A Ripple Conversation With Voodoo Rhythm Records

How have you been able to sustain Voodoo Rhythm for nearly 30 years and what put you on this path? 


My childhood dream was actually to be a record sleeve designer. I drew all these designs of KISS and other bands all day in school. When I left school to look for a job, I wanted to draw cover artwork for a living, but there weren’t any jobs for any record sleeve designers; it didn’t exist, haha! Forming the record label gave me the chance to design the sleeves on my own, and that’s a big reason I began Voodoo Rhythm along with no one else wanting to release my recordings because they were too weird for Switzerland. Turns out, a lot of bands I knew at the time were running into the same problem; they’re just too weird, and that’s when I knew my mission. I wanted to show the world that there’s more out there than whatever Spotify and YouTube are telling us to check out, way more! Music is entirely out of the mainstream because it’s so different from what larger companies are pouring money into. More importantly, it’s not bad music! For me, being different was always a good thing, and this is why I’m still doing Voodoo Rhythm, way more now than when I began.


What’s your motivation behind Voodoo Rhythm? Why this music, why here, and why now?


Voodoo Rhythm is the name of a song The Meteors wrote in the early 1980s, and I thought it fit perfectly. The occult side of spirituality is my interest, and voodoo deals with our inner demons communicating with our outer devils.  Voodoo connects two worlds and has a rhythm; this is my belief and what the record label stands for. I’m a total music lover; I go to countless shows a month if I’m not playing one. 99% of the mainstream is terrible, so terrible that I could throw up. However, there is 1% that is amazing but the majority, no. It disappoints me how much music is out there. A lot of labels, publishers, and artists are releasing irrelevant and uninteresting stuff. For what? To satisfy any inner need? It’s like wanking off alone behind your computer every day when you could have sex and in different positions too haha! I want my label to kick you in the ass, to open up another world for you. I want my label to bring you forward in your life and thinking, to be part of a new future where people stand up and actually do something useful instead of sitting behind a computer all day just talking to themselves.


Outside of running a record label, you’re also a performer yourself with many groups, notably The Monsters and your one-man-band project, Reverend Beat-Man. What are your other projects and history in the music world and how do you keep each project distinct from the others?   


I’ve had many bands during my long while in the music business; The Monsters and my one-man band, Reverend Beat-Man, are what I’ve been doing the longest. Die Zorros is another band of mine who played striptease music; our goal was to be the worst band in the world. We were a cover band that only took the best parts of songs and repeated them in our music. Not only was it fun, but Die Zorros are some of the worst-selling Voodoo Rhythm releases, hahaha! Towards the end of the 1980s, I had a psych-boogaloo band called The Coronets. Another band I had in 2004 that is one of my favorite projects was Reverend Beat-Man and The Church of Herpes. That was a krautrock-industrial-horror-gospel-orchestra. We recorded one album and played three shows, and the three people who saw these shows went bananas. We even had cops stop one of the shows too! Every project I do is totally different from my last project, which is very important for me. I like to get the other musicians involved and try to create something different with them. However, I am an alpha animal, and there will always be a lot of my ideas in our results, haha! Voodoo Rhythm is run a similar way, like an anarchistic democracy with me, the Voodoo leader. Sounds obscure, but it works.


What releases will Voodoo Rhythm put out in the next few months?   


Our current release is a fifth Voodoo Rhythm label compilation with a retrospective on the label's work over the past few years and some new songs from bands on the roster. We pressed an animated picture disc that came out amazing!! After that release, the new album from The Monsters called You're Class, I'm Trash is seeing release three different variations. Slovenly Recordings out of the United States is releasing a version sung in my native Swiss-German language, a non-written language that only a couple million speak. The Voodoo Rhythm version will come with a special 7" included. Sounds of Subterrania is releasing a 60,000 stitch count DIY stitch-it-yourself-LP-covers version. After those two releases, we've got the first release from The American Christian Family coming up, The Bogos (cow punk-billy) from Switzerland, Sam Snitchy (synth-punk), and the second album from a punk band from Bern called Bad Mojos. Other stuff includes The Dead Brothers, Bang Bang Band Girl, etc.  


Any special projects planned to mark Voodoo Rhythm’s 30th anniversary?


Not really; I totally forgot that I started the label 30 years ago. Time and age aren’t relevant to me, and I’m really proud of us that we’ve done this for so long. On the other hand, though, the label is a never-ending tale, and it will go on as well when I’m dead, I guess.  


When you first began Voodoo Rhythm, were you looking to tap into your local scene and branch out as you grew or were you always looking for the label to represent a certain sound no matter where on the planet the artists were? 


Yes, I released a lot of Swiss bands who are my friends and had a chance to see them play. I was also lucky to realize in my early years that Switzerland isn’t a rock n’ roll country, and barely anyone understands my language. It wasn’t a normal thing for most Swiss bands to tour outside the country. Swiss attitudes are strictly limited to Switzerland. The notion is that everyone outside of Switzerland is considered strange, hence why we stay within our borders. However, getting out of Switzerland was my main priority. I understood that the borders needed to be broken if I ever wanted to change anything. That’s what I aim to do in my live shows and with Voodoo Rhythm as well. The location of countries and the people who inhabit them only became important to me once customs and shipping came into play, haha!


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


I'm sure you know very much as well with running Ripple Music that the operations of running this kind of a company can be complicated! There isn't an application on the internet where you can download a record label, and every function you'll need comes on demand and in one place. The two most important things for Voodoo Rhythm are the music I publish and the musicians I work with. The second is the creative parts that are the most fun, like the cover artwork and the band's overall presentation. I'm involved in almost all the releases; we start with the band's songwriting, then choose a studio for their recordings, the artwork, and finally assemble all the press materials. Once all this is set up, the band's creative role for the label is over, and they can work on new things. However, my job then is to make a total cut of everything we just did and turn it into a product, with the goal of selling as many records as possible and having the music reach the furthest audience possible. I try to make their name and image public to attract as many people who "get it" because they know I believe in that product and want to buy it; that's amazing to me! Everything else about running Voodoo Rhythm, it's a pain, and I hate it, haha! The office and all that administration part, the digital download part where I have a million positions on thirty different excel sheets and split all the royalties, and those calculations take sooooo much time. But, like you well know, that is a necessary part of the operation.


What changes do you see ahead for the music industry, especially with the world pandemic shifting our habits?


It’ll be challenging for us, but I’m pretty good at jumping in other territories and adapting the way I work. As a musician, you have to deal with that at every show: a small club with no PA and a big club with too big a PA and no monitors, etc. Same deal with the label; I’ll have to see the new situation, work with it, and see the positives. I’m seeing people fighting in the street over these corona rules; it’s likely because they were comfortable in the prior situation they’ve built for themselves and got too comfortable. Now, each month some new rule comes up, and they freak out.  I can understand they’re out of their comfort zone, but I grew up in the Voodoo Rhythm world where there are always new situations and no comfort zone at all, and I have to deal with that. The trick is not to complain, just do your job better and work with this new situation; adapt, go with the flow, ride the wave, or whatever. Record labels are not what they were 30 years ago. It was super easy when I pressed a record, sold a thousand copies, and shared the plus with the bands. Records aren’t selling like that anymore, and now these bands are my best customers; they buy many of their own records to sell at their shows. Voodoo Rhythm sells them at the cost of pressing per, then pays them on the digital sales on all the platforms we’ve uploaded and the sync licensing we’ve done in movies and commercials. It’s such hard work because we release such strange music, but we’re still here, and nobody can ever knock us down.


How do you stay on top of new and emerging technology? Do you have a team that helps you out with this to keep the label afloat?


Yes, I have a team that handles this with me. It’s too much to take on alone, and I can’t deal with it myself. A big part of this is my publishing guy Lysander from My Music Rights. He deals with all those digital platforms, and Ross [Cotton] from Cargo Distribution handles all the new stuff coming up in that world which changes every year. No joke, it’s insane how fast technology changes now. It’s like things are becoming obsolete so fast because of how quickly these changes are occurring. But, I also like seeing all this happen; I was never against these changes. Having the digital side of music was a huge plus for smaller bands and labels. This platform makes music accessible to people worldwide in an effortless manner. It was a very open and free territory, not anymore. Those territories are sold to bigger companies, and only they have the chance to get around the globe. That’s when the money aspect arrived in the digital world, which was very bad for the smaller labels and bands. However, we’ll see what the future brings. 


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


It’s a fact that today’s market is split between us small labels against the bigger companies, like in the 1970s and 1980s when LPs and CDs were sold. These days, if you don’t have a huge budget, it’s very hard to get recognized by a new audience. These proposals I see for buying yourself fame on platforms like Spotify and YouTube are an absolute no-go for me.  I still believe in music changing the world and not money, and I won’t change this belief; it’s been a part of my values since I recognized it. I’m working with Cargo Records because they share the same idea; they are music lovers. Many American labels share the same idea, like Slovenly Recordings, In The Red, and Goner Records, only to mention a few, and this is a challenge for us all. For us to be recognized and a good label is vital for a band.


Seems like there are a lot of independent heavy labels emerging these days. What will you have already done to set yourself apart from the pack?


There were always a lot of independent labels around, but most of them existed for only a couple of years. What we do is, for the long term, we establish a relationship with music lovers around the globe. We don't just sit down; we walk and keep our ears open for stuff we like and think the world will like too. We have the luck that bands send us their stuff so we can spread their virus. Voodoo Rhythm, speaking for myself, is the coolest record label to ever exist on planet earth. We're not the best, but we're so different.


What do you look for in a band that you’re interested in signing and what do you expect out of them once they sign on?


Nothing in particular except they have to interest me. I don’t care what country the band is from, whether the musicians are a man or a woman, or if they can play or not. I will spend the money I earn as a one-man band on them, so I want something I can work with and something different than what other companies are releasing. So, if you’re a band reading this interview, send me your recordings! If I think to myself, “hey, the world has to know about this,” then I’ll give it my all to promote the shit out of you! If not, then your music isn’t bad or anything; music is just a matter of taste. Fact: making music and playing in a band is already better than what 99% of the other humans are doing; you’re already a winner!!


How do you find your artists?  Are you a club rat, constantly searching live venues for cool acts?


I find artists in different ways. Heart Attack Alley, a band from Auckland, New Zealand that Voodoo Rhythm released, was my support band when I played Wellington. Hank Hain, who is from Leeds, is someone I found on the internet. The Dead Brothers and King Khan were suggested to me by a friend. King Automatic, who is from France, called me up while he was playing the first show of the Movie Star Junkies, who are from Italy, and said “Listen to this!!!!” and I heard part of their set over the phone, then I made a record with them! It’s always different how I discover bands; I’m a music fan. 


What kinds of bands are you seeking now or are you open to different genre submissions as long as it parallels the rock n’ roll genre?


My dream is to make a classical album that rock n’ roll people will like. I also want to make a tango album that isn’t boring and create a new music genre. I also want to find a good rockabilly band that doesn’t bore the shit out of me and the blues as well.


Are you involved in all the creative decisions when it comes to your releases?


90% of them, yes. There are releases where my input isn’t required because it’s already perfect. One of those releases is called Black Vodoun Space Blues by a Norwegian band called Pirate Love and another one called King Hokum by C.W. Stone King who is from Australia. With most of my releases, I’m a pain in the butt for all the bands. I push them to their limit with their songwriting and their band’s image, etc. I’m never happy with everything; I really work a lot and hard on all the releases. Sometimes, I send the bands to the studio three or more times to get the best result I can, which is a total money loss for me, but I think it needs to be done. A good example is the Wau Y Los Aaarghs!!! album Cantan En Espanol, I sent them to the studio because their cassette demo was given to me by Bone from the band The Sex Organs. They were so amazing and chaotic! The engineer, Jorge [Explosion], called me from the studio and said the band arrived way too late, plus their songs aren’t ready because they still need lyrics, so I needed to pay for a couple of more days for studio time. I told Jorge to take it easy; they’re amazing and will knock out their recordings all day the next day, which happened; the album was ready the next day! For me, Cantan En Espanol is one of the best Spanish garage albums ever recorded! However, it cost a lot of money to make, and the process got on people’s nerves, similar to many other bands, haha!


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


I actually don’t see a future anymore because of what I’ve already seen with the bigger companies consistently winning, the free downloads, and this COVID situation. I don’t care much for the future of this business anymore; I just believe in rock n’ roll. If you play and release rock n’ roll, then you’ll reach another level. I want to go to that level, and I will with my Voodoo Rhythm family. We will create a new world order and be the new wave; this is all I know. There are many questions in this world, but only one answer for each, it’s rock n’ roll.


Any final words you can share with Ripple’s Waveriders?


Yes, please start a band! Buy a drum kit, guitar amp, and create a band; just start playing and send me the tapes. Together we’ll rule the world!