Monday, November 2, 2015
A Ripple Conversation with Paul Chavez, Owner, Artificial Head Records
How long have you been doing this and what got you started running an independent record label?
I was living in Pennsylvania and I started the “USA office” of Destroy All Music (http://www.discogs.com/label/47074-Destroy-All-Music) in 1994 and worked with Jon in the UK on releases until 1997 which is when the label folded. We mainly released cassettes and started releasing 7” records (pressed in the Czech Republic!) towards the end. For about a year, I distributed CDs by the Swedish label, The Releasing Eskimo (http://www.discogs.com/label/11900-The-Releasing-Eskimo). Also - around 1996 - I started working with a good friend on starting up Mindfield Records (http://www.discogs.com/label/23508-Mindfield-Records) and FAQT Magazine.
Then I moved to San Francisco in 1997 and worked in the shipping department and occasionally wrote catalogue entries for Subterranean Records. To pay the bills, I worked at TRC (also in San Francisco) in their shipping and accounting department. TRC did 12” dance, hip hop, electronica releases.
Then I moved again… this time to Texas… and I decided to get out of music because I was broke from living in San Francisco and needed to get out of some heavy debt.
Fast forward about 7 years and I find myself in Houston, Texas jamming with a post punk band and we’re about to release a CD-R of our music… and then… I recalled Mark Robinson making a statement to the effect of: people are not interested in solo artists… they like bands… or at least the premise of a group of people creating something new.
With that thought in mind, I recommended the post punk band start a “label”… to give some illusion of NOT being simple local dorks. This was when Artificial Head Records began.
What motivated you?
Greed, power, fame… and an overwhelming desire to help bands I like get some quality product out there.
In the 70s, I loved my KISS records because you got a great package with each album. The inserts, the coloured inner sleeve, the custom designed labels, sometimes booklets and extra stuff. It was a total media experience. I strive to create the same experience with Artificial Head Records’ releases.
Are you looking to tap into a particular local scene or were you aiming to capture a sound?
Artificial Head started off as an outlet for the post punk band I was in (called Art Institute), but it grew from there to release records by other Houston-based bands. Then, kind of as a joke, I approached David Gedge after watching his band, The Wedding Present, perform at SXSW and asked if they would want to release something on my label. After pursuing them for a few months, they said yes and the Cinerama 7” was released (and promptly sold out). Smitten by my success, I just started asking all the bands I loved (regardless of style) if they would work with me on a release. That’s how the Terminal Cheesecake 2xLP came about.
The bass player for Art Institute came to rehearsal one day with a bunch of styrofoam heads to be used as stage props. I don’t know why, but I thought it was funny and instantly thought Artificial Head would be a good name for the new label. I have two logos – the original one is a phrenology head and a second one is a stylistic play on the old Tychobrahe logo.
There's so much to learn about running a label, share with us some of the lessons you're learning along the way.
Well, according to CD Baby, it’s super easy and fun! (http://diymusician.cdbaby.com/musician-tips/how-to-start-a-record-label). But in reality, it’s not. It’s not easy and it’s not always fun. And it’s certainly not for the financially faint at heart. It’s a ton of work 24/7 with you being a combination of a pusher man and a zealot for the releases. Sometimes it feels like you’re the only one who gives a damn... which makes it hard to stay motivated.
I’ve also learned that deadlines and delivery dates are mythical creatures… especially when dealing with pressing plants. I don’t fault the pressing plants though… they are doing their best with what resources they have. I fault the bigger labels such as Sony / Time Warner for clogging up the plants with vinyl reissues of stupid shit such as the A-Ha “Take on Me” 7” and the Walking Dead Soundtrack… stuff like that. As a result, I’ve learned to include an extra three months into my schedule for releases because of the backlog from plants.
I’ve also learned that with today’s litigious society to get yourself an entertainment attorney and get your business registered as an LLC. At bare minimum, have an initial consult with an attorney about what you’re doing and if that attorney can be called upon when you find yourself in a bind… which will happen because shit happens.
What changes do you see ahead for the music industry?
I see the music industry continuing to struggle until some paradigm shifts in the way people view the commodity of music. The next generation of survivors will see that change about to occur and react quickly.
For example, as 3D printers start to become more affordable and commonplace, people will be able to print out their records and not have to buy them pre-made from the record label.
What I don’t see changing is the need for people to have a tangible item to represent music. What I do see is a continuing shift in how that tangible item is delivered and held.
What will you do to stay on top of new and emerging technology?
Fox News will tell me everything I need to know. I’m sure of it.
What's the biggest challenge facing you today as an independent label?
Getting people to see how totally fucking awesome the albums/singles are that I’m releasing. Seriously… it’s a struggle to get noticed beyond the noise of everyday distractions.
Seems like there are a lot of independent heavy labels emerging these days. What will you do to set yourself apart?
Well, to start with, Artificial Head is not specifically a heavy label. I’ve released records by Funeral Horse and Terminal Cheesecake, but everything else is in a different category (some more drastic than others). I hope that people will view the label in the same way that people used to see either Touch & Go or Sub Pop. My aim is to have people say, “I don’t know what it is, but I like the stuff they put out so I’ll try it.” I want the label to have that freedom to release good music, no matter the genre.
What do you look for in your bands?
First – they have to get out of their comfort zone and tour. Get out of your home town on a regular basis and keep building upon your fan base.
Second – and just as critical – I got to like what I hear and see.
And third – we have to agree on a vision for your release. This part may seem a little odd, so just stick with me for a moment.
Most of the releases on the label have had a well known artist associated with the cover art. I had Raymond Pettibon do the cover for the Art Institute album. Savage Pencil did the cover for the Giant Battle Monster 7”, Ray Ahn did the cover for the Hell City Kings 7” (Fukitor did the insert), Doug Mac and Sean Aaberg did the covers for The Escatones 7”s (I also got Paul Leary to play on their second 7”!), Jeff Lamm and Marijke worked on the two Jody Seabody releases…. So I try to couple someone well-respected in the art community with the bands to craft this total package. And thus, a band has got to release some of their creative control and trust that I’m going to match them up with some kick ass artwork / packaging.
How do you find your artists? Are you a club rat, constantly searching live venues for cool acts?
Either when I hit the road with my current band or when I’m randomly out and about – if someone catches my attention, I’ll keep watching them. Gabriel over at The Burning Beard will send over bands that he thinks I should check out… and that means a lot to me if he recommends them.
What are you looking for now?
There’s a heavy band in San Antonio that has my attention and I’m wanting to work with them on a release. I would love to have a chance at releasing the Terry Kath solo album that never got issued. I’ve emailed his daughter numerous times, but so far nothing. I also want to work with Matt Rebholz as he’s a fantastic artist whose style reminds me of the stuff you would see in Heavy Metal Magazine from the 70s.
What would you like to see happen for the future of the music industry and your label in particular?
I would like to see people putting their damn phones down and going out to see more shows!
And with that Todd, I thank you for your time and support. I admire the amount of work you accomplish with Ripple Music as it inspires me to keep improving and keep trying to do better.