Philadelphia Freakdom: An interview with Tom Lax of Siltbreeze Records

When a label starts its life by birthing a Halo of Flies 7", one has to pay attention. When that Halo of Flies 7" spawns releases by Dead C, the Gibson Bros., Jim Shephard (with Vertical Slit, V-3 and solo), Mike Rep & the Quotas, as well as under-appreciated, obscure bands like The Yips and The Resineaters, you put that label on your Trademark of Quality list. The label in question is Siltbreeze. Siltbreeze was started in 1989 by Tom Lax, a Central Ohio native, transplanted in Philadelphia. Tom ran Siltbreeze for 11 years, took two years off, released one CD and went back into hibernation for a couple more. Last year, Tom released the New Times Viking's debut, Dig Yourself, a record well received by nearly everyone at TB except perhaps one or two dullards. The label is considered one of the best of the 1990s and ranks as one of my favorites of all time.
     The interview below was done through email during July 2006. Tom was in Philadelphia, while I was in Northern California. -- Scott Soriano

TERMINAL BOREDOM: Might as well start off at the beginning, the beginning of American punk rock, that is. My fantasy Ss Records project is a Fugs box set. Ideally it would be all the recorded stuff, live stuff, some Tuli solo ('No Deposit...') and lots of writing by Ed and Tuli. I could never pull it off. The stuff has been reissued and/or so many entities have the rights. So it's a fantasy. First off, do you have any Siltbreeze fantasy projects? Second, would you agree that the Fugs are the first great American punk band? Third, tell me how great the Fugs are and why?
TOM LAX (TL): Back around 89-90, I was enamored by the idea of doing a LAFMS box set; it would have been all the original LP's and 7"ers reproduced and housed in a wooden box. Never mind that it would cost a fortune to manufacture, it was more the idea of it just existing that I found exciting and hilarious. But, a few years later, it did happen as a CD box set. The CD box set is amazing and a great resource, especially considering the current avant/underground climate of Suitcase Rock or New Weird America or whatever the latest moniker is.
       Around the beginning of 2000, I thought about directing the label to more of a reissue one. My imaginary emphasis was comprehensive releases by, say, Slugfuckers, Beyond The Implode, Desperate Bicycles, Just Urbain, etc.; really obscure bands that I'd like to see represented. Mind you, it was exactly a fantasy, as I never really contacted anyone about securing rights or whatever. Since then a lot of interest has blown up about early (punk) DIY. Some of it has been actually realized, as in the case with The Slugfuckers.
    I understand Eddie Smith from BTI is doing a CD of all the Slugfuckers output. Some of it is still on hold, Desperate Bicycles anyway. Word is that the band themselves are against anyone reissuing any of their stuff, I guess the intention is to do it themselves. Which makes sense. Don't know about Just Urbain. Might be worth an investigation. The main thing is that it's out there again and available
       The semantics of who's the first punk band is really beyond my comprehension. I always think of "I Fought The Law" as being a true predecessor of the literal Punk movement in the late 70's; but as far as the first primordial band, The Fugs? Why not!
      The Fugs are great on so many levels; they were provocateurs, city radicals, literate, thinking, rapier-sharp people. Not hippies, or at least as embodied by the West Coast definition. Ed Sanders' book 'The Family' is as scathing an indictment as you could ever read on how that scene's shithouse went up in chunks. It's about Manson yes, but Chas also embodied - or scammed- the whole Hippie ethos, took it's naive notions, and manipulated them for his own, hellish conclusion. Sanders' book doesn't miss a beat. It's both objective and subjective; his investigation and historical narrative is dead on, but at the same time he is mocking Manson and the followers - which is hysterical. Is it Punk? I dunno, but I'd rather read that than a book of Lou Reed poems.

TB: Aha! "Provocateurs, city radicals, literate, thinking, rapier-sharp people" - words like that will get you crucified by today's "punk rocker."
TL: I don't know what "today's punk rocker" really even means. You're right, the orthodoxy has kind of blurred the lines. From what I see, the straight edge hardcore movement, established and revered by Minor Threat and SS Decontrol, is what passes for Punk in my day-to-day dealings. I'm not really out there anymore but I'll go out on a limb and say Philadelphia isn't the best city to define what is and isn't Punk. Is Acts Of Sedition more or less of a Punk band than, say, Sonic Youth? I don't know that I even care.

TB: For me one of the attractions of punk was that it was full of "provocateurs, city radicals, literate, thinking, rapier-sharp people." I think those people are still there but what's "punk" is saddled with a hefty load of orthodoxy - whether it be from hardcore, garage, PC punks, anti-PC punks. Do you think there is still room for intellectually challenging and creatively expansive people/projects within punk? Or has the term lost its meaning/zing and it is silly to be concerned with punk as some kind of expression?
TL: I was drawn to the bands that billowed in the winds of Dada, Marxism, Feminism and/or Situationist Theory like Gang Of Four, Pere Ubu, Wire, Urinals, Mekons, Raincoats, etc. Not because of the politics though. Yeah, it was cool that there were thinking people at the helm, but the music spoke volumes over the lyrics. I was also way into early hardcore and while there was always a message whether it was Black Flag, Really Red, Negative Approach, it was always the music first for me there too. At that point in time, it might not have been about what knowledge you took away from art school, though there were still intellectual properties at play in the music. It was possible to get into Birthday Party, Necros and The Embarrassment all at the same time. There was no real division in the music where I was from.
      I think the noise scene that is being championed today is sort of a mirror of the regional hardcore scene of the early 80's. Like the 80s HC scene, your worth in noise is somewhat measured by how well you represent your region. The Midwest had, arguably, the best hardcore scene back in the day. There are folks today that will swear by Midwest noise bands over other locale's. That said, there's a big difference between Wolf Eyes and Lambsbread, though they both fall under that umbrella.
    Then there's a band like Pink Reason, out of Green Bay, who aren't noise or rock per se. They think of themselves as a Punk band and, you know, I get it and I don't. I think of them as a modern day Afflicted Man - who also had the same cut of the jib but were never invited by the chaperones to the Punk Rock Dance.
     That's what great about the DIY movement; you could get away with all kind of shit, shit which was even greater than bands with real labels. That scene was so under the wire and so willing to take it anywhere. So I guess I'd have to say that as long as there's bands like Pink Reason out there doing that sort of stuff and calling it Punk, Punk is still meaningful, yes.

TB: I am guessing I came into rock & roll about the same time you did, when, as you write anything from Black Flag to the Birthday Party was considered punk. I do not take for granted finding out about all this music when there were no genre ghettos, just MOR rock, what-was-to-be-classic rock, and punk rock. I am sure you saw the walls come up in the late 80s and then cemented in the 90s. Sometimes I wonder if people, locked up in their genre prisons, missed out on lots of good stuff...and then I remember that they put themselves in their cells. Still, it is invigorating to hear bands like Pink Reason or the Frenchies that I pimp, bands that are hard to categorize, and that either ignore the tags or proclaim "we are punk" and let others fight it out whether they are or aren't or should be wearing yellow shoelaces in their sneakers. Perhaps surrealism is asserting itself in rock & roll. Or has it always been there? Today I listened to Jim Shepard's "Bingle Bangle" (off of the record you put out, Picking Through the Wreckage with a Stick), the Bonzo Dog Band, and 'Wombling Songs' by the Wombles - all of it surreal, though not always intentional. If there is a question in there I guess it has to do with surrealism and rock & roll - riff off that if you will.
TL: Well, I can remember (and saw) Black Flag when they were amazing .i.e., BEFORE Rollins. I actually prefer all their material before his induction. I cannot listen to any of the Hank Core years, not even 'Damaged' not even 'My War'. Oh well.
       I think Hardcore, at least where I was in Central Ohio, was sort of the first line drawn in the sand. Up to then, the new wavers and punks were essentially following the beat of the same drum. It was so small and exclusive, though it wasn't long till it became commercialized. Hardcore sort of shook that up. They became the 1%-ers.
       Touch & Go was the first zine I can recall that was super subjective and harsh and funny. Columbus had the excellent Offense, but that editor was obsessed by 4AD bands (they always got a pass, if not top billing); I remember reading letters to Offense from DS and Tesco Vee that were like "Cool mag, but wake up! There's a new movement under way and your either with us or against us".
Downton Columbus          In a way, it was the same with the British and European DIY bands that formed in the wake of the Sex Pistols and Ramones. They were doing it for themselves, didn't want to be co-opted, and seemingly networked their records and gigs with other like-minded folks. I remember seeing the Desperate Bicycles thanked on the Scrotum Poles 7" and thinking that that was amazing. All of a sudden I realized that not all of this shambolic, discordant rumble was an anomaly or isolated. Some people were actually paying attention.
         The Desperate Bicycles mantra was "It is easy, it is cheap, go and do it" and the American Hardcore movement embodied the same ethos. Sometimes. I mean, the Big Boys were always good for "We did it, now go start your own band." But then you also have the Boston straight edge HC scene that has been the genesis for more terrible, misguided punk/core than anything else - and on a worldwide basis. I was there to hear it - in real time - the first time around, so you'll excuse me if I don't rise above to champion the 100th sounding go-round of DYS by junior re-enactors. Talk about your genre prisons...jeesh!
       Where I came from, having Black Sabbath records was enough to make you an outsider. I was way down in Southern Ohio and, there, it was a steady diet of REO Speedwagon, Foghat and Lynyrd Skynyrd being gobbled up by most everyone I knew. So to get out of there was a godsend. Columbus, Cleveland and Cincy all had great stores that carried all this incredible and new stuff. I think I've always been drawn to the weirder stuff music wise. I was initially drawn to punk because it was loud and the songs were short. I went from the Ramones or Buzzcocks to checking out music that was looser and stranger like Pere Ubu and The Fall. It was a very exciting time.
       I think the surrealist take on Punk came from the movers and shakers, who had always been on the fringe before Punk. People who were into Euro Prog, Krautrock, the Canterbury scene, King Crimson, Roxy Music, Eno, Bonzo's... Jim Shepard was certainly one of those people. He was also into Stooges and Black Sabbath. The first couple of Vertical Slit releases - the LP and first 7" - are definitely introspective loner prog LPs, and more suitable with the stuff collected on the highly prized Nurse With Wound list, than a Killed By Death comp. The later two 7"ers - especially Smudge - are pretty balls to the wall Sabbath meets Crimson heavy rock. Is it Punk? Sure, if that's what it takes for people to listen.
      It was the same for Debris, MX-80 Sound, Chrome. You know, suddenly, this weird rock you've been doing that no one understood is now accepted. I imagine the Swell Maps were in the same boat. You listen to that early, meandering, instrumental bedroom stuff and you know those guys cherished their Can records. How many of their friends at school were into Can? Probably whoever else was in that bedroom.
      I'd say 1977 was the year Punk really broke - Not in terms of Capitalist gains, but for bands and artists who'd been ignored or shunned and kids who were bored with the standard AM/FM format. Now people were all out there to rock 'n weird things up, so that years later it would be possible for Kurt Cobain to wear a Daniel Johnston shirt on MTV and to get DGC to reissue the Raincoats. That's kinda surreal if you think about it.

TB: It seems like there has always been this under the underground where music labels don't fit well or even apply. I think of the Fugs, Beefheart, Can to Throbbing Gristle, Electric Eels to Vertical Slit, Liimanarina and I have a hard time cramming them into any box.
TL: I think it's great that bands/artists can defy normal description. In most cases it's who got there first, or something to that effect. For me the band that was always a tough wrangle was This Heat. Loved those records, but trying to describe their sound to someone not familiar...still, to this day, not an easy task.

TB: Currently there are all kinds of bands that seem to defy being pegged. One of my favorite labels right now is Not Not Fun out of LA, which is documenting the most creative and interesting thing happening in that area since the New Alliance/Happy Squid days and the LAFMS before that. The magic of it is that I don't think these kids are even aware of the lineage.
TL: If you're saying they're not familiar with Brent Wilcox, Phil Bedel, The Plebs, or the Mighty Feeble comp then I'd be hard pressed to argue. They are certainly dues payers and in some cases even shop stewards for the various free underground locals they represent. You might be surprised at what they know. When I met the folks from Lambsbread a few months back, they came at me with all sort's of knowledge that would have taken me years to amass in "the good old days". The Not Not Fun bands might not be aware all the specifics of the LA Underground history but I'm sure they are not completely naive either. Listening to that Foot Village 10" I got from you I can understand how you'd point their music back to LAFMS but to me it sounded even weirder or, perhaps, more dislodged than even that. It was almost like incidental or soundtrack music for a happening or performance piece, the Poetics meet Alan Watts or something like that. Very curious. So yeah, I suspect they might know more than they lead on. That's okay.

TB: Uh...I forget this thing they call the internet and how easy it is to track down obscure stuff nowadays...I remember people fretting over the Punk Boom of the 1990s and how commercialization was going to destroy the underground. Instead, it grew and became even less commercially accessible. Your thoughts?
TL: I'm not familiar with the Punk Boom you mention, or at least I didn't experience any of it here in Philadelphia. I think back to the late 90's/early part of this century here and it was Tropicalia, Drum 'n Bass, Remixes, Spaceage Cocktail whatever....it was sickening. But it wasn't destroying the underground.
    Then there is the whole Strokes and White Stripes business...Hey, your always gonna have that. How the White Stripes blew up is still kind of crazy to me. Whoever orchestrated that is a genius. That a zillion imitators of both bands sprung up afterwards is hardly a surprise either and that they suck, ditto. But the late 90's Punk Boom fret...I must have been down in the basement, loading in hundreds of boxes of overstock and missed it.

TB: I think labels can also defy description. Siltbreeze is one of those. I think in the Scott Soriano/Pink Reason "punk is what I say it is" point of view, Siltbreeze is a "punk" label, but not by numbers and not obviously so. I see a thread in all the records. I am sure you do otherwise you wouldn't have put them out. Can you go through what you think about when putting out records? How do you decide what to put out? Is there something that you see that links the Gibson Bros., Vertical Slit, and the Yips, other than your taste, and, perhaps geography?
TL: The thread...yeah, you'd think I'd see it but I don't. Unless it's a thread with about 600 people dangling from it, people who buy the stuff I put out. Most of it is recorded on 4 tracks or 8 tracks so it's in the lo-fi realm, maybe that's a thread. Honestly, I just put out records that I'd go and buy myself. That was the impetus of the label in the first place.

    The Halo Of Flies was a no-brainer. The Dead C LP had to come out. And it didn't see like any of the likely candidates - Homestead or Amphetamine Reptile - were game so I put up the money made off of Halo of Flies 7" and released Dead C's 'Helen/Bury.' There was no Drag City or Ajax or whoever, and if there was they were light years from this sort of music.
    After that, the rest of the early roster was folks I knew like the Gibson Bros., Monkey 101, V-3, Strapping Fieldhands. The Sebadoh release came about because I'd gone to see them one night and afterwards, as we were talking, somehow the conversation veered into hardcore and then hardcore from NE Ohio and OOPS! fanzine and eventually our mutual love for the Church Police track on MMR comp ("The Oven is My Friend"); so that sealed that. Dead C brought on Alastair Galbraith. Charalambides and Shadow Ring sent demos. A Band and Harry Pussy, I sought out. It's a real mix, the different ways the label has built its discography.

TB: It seems that geography plays apart in what you put out. Is there a conscious attempt to document underground Ohio or did that just happen because that is where you lived and what you know?
TL: It wasn't conscious at all and still isn't. I am from Ohio and still have very good friend there, one of whom is Mike Rep and it's he who sent the Yips and Times New Viking my way. I was always a big fan of Ron House's stuff, so eventually he caved and let the label have a Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments release. Same with Jim Shepard. Columbus is a great, fertile city of underground music and has been since the inception of Punk. I'm lucky that I got caught up in it and was able to get some of it out through the years.

TB: I have a thing for regional labels, so much so that the first one I did was dedicated only to Sacramento bands. What do you think of regional labels? Are they important to you and if so, why? And can you tell me about your favorite regional labels?
TL: I guess it depends on the region. To my ears, The Philadelphia labels in the past that were predominantly regional don't fare so well. Some of it is just the worst shit imaginable! No need to mention them. I have to say that, yes, some regional labels have been important to me. Dangerhouse, VVV, Doublethink, and Heartwork would all be at the top of my list. Of course, Xpressway gets props. Flying Nun, as well. Hospital in Cincinnati is a great underrated label. Clone and Hearthan, too. It's hard to argue with just about any release on any of those labels. Some of the output is eternal.

TB: I think most folks thought Siltbreeze was dead and then this New Times Viking record comes along and talk about coming back with a bang! What lead to the label's dormancy? Lack of interest in the music going on at the time? Burnout over dealing with people and/or the business end? Having boxes and boxes of records and no place to store them? I ended my first label because it just seemed to run it's course. And why did you start the thing back up? Was it just TNV or were you jonesing to do it again?
TL: The dormancy came from a little of all the things you mention. I was also working as a line cook and it was pretty serious business, so I had no time or interest to keep up with how things in the underground were going or shifting or whatever. I didn't go out for a few years or really keep up with buying anything new either. I was done. The 1929 CD was basically - I thought - the last thing I'd do. I worked at a bar with the drummer and guitarist and they had been hammering away at me for so long to put out a release, but I wasn't interested. (I'm sure you know the feeling.) Then they got John Boothman, who'd been in Vibrolux with Brother JT, to play bass and suddenly their whole thing was grounded. They sounded heavier and more rounded out, you know, like a real band. Then I was like, "What the hell? Why not?" They were gonna tour and blahblahblah, then the CD comes out, they do 3 shows in the Midwest with Bardo Pond, and that was pretty much it.
     I'd had some other stuff tank before that, so my track record was looking dubious to say the least. By the time Times New Viking entered the fray, I was an executive chef, working mad hours and pretty much hating it. I left that world in May of 2005 and concentrated on getting the label back on track. I wasn't sure what would happen, how the release would do, or what the band would be like to work with; but it's been great on all fronts. Aside from being a kick-ass band, the TNVs are awesome people and hardworking. They gave me the inspiration I needed to get out of the kitchen drudgery, jumpstart the label and get that shit online and to the fans. As you know, there's finally a website, something I never had up till earlier this year. There's also a My Space page and the Siltblog. So far so good. There are some new releases that'll hopefully see the light of day soon from Der TPK, Sapat, Alasehir, as well as a new TNV thing. And a Mike Rep & The Quotas retrospective CD that seems to be forever in the wings.

TB: The worst part of putting out records is that period of time, usually right after you start a label, where you have to beg to get paid from distributors. However, the worst feeling is putting out a record you are totally psyched about, that you are really behind and went through a lot to put out, only to have the band break up right after the record is released. That happened to me with Antennas Erupt. I think many people think that doing a label is "just putting out records" and waiting for the money to roll in. Forget for a moment the fiction that small labels are money machines and concentrate on doing a label as a creative action, as an attempt to put music into some form. I don't want to take away from the bands or treat this more than it is, but you probably know what I am talking about. Your thoughts? Or what goes on in your mind when you are putting together a record?
TL: My experience in local terms has been that people think I'm wasting my money! I used to go out a lot more, see tons of people and, you know, you get the local indie rockers who are all "Why are you putting out shit like Shadow Ring? Put our record out!" They'd be in a band called Mel's Rockpile, so it was a stacked deck. You know what I mean? In their minds it's like "You're a record label. We're a band. What the fuck"?
      I work in a used record store and it's the same mentality. People bring in a box of LPs out of a basement, reeking of mildew and covered in mold. When you tell them "No." they're incredulous. "It says you buy records"....I hear that all the time. So you have to spell it out; "Yes, it says we buy records. It does not say we buy ALL records. We buy records we can resell. This is a business, not a graveyard where old records go to rot." The misguided hometown band....same shit, different day.
     Or people would say "How do you manage, do your records even sell"? Up to a point - and maybe to this day - there were/are local aging hipsters who probably think "That poor misguided fool". If I had a dollar for every time I've tried to describe the machinations of what I do, I'd probably have more money from that than any I made from putting out records.
    I think putting out records is still an exciting process. I've had a couple of disappointments band-wise and sales-wise. The second releases by Yips and Ashtabula tanked. They might have done something if the bands had been active; but they had either broken up or were on some personal hiatus. They're both good CDs, but needed that live injection to show, convince or generate an audience and it never happened.
      I'd expected the Resineaters and 1929 CDs to do better than they did, so whose being naive here? The Times New Viking release has been a blast. Like I said earlier, going in I wasn't sure what I was in for. Was I working with people who couldn't leave town? Was somebody having a baby? Drugs? At the worst I figured I had a killer LP that would sell 500 copies. But, once I got to know them, all the aspersions were cast away.
      That said, for me it's been about the music first. I knew a few of the bands before doing releases, but most, I did not. It's equal levels of trust. It has to be. Your getting master tapes and artwork from New Zealand from someone you've never met, never even talked to on the phone. That says a lot! It was the same with Harry Pussy, Charalambides, Shadow Ring, Sunshine Superscum, A Band - most of the bands I worked with. I didn't know them. Some I still have never met. I just loved what they sent and we worked out terms, usually in product. Some of them wanted to do their own covers. As there is no place that'll print less than 1000 jackets, it became a DIY affair - which is also the way some of the future releases are being handled. I'm going to try and emphasize vinyl. Hopefully it's not too late.
        As for what goes through my mind when putting together a record it's usually "I hope they're ready for this!" I dunno, the playing field has not only been leveled, it's below sea level. I doubt that I'll encounter the same sort of dismay now as I did releasing Harry Pussy, Dead C and Shadow Ring. But that's okay. It's not about the shock value. Until it is.

TB: Oh I know EXACTLY what you are talking about with the box of old moldy records. Try working in a bookstore after Antiques Road Show does an episode on old books! One TV show and all these assholes are more of an expert than me who has done this for 10+ years 365 days a year...And it is the same with bands, too. I've disappointed many friends by not asking them to do a record with me. Nowadays they don't ask. And I now have a policy that I do not put out records by friends. I will become friends with the people I have put out records but there is so much of a chance to fuck up perfectly good friendships over asking a sleeve be redone because it is too grainy or that something needs to be resequeneced because you just don't start a balls to the wall punk album with a ballad. It is so much easier to put out a record than it is to make good friends. With all this and everything else that I've asked you in mind, are there any things you would have done different regarding Siltbreeze or is it a live, learn, move on type of thing?
TL: Not really. Obviously I wish some of the bands/releases had been more successful, but overall I'm pretty satisfied with the way things have gone. I caught shit from people - both bands and fans - regarding our Matador arrangement back in the mid/late 90's, but it was a very valuable learning experience. For some people it worked out; for others it didn't. It was a mess that's for sure, but I don't blame Matador. I honestly think they were trying to do a good thing, but since all the product had to go through WEA, we were in way over our head.
     It was pretty much the reason Dead C and I severed ties. And that's okay, I wasn't and am not grudgeful because of it. In fact, had they given me the s/t double CD that followed their last Siltbreeze release ('Tusk') and expected me to release it, things might have gotten ugly. So if you look at it from that perspective, the M&D (manufacturing and distribution) deal was a good thing, especially for diehard fans of that lugubrious and turgid Dead C double CD. And to think it might never have happened without the Matador deal. To them I say, you are welcome!

TB: You mentioned Siltbreeze's relationship with Matador, which has major label ties. As you noted, it was a controversial decision and I have been told (by others) that it wasn't the happiest pairing. I am not asking you to talk shit about Matador. But I am interested in how that relationship worked, what were the advantages and disadvantages, and what you learned from the experience.
TL: Did I make it seem controversial? Actually in some ways it seemed like a logical step. I think Matador were trying to get us to the "next" level, it's just that the level wasn't ready for what we had to offer. On the surface the relationship was simple: They would manufacture and distribute our product for a small percentage. As they were now part of the Atlantic Group, they had access to ADA, which is an exclusive distributor which gets it's shit everywhere. Great. Except Dead C and Harry Pussy weren't Pavement and Blues Explosion. The numbers pressed were much greater than those that sold - which was the problem.
     Dealing with Matador was easy. Dealing with Atlantic was extremely difficult, virtually impossible and, in the end, that's who we were really working for. The accounting statements we would get were like trying to decipher the Rosetta Stone (that was purposely done). I hired an accountant and it was after the accountant went through it that you'd find out you were being charged for stuff spent by PCP, Teenbeat, Scat, etc. And it happened to all the labels who had the arrangement. Atlantic just seemed to consider us all as one entity. The only label to profit from the deal was Scat because of the Guided by Voices connection, though I'm sure Robert Griffin has some real horror stories he could tell from his Atlantic experience.
     The upside of the thing was that Matador made it possible for us to bring the Dead C over to tour in '95; I was able to procure advances for stuff like paying for Harry Pussy and UN's van for that West Coast tour in '96; Charalambides plane tickets; get money to the Pin Group for that project, etc., You know, it made things easier, it's just that none of it added up to the numbers that a major label expects. When it ended it was gracious, no hard feelings, the stock was sent back. What did I learn? That my basement isn't nearly as big full as it is empty.

TB: It is very apparent nowadays that majors seek to try to incorporate indies into their system, to use them as a farm league, where in the past they would just try to crush them. I think that the majors have largely been successful with this new strategy, so much so that labels are made with being a jumping off point to the majors in mind. Also, there have been brief periods of time (1967 - 1970, 1976 - 1983, 1988 - 1994) when indie labels were a little more than small (and often shadier versions of) majors. Now we seem to be at a point where many indies are little more than small businesses that put out music. Business plans and marketing are more important than the music and a whole industry (CMJ, Pitchfork, various radio station servicers, etc.) have popped up to provide an "indie" infrastructure for the "indie" label business. I think you've seen (and at times been a part of) the whole game. Now that you are back to what I would consider a "hobby" label (or microlabel or music fanatic label - I consider SS a hobby label, so there is no negativity implied with the word hobby), what are your thoughts on all this...
TL:I don't know if you ever did something like a NMS or CMJ panel, but those things were always sort of hilarious and self important to me. Granted, I did sit on a few, but it was more to go to NYC and hangout, see friends who'd come in from all over, than to pontificate about what needs to be done to take the alt/indie universe to the next century.
      Back when I started, CMJ was always very supportive of Siltbreeze. I'm not sure how that translated to sales, but they wrote nice things. Some radio stations too were there from the beginning: WFMU, KFJC, KDVS, KUSF, we always seemed to do well with them. That was probably more important than any publicists or indie service bullshit. I mean, hardly anyone on the label ever toured! So it wasn't like you were gonna get to see them again if you missed them the one time they played in town. To me touring is the best publicity there is.
    I found it depressing to try and send promos to zines by the mid 90's. There really weren't any. Sure, there were some, they came out maybe once a year and tried to review everything that was sent, which was legion. Is was always the same. Do I really care what Mr. X at Y Mag thinks? Is another interview with Gastr Del Sol gonna be as riveting as all the others that preceded it? Sorry, boring! I much prefer subjective criticism than objective ass kissing, but the latter is the rule and almost always has been. You get your promo box from so and so label, are you really gonna trash it, even if it sucks? No, because that box will stop coming. And so will the advertising.
    Things seem exciting again though. There is a lot of crazy shit out there, some of it's good and some of it blows, but it's better than most of what came out in the late 90's. And vinyls hot again, which is always preferable to CDs. And downloading is whatever. (I think there's some Siltbreeze stuff available form Itunes now.) I see hipsters walking around with ipods and I imagine they're listening to the Pixies or Arcade Fire, but it could be Times New Viking or Dead C.
    I'm happy as a "hobby" label. I just wanna see good stuff come out and if it sells 600, great, if it sells, 6000, ditto. With Times New Viking I sent out a bunch of radio promos, a few print ones - mostly online stuff - the response was great. I did send one to Pitchfork for review and after a while I e-mailed to ask if they got it. In response I got an e-mail asking me if I'd like to advertise. I didn't and it never got reviewed. So the more things change, the more they stay the same, don't you think?

TB: HA! Same thing happened to me with Pitchfork and the A Frames. And I agree all that indie service industry bullshit is exactly that. It is where the money is at. Not doing a label but selling these "essential" services to idiots who want to make it big as an indie label and/or band.
     I think the two most interesting people you've dealt with are Jim Shepard and Mike Rep. Shepard is a sound of his own and I don't think has any peer. Rep has got such a great ear and history and he has been around for so long and "keeps it real," as the youngsters would say. Can you tell me a bit about each and your relationship with them?

TL: Wow, it's too bad Jim's not around to hear that! I kind of know what you mean though. It's funny, in some ways they're very much alike - both of 'em big Kim Fowley fans - but when it comes to recording and sound, completely different. My relationship with each of them really started once I got the label up and running. I knew them both, slightly, from back in the early 80's, but we weren't friends or anything.
     Jim I'd contacted first for the V-3 EP. While I was out in Columbus to wrap that up, I ran into Rep and pitched the LP idea to him. I think what I'd wanted was to do maybe a Quotas LP, basically put onto vinyl the cassettes that were on his Old Age/No Age label. But it went from that to a kind of odds and sods thing, which worked much better, I think. It's much more representative of what Mike's about. The front cover on that record...I'm not a fan of, but hey, it's what he wanted and I wasn't going to say no. It's still my least favorite cover art of all the releases on the label, but it's something we can joke about (the back art is.....how do I phrase this...genius!). There again, I think it's Mike's sense of humor at play. Mike is a huge part of the Siltbreeze picture, whether it is working with the Strapping Fieldhands, Yips or Times New Viking, or showing up on short notice to come and play gigs, or showing whomever a good time when they hit Columbus or Harrisburg (where he lives). He's got a great ear and a big heart. It's too bad he's not given the proper, accurate credentials regarding his work on the Propeller LP in the Guided by Voices book (it seems that Jim Greer needs the mascot entry into the Monument Club club, so facts be damned. Besides, there's always the Darby Tavern).
     I think Jim's love of being on the outer periphery was what made him so great and was also his demise. It was always his way or the highway when working with a label, whether it was me, or Thrill Jockey or even Onion. I always gave him space and we worked as a client would work with a contractor; I'd give him x amount of money to get started, x amount when the product was ready to be handed in, and then copies when they were ready. That arrangement was unique to Jim, which was good 'cause I never really had a lot of money to front!
     Jim was also the original DIY artist in Columbus. Three of the four Vertical Slit records he put out he did with his own money, selling his record or book collections to see them finished. So the small editions they were released in were equally about being obscure, but also what he could afford. And then there was Iron Press which he ran, publishing short fiction, poetry, cassettes, a Vertical Slit video, all totally under the radar for the most part. The Forced Exposure piece he and Mike did was really what got him in running as a known entity. It made his presence known to a few hundred that were unaware, I think that's safe to say. I certainly bookmarked it and when I found out about a V-3 cassette few years later, I wrote away for a copy and got one with a very nice letter regarding some memory I mentioned in mine. From there we agreed to do the V-3 7". It was always my lust to do the Lava Lamp cassette as a realized vinyl release, which was the carrot he dangled in front of my face until his death. But I'm gettin ahead.
     'The Wreckage...' LP was something he really wanted to do, something dark and personal, and also, I think, as a sort of homage to Jandek and Charalambides, both of whom he found inspiring. There's a lot of inside jokes on there. For example, the first track - "Incident on Brown Street" - is about the apartment I lived in at the time and specifically a chair he always INSISTED on sleeping in, which had to do with the first time he ever visited. I can't recall exactly, but that chair was his!
      When he did that LP for Onion, that was really the first money he'd ever received from being a recording artist, so I think that made him super hands on, or at least as much as he could be. I do remember stories of him driving the A&R guy as well as the engineer crazy with his ideas and demands on final cut. But that's only fair. That LP didn't do much sales-wise. I think he was disappointed but unbowed. Or so I'd like to believe.
       He had great range when it came to music and knew a lot about all kinds of esoteric and weird stuff, which was also why we worked okay together. He was an amazing guitarist, too, and a band leader. I saw V-3 shows where he literally ran through the set list with the band - which was usually in flux - on the side of the stage before going on, quietly pointing out on his fretboard what would happen, then watching them go out and kill! Amazing, Nobody like him.
     Right before he died he sent me the master for the 'Slit and Pre-Slit' LP, which was the first thing he ever did in 1977, in an edition of 100 LPs. The last time we had talked - a few months before his death - he was telling me how much he wanted to re-release it, but change and delete some of the material. I went ballistic. I told him there was no way he could do that, you know, I ran right into it. He got a kick out of that and I guess when he was getting everything organized at the end, he remembered that and sent the masters to me, seemingly for me to re-release. So hopefully that will see the light one day.
     You are right, a singular guy, no two ways about it. But I don't wanna get into the peers and peerless of the Columbus underground scene. Save that one for the Ron House interview.

Siltbreeze Records here

Siltbreeze Discography (courtesy of Siltbreeze)

SB-1...Halo of Flies: "Richie's Dog (Live)" b/w "Garbage Rock (Live)"/Ballad of Extreme Hate 7" (w/ Halo of Flies: Halo-01, 1989, first ed. of 800 w/
hand-stamped fly and insert, second ed. of 700 w/ printed fly and no insert)
SB-2...Dead C: Helen Said This/Bury (Refutatio Omnium Haeresium) LP (1990, ed. of 700)
SB-3...The Gibson Bros.: "Emulsified" b/w "Broke Down Engine" 7" (1990, ed. of 1000 incl. 100 numbered and printed w/ News of the Whirl sleeves)
SB-4...Monkey 101: "French Feelings" b/w "Now That You Have Left Me" 7" (1991, ed. of 500)
SB-5...V-3: The Earth Muffin 7" (1991, ed. of 500)
SB-6...The Dead C: "Hell Is Now Love" b/w "Bone" 7" (1991, ed. of 1000)
SB-7...Alastair Galbraith: Gaudylight 7" (1991, ed. of 1000)
SB-8...Blue: "Hold on Tight" + 1 7" (unreleased)
SB-9...Sebadoh: Oven Is My Friend 7" (1991, ed. of 1500 incl. 50 promos w/ color covers)
SB-10...Strapping Fieldhands: The Demiurge 7" (1992, first ed. of 500 incl. 100 w/ gold vinyl, second ed. of 400)
SB-11/12...Dead C: Harsh 70s Reality 2LP/CD (1992, first ed. of 1000, 2nd ed. of 500; CD: 1998)
SB-13...Mike Rep and The Quotas: Stupor Hiatus Vol. 2 LP (1992, ed. of 1000)
SB-14...Gate: Prophet Rebel 7" (1992, ed. of 500)
SB-15...Queen Meanie Puss: The Darkling 7" (1992, ed. of 1000)
SB-16...Dead C: Clyma Est Mort LP (1992, first ed. of 350, second ed. of 100)
SB-17...Strapping Fieldhands: "Stacey Donnely" b/w "Aeroplane Ticket" 7" (1992, first ed. of 125 giveaway at live debut, second ed. of 375, all w/ different
SB-18...A-Band: Artex/Alot LP (1993, ed. of 500)
SB-19...Mike Rep and The Quotas: Quit Talking and Start Chalking 7" (1993, numbered first ed. of 500, unnumbered second ed. of 100)
SB-20...Strapping Fieldhands: "Future Pastoral" / "October Kentucky" b/w "Eggs in the Reservoir" / "Ol' Jimmy Cole" 7" (1993, numbered ed. of 500)
SB-21... The Dead C: Trapdoor Fucking Exit CD (w/ Precious Metal: PM-4, 1993, first ed. of 1000, second ed. on Siltbreeze/Matador)
SB-22...Alastair Galbraith: Morse LP (1993, ed. of 1000)
SB-23... Pin Group: 11 Years After 7" (1993, ed. of 1000)
SB-24... Terminals: "Black Creek Burning" b/w "Both Ends Burning" 7" (1993, ed. of 1000)
SB-25...The Dead C: Vs. Sebadoh 7" (1994, ed. of 2000)
SB-26...Charalambides: Union LP (1994, ed. of 500)
SB-27...Harry Pussy: Harry Pussy one-sided LP (1994, ed. of 1000)
SB-28... Guided by Voices: Get Out of My Stations 7"/CD (1994/2003)
SB-29...Temple of Bon Matin: Thunder Feedback Confusion LP (1995)
SB-30...Dead C: The Operation of the Sunne LP (1994, ed. of 12,000)
SB-31...Alan Licht: Sink the Aging Process LP (1994, ed. of 1000)
SB-32...Jim Shepard: Picking through the Wreckage with a Stick LP (1995)
SB-33...Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments: Negative Guest List 7" (1994)
SB-34... Strapping Fieldhands: In the Pineys 10"/CDEP (1994)
SB-35...Shadow Ring: "Tiny Creatures" b/w "Harlequin" 7" (1994)
SB-36... Sam Esh & Hard Black Thing: Montezuma Baby Duck LP (1994)
SB-37...The Shadow Ring: Put the Music in It's Coffin LP (1994)
SB-38...A Handful of Dust: "In the House of Voluntary Poverty" b/w "The Mirror of Simple Souls" 7" (1995)
SB-39... The Strapping Fieldhands: "Neptune's World" b/w "Albacore Heart" 7" (1995)
SB-40... Dead C: The White House LP/CD (1995)
SB-41... Brother JT and Vibrolux: Music for the Other Head CD (1996)
SB-42...The Dead C: Metal Heart 7" (1995)
SB-43...The Yips: "1000% Fox" b/w "9 x 11" 7" (1995)
SB-44...Ashtabula: "Unbearable Lightness" 7" (1996)
SB-45... Brother JT & Vibrolux: "Invocation Pt 1" b/w "Invocation Pt 2" 7" (1996)
SB-46/47...Charalambides: Market Square 2LP (1995)
SB-48...Un: Un LP (1996)
SP-49... Yips: Bonfire in a Dixie Cup LP/CD (1996)
SB-50... Harry Pussy: Ride a Dove CD (1996)
SB-51... Venom P. Stinger: Tearbucketer CD (1996)
SB-52... Various Artists: Tard & Further'd CD (1997)
SB-53...Strapping Fieldhands: Gobs on the Midway CD (1998)
SB-54...Tower Recordings: Furniture Music for Evening Shuttles LP/CD (1998)
SB-55...Sandoz Lab Technicians: Sandoz Lab Technicians LP (1996)
SB-56...Harry Pussy: "Black Ghost" one-sided 7" (1996)
SB-57... Sunshine Superscum: Two Reactions 7" (1996)
SB-58/59...Roy Montgomery: double 7" (1996)
SB-60... Harry Pussy: What Was Music? CD (1996)
SB-61... Un: Transmissions 7" (1996)
SB-62...Bardo Pond: "Tests for New Swords" b/w "Good Friday" 7" (1996)
SB-63... Pin Group: Retrospective CD (1997)
SB-64... Dead C: Tusk CD (1998)
SB-65...Br. JT & Vibrolux: Doomsday Rock! CD (1997)
SB-66...The Dead C: Repent CD (1996)
SB-67...Charalambides: Houston CD (1998)
SB-68... The Yips: The Blue Flannel Bathrobe Butterfly CD (1998)
SB-69...Ashtray Navigations: Use Copenhagen 69 Guitars + Park Drive Circular Effects Pedals Exclusively LP (1998)
SB-70...Witcyst: LP (Unreleased)
SB-71...Bruce Russell: Projects for a Revolution in New York LP (1998)
SB-72...Renderers: A Dream of the Sea CD (1998)
SB-73... Ashtabula: River of Many Dead Fish 12"/CDEP (1999)
SB-74...Richard Youngs LP (Project Rejected)
SB-75... The Shadow Ring: Hold Onto I.D. CD (1998)
SB-76... Alan Licht: Rabbi Sky CD (1999)
SB-77... Vertical Slit: Under the Blood Red Lava Lamp CD (1999)
SB-78...Angus MacLise: The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda CD (1999)
SB-79... Ashtabula: Possible Smokestacks CD (2000)
SB-80... Hall of Fame: Hall of Fame LP/CD (2000)
SB-81...Angus MacLise: Brain Damage in Oklahoma City CD (2000)
SB-82... The Resineators: Don't ___ with the Fantasy CD (2001)
SB-100... 1929: Last But Not Leased CD (2003)
SB-101...Times New Viking: Dig Yourself LP/CD (2005)

Interview by Scott Soriano
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