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December 08, 1994 - Image 17

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The Michigan Daily, 1994-12-08

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The Michigan Daily - Weekend etc. - Thursday, December 8, 1994 - 7

* Independent Reptiles
and the real world

By TED WATTS
In the wilds of Minnesota, Minne-
apolis to be exact, there lives a record
label. That record label's name is Am-
phetamine Reptile Records, or AmRep
forshort.
With its logo of those words super-
imposed over the word "noise" in big
letters being borne on some of the best
indie sounds around today, AmRep is
fine place to examine them there inde-
pendent labels.
"It basically just started as a label to
put out my own band's stuff, nothing
more than pretty much straight vanity
pressing," explained Tom Hazelmyer,
head of AmRep and guitarist and vo-
calist for the now disintegrated Halo of
Flies. "Itjust started snowballing. Did
another friend's band early on, the
Thrown Ups, which were like the
Mudhoney guys before Mudhoney was
around. Then we started getting tapes
from the three or four things we had
out. Got a couple things from there. It
,ust started snowballing. We were
strictly seven inches early on."
And while it has moved up to tapes
and even compact discs, AmRep has
not turned its back on vinyl. "It's pretty
much becoming a lost cause, but I'll
stay in those trenches until we're over-
run," said Hazelmyer. They have even
done special vinyl releases for the
Melvins and Helmet. "At that point,
the majors had killed vinyl as couple of
sears prior. We still had a good rela-
tionship with (Helmet), and they real-
ized that the major was not going to be
doing any vinyl, soit was a'Why don't
wedoit9' kindofthing."Thereleaseof
"Meantime" was not all that
groundbreaking, but the fact that the
"Betty" vinyl release contains three
bonus tracks not available on tape or
CD demonstrates the usefulness of the

indie to the fan.
But connections to the majors are
not necessarily positive for Haze. "With
few exceptions, we've become good
friends with our bands. We obviously
believe in ourbands so (seeing them go
to major labels) is not something we
want to see happen. I would rather
continue working with them than see
them go over to that realm."
He also feels the bigger companies
can't give as much to the bands. "You
watch some indie labels get so large,
they just lose their soul. You're not
personal friends with the bands any-
more, you don't give a shit if it grows
to that size. And that's the biggest thing
about people talking about major la-
bels that seems to be missing. That's
their biggest drawback, that they're a
corporation. You may be friends with
one or two people there, but Joe Blow
in accounting doesn't know you from
shit and couldn't care less. That atmo-
sphere never exists here."
The personal work that goes into
the output certainly shows in things
like the AmRep "Dope, Guns and
Fucking in the Streets" series of com-
pilation vinyl singles. Presenting great
artists from both the label's stable
(Cows, Helmet and Helios Creed
among others) and cool bands from
other places (Boredoms, Tad,
Superchunk and the Jesus Lizard to
name a few), the DGF's show just how
high compilations can climb in terms
of content, even if the name is a bit hard
to explain to yourmom. And that'snot
even mentioning the syringes, dildos
and condoms that are featured as the
cover art.
"It was never suppossed to be a
series. It was going to be a one off
single for a friend of mine's fanzine
and that's why we crammed four bands

Tom Hazelmyer, head honcho of Amphetamine Reptile Records, is seen here a few years ago in his band Halo of Flies.

on there. Man that was a long time ago.
And then his fanzine never happened.
I was sitting on a box of 500 singles for
four or five months and finally said
'Geez Mike, I'm sorry but fuck ya."So
I ended up just making a sleeve for it
and slapping it out. I don't think that
magazine ever did come out," remi-
nisced Hazelmyer.
Relatedly, a whole mess of AmRep
bands were featured on a Sub Pop
double Single of the Month called
"Smells Like Smoked Sausage." "Early
on in the 'Dope' series I set some
ground rules, which were no repeat
bands. Those on 'Smells Like Smoked

Sausage' were all AmRep bands that
had already done 'Dope' tracks. Itjust
made sense since Sub Pop was talking
to a big chunck of the bands about
doing individual singles, and so why
not do it in one shot."
How can this small indie label have
such a fine output, while majors with
greater resources might not? "You get
to do what the hell you want," ex-
plained Haze. "Commercial aspects are
never really a big consideration be-
cause you can run without budgets, per
se. There's a lot more flexibility. A
major would never do four fifths of
what we pull off because of the money.

If we get a demo in the mail and it
really blows us away we'll crank out
a single for shits and giggles. A major
would have to send them to a studio
for $100,000, start the $70,000 ad
campaign rolling, and the radio, and
the $40,000 video. This is a whole
nother mentality ... The major draw-
back is the money, too, heh heh. Like
when you're trying to balance the
checkbook and pay for printing on
this or what bill gets paid."
But the financial ups and downs of
indie workings are taking their tolls.
"It's starting to look pretty grim out
there. I'd be surprised if it's going to

be as healthy as it was five years ago
five years from now, by a long shot.
The harsh part is that the whole indie
network, if it's not being swallowed
up, is being shoved out. The mom and
pop store network is definitely taking a
beating right now, which does not bode
well for indie labels, since we're not
going to be pushing our shit in
Musicland any day soon. The bigger
chains, someone like Tower, would
never have called us up back when we
were doing 500 singles. It was the mom
and pop stores that did it."
Let's all work towards surprising
Hazelmyer.

Independent record labels booming as listeners flock to low-hype bands

INDIES

Continued from page 1
the right moves. They don't make
poor decisions, though." Touch and
Go's roster of bands, which currently
*ncludes Seam, the Jesus Lizard, the
Mekons, Steve Albini's Shellac and
Detroit natives Mule, "get personal
contact with all of us," Conde as-
sured. "They know they can come in
to sit down and talk to Corey (Rusk,
the label's founder)."
Touch and Go, like Matador and
Sub Pop, is a larger indie, and it car-
ries with it the same advantages. "We
*re well-staffed in promotions and
sales. As far as indies go, we've got
all the bases covered," said Conde
confidently.
With the promise of honest and
approachable label management, not
to mention a more advantageous profit
split and much-desired indie credibil-
ity, why do many bands still sign with
the majors? Conde offered, "There's
lways the temptation of making a
wetter living. I know for a fact that
some bands on Touch and Go still
have to work day jobs. Because of the
nature of the business, the machine,

there's only so far we can take them.
It takes a lot of money to get mass
exposure, money that indies don't
have."
Matador managed this problem
by forging a joint relationship with
major Atlantic, which more popular
musicians like Phair, the Fall and Yo
LaTengohave utilized.Orr explained,
"Matador still calls the shots, but those
artists are taking advantage of what
Atlantic has to offer as well." This
advantage can result in greater mass
media exposure for Matador's artists
along with a bigger paycheck.
Big money, however, is far from
reach for many artists who take the
initiative to start their own labels.
"We make $200 a month," said Jenny
Toomey, lead singer for the Wash-
ington, D.C.-area band Tsunami and
co-founder of Simple Machines
Records. She sighed, "Itpays the rent."
Toomey and partner / bandmate
Thompson run Simple Machines out
of their house, releasing recordings
by her own band and friends like
moody folk duo Ida. Stated Toomey
proudly, "During 'Working Holiday'
(an impressively rostered Simple
Machines compilation now available)
we put together 36,000 seven-inches

in our living room."
Toomey and pal Brad Sigal began
the label in 1989 as a mail-order cata-
logue. She recalled, "We'd recorded
a bunch of songs, and they weren't in
the style of the more established la-
bels so I didn't think we'd have a
chance of getting asked to be on those.
So we decided to do it ourselves."
Thompson stepped in after Sigal's
departure six months later and be-
came Toomey's legal partner. Re-
membered Thompson, "When I actu-
ally met people our age who were
putting out records on their own I
realized that this was something al-
most anyone can do. There are a lot of
people in this area who are doing it
themselves, even on a huge scale like
Fugazi (lead singer Ian MacKaye runs
the ferociously independent Dischord)
and Minor Threat."
Toomey and Thompson quickly

learned that operating their own label
gave them complete mastery over all
aspects of the projects they released,
including their own. Elaborated Th-
ompson, "You have control over how
many records you press, what they
look like, where they get sold. It's a
direct line between the band and their
listeners."
It hasn't been easy for anyone,
though. Toomey said, "Two days a
week I work at Kinko's from mid-
night to 8 a.m. I wake up at three and
start working (at the label) again."
Thompson handles much of the art
and computer business herself. Two
other paid employees and two "shiny-
faced interns with bands," as Toomey
describes them, keep Simple Ma-
chines running smoothly on a tight
budget. Commented Thompson,
"Jenny and I have each put in about
$1500 of our own money, total. But

printing posters and CD covers alone
costs a lot."
Simple Machines does receive oc-
casional financial support from
Dischord to help cover costs. Ex-
plained Thompson, "Dischord loans
us money for the big LPs that we'd
never have enough to pay in advance
for. We pay them back right away, as
soon as we've sold enough to cover

it." That attitude among area indies
results in a flourishing local scene.
It's an enviable situation, one
which major labels and even the big
indies must envy. Still, as they gain
more popularity and power, the ques-
tion remains whether indies will re-
ally come out and play with the big
boys - and whether indie purists will
stand for it.

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