Category Archives: Industry Insider

Bookers, NYC Hotels, Pitchfork, Stereogum, etc. Say CMJ 2016 is Dead


By Uncle Blurt

50 gazillion Elvis fans can’t be wrong, so naturally at least 50 hipsters can’t possibly be right – right? Hard to say – long-running, and occasionally venerable, though sometimes tarnished, annual NYC music confab CMJ (aka the CMJ Music Marathon) is reportedly on the rocks, based on reports from both Pitchfork and Stereogum. Admittedly, those respective arbiters of contemporary urban music and chic indie cool make their bones on breaking rumors, but if you check both outlets’ reports, it does appear that CMJ ain’t happening this year. Traditionally, CMJ takes place at multiple venues one week in October.

Each are noting that they’ve contacted multiple booking and promotion agencies, and have been told that none of those agencies have been booked for CMJ this year; NYC hotels are also being cited as not listing any relevant music biz bookings for the projected time frame of CMJ. Tellingly, there’s also the little matter of this, adds Pitchfork: “The CMJ website also hasn’t been updated in months…. The CMJ publication and social media presence have been dormant since June.”

There’s also that nagging matter of the sale of CMJ a few years ago, a subsequent lawsuit, and a projected rival festival (with the unfortunate name of Mondo – c’mon, guys!) being put together by the originators of CMJ. Hmmm….

More than a few BLURT staffers and contributors have been regular attendees at CMJ over the years, and most of them have admitted that it long ago lost its lustre. Those of us who attended in the ’90s, in particular, continue to harbor fond memories of the event’s salad days. Still, it would be a shame to lose it – but not if it continues to be a source of bad blood among industry people.

Read that Stereogum report closely, by the way – it absolutely nails things.

I Want My Penny Back: Columbia House’s Bankruptcy and the Death of Record Clubs

CH 1

It’s not so much that we didn’t see it coming; it’s more, “Whoah, I didn’t even know they were still in business!”


In the news, and unexpectedly so: venerable music subscription service/mail order outlet Columbia House, neé Columbia Record Club, which began life in 1955 and adopted the Columbia House name in the ‘70s when cassettes were firmly part of the consumer equation. Rolling Stone reports that parent company Filmed Entertainment Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection yesterday in New York.

As RS notes, “In 1996, Columbia House’s profits peaked at $1.4 billion; by comparison, the company only managed $17 million in revenue in 2014.” That long, steady decline was of course largely the result of the digital revolution. As company director Glenn Landberg wrote in the filing, “This decline is directly attributable to a confluence of market factors that substantially altered the manner in which consumers purchase and listen to music, as well as the way consumers purchase and watch movies and television series at home.”

Recall that in 2010, when Columbia House was faced with the stark reality of massively declining physical media sales, it tried to remain afloat by shifting to DVDs and Blu-rays. But soon enough, with the penetration of broadband and the resulting streaming movie revolution, the DVD market began dying as well. Rolling Stone estimates that while in 2000 the music industry was moving $13 billion per year in CDs, by 2014 it was a meager $1.85 billion, while DVD sales “have plummeted by 50 percent between 2006 and 2014.”

Columbia House has gone out with a whimper, not a bang.


Millennials probably have no firsthand knowledge of Columbia House (or, for that matter, competitors the Record Club of America, which went out of business in the mid ‘70s, and the RCA Record Club, which became the BMG Music Service and was ultimately owned and operated by BMG Direct Marketing, which in turn would eventually wind up purchasing Columbia House to consolidate everything under a single roof). The angle was pretty savvy back during the day: you’d encounter a full-page ad in a magazine such as Rolling Stone or even more mainstream non-music publications such as Time or Newsweek, and it would be showing maybe 75-100 album titles, most of them current hits, although enduring deep catalog titles or best-ofs were staples of the selection as well. You’d pick something like 13 albums or 8-track tapes (or, eventually, cassettes) from the list, add in a nominal fee, like $1 to $3 bucks, and in 4-6 weeks they’d show up in the mail. Sweet, eh? (Below: a typical ad for Columbia House. Note the 8-tracks.)

CH 4

But there were a couple of catches. The first was that by signing up you pledged to purchase a minimum number of albums over the course of the next two years—say, eight of ‘em. No biggie, right? Ah, but you’d be paying full list price, which steadily rose over the years to close in on $15.98. AND you’d be paying for shipping, which by any estimates was excessive, adding as much as $6 to your tally. $22 for a single album doesn’t sound so sweet now, eh?

PLUS, let’s say that a year later you were nearing the end of your contract term, realized you had to play catch-up, having not yet made your quota, and had to make a bulk order: they would ship every friggin’ title separately in order to bank as many shipping charges as possible! This was not a coincidence. Remember that initial shipment of 13 recs for a buck? You also pledged to pay the shipping, and yes, you guessed it: those 13 were typically broken up into several packages, sometimes due to chance if they happened to be out of some of your selections, but also just as a matter of course.

CH 3

The second catch was a bit more insidious. In that initial shipment, and arriving in the mail for each month thereafter, was a little card in which you would make your next purchase in order to fulfill the terms of the agreement. You could either select a title from the handy little mini-catalog that accompanied the card, mark a box saying “please do not send anything this month” or allow them to ship you a pre-selected title of their choosing (it would be listed on the card). And if you opted for the latter, to make it, er, easy on you there was no need to return the card in the mail; it would be sent automatically! Fair enough in theory, but in practice a LOT of people would forget to do anything—stoned hippies can’t be bothered with little details like finding a stamp to put on a postcard or driving to the nearest mailbox—which would result in a LOT of people having that pre-selected title show up out of the blue in a couple of weeks, along with a bill for the cost + shipping, natch.

Aside: My first foray into mail order LPs was with the aforementioned Record Club of America, which my mom signed me up for as I was only 11 or 12 – I still own a number of them with the company’s name inscribed on the album sleeve and record label, because these companies had their product manufactured specially for them. Later, as a college student I signed up with Columbia House at least a couple of times; why, I cannot recall. Interestingly, it turns out that on the rare occasion those bespoke titles actually went on to have some collectible value; I once sold a copy of Led Zeppelin II to a completist who had been desperately looking for the Record Club of America version! (Below: an ad for Record Club of America)

Record Club

The CD era didn’t bring any significant changes in the way the companies operated other than the quantity of titles you could select and, often, the fee: “8 CDs for a penny” was a common hook. It did usher in changes in consumer behavior, however. In particular, the rate of so-called “default” skyrocketed when folks realized they were paying $18.98 for one disc plus shipping; they would often sign up then take the CDs and “disappear” without ever intending on fulfilling the terms of the agreement. (Signing up under a fake or former roommate’s name was not uncommon.) There may have been vague intimations of someone having their credit score ruined if they tried to scam Columbia House but I never heard of that actually happening, much less a CD repo man showing up at their doorstep. (Below: that may or may not have been true if you stiffed ’em on the turntable, though!)


The other thing that became widespread peaked in the mid and late ‘90s: folks sitting at their mailboxes, patiently awaiting their shipments, then hotfooting it down to the local used record store and either selling the CDs (say, at $4 to $7 per, since they were sealed and therefore pristine) or trading them in for the shit they really wanted but was not offered by Columbia House. I worked at a record store in Arizona throughout the ‘90s and this went down constantly, to the point where we’d be seeing the same Columbia House titles over and over (because Columbia House was offering all those ubiquitous mega-sellers of the ‘90s) and had to start turning a lot of them down; we just didn’t need 15 copies of that Live, Soundgarden or Hootie album, y’know? I got tired of dealing with all the junkies bringing in their Columbia House CDs as well. (Below: In the eyes of Columbia House, grunge and hair metal co-existed peacefully.)

CH 5

Incidentally, circling back to my comment above about how the records, tapes and CDs that Columbia House offered were company-specific pressings, over the years there have been minor controversies surrounding that. To this day you can easily spot them because they will have the name of the service printed somewhere on the back cover, and when UPC codes became standard, they displayed a generic record service UPC in place of the official stock UPC for the title. The remainder of the graphics, however, was identical to the standard commercial release.

The actual music on the discs is another matter, though. In 1994 Stereophile magazine published a story entitled “The Great Record-Club CD Conspiracy?” in which the audiophile publication examined whether or not the sound quality of the record club editions differed from the original commercial editions. This had been debated endlessly among collectors, audio gear devotees and just plain music geeks. And the subjective conclusion was, yes, in a number of instances, the listeners’ ears did indeed detect differences in such details as compression, stereo channel reversing, etc. But when putting the CDs to a comparison test involving actual frequency analysis, peak levels and more using measurement devices, no differences were found. Still, the subjective listening experience is what we call “the real life test” so this particular controversy was never really put to rest. It was even revived a few years ago at the popular Steve Hoffman music forums. Go HERE to read the original Stereophile report.

The other controversy involved the fact that all those records sold via the services— and at its peak Columbia House was moving huge amounts—were not generating standard royalty payments to the artists. In a 2011 article published by “It’s a Steal! How Columbia House Made Money Giving Away Music,” one of the key points raised read thusly:

“Columbia House and BMG had some fairly clever ways to save cash, though. Until 2006, the record companies had never actually secured written licenses to distribute the records they sent to club members. Instead, the clubs saved the hassle (and the expense) by paying most publishers 75% of the standard royalties set by copyright law. The clubs argued that since the publishers were cashing their discounted checks, they were submitting to ‘implied’ licenses.

“Music publishers didn’t love this arrangement, but for decades it was pretty tough to fight back against the mail-order clubs. As some of the biggest pre-Internet retailers, the clubs held enormous power over the music market. According to a 2006 Billboard article, if a publisher complained, the clubs would simply stop carrying their records.

“On top of that, the clubs generally weren’t buying their records from labels and then selling them. Instead, the clubs would acquire the master tapes of records and press their own copies on the cheap. Moreover, remember those ‘bonus’ or ‘free’ records you got for signing up for the clubs? The clubs generally didn’t pay any royalties at all on those, which further slashed their costs.”

If memory serves, this detail about royalties wasn’t widely known for a long time, more like a “dirty little secret” between the labels and the clubs, and it wasn’t until some of the artists’ lawyers and managers got wise and started raising a stink that it was addressed publicly and artists were able to start negotiating contracts that specified proper accounting and royalty payments for record club sales. (Question: let’s say you’re Bruce Springsteen and your albums come out on Columbia Records, and your contract with Columbia specifies that you earn royalties on album sales. Meanwhile, Columbia House, which is in the same corporate house as Columbia Records, is pressing its own Springsteen albums but not paying royalties to either Columbia or Springsteen. Is this a recipe for a legal mess, or what?)

CH 6

All in all, it’s been a fascinating run for Columbia House. If you’re like me, you probably didn’t even realize it was still around in any form. I don’t think it’s going to be missed too much, however. By 2010, when it got out of the CD business and shifted to DVD and Blu-ray (note the above ad), CD sales were already in the toilet, and if someone even bothered to buy an album as opposed to downloading it from iTunes or grabbing it for free off the internet, they were probably mail ordering it for rock-bottom prices at Amazon an eBay or, if they were highly motivated, driving to the local record store and getting a used copy for just a few bucks (if in fact there was even a local record store to drive to at that point). That whole notion of taking the Columbia House penny-swag and trading it in at said store? By 2010 you were probably lucky to GET a penny in trade credit for a CD, such was the devaluation of physical media.

One wonders what would have happened if Columbia House had gotten back into the LP business, given the ongoing surge in vinyl sales nationwide. Oh wait, someone is already working the old C.H. angle! They’re called VNYL (read our story, “Love Will Find A Way: The VNYL Subscription Service Blows It?,” about it and its attendant woes HERE) and Vinyl Me Please. Probably other similar services exist by now as well.

Too little, too late… here lies Columbia House, R.I.P…

CH 7


Bonus reading: “Four Columbia House insiders explain the shady math behind “8 CDs for a penny,” published in June at the A.V. Club, which touches on a lot of what I’ve already discussed above but is massively informative and, at times, downright hilarious. Definitely essential to read.


Fred Mills is the editor of BLURT. He can be contacted at BlurtEditor (at) Gmail.



Oderus Memorial

With a series of tragic losses in the regional NC/SC/VA/GA music community still fresh in mind, our correspondent pays his last respects to Joe Young of ANTiSEEN, club bookers Jeff Lowery and Art Boerke, David Brockie of GWAR, and Dean Riopelle of the Impotent Sea Snakes.


In the immortal words of David Lee Roth, “Where have all the good times gone?” My rock-n-roll comrades are dropping like flies. I guess when you achieve a certain age, it ‘s unavoidable. Death is a part of life, as they say. But in a short period of time, we have lost a few visionaries here in the Southeast, and as I write this, it’s hard to be poetic.  I’m a little more misty about the tragic losses of these men because they all touched my life, some for good and some for bad.  However, each of these men left an indelible mark on me in my formative years, so that would be an intricate part of my definition.


Joe Young by Moloich Photography

Joe Young – ANTiSEEN (April 30, 2014) Lenoir, North Carolina

When I was sixteen (circa 1981), Joe Young worked at the Record Bar at Southpark in Charlotte – yes, the legendary sludge-rock guitarist worked at the mall. I wanted to work at the mall record store too but they wouldn’t hire me. Didn’t matter how much I knew about music, everyone employed there was easily ten years older than me (except for Joe) and I knew nothing about retail.

While in college at South Carolina, ANTiSEEN was making a big splash at the college radio station where I worked. I think we had one single that received a considerable amount of airplay on the “punk” show, “Raucous Waves”.  I hosted occasionally with Keith Bullard (now deceased). But their first LP, Honour Among Thieves garnished the band some attention with their brand of loud, southern dis-hospitality.

After graduating college in 1988, I moved back to Charlotte – only 90 miles up I-77. When the 4808 Club opened on 7th Street, ANTiSEEN became a fixture, first opening for bands like TSOL, and Soundgarden, then headlining shows. Jeff Clayton, the band’s lead singer and long-time partner of Young, was even married at my club in December, 1989, with Joe, bassist Tom O’Keefe, and drummer Greg Clayton playing the wedding march. Joe and I even shared a girlfriend at one point. I remember one time Joe trying to encourage me to come to see G.G. Allin’s show at his “Church of Musical Awareness” – he said, “Mike, you really oughta come see G.G.’s show in October. He said after the set, he’s gonna bring a loaded revolver out on stage and shoot five people in the audience and save the last bullet for himself.” My response was, “Why the fuck would I want to be there?” Joe died suddenly of a heart attack last April after playing with his band for thirty years. [Ed. note: go HERE to read the BLURT interview with Young. Photo above by Moloich Photography.]

Jeff Lowery

Jeff Lowery – Pterodactyl Club/13-13 (August 3, 2014) – Charlotte, North Carolina

If I had an arch-nemesis, it was Jeff Lowery. At one time, I admired Jeff, and wanted to be part of the new scene he was constructing in the Queen City – first, from the shambles of the legendary punk mecca, the Milestone, inheriting the Tuckaseegee shit hole from Bill Flowers and making a go of it again, bringing in alt. acts like Flaming Lips, and Camper Van Beethoven.  Then Lowery opened the Pterodactyl Club, and there was nothing like it in Charlotte. I remember the summer of 1987, I applied for a job as a deejay there. Lowery hired me and then fired me before I had spun one record. It seems the other deejay didn’t like me. All the more reason to open my own place in 1988.

Whether I want to admit it or not, Lowery was an influence – but not just on me. Andy Kastanas, Bob Okamoto, and Conrad Hunter opened the original Park Elevator on South Boulevard and had hosted some shows beginning late 1987 – Gang Green, King Diamond, Psychic TV, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers to name a few. Then I opened the first 4808 Club on Central Avenue, a rock’s throw from the now-leveled Eastland Mall. I brought in the likes of Johnny Quest, Dumptruck, Dark Angel, and Widespread Panic. But both clubs were operating on shoestring capital – unlike Lowery, who was killing it – with bands on Wednesday, and progressive dance music Thursday through Saturday.  Problem was, Lowery didn’t like competition.

As Park Elevator was operating on a month-to-month lease, Lowery snaked their venue out from under them, forcing them to relocate – and Lowery opened 13-13. He later did the same to me at my last 4808 location on 5th Street. Lowery and I had gotten into a bidding war over GWAR, but I got the contract – me being stupid enough to allow an all-ages show. Lowery didn’t like that too much, so he bought my building. And to add insult to injury, allegedly, he tipped off Daniel Sellers at Alcohol Law Enforcement who raided my club and arrested Oderus Urungus and myself. Coincidentally, Lowery was on the guest list and watched with a needful eye as the chaos unfolded, snickering in the shadows during the incident.

Lowery also went out with a few of my ex-girlfriends – it was weird and incestuous. At a gathering last night to celebrate Jeff’s life at Amos’ Southend, I went, out of politeness. If anyone was shitty, I was going to tell them, “I only came to gloat.” His ex-partner, Tim Blong, tried to convince me of Jeff’s fondness. “Mike, you’ve got it all wrong. Jeff liked you. He said you made it interesting.” Kris, who was Lowery’s long-time girlfriend in the early nineties retorted, “I heard a different story.” We all laughed about it, however tragic. I’m sure me filing Bankruptcy in 1991 was “interesting” enough for the night club entrepreneur and property mogul, with 3 million supposedly in a Cayman account at the time of his demise. But as my Dad used to say, “You can’t take it with you.”  Lowery was found dead in his home on August 3, 2014. A toxicology report is pending.


Dean Riopell

Dean Riopelle – Masquerade Club (September, 24, 2013) Atlanta, Georgia

In the waning days of the 4808 Club, I had befriended Greg Green, who worked as an assistant at the Masquerade Club in Atlanta. Dean Riopelle, his boss, was a night club owner from Florida, who had a string of venues – notably, The Ritz in Ybor City. Greg would become manager of the Masquerade in the early 1990’s.  While I was in law school, circa 1994, Dean decided to start the Masquerade Recordings label. Greg suggested me as “General Manager’. Dean and I discussed terms and he hired me on the spot.  I didn’t last too long there. Dean would always walk by my office not saying a word, pausing momentarily in the doorway, then he would go up to his office and call Greg down the hall. Then Greg would come and tell me whatever Dean’s gripe was.

Dean was also in a theatrical outfit called “The Impotent Sea Snakes” – who were mostly a raunchy drag queen troop who incidentally were also musicians. Some of the guys even lived downstairs in the practice space in the bowels of the club at the old Excelsior Mill. They did have a little notoriety though, with guest appearances by the likes of Lemmy Kilmister, Jenna Jameson and Ron Jeremy. They were a weird group of folks, really into BDSM, which was something that made me a little uncomfortable. Some were into heavy drugs – but not Dean. Dean didn’t drink or do drugs to my knowledge. Dean even used to chastise band mates if they were abusers and encourage them to give up their drug of choice.

When I discovered that Dean had died of a heroin overdose last September, I was dumbfounded. It didn’t make any sense to me, but there again, I knew a guy who started smoking at 40, so what’s the difference? Turned out, Dean was allegedly given a lethal dose of heroin by his girlfriend, Alix Tichelman, who more recently has been implicated in the murder of a Google executive.  Dean and Alix were all into the bondage thing and had recently done an interview with fIXE Magazine, a fetish rag, where they talked about their master-servant relationship. Also, Tichelman allegedly bit Dean on the hand after an argument at the club, and he later had her arrested. Dean was dead within a week of her release. Tichelman, who made the 911 phonecall, left Atlanta in some haste to became a call girl in Silicon Valley.  That’s where she met her client, Forrest Hayes of Google, on his boat – where she allegedly injected him with heroin. There’s video of her stepping over Hayes’ corpse, finishing her glass of wine, and exiting. The “Black Widow,” Tichelman, is being held without bond. Riopelle was reexamined in July after Tichelman’s arrest in California: A tragic end to a legendary club owner.


me and oderus book crop

David Brockie/Oderus Urungus – Lead Singer of GWAR – Richmond, Virginia

Dave Brockie. What can I say. He was a real sick genius.  Interestingly, the above photo was taken at the Masquerade Club in 2009, shortly after the release of my book, Kill the Music. David and I were friends.  We happened to share the same jail cell Jeff Lowery put us in by allegedly tipping off the cops that fateful September night in 1990. First conversation Dave and I ever had was in the back of a squad car.

On the eve of his memorial before the Gwar-B-Q in Richmond on August 15th (see photo at top of page), I write this: Brockie and I were arrested together after a live show that allegedly violated North Carolina obscenity statutes, during the moral hysteria of the PMRC years. The charges were later reduced to misdemeanors, and Gwar was banned from performing in North Carolina for a year. The incident was covered by the national media including The Associated Press, Billboard, Rolling Stone and MTV. My 4808 Club in uptown Charlotte was closed by authorities shortly after the arrests.

In its wake, the band shot to stardom, eventually scoring two Grammy nominations, touring the world and becoming known for highly offensive, tongue-in-cheek shows that landed somewhere between Alice Cooper, Monty Python and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Brockie was an extraordinary painter, a talented musician, a criminally ignored lyricist, a quick-witted comedian and actor, and a mesmerizing frontman. He performed with musical acts X-Cops, Death Piggy and DBX, appeared in several movies, was the “Intergalactic Correspondent” on late-night Fox News program “Red Eye,” and was on two seasons of Fearnet’s “Holliston.”

Brockie and I had continued our relationship in the 25 years since our incarceration. I promoted a number of Gwar shows in the Southeast in the early ’90s and wrote a book, Kill the Music, which chronicled our experience during the PMRC era, I als interviewed Brockie at Bonnaroo in 2010 for an article titled “Bonnaroo Must Be Destroyed,” and wrote frequently about Gwar for Blurt and my blog. He even asked me to work on a “Blackbeard” project he was working on. Gwar overcame many obstacles and changed lineups over the years, but Brockie remained the consummate taskmaster at his company, Slave Pit Enterprises, and was the last original member to play with the group.  His death followed that Cory Smoot, the long-standing guitarist, found dead in his bed on the tour bus coming back from Canada in 2011.

I knew Dave had dabbled in all sorts of drugs and debauchery, but I didn’t think he habitually chased the dragon. Dave died of heroin overdose shortly after getting back from a very successful tour of Australia and Japan.

Don Drakulich (aka Sleazy P. Martini of Gwar) may have said it best: “If there is any solace in this, it’s that there was little suffering. He went out on a high point in his career. And he will never know the feeling of just fading away. He went out like a rock star. My biggest regret is not getting a chance to say goodbye.”


Art Boerke

Art Boerke – Rockafella’s Night Club (February 17, 2013) – Columbia, South Carolina

Art Boerke was huge – but he was also a big influence on me. He was a legend at my college radio station. In 1988, when he was the Program Director at 95-7 FM, I asked him for a job while I was still in college. He told me, “You talk too much!” Funny, coming from Art because he seldom would let you get a word in edgewise once he started going. But Art was a brilliant guy. He was also a great promoter and owned the iconic Five Points club, Rockafella’s. Art gave acts like Edwin McCain, and Hootie and the Blowfish their start.

I learned a lot from Art, both what to do and what not to do. I said for him not to buy that Quiet Riot show he lost his ass on, and supposedly, he told me not to do an all-ages Gwar show. Admittedly, I did it so Lowery wouldn’t get it – that was a life choice.  Art became dear friends with my brother Damon, and was always with us for as far back as I can remember. But it was Art Boerke who put Columbia on the map for music in the 1990’s. The Impotent Sea Snakes played at Rockafella’s, so did Gwar, and ANTiSEEN.

Art, me, and Lowery – we all did business with a guy named Chris Bojonavich, who used to work for Cecil Corbett. We all popped into each other’s clubs from time to time.

Art got out of the night club business, went back to school and up to the time of his death, was a college professor. Art and my brother Damon wrote a children’s book together called, The Adventures of Caterwaul the Cat: Feline Pie. Art died after falling on his head when he was released prematurely from Carolinas Medical Center, after he had taken too many Ambien, prescribed for a sleep study, in February of 2013.


These guys were punk pioneers in their own right, before the corporations took over. I wrote about each in my memoir, just a few short years ago. They were all still alive in 2009. It makes me feel very alone thinking about them. Nothing lasts forever, it seems… but their tales will echo in eternity.

Top Photo Credit: Alesea Walton 

For more Plumides, check out his book Kill The Music as well as his blog “The Decline of Southern Civilization”

15 QUESTIONS FOR… Mike Schulman of Slumberland Records


Announcing a new 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.


For over two decades Slumberland Records has been releasing some of the best indie rock/pop, shoegaze and dream pop. Staunchly independent, the label is—and for the most part (see first question) always has been—a one-man show by its leader, Mike Schulman. He’s gotten by the old-fashioned way, on good taste and hard work. Schulman was nice enough to answer some questions from the Slumberland HQ in sunny Oakland, CA. (Pictured below: Black Hearted Brother, whose Stars Are Our Home was released in October of 2013. L-R are Nick Holton, Neil Halstead and Mark Van Hoen. Read our interview with the band here.)

 Black Hearted Brother

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

MIKE SCHULMAN: Slumberland started in December 1989 as a collective effort by people in the bands Big Jesus Trash Can, Velocity Girl, Black Tambourine and Powderburns. We were all total novices inspired by lower east side NYC noise, No Wave, Post-Punk, K Records, Creation Records, Postcard Records, Factory, Rough Trade, William S Burroughs, Marcel Duchamp, The Jesus And Mary Chain, etc. etc. Most of us had never even picked up an instrument before starting the aforementioned bands, but were fired up enough by the fertile mid-‘80s DIY scene to give it a shot. After playing local shows and getting a bit better established it made sense to document what we were doing, and hence Slumberland.

Who designed your logo? Do you only have one?

The current logo was designed by Crayola from Sarandon. We’ve gone through at least 5 or 6 logos over the years; Crayola’s is probably our longest lived at this point.

What was your first release?

A 3 band compilation 7” called “What Kind of Heaven Do You Want?” It featured one song each from Velocity Girl, Powderburns and Black Tambourine. All recorded on 4-track, lo-fi sludgy noise. The engineer at the studio that we went to to mix onto DAT thought we were insane.

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

Definitely: K, Postcard, Rough Trade, Fast Product, Creation, Sarah, Factory, Flying Nun.

What difficulties did you realize come with running a label?

Getting people to pay attention, to take us seriously, to actually buy the releases. Honestly, none of that has changed at all in the last 25 years. It’s still a real challenge. (Below: Withered Hand’s Dan Willson and Pam Berry, whose New Gods album is released March 25.)

 Withered Hand by Pierre Antone

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

Saint Etienne.

What has been your best seller to date?

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart’s first album.

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?

Yes and yes, but I always feel a bit weird about it. I’m not a very serious musician, so I feel sort of guilty spending resources on my own bands.

What are your thoughts on having a presence at the major conventions like SXSW, CMJ, etc.? Have you done them before and if not, would you like to?

I have done them on and off over the years. To be honest I don’t think they’re that useful unless you already have a buzz for the bands. There’s just too much going on simultaneously and too much competition. For a label the size of Slumberland, it’s rarely worth the expense.

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

Yep, we’re quite active on Facebook and Twitter. It’s one of the few even semi-reliable ways we have of communicating with the fans at this point. (Below: Terry Malts, whose Nobody Realizes This Is Nowhere album was released in September of 2013. L-R is Nathan Sweatt, Philip Benson, Corey Cunningham)


Have digital sales been significant or nominal?

For the bigger selling titles the digital sales can be significant, but for the most part Slumberland fans are still more interested in physical media.

What are your feelings on vinyl? Have you always offered your releases on vinyl?

Vinyl is and always been our primary interest, and I’m quite proud to say that unlike almost all of our peer labels we never stopped releasing LPs. It’s been quite gratifying to see interest in vinyl bouncing back, though it’s anyone’s guess how long the bump will last.

What is your personal favorite format to release music?

7” single, which sadly is all but dead.

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

To be honest most of the labels that I follow are on the dance music side of things: Wild Oats, Sound Signature, KDJ/Mahogani, Perlon, Sushitech, FXHE. When it comes to rock stuff there are definitely individual bands that I really like, but they tend to be scattered across a bunch of different labels.

Do you accept unsolicited demos?

I do, but with the caveat that we’re a very small label and almost never pick up new bands based on demos. I think a lot of people imagine that since we’ve been around as long as we have and have had some success that we’re some sort of cash-generating mini-major just looking for ways to keep the money moving around, but in reality we’re just a one-man show, hustling to keep things going in a challenging and saturated market. (Below: Tony Molina, whose Dissed and Dismissed album is due March 25.)

 Tony Molina




PO Box 19029 Oakland, CA 94619








Last Train to Memphis:
The Rise of Elvis Presley (Peter Guralnick)


By Carl Hanni


Like my last posting here at
Sonic Reducer, this one is considerably after the fact; this mighty book about
the early life of Elvis Presley was first published in 1998, so it’s got 18
years of hair on it, but don’t let that take any of the shine off; it’s still
as fresh and impossible to put down as the day it was published. 


Last Train to Memphis tracks the life and career of Elvis Presley from his birth in 1935 until his
induction into the army in 1958, at the early peak of his career. A second
book, Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley, picks up the story
where this one left off, up until Presley’s death in 1977. 


All celebrities of Presley’s
caliber – a highly select and finite group – should be as lucky as Presley to
have a writer of Guralnick’s caliber take such a sympathetic and comprehensive
look at their life and work. The scope of the book is staggering – 488 pages on
the first 23 years of Presley’s life. That kind of coverage allows for
literally a day by day (or even hour by hour) exploration of a life that few
biographies can match. Last Train to Memphis (and presumably Careless Love, which I haven’t read) is a masterwork
of research that will likely stand for all time as the definitive book(s) about
Elvis Presley; it’s impossible to imagine anyone topping it in any


With Last Train to Memphis, Guralnick
takes on the super-human task of humanizing Elvis Presley and trying separate
the man from the myth. This is no easy task; Presley may be the single most
iconographic American figure of the 20th Century, a person whose image has so
over-saturated the culture that it’s hard to see him as anything more than a
series of images, some vital and vibrant and others sad and embarrassing.
Guralnick goes into this knowing full well that to many Presley was a joke, to
others an outrage and to others something akin to a deity. No matter what you
feel about Elvis Presley going in, you’re almost bound to come out of it
feeling differently after reading his book.


Guralnick – the author of other
highly acclaimed books on American culture and music like Lost Highway, Feel Like Going
and several others – is a writer of unnatural skill and grace. The
narrative flows in a way that is so natural that it borders on the aquatic. His
gifts for evocation brings the past alive in a way that is so pronounced that
you can practically smell it and feel it. This is particularly true of Elvis’s
teenage years in Memphis, where his family moved
from Tupelo, MS, in 1948, when Elvis was thirteen.
Guralnick lays out central Memphis
street by street, then moves Presley, his family
and friends around in it over several years before his sudden, wildly
improbable rise to super-stardom. He follows Presley on his forays to Hollywood and Las
Vegas, and on his numerous tours around the South and
East, and right on into the army. Always, they return to Memphis. 


It’s unlikely that Elvis Presley
would have existed as he did without Memphis,
and without his earlier upbringing in Tupelo.
As a dirt poor, post-World War II child of the South, Elvis was raised in
an environment where poor blacks and whites rubbed shoulders with each other,
and where music – gospel, blues, hillbilly, country and later R&B – was
everywhere. Memphis – along with Nashville and New
Orleans – was one of the great bastions of Southern
music, with powerful and influential radio stations (and radio personalities,
like Elvis’ early booster Dewey Phillips), night clubs and concert halls,
jamborees, gospel revivals, record stores, local musical legends and local
labels and recording studios. And where, as the story has been told over and
over, local studio owner and fledgling label owner Sam Phillips, saw something
in a oddball kid who kept hanging
around his Sun Studios and let him cut a couple of tracks. The rest is, indeed,


The big picture facts of Elvis’
life during this time are public record, but no one has gotten into the
miniature of it in the way that Guralnick does. He seems to have spoken to
everyone who ever encountered Presley, and recaptures
their memories with sparkling detail and clarity. But much more importantly is
how deeply he digs into, and peels back the layer of Presley’s personality and
reveals the young man underneath. What he finds, and conveys with infinite care
and sympathy, is fascinating and eye-opening. Young Presley emerges as a fairly
simple, straightforward guy; but of course he’s also infinitely complex. He’s
completely devoted to his parents, especially his mother (to the point of being
a classic mama’s boy, really). He’s an oddball in school, especially high
school, but still has a local gang in the Memphis
housing project that he spent his high school years in that he’s loyal to. He
starts cultivating an image as a young teenager that eventually becomes a look
and an attitude that sets American culture on its ear. He shows so little
promise as a musician as a young man that his eventual stardom floors everyone
who knew him.  He seems completely racially color blind. He’s neither a
natural leader or a follower, really a sort of perpetual outsider that somehow
became one of the biggest selling, most controversial and polarizing, and then
most famous entertainers of his time. 


The whole story is wildly
improbable, but Guralnick makes it plausible by breaking it down day by day and
showing EXACTLY what happened. Elvis meets Dewey Phillips; Elvis meets Sam
Phillips, finally convinces him to let him record something; Dewey Phillips
plays it on WHBQ; it takes off like wildfire, and within a year local misfit
Elvis Presley is the hottest thing in ‘Hillbilly’ music in the region. Then the
whole South. Then the country. Then Hollywood


No one had ever seen anything
like it. And, with the exception of
Beatlemania a few years later, ever did again, or likely ever will. Talk about
being the right guy at the right place at the right time; Elvis Presley
uncovered a need that no one knew existed until it rolled over the top of them.
He struck a chord in the teenage psyche of the country that (apparently) was
just lying there waiting to be struck, and it unleashed a culture changing
floodgate of hysteria that’s hard to understand today. To fully comprehend it,
check out the earliest footage of Presley that you can find; the best I’ve ever
seen are a few short clips that are featured on the excellent “History of Rock
& Roll” series that Time/Life put together several years ago, and I covered
in considerable detail in a previous Sonic Reducer. It’s mind-boggling: Presley
is a man possessed and the action from the crowds has to be seen to be


Aside from the story itself and
the look into Presley’s psyche, the other greatest virtue of Last Train To
is the way that Guralnick illuminates multiple aspects of American
culture in the 1940s and 50s. It’s most likely hard for anyone considerably
younger to understand how fundamentally different America was when Presley first
broke in the mid 1950s. It many ways it really was a far more innocent (or
perhaps naive) time. Reading about Presley and his pals is like stepping into
an episode of “Happy Days:” kids (at least these kids) went out on chaste
double dates, went to the movies or the park, sipped Cokes, obeyed their
parents, went to church on Sundays, played football, gathered around the radio
to listen to the Grand Ole Opry and Louisiana Hayride (this was the south,
after all). Sure, there were a few hoods and greasers, a few teen pregnancies,
always the possibility of the draft and the threat of The Bomb (and if you were
black, the KKK); but seriously, reading the day by day of this era is not
unlike a Dixie-fried “Mayberry RFD,” the difference being that Presley and his
pals were poor, and just around the corner was Beale St., the beating heart of
Memphis’ black culture.


Presley was devoutly religious
and ascribed his talent to being ‘a gift from God.’  He would just as soon
sing spirituals around the piano with family and friends, much to the dismay of
a young Natalie Wood who came out for a four day stay and only lasted two,
bored and discomfited by all the homeliness. Herein lays the contradiction of
Elvis Presley: the seemingly lascivious, dangerously sexy character who really
DID induce mass sexual frenzy amongst his teenage fans was just a homeboy at
heart, who REALLY wanted nothing more than to please his mother and make her
proud. The public Elvis was known for his gyrations, outrageous clothes and
cross-over music; but the one thing that literally everybody who ever met Elvis
even in passing first says is how polite and humble he was. Elvis (at this
point anyway) didn’t drink, smoke, use drugs, forbid profanity in front of
women, donated to charities, sent flowers, tirelessly signed autographs –
stopped and helped strangers change tires, for Christ’s sake. Of course he also
screwed his way through Hollywood, Las Vegas and Memphis,
but also seems to have kept
genuinely chaste relationships with at least most of the numerous young women
he dated (sometimes 2 or 3 at a time) during this time. You know, the good
girls. The ones you marry. 


Finally, and just as full of
insights, stories and lore, Guralnick gives us indelible portraits of seemingly
everyone in Presley’s orbit from the time he was born. His dad Vernon and
prematurely sad mother Gladys (she just couldn’t stop worrying about Elvis),
his extended family, all of his neighbors and high school pals, his
shape-shifting Memphis posse (including several cousins) and his later posse additions
from Las Vegas and Hollywood are drawn in sharp relief. Of course much ink is
spilled on Col. Tom Parker, the former carny turned promoter who grabbed Elvis
and ran with him all the way to Hollywood
and to the bank. Several banks, really. But also every DJ, record producer and
engineer, A&R man, local promoter, RCA Records staff member who ever worked
with him, session musician and every soda jerk or car hop who ever served Elvis
seems to have been interviewed by Guralnick and included in the book. It should
be exhausting, but it’s not; it’s exhilarating. 


As he should, Guralnick pays
special attention to the three folks that really played the most in forming
Elvis Presley: Sam Phillips and Elvis’ original two band-mates, guitarist
Scotty Moore and bass player Bill Black. It’s entirely possible that the
phenomenon of ‘Elvis Presley’ never would have happened without Scotty and
Bill; if he was the look and the voice, they were the sound. Their two-person,
hopped-up combo of hillbilly twang and blues punch had never quite been heard
before, and they lit the fire under Elvis that blew up with such a startling
roar. It’s incredibly sad to see them slowly but surely marginalized, then
squeezed out of the picture altogether, and as generous as Elvis could be he
never seemed to realize that he wasn’t taking care of these two fellas from the
neighborhood that made it all happen. There’s more than a few warnings in their
story for anyone contemplating a life in the music business.


Sam Phillips was the guy who really
made the young Elvis Presley and boy does he know it. A world class character,
self made man and kingmaker for Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Roy
Orbison, Charlie Rich, Ike Turner’s ‘Rocket 88″ and others in addition to
Elvis, Phillips is a true American original, the guy who molded the key to the
kingdom of rock & roll. Fortunately for us all, Phillips was as color blind
as Presley, and between the two of them they kicked started a cultural
revolution that is still winding out today. 


Really, no kidding. Read it to
believe it.





Carl Hanni is a music writer, music publicist, DJ, disc jockey,
book hound and vinyl archivist living in Tucson, AZ. He hosts “The
B-Side” program on KXCI (streamed live on Tuesday nights 10-12 pm at and spins around Southern Arizona on
a regular basis. He currently writes for Blurt and Tucson Weekly.



I Don’t Wanna Grow Up / John Moore


Play Date


By John B. Moore


you’ve been fronting one of New
Jersey’s most influential punk bands since the late
80’s and helped start one of the most successful indie labels in the northeast,
you’ve earned the right to try anything you want to do musically. And if that
next creative yearning just happens to be partnering with your wife to put out
a full length of un-ironic kids’ songs, with titles like “Dance Like a
Monster,” so be it.


Souls front man Greg Attonito and his wife Shanti Wintergate, christened
themselves Play Date earlier this year and went to work on the nearly dozen
tunes that would make it on their debut for Imagination,
including songs like “Anyone Can Sing” and “Rad”.


spoke with us recently about the band, how it came about and the difference
between audiences at a punk show and snagging that coveted fourth grade
classroom gig.


I know that the two of you had previously
put out the children’s book. Was it about that time that you knew you wanted to
put out a record aimed at kids?

was actually before we put out the children’s book that the idea was born. We
played a few songs in our nephew’s second grade class and had a great time. The
kids were so much fun.  


Did you have any influences from this

really didn’t know any contemporary kids music artist until we put out the book
and got on the kids radar. I would have to say the Muppets and Schoolhouse rock
were huge influences on me musically. It’s hard to say how much impact they had
on me. Probably more than I realize.


You guys don’t have kids yourself, right?
Who did you test the songs out on?

We have lots of friends with kids and are Uncle and Aunt
to a handful. Our good friends Melissa and Lou Koller have a little girl named
Aurelia (Lou is the singer in the band Sick Of It All). She was one of our
first real kid testers. She knows the words to a lot of the songs and sings
herself to sleep with the last song on the


What was the reaction from your friends and
the guys in the Bouncing Souls when you said you were going to do this?

The reaction from friends and
family was total excitement.  Lots of friends actually begged us to save
them from “Kids Music Hell” (laughs)! So we knew we had to focus on
making music parents would enjoy as well. The Bouncing Souls family have been
so supportive and enthusiastic about this venture.  Pete Steinkopf
(Bouncing Souls guitarist) actually engineered and helped us produce the record
and Michael McDermott (Bouncing Souls drummer) played drums on the album. We had
a blast in the creation of the record. It sounds great and all the positive
energy from friends, family and The Bouncing Souls made it that much better!


Now that it’s out, have you played shows
for kids yet? As a parent, I can tell you that punk shows are likely a lot more

We did play shows for kids when we did the book tour but
we did our first show as Play Date a few months ago in Montreal.
It was great! It’s going to be a learning process as far as writing the set
list and keeping the kids attention throughout. We will let you know how the
tour this fall goes. I’m sure we are going to learn a lot.


How do you go about writing a songs for an
album like Play Date vs. writing a punk songs?

creative process is similar with all kinds of art I think. You have to allow
the good stuff to happen or “flow through you” as some people say and
forcing it never seems to work. We are always making up little songs as we go
about our day so sometimes we spin them into kids’ songs. The one big
difference with kids’ songs is the songs aren’t really about us as individuals.
This makes the whole process more light hearted I think.   


Any plans for another album of songs like

We really had a great time writing them and recording them so we do want to do


What’s next for the two of you?

We have a record release show coming up in New Jersey and we will be touring from Idaho
to San Diego paying some schools and family
friendly shows at the end of October into Nov.


I Don’t Wanna Grow Up / John Moore



Orange County Hardcore


By John B. Moore



Documentaries about punk rock are nothing new.
Hell, documentaries about punk rock in Southern California
are nothing new, but there is something refreshingly original about what
one-time punk musician and current filmmaker Evan Jacobs has done with Orange County Hardcore Scenester.


The DIY doc (very much in keeping with the
genre it covers), is one person’s love note to the music scene he grew up with
in the early to mid ‘90s, as a band member, but more importantly a fan of. The
groups he covers through archival footage and voice-overs never really made
that big of an impact on the music world outside of the indie punk scene in Orange County,
but were important all the same. For every Green Day and Offspring that went on
to sell millions, there was a Carry Nation or Farside with a much smaller, but
likely just as rabid fan base packing the clubs and crowding the merch tables,


n the middle of promoting Orange County Hardcore Scenester, Jacobs spoke recently about the
movie, the scene and how Emilio Estevez helped him to discover punk rock.




Do you remember the first time you
heard punk rock?

I think the first exposure was the soundtrack
to Repo Man, mainly Black Flag’s “TV
Party”. It was 1985 or so and I saw that movie, then my brother got the
soundtrack, and I recall my friends and me thinking that we’d never heard a
song that was so funny. It was as if the lyrics had been written to be repeated
like lines from a movie. Then there was “Coup D’état” by the Circle Jerks which
was like nothing I had ever heard before. I remember my neighbor Ian Haas
breaking that scene down for me and showing me how they were “getting the
mosh started” by Dick Rude grabbing Emilio Estevez around the neck and
then spinning him. Following this, I got into bands like DI and TSOL through
the Suburbia soundtrack. Notice its all exposure to music via movies. I was so
inspired that I subsequently failed my seventh grade year of elementary school
(which you can learn all about in my animated film 1986-1986 available from
Amazon) and stayed away from punk rock for about two years. Then my brother
made me go see Judge and Carry Nation at the Reseda Country Club which is the start
of Orange County Hardcore Scenester.

 What made you decide to do a film about the hardcore scene in the OC?
There have been punk films about Orange
County, CA but never
one about the 1990’s hardcore scene depicted in the film. At least I don’t know
of there being one. There had been some books written and some OC bands
included, but nothing that focused on this time period, these bands, and what
happened with the scene I was involved with. I had tried to make this with two
other people, but due to schedules and whatnot that didn’t happen. So, I had
all this footage and then Radio Silence by Nathan Nedorostek and Anthony
Pappalardo came out. I saw some OC bands in that and I remember thinking,
“It is only a matter of time before somebody does something about OC
hardcore. Why not be the person to try and do it first?” If you can’t be
the best you should try and be first, right? I also felt very strongly about
telling this story. I felt that what the people involved in the 1990’s scene
(not just in OC but around the world) did was important. I wanted to shine as
much of a spotlight as I could on that. Ultimately, that is why Orange County
Hardcore Scenester was made.

Do you think you would have found this music if you grew up in some rural
area in the Midwest instead of in the center
of this scene?

I am sure if I was looking for it I would have found it. I mean hardcore is a
global thing. It was in the 1990’s, it is now, and it was before the 1990’s. If
I was making a film about it and I lived in the Midwest, I am sure that film
would reflect the Midwest scene.


In the documentary, you talk a
little bit about the do I or don’t I decision many punk bands faced in the mid
90’s about signing to a major. Did you have a strong stance at the time? Has it
changed at all?

My only stance was that if it was a choice between working a job you hated or
having a chance to make your living making music, it was a no brainer. At the
same time, if you could sustain yourself as a band through touring,
merchandise, record sales then you probably didn’t need to sign because a
major, unless you were gonna be a hit machine – and I think it was proven by
the bands that did sign that they were not hit machines – you would be very
disposable to a major label.
        Majors wanted charismatic front
people that were churning out radio-friendly songs. Hardcore music, by its very
nature isn’t that. Sure, you have charismatic people fronting these bands
(sometimes) but the music and the message isn’t usually something that would
play on the radio or MTV. If it does, great. The problem seemed to be that a
hardcore band could build their audience, sell 20,000 records, then suddenly
majors came calling. Well, 20,000 records is incredible as an independent band
(at least it was then)… 20,000 records to a major? Then and now that is a
paltry sum. Then add that a lot of bands that signed lost their hardcore
audience simply because some members of the hardcore scene didn’t choose to go
with that band on that leg of their journey. However, let me say this… I WANT
BANDS TO MAKE MONEY. I want their music to sustain them.


  At the time, or even after, have you ever found yourself having
to defend punk music?

Not really. People that are into punk are into it; they get it. They understand
that what sets it apart from something like pop music is that it isn’t about
all the bullshit that is put in our faces 24/7. This isn’t to say that I don’t
share my music. I have tried. Some people like it because it is aggressive.
Other people like it because they like the message. And a lot of people have
told me they think its shit.
        Other than that, the only other
time I have had to defend punk/hardcore has been when people try and lump it in
with neo-Nazis or something like that. I always go out of my way to separate
skinheads from Nazis, simply because I like a lot of skinhead music. I love Oi.
Punk rock/hardcore really helped shape my system of ethics and values. I
constantly make decisions based on those things.


 Do you still listen to hardcore? Do
you listen to any of the newer bands?

I certainly try to. Like a lot of older people, I gravitate toward the stuff
that I grew up on. However, I do try and listen to new bands as much as
possible. I am trying to turn the Facebook page for Orange County Hardcore
Scenester into a place where people can get dose of news on the film, and click
on links for new music/things I am finding. I don’t go to shows that much. That
is a bummer. I never thought that would happen. I always heard people say that
and I was like, “I’ll never stop going to shows. I’ll always be up on this
music.” Man, I wish I was. I do try and make an effort. I do still go to
shows when I can.

What are your plans for this documentary?
I plan to heavily promote Orange County Hardcore Scenester over the next year.
I want this documentary to live on. I want it to be something that people have
in their hardcore/punk film collections. I want people to be discovering this
film years from now. I constantly discover incredible documentary films via
Netflix. I am hoping people have that same experience with this film.
        There is going to be a screening
of it out in Florida at Churchill’s Pub in Miami, FL
on September 15. It is part of a
three day festival that starts on the 14th and goes to the 16th. Some of the
bands playing are from that time like A Chorus of Disapproval, Trial, Mean
Season, Damnation AD, etc. Plus a bunch of other bands from the past and
        I will be doing more merchandise.
Shirts, stickers… anything I can to keep this film alive in some way. I figure
if I really saturate this thing for a year that will give it some kind of life
beyond that year. I am hoping so anyway. I want to set up more screenings of
Orange County Hardcore Scenester and do a lot more press. So… if you run a
zine, or a club, or can help me get this film out in any way, please get in



For more information on the movies check out this link:


Or to buy your copy, check out this site:



I Don’t Wanna Grow Up / John Moore


Redd Kross


By John B. Moore



Redd Kross may have started out as little more than a
curiosity, a group of teens playing punk rock with an 11-year-old on bass, but
they evolved into one of the best American 
Power Pop bands of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Indeed, the Beach Boys may have
soaked up much of the local pride from Hawthorne
California, but siblings Jeff and Steven McDonald
– the Osmond Brothers of punk rock – deserve just as much attention as their
fellow local musicians having helped create the Southern
California punk scene in the early 1980’s. The boys grew up and so
did their music, adding more melody and sharper hooks and the added attention
of major labels and fans across the globe.


That all stopped in 1997 when the band, exhausted from
touring, decided to take a break and live their lives for awhile.
Singer/guitarist Jeff, married to Charlotte Caffey of the Go-Go’s, continued to
play here and there, but spend the bulk of his time off stage helping to raise their
daughter. Bassist Steven was involved in a slew of projects, most recently the
hardcore band OFF!, as well as producing some critically lauded albums like The
Format’s Dog Problems. Guitarist
Robert Hecker went on to front the band It’s OK, while longtime drummer Roy
McDonald (no relation to Steven and Jeff) was busy with his own life.  


But Redd Kross was never officially dead and an impromptu reunion at an LA festival in 2006 propelled the
band back into the world of touring, though not as rigorous as before. All the
while, Jeff continued writing songs for a Redd Kross album that he knew might
never be released.


Six years after that reunion gig and 15 years after their
last album, Redd Kross is back with Researching the Blues (Merge) and ready to pick up where they last left


Jeff McDonald spoke recently about the reunion, the long
task of writing this record and why he will never forget the smell of stale




I am admittedly
surprised that you guys put out another record. It’s been so long since you
played together and then a few years before you finally put out new music. I
thought you guys had ended it. Had you thought about getting back together for
awhile now?

JEFF MCDONALD: The whole thing actually started as another
album because I started writing songs and getting together with Roy and then my
brother got involved and then Robert got involved. We started doing some
touring – we’d done a lot of touring in Europe – but we started work on the
record a few years ago and then we had to keep putting it on the back burner
because stuff would come up; we’d have to go off on tour, or someone would have
something come up. The record just kind of happened when it was supposed to
happen. It was always my intention to make one. I didn’t even know that we
would necessarily play a lot; I just wanted to make another record.



Yeah, it was just totally turned around because we got busy
playing and with other things, people had lives they had to deal with so we
didn’t have the luxury of being together five or six days a week like we did
earlier. It takes a lot more time to get things done these days.


Are you
all in the same areas still or scattered throughout the country?

You know, we’re scattered throughout California. We’re all within a 50 miles
radius and it’s still a hassle when we all have to get together, but we do get
together to rehearse when we have shows and tours planned. We used to approach
rehearsals like it was a job, five days a week for many, many years and we
can’t do that anymore. But thankfully we also have more tools to work with than
we did years ago, we’re better players now.


seems many bands nowadays that reunite are fine with playing the one off shows
or tours, but an album is the last thing they want to do. The album is that
Holy Grail you hope for, but often never get.

 Well, during that
period of doing nothing – well, not nothing, I was raising my daughter – I
still played music and when I started writing songs they sounded like Redd
Kross songs. We still had the name and my brother is still my brother, so I
said we could do a Redd Kross album and just throw it out there. We didn’t know
that we could put it on a label or anything, we just kind of did it and if no
one wanted to put it out we would have put it out ourselves. But I think timing
worked out well. Not finishing it until a couple of months ago turned out
pretty well, because everyone we gave it to like it. I guess it’s all mystical.


guys have all been doing your own things since 1997, playing in different
bands, producing, did that change in any way the way you went about writing
this album?

Yeah, Steven did a lot of outside production, producing a
lot of different groups, and I would just kind of fiddle around with these
songs. I would sit down with a guitar and sing something into my computer; I
would always record it and put into an iTunes file. I’d be driving with my iPod
on shuffle and a random guitar part would come up and I would remember “Track
27” and then go home and finish it. So it was sort of like roulette; that’s how
the album got finished because I rarely sit down and finish a song from start
to finish. If the guitar parts good when I come back to it, then it’s worth
working on. So on this record, I wrote all of the songs myself except for one.


Do you
find it easier now to write with all the technological advances out there?
Would it have been easier in the ‘80s and ‘90s if you had had what kids have
now at their disposal?

I used the technology in the most basic ways. When I use the
laptop it’s just to record into the
mic in QuickTime, I don’t even bother opening a real recording program. It’s
kind of a glorified tape recorder and in those days I had a schedule, so let’s
say for Third Eye, I recorded most of
that record quietly in my bathroom, into a tape recorder, because in my
apartment the guy next door would bang on the walls the moment I strummed my
electric guitar, even with no amplification. I always had to write under duress
to some level, so I guess I’m just comfortable doing that. I don’t really
utilize the technology, it just looks different.


seems like there is always one person holding out on these reunions. Was that
the case for you guys?

 I may have been the
hold out, but not for any big reason in particular. I just remember being
burned out from performing, and that’s what I consider my strongpoint:
performing. After the Show World tour
I just wasn’t interested in performing much, but I still loved music and I
still saw bands. I just didn’t feel like doing it and then I realized 10 years
had passed, and I hadn’t been on stage. Everyone else in the band had played in
other groups and I was the only one who hadn’t stepped on a stage for over a
decade, so when we had an offer to play this festival in Los Angeles – it was
the Don’t Knock the Rock Film and Music Festival that was curated by a really
good friend of mine – I just said okay, we’ll do a Redd Kross set and we just
had a lot of fun. I was able to get over any kind of fear or apprehension I had
about going on stage and then it just felt very natural from that point on.   


you apprehensive at all that maybe there wasn’t still an appetite for your

I think because of the type of show that we chose for that
first outing we knew people would come out. I live in Los Angeles, so I knew there was interest in
seeing us, I was more worried that I wouldn’t look natural on stage, so we rehearsed
a lot for that show and I know this is cliché, but the moment I got on stage it
was like riding a bike; it all came back. Because there are some breaks between
shows I always get rusty, but it always come backs. It takes about one week.


Did you
personally miss Redd Kross or were you too busy with other things in life to
even think about it?

The first couple of years I didn’t miss it at all. During
the 90’s we were on the road all the time and a lot of it was in Europe. I was really glad to be home and it really took
me a couple of years to start thinking about it. Somewhere down the line I
started thinking it’d be fun to play again. But it took a few more years before
we could actually do it.


Can you
talk a little about the new album? It sounds like it picks right up from where
you left off with Show World in ‘97.

The thing about it is, we never really consciously think
about what kind of record we’re going to make. The one thing I did think about
is that I wanted the record to be short, because when we were on record labels
in the past we were always contractually obligated to make these long records
because of CD technology and my attention span is just like everyone else’s. If
I can get through an entire record, in 30 minutes, I am really happy. I didn’t
feel as obligated with this one. If the song felt finished, but had no guitar
solo or didn’t really have a chorus, but had a bridge that repeated then it was
done. It was really weird, but more organic because I didn’t really write this
one with a real intention of releasing it. I’ve always loved pop music and I’ve
always loved heavy music. There’s a song on here, “Stay Away From Downtown,”
that I had originally written for a movie and I found the demo and it was a
cross between Television and Fleetwood Mac. I had forgotten about it and when I
found it I thought “let’s try this again.”


were playing shows when you were still working on this record, so did you play
any of these songs live?

I know what it’s like to see a band when they start playing
new songs and even if it’s like Sgt.
Pepper’s II
you don’t want to hear anything new. Steven has a habit of
saying “Here’s a new one of our new album” and I’m like no, just try and slip
it in and hope no one notices. So we’ve gotten away with it and slipped a few
in with good response, so I’ve told (Steven) to stop announcing it.


Most of
the focus on the band when you first started out was on your ages. Did that
bother you at all at the time that it was mentioned in just about every write

Yeah, when we first started playing live we were really
ridiculously young. There weren’t any other teenage bands in Los Angeles playing
punk and we 12- to-16 and all the other groups were in their 20’s, so the
magazines like Flipside and Slash always talked about that. We were
like the Osmond Brothers and we were well aware of that… It’s was weird.


Do you
think that helped you get a lot of the initial attention? Helped you stand out?

I think people thought we were funny because we were little
kids… but luckily we were very precious and took the whole pop culture route
because we were the punk rock Osmond’s and that’s how we looked at it. We
weren’t like normal little kids. We were just insane music geeks so we fit in.
It became more of a problem when we started touring. Touring hadn’t really been
an option for independent bands
until the early ‘80s and we were still underage and the first tour we did, I
might have been 18 and Steven was still underage and after driving hundreds of
miles to get to the clubs we’d have to ague to get inside and then we’d have to
sit in the kitchen until it was time to play. Smelly kitchens in these bad
clubs, that smell never goes away. It’s like rancid grease and gas coming from
these old stoves.





Out ‘n’ about once
again with lenses in hand – this time, August 10-12 in San Francisco at the annual Outside Lands
festival. All Concert photography by
Scott Dudelson.



(above) Stevie Wonder


(below) Neil Young






Allan Stone



Animal Kingdom









Carney Bastards



(Choco Lands)



Explosions in the Sky



Father John Misty



Fitz & the Tantrums






Island Swamp






Jack White + Flash Mob at Third Man Van






Tom Morello







the Man



Sean Hayes



Sharon Van Etten



Sigur Ros



Be Good Tanyas





Two Gallants




I Don’t Wanna Grow Up / John Moore


The Drowning Men


By John B. Moore


It pays to have influential fans.


The Oceanside,
CA indie rock outfit The Drowning
Men self-released a phenomenal debut in 2009 (Beheading the Songbird) that somehow found its way into the
collection of Flogging Molly frontman Dave King. The Celtic Punk rocker was so
impressed with the band that he brought them on tour, quite a feat for a
relatively unknown, unsigned band.


Many pints and drunken sing-alongs to Irish pub songs later,
the band now has a home on King’s newly created label Borstal Beat Records. They
gave Beheading the Songbird a proper re-release
and just put out The Drowning Men’s follow up All of the Unknown, an album that somehow manages to top that
stellar debut thanks to inspired experimentation (see the Theremin discussion
below) and plenty of punk rock attitude.


Nathan “Nato” Bardeen (vocals, keyboards, guitar and
mandolin) was kind enough to talk recently about connecting with King,
recording with an actual budget and their upcoming tour.


I was interviewing Dave King about a year and a half ago and he
couldn’t stop raving about you guys and now you are on his label. How did you
first meet up with him? 

   It’s a pretty rad story. When you’re on a six week tour with
another band, you eventually begin some type of a relationship with each
member of the other band you are with. This happened with Dave and me somewhere
in the second week of touring with each other. For some reason I found myself
on their bus. It was just Dave, Bridget (Regan, Flogging Molly’s violinist and
married to Dave) and I. After a few pints and some kind words were exchanged,
Dave found out that I was a huge traditional Irish folk lover. I knew all the old pub songs as well as the rebel
songs. We were singing them as loud and as proud as we could. It’s funny,
because I don’t even have enough Irish blood swimming through my veins to call
myself an Irishman. I do however, love passion in the voice, I love the poetry;
I love the musicians who play for the ones who struggle. This is what I hear in
the Irish tunes.  So, if you’re ever around Dave and you want to strike up
a conversation with him, tell him Luke Kelly is your favorite singer. Then open
your mouth and sing “Tramps And Hawkers”.  He’ll love you forever.


Has he given you guys any decent advice?

 He’s given us
amazing advice while we were on the road with him. We learned a lot on
that tour. Mainly, it was our first big tour. What he told all of us in his
hotel room one night was that when were on that stage, we need to absolutely
own it. You need to believe there is no other band better than you in that
time, on that stage, in that moment. Total confidence. This is also the advice
Angus Young gave him when he was opening up for AC/DC years ago.


You worked with Billy Mohler on this
one? What was it about him that made him right for this record?

Billy Mohler wanted to
work with us. We have a mutual friend and he said he had this producer that
wanted to help us with our EP we were getting ready to track. We were jazzed!
He’s done some amazing stuff.  Eventually, that EP turned into an L.P and
then turned into our first album on a label, All of the Unknown on Borstal Beat is what it became. Billy really
was perfect for the job. He taught me and the other guys a lot, and together we
put together a great album that we’re all very proud of.


What can you tell me about the songs on this one?

I believe there is an
overwhelming feeling of longing throughout the whole album, not only lyrically,
but through the instrumentation as well. 


Was the recording/writing experience any different this time
around, knowing that you would have a label supporting this one?

It was very exciting
to have a bigger budget to work with and not have to spend our own money on it.
The label was amazing with this too. They pretty much said “here, take
this money and do whatever you want”; Very artist friendly. As far as the
writing process goes and knowing there’s going to be a push on this record, it
didn’t affect me whatsoever. I don’t write to make hits (of course I would love
one… or two… or three, laughs), I write because it’s what I do. It’s a
release for me. I constantly jam by myself until some tune hits me. I’ll play
with it for a long time then I’ll show it to the boys and we’ll work on it for
a bit together. Eventually I would meet up with Billy and we would go over the
parts and arrangements of the songs to add or take away when needed. 


How long have you wanted to add Theremin to one of your songs?

I’ve been a Theremin
player now for about six years now, so I couldn’t wait until I felt like I was
ready and filled with confidence to use it live as well as in the studio. It’s
a beautiful instrument that really uses your body energy and your emotions to
make a sound and melody.


Do you plan to tour much around this record?

Yeah, we will be
touring heaps on this album. For sure through the states again, and a strong
possibility of Europe too.    


What’s next for the band?

Were touring the
West/Northwest coast at the end of August through the beginning of September.
So we’re home for a short bit of time doing a couple of local shows and getting
ready to tour hard in the near future.

That’s all I’ve got. Anything else you want to

  Stay on
the sunny side.