Since more than ten years Slovenly is one of the finest record labels in the fields of punk, garage and psych. Peter answered my questions.
When and why did you start releasing records? Tell us the story of how Slovenly Records started.
I put out my first record in 1994 after the sticker business (Sticker Guy!) started to take off and I found myself with a four-digit bank balance for the first time. That was a 7" by a band from Oakland that had played a gig in our basement. We used to put on tons of shows for bands from all over the place.
Tell us about your previous 702 label.
That was my first label, which wasn't terribly focused. I basically just released anything I liked, regardless of the style, and also records by people I liked -- by friends. I decided to start Slovenly in order to create a label with a more distinct sound.
Are you running Slovenly on your own? Do you have many helpers?
Slovenly is now run by the Thing With Two Heads (Bazooka Joe & wife Christine) in Pennsylvania, and myself. Oihane Follones is sending many of our orders from the Wowsville Recordshop in Berlin, and a few other people scattered about the globe help out sporadically. I intend to expand our workforce in the next year.
Did you model your label after a specific label and which bands had a influence on Slovenly Records?
Back in 2002 when I started Slovenly, I was following labels like Crypt, In the Red, Estrus, and Get Hip pretty closely. So you could say they were big influences, but I wouldn't say that we've modeled ourselves after anyone else. The label is influenced and shaped by its bands, and I would say that some of the most influential bands are THE SPITS, ACID BABY JESUS, and WAU & LOS ARRRGHS!!! These three bands also happen to represent our various sounds: punk rock, psych punk, and garage punk. It's all punk.
What is the highest selling record ever that Slovenly released? Is it importnant to have some hot sellers to release new and unknown bands?
SPITS #2 (the one with the Wheelchair) is our best-selling record, and YES it's definitely important to have records that are in high demand in order to release unknown artists. A shop or distributor might take a few copies of the new band's record along with their restock order, whereas only the most specialized shops will take the time and the risk to pick up strictly unknown stuff.
Which role play commercial considerations when you release a record?
Commercial considerations don't influence whether or not we'll release a record. If we think it's great, we'll press it. But if we're not sure it will sell well, we'll probably press fewer copies.
You seem to release a lot of bands from Europe. Why are you so well networked here?
I got bored with the USA in around 2000 and decided to move to Naples, Italy, which is very close to my mother's hometown. She moved from Italy to the USA with my grandparents when she was 12 years old. So I lived in Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands, and have toured all over Europe extensively (with Spits, Davila666, Scared of Chaka, and tons of other bands).
So you are familiar with both the US and the European punk scene. Are there any differences?
Definitely! It's one of the reasons I got bored with the USA. Over there, your band is just another band and is treated accordingly, until your band becomes famous, and then everyone licks your ass. In Europe, you are treated like an artist from the beginning, and then if you become famous, things don't change as much. Conditions in general are better in Europe. But for the bigger bands, conditions become better in the USA. I like small stages and dislike asslicking, so I prefer Europe.
You’ve recently released a 7“ by the German band P.U.F.F.. How did you get in contact with them? Which other German bands do you like?
Dale from Bikes/Hellshovel put me in touch with PUFF. I like the Mommy Boys... and I like Itty M... they did a split 7" together that's pretty great. Modern Pets are cool. Everyone tells me I would like Bikes... gotta give them a listen!
What's your opinion about limited preorder copies, limited coloured vinyl, exclusive club releases and stuff like that?
I've always disliked exclusive collector scum shit like that, and that's why we've almost never done it. I try to keep the prices of our records as low as possible. Then again, people seem to like it, and there are too many records these days, so it's cool to make them special. I'm looking into a way to start numbering our releases.
Most garage bands are not politically motivated - at first glance at least. What’s your opinion about political bands? Do you think the garage scene should be more political?
I used to be into politics & music, but nowadays I prefer them separate. I don't mind when a band has a song or two on their album that makes a political statement, of course. When it's done well it can make an album more important, more meaningful. But I definitely don't encourage our bands to be political in their music. I do encourage them to sing in their own language, but my reasons for that are more artistic than political.
Why do you think bands should sing in their native language?
For a few reasons. For one, it sets them apart from other bands from around the world. I mean, if a punk band is made up of four Italian guys (for example) and they sing in English, they're a punk band from Italy. But if they sing even just a few songs in Italian, they're an Italian punk band. I think most people from outside of Europe are more interested in Italian punk bands. There definitely were a lot of great ones in the late 70s & 80s. Just listen to Killed By Death Italia for some proof. Also because a lot of my friends who sing in English can't speak it very well... so what the fuck? I mean, I speak Italian & Spanish, but not very well, and I'm pretty sure if I wrote a song in either of those languages, the lyrics would be laughable. Someone who actually agrees with me (it doesn't seem like many do, haha) put it like this: if you had to write a poem (for some godawful reason), in what language would you try to write it? Probably your own. Good lyrics are poetry in a way, so it makes sense. Of course there are exceptions to what I'm saying... like some European friends who have grown up bilingual and are excellent lyricists, also in English. And like a lot of our bands, which aren't poetic at all, and that's how we like them. But I still wish they would all do a track or two in their own language. I have a lot of European friends who have learned English partly from music... from singing along to their favorite songs. I know a little bit of Greek because of Komodina3... I think that's kinda cool. Maybe I was spooked by reading Orwell's 1984 and seeing the film Idiocracy (both in which all languages are extinct and only a dumbed-down version English remains)...
Your records are distributed in Germany through the Wowsville Record Store in Berlin. How did you get in contact with them?
Actually Slovenly is distributed in Germany by Cargo Records in Wuppertal. We now have two mailorders: one for the USA, and one for the rest of the world. German postal rates are pretty great -- it costs 9 euros to send an LP from Amsterdam to Berlin, but only 3,45 to send it back. (!) It's actually cheaper to send an LP from Germany to Canada than from the USA. I've known Alberto since he was in New York City & Wowsville was only a recordshop. And I met Oihane at the Primitive Festival in Rotterdam, and then again at Sounds that Swing in London. And both of them again and again at festivals in Spain, and etc. We've been friends for years already, so when I realized we could offer lower postage costs to people all over the world, it was a no-brainer to shut down the Amsterdam mailorder and move it to Wowsville.
Tell us more about your distribution. Do you prefer to distribute the records on your own or do you work with big distributors?
I prefer to work with distributors actually, so that I can focus on the more creative aspects of the label, and on promoting our bands and releases. And also on DIY distribution to countries that don't have distributors (like Brazil, for example).
What is the most frustrating thing about releasing records?
Seeing inferior records sell better because Pitchfork gave it a high mark. Noticing that people in our scene give a fuck what Pitchfork thinks even though, for them, the top records of the year are by fuckin Vampire Weekend & Kanye West. These artists have nothing to do with punk rock. It's also extremely frustrating when our own artists don't respect our agreement. We don't do contracts, but we've got the same agreement with all of our bands. We work hard for all of our bands, and some of them turn out to be fuckin' ingrates. That's more than frustrating -- it's depressing.
Pitchfork is also a strong factor, why garage music got more popular in the last couple of years. Back in the 90s garage was raw and dirty, but today many garage bands make more concessions to mainstream music. What’s your opinion about this development?
Very well said. I think all of these so-called "garage" and "psych" bands are a bunch of fucking asslicking pussies and wish they would disappear. Or, get the fuck out of our scene. Of course they should play whatever music they want, but maybe they can come up with some other term to describe themselves? Because let's face it: most of the crap they're calling "psych" and featuring in all of these festivals that are popping up everywhere is really just stoner rock with effects pedals. I don't even know what "garage" means anymore. That's why I try to be clear about our sound: garage punk, psych punk, and punk rock. It's all punk... various flavors.
What do you prefer: printed fanzines or digital music journalism and blogs?
I miss printed fanzines for sure, but there was a moment when (like records) there were too many of them. I think it's better now with the web -- as long as we have both. Maybe bands will begin to follow this trend and make fewer records... keep recording and publishing music digitally, but only press the best to vinyl. Because there are too many records out there...
Imagine you had a time machine and you had the chance to put out all sorts of records that ever came out. Which five records would you choose?
some modern stuff that comes to mind that came out after I started making records
KING KHAN & BBQ SHOW first album, THE SPITS - IV, TOTAL CONTROL "Henge Beat", everything by USELESS EATERS, anything by TEENGENERATE and of course I would love to have released THE RAMONES, THE MONKS, MISFITS, KISS, LOS SAICOS, LOS YORKS, LOS YETIS, BUZZCOCKS, UNDERTONES, THE BOYS, THE SAINTS, etc etc etc
What’s your advice to people who want to start a label?
Be aware that you are digging yourself a giant hole... you'll spend a lot of time digging it, you'll dump loads of cash into it, and the dirt that comes out of the hole will pile up in the form of boxes of records, so you'd better rent yourself a storage unit. On a more positive note, most records do eventually sell out -- it just might take 10 years. So you might not want to get into this unless you're sure you want to do it for a long time. My other bit of advice would be to take your time, and get it right before you make the record. Try to avoid putting out records in a rush. Spend the extra time and money on recording, mixing, and mastering the audio properly. Make the extra effort to make the packaging more interesting and original. There are too many records out there these days. Quantity is not quality. Quality is what will get your record noticed, and the attention it may deserve.
Any last words?