Monthly Archives: May 2014

Johnny Mnemonic: Music Journalism 101 – eBay Trolls Must Die!

ebay trolls

I’ve got a bad feeling about this. Meanwhile, wanna buy a slightly used lawn jockey?

BY JOHNNY MNEMONIC

My girlfriend and I recently moved across town, and in the ensuing packing/unpacking ritual I realized I had wayyyyyy too many CDs. How many is too many, you ask? Too many to listen to in a single lifetime, that’s how many. Too many to fit onto my office shelves, that’s how many (ask me sometime about the U-haul boxes still filled with CDs).

How about too many to load onto a two-terabyte hard drive? That’s a lot of fucking discs.

I know, I know, don’t cry for me, Argentina. One could call it an embarrassment of riches, but to my girlfriend it’s just an embarrassment when the aforementioned U-haul boxes are spilling out of my office and into our den. “I’d love to have a nice large ficus in the corner of the room,” she sniffed, “but your damn boxes are in the way.”

So I did what every music journalist worth his profession does at some point in his career: I decided to eBay the stuff. And yes, before you folks in the peanut gallery get started in on me, many of the CDs are indeed promotional items that record labels sent to me in hopes of netting a review, and yes, many of them were never listened to. Did I mention I have too many CDs to listen to in a single lifetime? So do you really think I have time to write about ‘em? Let me be perfectly clear here: I didn’t solicit their arrival at my mailbox—as a writer I have always made it my policy that if I do request a specific title I plan to review it, and I always send out the links to the labels upon publication—and they are considered gifts to moi, and once they have been handed over to me I can absolutely do whatever I want. I can play ‘em, write about ‘em, land fill ‘em, sell ‘em, re-gift ‘em to a friend, even toss ‘em in the air and practice my skeet shooting.

Those stickers or stamps on some of them that say “loaned for promotion only” and “promotional – not for sale”? They’re bullshit. The labels put those notifications on there to scare you from trying to unload your promos for profit, but they are not legally binding in any way, shape or form, and this has been tested in the courts with the judges ruling in favor of the resellers, not the labels, so don’t be fooled.

Back to eBaying in a sec. Let me just interject at this point that I an eternally grateful for all the swag I’ve received over the years—when I was a contributing editor at Spin I routinely received over a hundred discs per week, sometimes more; the head reviews editor would get twice that many—and I hope I have reciprocated in some small fashion by writing about the artists on the labels who have serviced me promotionally. Back when I started out as a cub reporter in the late ‘80s I was thrilled to be getting the occasional LP or cassette, and I still get a charge opening up the daily mail to see what musical treats await me. I do not take any of this for granted, trust me, and even though I went through, roughly speaking, a two-year stretch living in England when I wasn’t doing a lot of writing, the music that continued to arrive in the post helped keep me plugged in and stay current. Upon completion of my overseas job and returning home to the States, I’ve resumed writing for such fine publications as BLURT, so a big thank-you to everyone who has been and is still sending me physical promotional materials. (That Black Keys tour attire was pretty sweet, by the way. I didn’t know anybody but me still appreciated satin baseball jackets.)

But have I mentioned that I receive way too many CDs to listen to/review in a single lifetime? The surplus is astounding. (You can read my previous “Music Journalism 101” column for my thoughts on digital promos.) At the moment there isn’t a used record store near me where I would normally be able to unloading that surplus, so my only option is eBay. A cinch, right?

Boy, was I wrong. The first thing I learned was that people who shop on eBay are bargain hunters, which didn’t really surprise me because when I have shopped on eBay I was looking for a bargain myself. The second thing I learned was that people who shop on eBay for music are extreme bargain hunters—the type who have taken that whole 99-cent CD ethos so closely to heart that they expect ALL discs to sell for under a buck. But c’mon: would you expect to get, say, the 3-CD deluxe edition reissue of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours for 99 cents? It has a list price of $25, and it typically sells for around $18 or $19 new, so getting a pristine, only-played-once promo copy from me for $12 + $2 shipping seems like a pretty fair deal, right?

Wrong. The third thing I learned was that people who shop on eBay for music and are extreme bargain hunters like to lodge complaints after they’ve won an auction and received their merchandise in order blackmail the sellers into giving ‘em a kickback. They are trolls, pure and simple—bullies and cheats who think that the customer is always right and then take that notion to extremes.

Here’s what happened with the Fleetwood Mac joint. (Seller = me, Troll = buyer, who, in the interest of diplomacy, will not be identified, although I am mulling over at least listing his eBay I.D. so other folks can avoid doing business with the jerk). Troll wins auction, posts $14 to my PayPal account; Seller ships it right out, w/complementary USPS tracking (actually, that’s more to protect me than the buyer, but it’s still standard procedure). Troll receives merchandise, promptly opens a dispute with eBay, claiming the item “didn’t match the description” in the original listing (Seller’s PayPal funds are therefore temporarily frozen): “The item was listed as brand new at the price of a brand new set. The item was open and used. I would like A partial refund before I make my decision on feedback for this item.” (Note veiled threat about leaving negative feedback. That was my first clue that this was not going to go swimmingly, or in the words of Hans Solo, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”)

troll

Seller responds: “Hi – The CD is indeed brand new and never played, just not in plastic; it is a promotional copy. Please refer to the original description in our eBay listing, which clearly stated: ‘Item is brand new and unplayed. NOT in shrink wrap.’ However, I have no problem with a partial refund of $5.00 OR with you returning the item for a full refund if you are unhappy with your purchase, and will also be happy to refund your return postage so you don’t incur expenses. If so, please ship the CD back 1st class WITH TRACKING (that protects both of us).”

Troll responds: “I believe I should be offered more than 5 bucks back on a item that is clearly stated Brand New / Never Played, not opened because it is a promotional copy like New, like your heading should have stated. Also promotional copies are usually marked not for resale and there is a reason for that, like issues as this one. Also there is legal liability on the buyer and the seller on promotional copies because promotional copies are given out freely by the record label. All your really doing is taking off the shipping price for me. So is 5 dollars really your best offer? Because that is not even close to middle of the road with your customer.” (Note the comment about “legal liability,” another veiled threat; I have explained how THAT actually works several paragraphs earlier in this editorial.)

Troll additionally responds: “I believe that a refund of $8.50 would be fair for both of us. And then proper feed back can be given. Thank you.” (Note the leaving-feedback threat, levied a second time, and since a dollar amount is mentioned, additionally note that I am now being blackmailed by the Troll, who apparently wants to get the Fleetwood Mac set for a total of $5.50 instead of the original agreed-upon price of $14 + $2 postage.)

Seller responds: “Hi – thank you for your response. As the buyer you are clearly very unhappy with your purchase, and that is never my goal. So please return the item in the mail (make sure you ship First Class WITH Tracking in order to protect both of us). Upon receipt and inspection of the item a Full Refund will be tendered via PayPal. If you also indicate what your return postage fees are, I will additionally refund that amount as a good faith gesture so that you will have incurred zero expenses and are 100% satisfied.” (Here I quickly determined that this whole transaction sequence needs to be eliminated so I’m covering my ass by documenting that I have demonstrated my willingness to abide by eBay’s policies on refunds.)

Troll responds: “Hope you like the color red because that’s what you get when you don’t work out issues with your customer. No I will keep the Item and send you negative feedback. I will never buy from you again. Good day.” (Note that I made not one but two good faith gestures in order to “work out issues” with the Troll, and also strictly adhered to eBay’s stated policies on refunding when a customer is dissatisfied. The Troll did not accept either.)

As the Troll had decided to keep the item he had paid for, the case was duly closed by eBay and my PayPal funds were freed up. He also kept his promise to leave bright red negative feedback about the transaction: “This person sends counterfeit, replica, and unauthorized copies! (F-)” So what we have now is a blatant and deliberate misrepresentation by the Troll, who is accusing me of selling fake merchandise on eBay—like someone selling bogus Louis Vuitton designer handbags or something—when he has already acknowledged that the Fleetwood Mac was indeed a promotional copy. Clearly he aims to get me booted off eBay. Did I mention that I had a bad feeling about this all along?

 

I know, I know… don’t cry for me again, Argentina. Upon doing a little research, I discovered several other similar transactions gone awry at the hands of this Troll. Maybe I should “screen” all prospective buyers when I’m eBaying to minimize the risk of getting “Troll’d”, I dunno. That seems like a lot of extra work for what are essentially simple, low-dollar transactions; the most I’ve made on a single item to date has been $75 for an out-of-print (not promo) box set. But the eBay forums are full of similar stories in which Trolls, er, Buyers have bullied, blackmailed, scammed and otherwise ripped off Sellers, and the scales at eBay definitely appear to be tilted in the Buyers’ favor. So I probably have no choice.

The fourth thing I learned from all this? To paraphrase an old saying—seller beware.

***

Johnny Mnemonic is the pseudonym (duh) of a “highly-regarded” national writer with, he advises us, over a quarter-century’s worth experience working as a music critic, reporter, editor and television executive. We’ve never met him face-to-face, and he further advises he will be delivering his blogs to us via the “double blind drop-box method,” whatever that is, to ensure his anonymity. You can contact him via this magazine or simply by posting a comment below. His Twitter handle is @JohnnyMnemonicX

 Here are links to his last installment, as well as previously published blog originally written in 2012.

Seven Deadly Sins of PR

 

 

John B. Moore: I Don’t Wanna Grow Up w/Andrew Jackson Jihad

Andrew Jackson Jihad

Ace guitarist Sean Bonnette on the Arizona band’s take on acoustic punk as well as achieving high profile status as the latest signing to venerable punk label SideOneDummy.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Acoustic punk rock is not exactly a new idea. Billy Bragg has been doing it for decades and folks like Chuck Ragan and Frank Turner have managed to completely remake their careers by simply pulling out the plug. So what does an acoustic punk band have to do to stand out in 2014? Writing bizarrely hysterical songs certainly helps, like Andrew Jackson Jihad’s “The Michael Jordan of Drunk Driving.”

The Arizona band has enjoyed cult status since their first record in 2005 and playing on some high profile tours, like The Queers and Against Me!, helped bring the band to venues across the globe.

Now recently signed to SideOneDummy, the upper echelon of independent punk rock labels (with a roster that has included folks like Gaslight Anthem and Flogging Molly), and a fantastic new record, Christmas Island, the band is in for a big 2014.

Guitarist/singer Sean Bonnette took some time recently to answer a few questions about the new record, their new label and being taken seriously while still writing quirky songs.

BLURT: This year marks a decade that the band has been in existence – at least for two of you (Bonnette and Ben Gallaty, upright bass). Did you have any idea you guys would get this big and still be going after 10 years?

SEAN BONNETTE: Nope! We started this band with very low expectations, everything that has happened since has been amazing and rather unexpected.

 

Can you talk a little bit about writing this album? Did you do anything different? Did it take longer than previous records?

The answer to both of those questions is yes. It did take longer, and I think that’s because I was initially trying to write an album instead of trying to write songs. Things really got cooking after John reminded me to just write songs as they come and not think of them in terms of their place in an album. Writing an album is intimidating, whereas writing songs is fun.

 

When people talk about the band they always use terms like goofy and fun, but there are also some serious elements to your music, with this record in particular. Is that a conscious decision you made to try and balance the moods?

I wouldn’t say it’s a decision I am aware of because most of the times I consciously try to write something it turns out wrong. The best songs are the ones where I have the least amount of mental control, when I’m in the zone. That said, I think a sense of humor is a great thing to have, it allows one to broach uncomfortable subjects a lot easier. I think I learned that from my family.

ajj-xmas-island-5x5 w text

Can you talk about the inspiration behind “Linda Ronstadt” – probably my favorite song from the record? [Random Trivia Ed. note: while I lived in Tucson, the titular Ms. Ronstadt resided on the street behind the record store where I worked and was a regular customer there, as was a brother of hers.]

Thanks! That one’s probably my favorite too. That song is unique to the rest of our catalogue in the sense that the song is about the inspiration. I actually wrote it on the same day that it happened.

 

You guys spent a lot of time touring last year and put out the live record. This year seems to be just as busy. How do you manage to stay sane when you are constantly in a different place each day?

Rumors of our breakneck touring schedule are greatly exaggerated, we only toured for about three weeks last year, but we love that people think we tour more than we do. This year is going to be more intense, probably about three months of touring. Here is some free advice on how to stay sane on tour: drink lots of water, bring plenty of pillows, and reserve time to talk with loved ones on the phone.

 

Was this year first time recording with John Congleton?

This was our first time and hopefully not our last.

 

How was the experience?

John is amazing. He kept us on track and excited for the whole process, didn’t let anyone agonize over small details, and I think he made us a better band. His philosophy behind this record was to make the AJJ record he wanted to hear, to embolden the things about us that are unique, and I love that.

 

You guys have been on Asian Man Records for years. How did you connect with the folks at SideOne?

We’ve known people at SideOne for years. I first met Joe Sib when he invited me out to his California Calling show in Phoenix. We’ve known Matty B. (Matt Baldwin, who handles SideOne tours) for a long time as well. They are all amazing people. We started talking about putting out the record with them in November, when Kenny (Czadzeck, who handles digital marketing for the label) hit us up the day after we played VLHS in Pomona, California.

 

What’s next for the band?

We are touring the US and Canada this summer and going overseas in the fall, after that, who knows? All the while I plan on joyfully writing songs.

 

John B. Moore’s regular BLURT column on all things punk is titled “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up.” Get into the pit with him – such as this recent entry – at your own risk.

Tim Hinely: 15 Questions For… Gerard Cosloy of 12XU Records

12xu buttons

And… here’s the second installment in the BLURT series in which we profile cool independent record labels. What are the criteria for inclusion in the “cool” category? Hey, ’cos we say they are cool, that’s what! We’re making the rules around here, kids. Keep your eyes peeled for the next installment, coming soon, and meanwhile, go here for entry #1, Slumberland Records.

BY TIM HINELY

To most folks Gerard Cosloy is known as being one-half of the Matador Records brass; prior to that he was at the legendary Homestead Records. Matador’s been around for over two decades but close to a decade ago, after moving to Austin, Texas, from London, Cosloy started up another label, 12XU. Named after the infamous Wire song, 12XU now has several releases under its belt by both bands that call Austin home as well as many that don’t. You could call it a garage rock label but then again, Tommy Keene, whose Strange Alliance was reissued last year by 12XU, might taken offense to being called garage rock. Cosloy took time out of his busy schedule to answer our 15 questions and we certainly appreciated his honesty (keep readin’…).

12xu logo

BLURT: When did the label form/ what was your original inspiration?

2001. I’ve been involved with a number of labels before and had no plans of starting or working with another. But there were a number of longtime associates (Joel RL Phelps, Spoon, Chris Brokaw) who needed assistance getting records out in Europe and these were all people I enjoyed working with. The label’s UK operations came to a bit of a screeching halt when I relocated to Austin in 2004, and for logistical reasons things are mostly centered on moving records around North America these days.

Who designed your logo? Do you only have one?

An Arizona graphic designer named Paul Howalt.

What was your first release?

Joel RL Phelps & The Downer Trio (pictured below) – Inland Empires EP (12XU 001)

joel-rl-phelps-and-the-downer-trio-650x400

Were there any label(s) that inspired you to want to release records?

As I mentioned before, I’ve had a bit of experience with labels far more established than 12XU, and those experiences (good and otherwise) have been pretty educational. But if I have to go back much, much further, certainly labels like Touch & Go, Dischord, X-Claim, Propeller, SST, Ruby, Ace Of Hearts, Teenbeat, Crypt, Siltbreeze, etc. have been influential in a number of ways. In more recent years, there’s other labels I’d probably call more inspirational than influential, just in terms of their ability to do amazing work, set very high musical standards, etc. I could go on for a few days but some of those that instantly come to mind are Trouble In Mind, Play Pinball, Goner, In The Red (duh), Homeless, SS, Pelican Pow Wow, Jeth Row, Douchemaster, Urinal Cake, Monofonus Press, Superior Viaduct, Dais, Mt. St. Mountain, A Wicked Company, Thread Pull… we could be here for a while

If there is one band, current or past, you could release a record by who would it be?

Y’know, I don’t wanna get into that. I feel insanely lucky and privileged to be doing records with everyone on the label past and present. It’s always a matter of what this so-called label can do for them that either they can’t do for themselves or don’t have the resources to accomplish, it’s not about collecting scalps or whatever. The important thing is that the records come out, sound and look right and someone can find them. It’s not terribly important that those records are on this label—but if that has to be the way it turns out, so be it.

What has been your best seller to date?

Spoon’s Kill The Moonlight (12XU 014), however the rights have long since reverted. BOO HOO.

Are you a recording/touring musician yourself, and if so, do you use your label as an outlet for getting your stuff out to the public? [Austin’s Air Traffic Controllers would be Cosloy’s combo. – Ed.]

Yes/no and no. I am a recording musician, I rarely play outside of this lovely city and no, I have another deeply pretentious, poorly distributed imprint for that stuff.

Does your label use and/or have a presence on any of the social media sites?

Yes. I mean, you could look it up. Sorry, Tim, this is kind of a terrible question! [Ed. note: Here, Mr. Cosloy failed (or declined) to pick up the interviewer’s ball and run with it. This is a stock question we ask each label owner in order to give them the opportunity to highlight how they use social media, if at all, to distinguish themselves from other labels—or at least how important it is for them to be constantly tweeting, “liking,” tumblng, burping, farting, etc. For the record, 12XU’s Facebook page is right here, while the label’s Twitter page is here and Tumblr page here. Below: label artist Chris Brokaw, a man who knows a thing or two about social media.]

brokaw

Is the Austin music community supportive of the label?

Ahhh, sometimes, sometimes not. It varies from project to project. But I honestly don’t care very much, those things only matter to me in the sense I hope the Austin-based bands feel it’s working out ok. I really can’t get too bothered about local media stuff.

The record stores here have been awesome (End Of An Ear, Trailer Space, Waterloo) and I cannot say enough about [how] supportive some of the local club folks have been.

Beerland is probably most closely ID’d with the label given that’s where many of the bands played their earliest shows (and continue to) but I would be remiss in not acknowledging the support we’ve received from Hotel Vegas and the Transmission venues (Red 7, Mohawk), none of whom have been asked for any favors whatsoever.

Still, given that the label represents artists from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Seattle, Portland, Cleveland, Columbus, Pittsburgh, etc., I do not expect anyone in Austin to embrace 12XU as a local entity. Nor do I expect Austin to be a selling point for the Austin-based bands when they go somewhere else. I mean, we have terrible bands here, too, just like everywhere.

Have digital sales been significant or nominal?

Depends on the release. Usually the latter, but sometimes the former. (Below: the presumably digital-friendly Obnox.)

obnox

 

Has there actually been a vinyl resurgence the past few years?

Man, I know you’re a busy guy with a family and stuff but this cannot be a serious question. Who could you possibly ask this question who’d say “no”? (Below: Tommy Keene, who knows a thing or two about vinyl, pictured on a 45 that the vinyl-friendly label issued.)

Tommy Keene 45

What is your personal favorite format to release music?

Probably 12″ or 7″ vinyl but I’m hearing great things about these little discs you can play in a car stereo that are really cheap.

What new(er) labels these days have captured your attention?

I probably listed a bunch above but the recent Total Punk winning streak has sort of made a mockery of anyone saying “Hey, write about my label”.

Do you accept unsolicited demos?

I prefer not to, but people usually find a way to send them, despite my best attempts to discourage.

Will there be a Casual Victim Pile III? [CVP was a series of Austin underground rock compilations assembled by Cosloy, with Vol. 1 being released on Matador in 2010 and Vol. 2 on 12XU.]

I sincerely hope not. That’s not to say there isn’t a huge crop of newer Austin bands that deserve documentation, far from it. But I think it’s time for someone else to play favorites/inflict their tastes on the world. Don’t get me wrong, I love those compilations but I don’t feel they did nearly enough to elevate any of the participants. Vol.1 totally got bogged down in people oohing and ahhing about it being on Matador, and while it’s nice that might’ve opened a door or two, it also created weird expectations for slower thinkers (ie. they weren’t used to listening to music that was so badly recorded). I think Vol. 2 flowed a lot better as an album, but again, having to explain why it wasn’t on Matador seemed to take up more time than actually talking about any of the songs!

Anyhow, at this point, I think 12XU can do a lot more good by releasing full, stand-alone records by a handful of Austin bands than by trying to take another snapshot of what’s really a moving target. But if someone else wanted to do a good Austin comp. based on their own take on things, I’d support a good one, sure. [Below: Cosloy in Austin in 2010, as portrayed by John Anderson of the Austin Chronicle]

Gerard in Chronicle

Contact:

12XU.net

info@12XU.net [please, no demos, unsolicited MP3s, etc.]

12XU.bigcartel.com