא מחייבת של המפלצות שיצאו תחת ידיו כוללת את Thorr's Hammer, המטורפת, הדומית, והמטורפת עוד קצת, שהקים יחד עם סטיבן או׳מאלי, Burning Witch, השחורה מכל שחור, שאותה הקים עם, כן, אחד סטיבן או׳מאלי, Goatsnake, וכמובן סנדקי הדרון/דום/אלוהים-מה-אני-שומע-זה-לא-לאזניים-אנושיות הלא הם (((Sunn O.

כל כלו דברים מאוד נחמדים, ואין צל של ספק שלא רק שאנדרסון הוא מוזיקאי מחונן ומוכשר (ובעל נפש מעט אפלה, ככל הנראה), אבל הסיבה להתכנסותנו כאן היא ניסיון ראשון, אני מקווה מתוך רבים אחרים, לראיין אנשי מפתח בקהילות המוזיקליות המוזרות האלה שמושכות אותי כה ולדבר איתם על הצדדים האחרים של עשיית המוזיקה. זה יכלול, אני מקווה, אנשי חברות תקליטים, מאיירים, מפיקים, ומה לא.

וגרג אנדרסון, כמקים והמנהל של Southern Lord, מחברות התקליטים המובילות בתחום ההזוי הזה של העולם, הוא בהחלט האיש לדבר איתו בנושא. החברה קמה ב-1998, בעיקר כדי להוציא את האלבומים של הצמד אנדרסון-או׳מאלי, ואט אט הפכה להיות שחקן מרכזי, ולפרקים מוביל, בעולם המטאל המחתרתי/שקרכלשהוא, כשעל הדרך היא מוסיפה לשורותיה להקות קטנות וחסרות משמעות כמו מפלצות הדום Earth ו-Om, הבלאק מטאלרים (זו מילה? אני רוצה שזו תהיה מילה) Wolves in the Throne Room ו-Twilight, ו-Striborg, להקות מהגל החדש של ההארדקור כמו APMD ו-Nails, רוק נורא נורא כבד כמו Black Breath או Eagle Twin המדהימים, ועד אגדות פאנק כמו Poison Idea וטיטאני פוסט-מטאל כמו Pelican ו-Boris, וכמובן להקות הבית Goatsnake ו-(((Sunn O וכו׳ וכו׳' עד אינסוף.

אז הנה השיחה המאוד נעימה שניהלתי עם מר אנדרסון. אני יודע שאני בערך מעלה את עניין ההארדקור בכל ראיון שאני עושה, אבל אני באמת חושב שלא הייתה תנועה יותר חשובה במוזיקה האמריקאית בשלושים שנה האחרונות, לפחות בנושאי רוק, והראיון הזה כנראה רק מראה לי כמה אני צודק וחכם וכו׳. תהנו:

Maybe we’ll begin, though maybe it’s an old story for you, with what it was that made you want to start your own label to begin with? Was it just putting out your own music? 

Yeah, I mean, basically the label started to release some recordings I had done with my own bands, one band was Thorr’s Hammer and the other band was Burning Witch, and really the entire reason the label started was to put out those two records. We didn’t really have, or I didn’t really have at that time period any sort of aspirations or goals in mind to take it much further, I just wanted to put the records out because, there had been some labels that had expressed interest and stuff but it just never really, nothing ever happened. And so, to me those recordings, I thought they were great I just wanted to have them documented properly and released rather than sitting on a cassette in someone’s basement, you know, or closet or something.

גרג אנדרסון בימי Thorr's Hammer

גרג אנדרסון בימי Thorr's Hammer

And then, after those two releases came out, there was such a strong and positive reaction to it that it kind of started the ball rolling, to where we thought “Ah, cool! Let’s do some more!” and we got involved in a couple more releases by other bands that I didn’t play in but were friends or people close to the circle, so to speak. 

But, at the time, I mean there were always smaller labels putting out different stuff than what the major record labels would want to put out, but back then it was less than it is now, so it was kind of still unusual to decide, and a lot of people did send out cassettes to peoples’ closets, so it was interesting for you to just kind of do it yourself?

Well, absolutely, I mean it was one of those things where no one else was going to do it, so who better to do it than ourselves? I mean, really at the very beginning it’s really about resources and finances to get that started, and basically I had a really close friend of mine, who was also really into music, he said “I’ll just loan you the money and pay me back once you sell those records.”

How long did it take you to pay him back? 

Uh, one year (laughs), which is really good actually, and he was surprised and I was surprised. That’s what I’m saying that the response when those records came out, it was really strong and people really liked those records. It was really a good feeling to have done something completely by yourself, and that’s the whole thing about, you know, whether you’re running a label or running your own restaurant, your own business, all the successes mean so much more, it’s your accomplishment and your hard work. And all the failures, too, have a lot more meaning and impact because it’s all on your shoulders, you know.

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So, it has it’s ups and downs, but it can be very rewarding, and really to me, as far as music is concerned and releasing your own music, to me it’s really the only way I’d ever want to do it because you’re in complete control and there’s no one telling you what you can and cannot do. And we try to keep that in mind when we’re working with other bands, since I’m a musician myself and I play in bands I can emphasize with the other musicians and I know what they’re going through and I know what it means, I know what this music means and, to create it, to try to get it out there to the world, and I try to treat the bands on the label the same way that I would like to be treated. 

Back in the day, did you have record labels that were kind of inspirations for you, that you that “those guys made it, maybe I can do it,” or maybe from an ethical standpoint, people you thought of?

Yeah, more as inspiration, something like the way that they run their business or the way they have a consistency and aesthetic, uh, and a vibe to their releases. You know, like Touch and Go, Dischord Records, Sub Pop Records, those are the kind of labels that, and even some of the metal labels like Metal Blade, for example, and the things that they were doing, even Earache, back in the early 90s their roster of bands was second to none. So, I always thought it would be, as far as it wasn’t going to be a label continuing on to do just these one-off projects, I wanted to create a label that had some sort of very unique and distinct aesthetic, not only with the music but with the artwork, you know, to have this certain feel. When you saw it, it said Southern Lord to you. 

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Maybe because maybe of my musical inclination, but my immediate thought was Dischord, because it seems like Dischord, in the American scene in a way, set the standard for doing everything yourself. That ethic seems to have kind of stuck.

Yeah, I mean, Dischord is sort of a lot more politically motivated in what they do, and they have a more of a strong sort of moral and ethical, as you mentioned, that’s much stronger thematically than it is with Southern Lord. But, really the important thing about Dischord is that it was an artist-run label, it was run by the dudes from Minor Threat, and they started the label, and they had a long history of bands that they were in and that they worked with, and they kept also very regional of course. But I think what was really the inspiration for me, and it’s the same thing with Touch and Go, they were musicians as well, is that it was a musician-run label and that was the inspiration that I sort of got from labels.

And when you say a “unique aesthetic,” musically and kind of aesthetically, does unique necessarily mean consistent? That the bands sound the same?

Yeah, not necessarily sound the same. You could tell that there was a Dischord sound, that there was a Touch and Go sound, there was a Sub Pop sound, and there’s a Southern Lord sound too. There’s been different kind of genres that have been embraced by Southern Lord over the last 15 years or so, but that’s the same thing you could say with Touch and Go and Sub Pop as well. But, the look of the records, the quality of the records, there’s a theme in all that that ties it together. Sometimes the connections are really strong, sometimes they’re more faint, but they’re there, I mean…. You know, if you’re a follower of those labels, if you’re a follower of Southern Lord, there’s a good chance that, even though the genre of music may be different from what you are usually listening to, there may be something in that record that you will connect with, because it’s sort of a theme, you know?

Wolves in the Throne Room - Celestial Lineage

Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestial Lineage

Those labels, the Sub Pops, The Touch and Goes, the Dischords, it’s like a hand curation. The owners of these labels, they’re choosing the bands [based] on their personal tastes, but their decisions are really made off of, it’s not necessarily very business-driven, it’s sort of like “I really believe in this band, I really like this band,” it doesn’t really matter if they sell hundreds of thousands of copies, I think they’re great and I want people to hear it. And I mean that’s kind of, definitely for Southern Lord, I mean, 99 percent of the decisions made are based on whether or not I like the music, not whether or not it’s going to be a big seller.

In a lot of those case it seems like, and maybe that's the case with Southern Lord, that quality where a person could be a follower of your label and just trust your taste in a way, a new band would come along, and you'd say "I've never heard of this band on Southern Lord, they seem like they may not be my thing, but I like Southern Lord so I'll give them a chance," that depends, sometimes, on that the fact that it's basically one person making that kind of decision. Is that the case with Southern Lord? Is that your taste making the decisions?

Yeah, exactly. And you know, I really honestly do not put out anything that I don't like. There are a lot of really big bands that approached me about doing something, and it would have been a great opportunity financially for me to take it, but it's not something that I was really into, so it's hard for me to get behind, you know? I can't get behind something that I don't personally like. So, you know, and that's for better and for worse. Like I said, if I would have made decisions based on what was going to sell we might have been in a completely different position, but then it would be a completely different label. It would definitely influence the overall aesthetic of the label and I don't think we'd have the loyal following that we have if we were putting out very random stuff just because it was going to sell really well.

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It's loyalty to your fans, in a way, right?

It is. And it's something you said earlier about it's my personal taste and that people have some trust in that, that's a responsibility I don't take lightly. I'm really grateful and honored to be in the position that I'm in that I can basically, like if something really blows me away I can be like "I want to turn people on to this," and there are people who are going to check it out, because of the history of the label. Like, "there was this band that I've never heard of before came to Southern Lord and it blew me away, and now they're one of my favorite bands, so I'll check out this new band, another band I've never heard of, based on that," you know? To me, the real fun part about this whole thing is the discovery of new music.

I mean, when I was kind of getting into punk rock and hardcore and underground metal in the 80s, I traded tapes and that's how you found out about stuff. It was all about hearing something new, and turning other people on to music, and that's exactly what, what I'm doing now I look at as a continuation of that, you know? I'm still enthusiastic about music, still, always, excited to hear a new band that just blows me away, and I want to share that with people.  But, it's obviously on a much bigger scale (laughs) than tapes in the mail, but still it's the same sort of principle, the same sort of "hey man, I think this band is awesome, I want people to know about this band" so I'm going to do my best to get it out there, and hopefully people will pick up on it. So, the fact that now there's this audience and a following we have for the label, it's amazing, I couldn't be happier about that being the case. It's great, it's amazing.

If I tried to kind of shoot in the direction of what is the aesthetic of Southern Lord, and what you just mentioned about the tapes, it sounds as if you're going for this originary feeling, that you want to get to the root of something. Does that make sense to you at all?

It does, but I would say, if I could simplify it, I think that, to really simplify it and break it down, I think that if you take a look at what we do, there are two characteristics to the music and to the art that I think are nearly in every single release and that would be one, darkness, and second thing would be intensity. I've always been attracted to dark music, and I think that when I really got into punk and hardcore in the 80s, that kind of intensity of that music, and, you know, the passion these bands played with, that was something that I really connected with. You could find that in other kinds of music, it just happened to come to me first and really hit me over the head with punk and hardcore. But, you could find that kind of intensity in country music, it's everywhere. But Southern Lord primarily focuses on underground music and primarily into metal and hardcore genres, so that to me are the strongest characteristics of the bands, in general, that are on the label, it's dark music and it's intense.

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But, it has to feel real, it has to feel authentic, otherwise the intensity, or the darkness, really, they don't really translate that well when it's not believable.

That's the thing, yeah, and that's another thing, and that to me is an overall strong characteristic of most good underground music that exists. Like I said before about music that I passed on, that to me, for whatever reason, didn't come across as being genuine or real. That's another thing that can go a long way with playing music. If it's real and it's from the heart, it's going to find an audience, it has a purpose. To me, if it's manufactured or in a way that's not genuine then, you know, it's very possible that it could cross over to a commercial audience, but that kind of music, to me, has no place in the independent and underground music scene. I have no time for that and that kind of stuff doesn't mean anything to me.

One of the first interviews I conducted was with Ian Mackaye, and I asked him how it was that Fugazi records were so different from each other and he said that one of the main things that drove him was a sense of freedom, that he could do whatever he wanted. That seems to me to part of the authenticity, you're trying to give, the feeling you're giving your artists, by not controlling them, is kind of giving them that freedom, isn't it?

Yeah, very similar. I kind of look at what we do as a sort of a foundation or a platform for the bands. I’m never really the one to take credit for the successes of another band, we’re part of the puzzle, but it’s their music and what they’re doing that really puts it over the top. But, of course there is the relationship that I have with that band, that is very open and free, allowing them to do what they do. I mean, I wouldn’t work with them if I didn’t like them so for me going in and kind of dictating or telling a band how to do their art, that’s not where I see my place in all of this, I’m not necessarily a producer.

If a band asked me to get involved in that process, I would be more than happy to collaborate, but I chose to work with those bands because I believe in them and what they do, and I want them to do what they do and feel comfortable doing what they’re doing, so my job is to make them feel comfortable and give them the freedom that hopefully allows them to feel comfortable so they can make the best art possible.

Have you ever felt that being the boss conflicted with the fact that you’re an artist as well, that you want to create? Do the two mesh well together?

It’s a challenge, for sure. You know, the label is full-on, full-time, so there’s been a lot of times where I haven’t been able to focus on the music like I would have liked to. But, the label has grown into something that, to me, is really important, and I know it’s really important to a lot of people and I really want to keep doing that, so I kind of have to make some sacrifices or some choices, prioritizing things here and there. Well, you know, like “OK, I’m not going to be able to create this music or this art because I’ve got the business side of things to deal with with these other records.” But, considering that Southern Lord releases Sunn and my other band Goatsnake, they’re able to work together.

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Maybe this is just my sense of things, but I’ve been a music fan since I was young, I mean, I’m young now, but I’m in my thirties, and it seems like artists used to be much more “married” to their labels or record companies than they are now. I mean, I was a big Megadeth fan and Megadeth going from Combat to Capital, that was a huge deal. And now it seems like bands record different albums for different labels, there are label collaborations sometimes, and it feels like a much more fluid situation. Do you agree with that? Does it change how you try to hold on to your bands?

I think that, starting around the mid 80s and sort of developing into the 90s, you kind of have to realize that independent labels just started thriving and coming into existence more regularly in the 80s, so people really kind of figuring out how to do business. You’re talking about Megadeth, and you’d want to bring in Slayer and Metallica, a lot of those labels that put out those records, the independent labels, their business model was based off the major labels. They really didn’t have any other role models or references for that stuff. And also they were run by people who weren’t musicians. They were run by fans, who maybe had gone to business school or whatever, but they weren’t musicians. The way that they ran their labels and their business model they just looked up and said “well, that’s how the major labels operate, and I’m a label, so that’s the way I’m going to operate.”

But, starting in the 80s, especially with Dishcord and Touch and Go, labels were more punk rock and hardcore, and the ethos of that scene is different. And also, they were musicians, so they had a different business model. The business model was less restrictive, it was more friendly to the artist. And so I think that sort of influence, that ideology of those labels definitely has influenced other labels that started up, and it grew throughout the nineties, up until now.

And now, you really have a few different business models that labels are following. But, I would say, for the most part, the independent labels, they tend to be more artist friendly than they had been before, or that’s sort of the business model that they’re following. It’s not always the case, that are several labels, several big independent labels that are run basically just like a major label, and the deals they make, the commitments they ask their bands to make are similar to what you would find on a major label. I think that, personally, being a musician, that type of arrangement and that, sort of, long-term commitment is not appropriate for this kind of music and the art’s that being made, I think that you need to have that freedom, like Ian Mackaye talked about, I think that’s more conducive, and it gets better results than tying a band down. 

sunn100clr

Better artistic results, better music, that’s the idea?

Yeah, exactly. But, you know what, on the other hand, there are a lot of bands that are comfortable with that, are comfortable with the long-term commitment, and of course it’s a different business model, it’s a totally different way of doing business. I’m not saying it’s incorrect, I just think that there are certain things that work, certain things that fit for what we’re doing, and that’s why we do it. You find the right thing that works for you and your business and you stick with that.

There are bands that are very comfortable working under a different sort of more restrictive or a longer commitment, and there’s nothing wrong with that, and they make great music. It’s just a different way to do things, and I think that the bands that we work with, it’s more than likely that they’re comfortable in this situation and they’re not comfortable in the situation in a different label, that’s why we’re working together. It’s a you get in where you fit in type a thing (laughs). But it is an interesting point that you brought up there, things have changed a lot and I really attribute the change to sort of the rise of underground and independent labels and the way that they do business.

The last thing I wanted to ask you, on a kind of more personal note, I mean the whole thing was on a personal note, but more personal, is what is the kind of music you find yourself enjoying these days? What’s some of the music, album, artist that for the last couple of months kind of blew your mind and you find yourself listening to him again and again?

Well, for whatever reason, I’m not sure how I got here, I’ve been listening to nothing but 60s, early 70s James Brown (laughs).

james_brown_-_hell-1975-cover

There’s nothing wrong with that

I know there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just interesting. I mean, I kind of go through phases with different things, and I somehow stumbled across, I mean I’ve always been a fan of James Brown for a long time, I really recently heard a few things, actually I saw a documentary and that’s what sparked it, actually, and I was like “I gotta go check out some more records.” So, I’ve been in this deep, deep James Brown phase right now.

Can we expect a lot of James Brown in the next Sunn album or something? 

(Laughs) The new Goatsnake record has a lot of soul on it, it’s still really heavy though.

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