A Sunday Conversation with Big Neck Records

Continuing on with our journey into the darkened places that are the minds of independent record label chiefs.  Today we voyage into the punk and rocking world of one of our favorite underground labels, Big Neck Records.

How did you get started running an independent record label ?

I used to own a couple nightclubs in Buffalo, NY. Both of my bars had live music, from rock n roll to punk rock to heavy metal and even to hardcore, My club Sanctuary was completely a punk rock, heavy metal bar where a bunch of band members (friends of mine) actually worked for me. I’m a little fuzzy on the details due to the inebriated state I was in, but Aaron Aducci from the Blowtops, Jimmy Hollywood from the Baseball Furies, and Sean Garreau from the Jack Jimmy Hoodlums and I were out hitting bars around Buffalo and they kept starting this conversation that I should help them out by putting out their first records. Aaron kept screaming, “I’ve got the perfect name for the label, Big Neck Records, because of your big freaking neck!”

Next I knew I was out hundreds of dollars but held The Blowtops first single in my hands.

What motivated you? Did you tap into a particular local scene or were you aiming to capture a sound?

It started out as a way to bring recognition to the local music scene and of course to help the bands get to that next level. Punk rock was pretty unheard of in Buffalo at that time. When I was in college it was the Goo Goo Dolls and The Wrench playing everywhere, but the Wrench broke up and the Goo Goo Dolls went to make millions on sweet love songs. Thus, at the time the punk rock scene had taken a nose dive. I was hoping my bars would create a crowd and a scene to go with the bands, but it was a struggle. We got there, but a little national recognition wouldn’t hurt thus, Big Neck was born. The first few records and first couple of years I went with a sound, but then as time went on it just came down to what I wanted to release and what I wanted to listen to.

Which was your first release?

Blowtops – Voodoo Alley 7”

Who's been your biggest selling artist to date?

The Lost Sounds, Jay Reatard is going gangbusters over there at Matador.

There's so much to learn about running a label, share with us some of the lessons you've learned along the way.

Keep it on the cheap, do your taxes, and don’t ever go in debt for the label.

What's been your label's high point? Low point?

The highpoint was probably this Big Neck festival in Buffalo, the Baseball Furies new record, a great lineup, and the Furies came in and did the most amazing punk rock show I have ever seen. I mean at that point I was like, “thank God I know these guys.” Label recognition high point was probably a couple years ago, I had a job that allowed me to put a lot of time into the label, but lately with my new job, not much time for Big Neck. But, I am trying.

The low point was a bit ago, when I decided to try and release records that I knew would sell. It worked, but I didn't enjoy the bands or the label too much at that time. So, I decided to return to my old credo of releasing bands that I liked and to heck with everyone else.

Who would you like to work with, but haven't yet?

I think I have worked with everyone I have ever wanted. Of course there are bands out there that you are like, “damn if they were on my label, I could afford to quit my job”, but then it wouldn’t be the same label with its current integrity. Did I just say that? Integrity?

What changes do you see ahead for the music industry?

As we move to the future more and more music is going to be self published online. There is really going to be very little use for a record label except for marketing. Currently it’s so easy to press your own records and distribute them online no need for a label. I think we will see the major labels taking a bigger and bigger chunk of merchandising and capital from tours. I think it's funny when label owners get mad at free download sites like Soulseek. I think they are great. I tell everyone to download Big Neck's songs online. Most people who love music will buy the record anyway. If nothing else at least the band's will have people at their shows. Truthfully, that is why I am in this anyway. Help the bands out.

What are you doing to stay on top of new and emerging technology?

Currently, I am including download cards in with my vinyl. So, easy and so cheap. I actually get annoyed when I buy a record and there isn’t a download card. Boot up soulseek. When I have more time you will see digital versions of everything online everywhere. When I have more time.

What's the biggest challenge facing you today as an independent label?

Getting the distributors to pay you, most of them are very good, but some just take forever or never pay you. Other than that the U.S. Postal service is killing us with their rate hikes, especially overseas.

How is most of your product sold? Mail order? Web-based? At shows ? Is this changing?

Most of my product is sold via mail order. I have an eBay store and a store on Big Neck’s website. The distributors make up a rather large chunk, but my label wouldn’t survive without my online sales. When I was younger I would go to shows and sell records, but now I don’t get to hit as many shows, thus I just push the records on the bands to sell when they are touring.

Seems that the sound of the bands you sign keeps evolving. What do you look for in your bands?

What do I look for in bands? I look for music that I enjoy. Mostly anything with some great hooks. Look at HOLLYWOOD their demo stuck in my head for 2 weeks. I couldn’t stop singing “Girl”. Otherwise, I do have to say I am lucky as hell that everyone in every band on my label consists of great people. I mean, seriously I have met some real jerks in other bands, but everyone on my label is cool.

How do you find your artists?

When I lived in Buffalo, it was mainly Buffalo bands. Now a days, I find most of my artists by word of mouth from other bands on my label, but a good percentage from demo’s mailed to me. I love finding that unheard of band that has just a great sound. Great referrals were, The Mistreaters. The Blowtops just got back from a small tour when Aaron Aducci threw a tape at me and said, “we played we these guys in Wisconsin and we were really surprised that they didn’t suck.” Jimmy Hollywood was talking to Jay Reatard one day when Jay was telling him about this new band, The Lost Sounds, on the spot Jimmy said, “we (Big Neck) will press the whole thing.” Great examples of demos being sent in, Sweet J.A.P. Heard it once, sent a copy to Jimmy Hollywood and we both agreed, so I called up Hideo and said, “we will do whatever you want, it’s amazing!” HOLLYWOOD sent me a demo that I just couldn’t get any of the songs out of my head for weeks, so I finally had to release it. Tractor Sex Fatality’s demo was ridiculous, I think I listened to it for a month straight and then I remembered that I forgot to call the band and get them to do a record with Big Neck, luckily I think they scared everyone else away.

Are you a club rat, constantly searching live venues for cool acts?

No, in fact I never used this approach. My judgment is usually skewed by beer. I do try and see most of my bands live before I press their record to make sure they are as great as I hope they would be.

Are you involved in all the creative decisions?

80% I would say. I leave most of the artwork up to the bands and I rely on a system of people who aid in my decision making, Aaron Aducci from Fatal Figures (ex-Blowtops, Suck, Backstabbers), Jimmy Hollywood (AV Murder, ex-Baseball Furies, Tyrades, White Savage), and a few other friends local to where I live.

What would you like to see happen for the future of the music industry and your label in particular?

Future of the music industry? No idea, but I would love to make enough money off my label to live on. In that manner I could do what I like for a living.



Chris said…
Baseball Furies - Throw Them to the Lions kicks serious ass. One of my faves for 2009.
Theelongplayer said…
"I decided to return to my old credo of releasing bands that I liked and to heck with everyone else"... That makes sense. I wish we could hear things like that that more often, coming from record companies!

It's always great to hear from this kind of labels. Long live Big Neck records, and thanks a lot for the interview, my friend!