Thank you Werner at Toten Schwan!
001 – PROBABLY FOR THE MOST PART, THE READERS DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT YOUR LABEL. WILL YOU PLEASE TELL US SOMETHING THAT COULD HELP US TO JOIN THE UNIVERSE OF SUITCASE RECORDS?
Suitcase Recordings started as a cassette label in Knoxville TN in 1987. I had some odds and ends that I’d recorded over a period of about 5 years. Also, my friend Tom Cox (tac) had some material he had been working on. From there, things expanded quickly as I made contact with other labels and artists around the world through postal mail that had a similar approach (DIY, noise, electronic, electro-acoustic, etc). By the 90’s there was a flood of tape labels….some really good, some very low quality. I aligned myself with artists that I felt were producing top quality content. Through RRRecords and underground music Zines like ND Magazine, Electronic Cottage, etc, I was able to connect with a slew of creative people – artists from labels like Selektion, Schimpfluch, Petri Supply, Korm Plastics etc. Communication was slow by mail, but it was a special process. At that same time, I began a series of live events – starting with The Hafler Trio/Phauss/Zbigniew Karkowski (1990) and ending with John Duncan (2000). After a long hiatus, Suitcase resurfaced as a CD label in 2008. We are now producing vinyl only and primarily will be releasing material by newer artists going forward. Hopefully more live shows will be coming soon…
002 – WATCHING YOUR SITE AND EXPECIALLY YOUR RELEASES, YOU GIVE A PERSONAL TOUCH ON YOUR ARTICLES FOR THE PACKAGING. IS THIS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS OF YOUR WORK? DO YOU LIKE TO CREATE UNIQUE ITEMS?
I think visual presentation for sound work is very important. With the earlier releases, the packages were handmade out of necessity. For those particular projects, the original artwork was tied in closely with the sounds. In terms of texture and feel, the images couldn’t be reproduced with conventional printing anyway so we used silkscreens, collage, painting, objects, booklets etc. There were two record labels in particular that opened my eyes to what could be done in terms of complimentary visuals – DYS (Mnemonists/Biota) and Petri Supply (Incubator/Yeast Culture). This challenged me to take this concept to the next level. I started a working relationship with Abo (Yeast Culture) to develop the packages for the CD era of suitcase. We had a strong affinity and empathy in relation to design aesthetics that carried over well to the end results. The idea for the compilations was that they would be viewed as a whole work (audio and visual) and not just a collection of individual contributions. In a sense, I created those compilations as my own release and created them from the components I requested/received from the artists. I still work this way now. As much as I would love to continue to produce releases with handmade original art pieces, it just isn’t practical anymore. It’s now possible to produce more professional looking releases that still show a respect for the importance of the visual impact. I was lucky enough to find Emma Gineering here in Atlanta to execute the designs – she is able to translate my ideas and still add her own personal touch to make an interesting package. We are on the same page as far as aesthetics are concerned.
003 – TODAY IN EUROPE THE MP3 ATTACK IS CLOSE TO WIN THE WAR AGAINST THE VINYL. IN THE STATES WHAT IS THE SITUATION? DOES THE VINYL STILL RESIST AND HAVE SOME CHANCES TO WIN IN THE END?
It seems that there is a renewed interest in the physical formats (tapes, LPs) in the U.S., but now it’s almost to the point of overkill. Record Store Day certainly helped to revive interest and spending, but there is so much garbage out there now. It was a great idea, but the Major record labels are (once again) making it difficult for Independents to even compete. This past RSD was so overrun with Major Label releases, that many of the Independent projects were pushed back until weeks (sometimes months) later. This defeats the purpose, to say the least.
Anyway, I suppose Downloads are still doing well here, though I’m probably the wrong person to ask. Personally, I don’t really like downloads/MP3s as a format. It has nothing to do with the “quality” of the sound…I just prefer a more sensory experience (physical). Digital media to me seems “disposable”, though I don’t know why…You could argue that all music/art is disposable, I suppose. However, If there is an artist I particularly like that has a “download only” release, I will still sometimes cave in and buy it. It seems like most artists/bands have a BandCamp site or similar to sell the MP3s, so they must be doing ok with it. It’s a necessary evil I guess. I should probably try to exploit this format more for the label, now that you mention it. I’ve had several people ask…
004 – YOU PUT OUT SOME INTERESTING RECORDS, EACH ONE DIFFERENT FROM THE PREVIOUS. THERE’S SOMETHING THAT AT FIRST LOOK WE CAN’T SEE THAT CONNECTS ALL YOUR PRODUCTIONS?
In my mind, all of the artists are connected…but I’m not sure how obvious this is on the surface. With, the older releases…clearly the music was very much from the same network/channels. When I started production again after a long break, the entire purpose was to make the obscure early cassette releases available again with improved quality. Also, the first vinyl (Magnetic Stripper “Extended Play-r” 7 inch) was my friend Jim Ellis. Jim and I go back to the pre-Suitcase days in Tennessee. We had an electronic/experimental combo called Absolute Ceiling. He’s been in San Francisco for a long time now and he just approached me with putting the record out. To me, it’s a modern approach to “vintage” sounds.
The “new” Suitcase will focus entirely on new musicians/artists and will be vinyl only. I ran across Primeval Genius through a mutual friend on Facebook (John Zewizz of SleepChamber). This may seem an odd choice for Suitcase, but Laura Genius has a very original approach that caught my ear immediately. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but after repeated listening- it seemed that she was onto something unique. Hard to define…post-punk, no wave, neo gothic…I’m not really sure but it seemed that she had the right spirit. The record turned out really well I think, but it was a complicated/painful birth…
Shortly thereafter, I ran across Fe<Male Fou (once again, on Facebook). As much as everyone trashes Facebook for being the corporate privacy invasion monster that they are…it is still possible to connect with people all over the world with very specific/similar interests through social media. Long story short, I’d emailed her about her cassettes. Fe approached me about releasing something…after listening, I was blown away. Some influences come to mind immediately, but again she is channeling in a completely original way. I’m particularly excited about this one…should be out in about 2 months…”Old” tools used in a new way. You will be hearing a lot more about her in the near future.
A long winded way of answering your question....but, yes, there is a thread that connects the releases...though it’s probably invisible to anyone but me.
005 – WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ABOUT THE FREE DOWNLOAD ATTITUDE, AND WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE INTERNET DEVELOPMENT FOR MUSIC IN THIS CENTURY?
Difficult questions. It all boils down to “value”. I can see the benefit of giving things away to spread awareness, for promotion. On the other hand, if you give it away…then you have basically stated that it has no worth. It’s the old conundrum of being an “artist” versus being a “business person”. Some can sell truly inferior product for ridiculous amounts of money, while others give away unique and original work for nothing. There has to be a happy medium somewhere in between. Some people have been quite successful selling downloads with ”direct to fan marketing” which is now possible with the use of the internet. Kickstarter (and other similar fund raising platforms) have been used with phenomenal results. This has changed the balance of power considerably in terms of financial success with music.
Certainly the Internet has negative aspects. Besides creating a virtual “black hole” in terms of people’s “use” of their time, there is the very real invasion of privacy. As far as music is concerned, several points can be made. There is so much of an “immediate gratification” factor with the internet, that it has radically changed the way people consume music. Back to “disposability”. There is no way to absorb the sheer volume of information that is available. Yes, it’s great to find rare music, videos, etc posted online. But it’s a very different experience than having to sift, search and investigate in the way that was necessary in the pre-internet era. Today there is an issue with attention span. That said, you can’t deny the power of being able to connect with people worldwide. The “new era” of suitcase is a testament to this power.
006 – WHAT MUST AN ARTIST HAVE IF HE/SHE WANTS TO SIGN A DEAL WITH SUITCASE RECORDS?
Again, a tough question. Really, I had no aspirations of putting out any new music until I ran across Primeval Genius and Fe<Male Fou. I’d reached a stopping point with abstract/experimental/noise. There is so much out there and I wasn’t hearing much from people that didn’t already have a label/distribution that really caught my ear. I’m always open to hear new things. I get fairly frequent requests for producing new (and sometimes old) material. It’s all down to my personal taste which changes from day to day. Hard to say…really. I’m always excited to hear new things even if I don’t particularly like it.
007 – WE’RE ITALIAN. WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT OUR COUNTRY’S UNDERGROUND MUSIC? HAVE YOU EVER HEARD SOMEONE IN PARTICULAR THAT HIT YOUR EARS?
My first exposure to Italian underground music would probably have to be the compilation album “Nice Tracks” on the Nice Label (1983). It was packaged with the TG “Mission is Terminated” record and came with magazine “Red Ronnie’s Bazar 3”. Mostly electronic, new wave, avant pop… really interesting though with tracks from Confusional Quartet, XX Century Zorro, Skizo, Monofonic Orchestra, Neon, Cigaro, etc. I think most of them were Italian if not all. I soon heard the Italian legends – Maurizio Bianchi, Giancarlo & Massimo Toniutti (really good). Also, Vittore Baroni and his Trax label back in the cassette days. I know Atrax Morgue is a favorite there in Italy…I’ve heard a few of his things as well.
I’ve always been fascinated with Italy and have wanted to go there for quite some time. Fortunately, I was able to come to Rome about a month ago and it was amazing. I hope to come back very soon. I don’t know much about newer Italian underground music, but I’ve seen/heard a few new things. Definitely a dark slant…lots of metal it seems. I look forward to seeing and hearing more. You have suggestions?
008 – ARE YOU A ONE MAN ARMY WHO HAS CHARGED HIMSELF ONLY TO DO ALL THE WORK OR YOU’VE GOT SOMEONE WHO HELPS YOU WITH SUITCASE? CAN WE SAY THAT YOU HAVE AN ORGANIZATION CHART?
Back in the early days I did everything myself. The artwork, mastering, duplication, etc. It wasn’t until “Paper & Plastic” that I enlisted help with production. After months of postal mail communication, I convinced Abo of Yeast Culture to work with me. Abo’s work is brilliant – truly unique. Fetishistic and detailed to the extreme. Sensory overload. With the newer releases, of course I work with the excellent Emma Gineering (graphics) and Michael Graves at Osiris Studio (for the mastering). In addition to Forensic Audio services, Mike is a Grammy Award winning sound restoration/mastering engineer. I’ve learned to surround myself with talented people who are much better with these tasks than I am.
009 – WE PROMOTE SELF PRODUCTION AS A ETHICAL WAY TO BE. YOUR OPINION ABOUT OUR “OLD STYLE” WAY OF THINKING? WE’RE OLD GUYS WHICH STILL ARE INTO 80’S AND 90’S DO IT YOURSELF MOVEMENT, PLEASE DON’T BLAME US.
Absolutely. The DIY spirit still persists with Suitcase, though I’m not opposed to reaching a larger audience and expanding beyond a very small genre specific group of people. The 80’s/90’s DIY ethic has already reached a much wider acceptance than it once had – largely due to the internet and a younger generation that have discovered more adventurous/non-conformist forms of expression in sound/art/literature. Indeed there is a need to push the extremes in terms of what is acceptable. The only trap that exists in this realm of pure “underground” forms is the inevitable trend towards appealing to such a small group of people (who will easily accept those extremes) that it goes largely unnoticed by anyone else outside those groups. Preaching to the choir…perpetuating the “anti” stance is nothing new.
It’s difficult to produce much of anything that shocks or offends in this day and age, but once you’ve reached a certain level of offensiveness that the public at large (or “society”) finds too much or over the top to accept – you’ve immediately limited yourself to the possibility of any real change in people’s thinking/openness towards any new ideas in music/art etc. What was offensive 30 years ago is now common fodder for reality television. But there are still certain thresholds of extremes that will never be publicly accepted. There is perhaps still a need to push the extremes/go too far, but this attitude almost becomes a caricature of itself. A parody. So many “artists” are hell bent on remaining “underground”. If that’s what you strive for, it’s easy to achieve. Suitcase strives to be “overground” for the moment and expand levels of acceptance in a subtle/subversive way. A much more challenging/difficult task in my mind. Ideally, the projects will push the needle a bit and nudge the boundaries at least in small increments. I try to present the ideas in a more easily digestable framework. Edging closer to a wider acceptance by more people so the next level is within reach (whatever that means). Anyway, the minute anyone starts a music/video label, music group, posts their work online or starts a website of any kind, they’ve already sold out...
010 – LAST BUT NOT THE LEAST, WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE COLLABORATIONS BETWEEN LABELS FROM DIFFERENT COUNTRIES? SOME DAYS AGO WE RELEASED A CO-PRODUCTION WITH AN AUSTRALIAN LABEL. WE PROMOTE AND SELL THE RECORD IN EUROPE AND THE DO THE SAME THING IN AUSTRALIA. HAVE YOU EVER DONE SOMETHING LIKE THAT? DO YOU LIKE THE IDEA?
Definitely a great concept. An effective idea that has been utilized in the past (with tape/vinyl/cd labels) but has not been explored often enough recently. I’ve entertained the idea with US based labels (specifically Blossoming Noise here in Atlanta recently- which didn’t pan out), but I’ve never been approached by any foreign labels. I’m certainly open to it…
There are a couple of archival projects set to be released in the near future through a suitcase sub-label. First up will be a Magnetic Stripper LP (his first recording) which is a co-production with Jim Ellis. Also, I hope to someday release a tac (Tom Cox) boxset. Though he no longer records new material, I have a huge archive of Tom’s prolific output. His work is truly phenomenal and needs to be seen/heard by a wider audience.
I’m always looking for new sounds/artists as well and hope to have more young blood flowing through the label soon…