Thursday 21 November 2013

20 Questions w/ Eolian Empire Records


Having reviewed a number of unhinged and uncategorisable records from the Eolian Empire roster this year,  I thought it was about time we talked to the guys behind the label and who have been responsible for releasing this handpicked filthy goodness.  As well as running the label, the label founders  are also part of the excellent band Rabbits, whom we have reviewed and interviewed too. 
So continuing on the theme of interviewing, small underground record labels, I happy to bring you the lowdown on all things EE.  So enjoy. 

SL) Josh, (Eolian Empire) How are you?  I appreciate you taking the time to talk to talk to us, here at the Sludgelord. Kudos to you, as I am are big fan of what you’re doing at Eolian Empire and your support of underground music.

EE) We're doing pretty well.  Everyone is really busy with work and the label and Rabbits are a lot of work right now too, so we're a bit maxed out.  But the label and band are doing really well, so the work is rewarding.

SL) Where are you up to at the moment and what are you doing in terms of the label? Honduran, Diesto, Dead, Drunk Dad, Arabrot/Rabbits split, you’ve had a busy year, you’ve come back in style, all killer release (we reviewed them all), you must be stoked?

EE) Yeah, we are totally stoked.  We approached all the bands and just let them know we were into what they do and wanted to a do a record for them, no questions asked.  All these Eolian bands past and present kill live, so we just tell them to do what they do and let us know if they need any help.  So as we were getting these records we were like "Holy shit!  This one is sick too!"  These are the bands we love seeing play, so it was great that they were all able to put together these great records. The same with the comp too.

Lately we've been preparing for a Rabbits tape release that'll be out soon, and also the Redneck tape--its solo harsh noise from our friend who also has a killer live show.  And we're also keeping up with all the bands we'll be putting out records for next year (I see the question about next year is a little later), to make sure everything's getting done so we can firm up our schedule.  And we'll be launching a side label called Rat Planet to do more experimental stuff and put out side projects from our friends.  Eolian has always been focused on supporting live acts, so we want to maintain that mission, but Rat Planet will give us a venue to fuck around a bit more.

SL) I have spoken with other cool guys about their labels, to get the lowdown on the grass roots of how their labels started.  For those people who are not familiar with you or your label, could you tell us a little about yourself, your label and why you decided to start Eolian Empire ? It is your opportunity to tell the world about your label? 

EE)  Sure.  Our friend Daniel Abell started the label to put out the first record we ever did, a split 12-inch with Daniel's band Under Mountains.  Daniel soon became the "Fourth Rabbit" as our roaddog/confidant/partner-in-crime, so we all became great friends.  He moved to LA a few years ago to do film work, and he left the label with Seth.  Seth kept talking about getting it going again.  I've dealt with a lot of labels, know a bunch of people that run or ran labels, and done enough of the work that it would be a lot of work and may not last, so at first I thought he was crazy, but I eventually decided I wanted to do it too.  Daniel's focus was always on more out-there bands, usually pretty heavy, so we're continuing that.  Our mission is to put out records by great live artists that do heavy and weird stuff that's outside of the mainstream.  It's also a way to bring together a diverse bunch of people together to support each other. 

SL) What made you reactivate the label?

EE) We all grew up in the hardcore scene through the 90s, so we saw what bands and people lasted or stuck it out or whatever.  And a lot of people our age, around 40, they moved into mellower scenes or into music industry jobs or out of music altogether.  We're still really into old hardcore and a lot of the ideas that people had about supporting each other.  We saw Eolian as a support structure for some of the weirder or harsher bands and as a way to help them with whatever experience we have.  And we've had dealt with bigger labels, so we've seen how they do things too.  We're working on giving artists the best of both worlds, DIY ideals and production mixed with the parts of the new media machine we can get access too and without fools of ourselves or our bands.

SL) You’re a music fans first and foremost.   Given that music seems to be so disposal at times, is their more importance to offer a great package to your fans now as previously in the past, given the emergence of digital age.  What is the ethos behind what you’re trying to do with the label?  (My view is quality at a affordable price)

EE) Yes, definitely.  I'm not going to get into analog vs. digital argument, but we like the packaging, we like getting something that you can tell someone made by hand, seeing the effort that went into it.  I know some people don't care about that, but just like the music, what we're doing is not for everyone.  There are already plenty of labels and bands that do everything the same way.  And, yes, much like Dischord, we know how much records and CDs cost to make, and we price them reasonably, especially considering how much work goes into these with screen printing and assembling.  And we make stuff that doesn't translate digitally like paper textures, die cuts, clear prints. 

SL) What / if any bands may have inspired you to start the label or was their a specific reason you felt you wanted to support the bands you have for example?

EE) Seth had this Drunk Dad CDR that they made years ago, and he kept talking about putting out a cassette of it and start doing Eolian as a tape release.  And towards the end of last year they were just crushing every time we saw them.  Honduran was the same, just the sickest shows every time we saw them and Jason's old band Slam Dunk had a record on Eolian--I actually met Jason then because I recorded that record. Big Black Cloud was a band that Kevin (the drummer from Rabbits) kept telling me about, and when Seth and I told him we were starting up the label he told me they had a record done but were about to give up on it because no one was going to put it out.  So we heard it and were like, "Fuck, this is great."  And we talked to Diesto too, Relapse let us repress Lower Forms, and we lined up that split with Arabrot.  Plus the comp tape, which was the first new release.  Oh, actually the Rabbits flexi postcard was the first release, and we just called it an Eolian release so as not to have to make up a label name.  Anyway, it was over the course of a few months that we put together this roster of releases, and we were pretty confidant we had a good plan for the next year.

SL)  Is there a specific person or persons that you looked up to in terms of modelling your label upon?

EE) For sure.  Like I mentioned, Dischord was always a huge deal to us.  I grew up on the East Coast, so I got to see a lot of those early Dischord bands.  Touch and Go was always cool too.  Am Rep.  Gravity in San Diego was another one.  My old bands put out some records on Gravity and they were always had great art and were hand-screened, and Matt A. would often record the records he put out too.

SL) In your experience, how easy/difficult has been to get coverage for your releases?  I’m guessing press coverage does help, but does that necessarily translate to selling units?

EE) The press coverage does translate to selling units.  We've been fortunate to able to employ some really top notch independent PR people for very reasonable prices.  There is no doubt that it helps.  But ultimately the bands sell many more records at shows than we sell via mail, and that's what we're counting on.  We have a great distro too, but they also sell a fraction of what the bands sell.  That said, we are off to a really good start just 8 or 9 months into the Eolian reboot.  Thanks to the bands we're already building up a reputation as putting out great records by bands most people have never heard about, and we're definitely seeing people come back to buy each release, which is really cool.

SL) What do you look for in band, in order for you to get involved in releasing their music?

EE) Great live band is number one because for us that's what it's all about.  If they can get a fraction of how good they are live onto record we'll be happy.  We also like the bands to reasonably have their shit together and seem like they're going to stick around for awhile so they can play shows and go on tour.  And we like to hang out with them.  These are first and foremost our friends.  We pretty much see or talk to someone in one of Eolian bands every day.  Everyone goes to each others shows, works together, drinks together.  One big somewhat unhappy family, but we express our unhappiness through music so we can have fun hanging out.

SL) Based on your own experience, what do you think is the most important thing for a new label to do in order to promote themselves?

EE) Right now I cannot deny the importance of a good PR person if you want to see some immediate results.  But I'd have to say that putting out really good records is the most important.  The way we look at this press stuff is that it's an experiment: we're willing to deal with it as much as it doesn't annoy us or the bands too bad and that it actually helps sell records.

SL) A particular frustration of mine and most fans of music is the cost of postage, as this cost is often above and beyond the cost of the product.   What are some of the difficulties/frustrations of running a label, because there are many other commitments such as family, work etc that perhaps restrict the amount of time you can dedicate to the band?  Not to mention the financial pressure? 

EE) Yeah, the international postage thing is nuts.  We're working on getting some more international distro.  The label does take a lot of work; even though we knew it was going to be a lot of work it's still way more than we expected.  But we get some help from other people.  It does cost a lot of money to run a labor.  Right now I'm lucky enough to have a very good job to help out with the start-up costs for pressings.  It's like anything else, you balance your time as best as you can and sometimes just get drunk instead.

SL) How valuable are blogs and social media? What are your thoughts on changes in the industry over recent years in terms digital versus CD/Vinyl? Some label perhaps do not advocate including DD codes for example?

EE) The blogs and social media seem helpful.  We see orders come in when reviews or announcements get posted by us or someone else.  We like records and tapes.  I have a stack of CDs too.  I don't listen to music on my computer often, so I don't have a great take on the whole thing.  It seems like CDs are on the way out, and we didn't sell many Lower Forms CDs compared to LPs, so we're not going to make them.  We include download codes. Some people use them, some don't, but we make them ourselves and use Bandcamp for the codes so they are cheap to include.  I've downloaded many less than ten records ever.

SL) Is there a massive cost in terms of signing the band, manufacturing the music and the promoting it?  Is running a label sustainable financially and can you make a living do it?
EE) We make our livings doing other things.  For now we are pricing things for us to break even and the bands to make a little money by buying records from us wholesale.  We don't sign bands, we just put out records.  We just offer to cover mastering, manufacturing, and promotion, then we split any profits 50/50 after we recoup our costs.

SL) Given that you have a number of releases under your belt, how do you measure the success of future releases, are you reliant on selling all of the record to release the next one?
EE) A lot of questions about money!  We're still experimenting.  The bands are happy, so SUCCESS!

SL) Some label place a significant importance on the releases having a sense of being a collectable, with Standard and Die Hard Editions.   What do you feel is the significance of releasing such a packages ?

EE) Seth collects some of that stuff, I used to years ago.  We for the most part make all the records in the pressing identical, all black vinyl so far, and they are not numbered.  A few of them have different inserts.

SL) If you could have released any record past or present, what would it be and why?

EE) We're happy with the ones we've put out.

SL) Has there been any bands you wanted to work with but for whatever reason it did not happen?

EE) Not yet.

SL) What are your thoughts about free legal downloads (I am referring to bandcamp) and the difference between buying a physical copy? Is that helpful to you?

EE) We sell some digital copies through Bandcamp, so that's a benefit.  I don't see any benefit to giving away music for free.

SL).   What are your plans for the rest of the year and 2014? Any exciting releases to keep our eyes on? 

EE) Yes, indeed.  January, February, and March releases will be full-lengths from ultra heavy no wave bass-drum duo Towers, sludged-out marijuanauts Prizehog, and proggy krautrock dynamic double drum-and-samples duo Hot Victory.  Plus a 12-inch from a pretty well sludge-doom band that relocated to Portland recently.

SL) Thanks for answering my questions, but one final question, you got anything you like to say to people who buy your records?

EE) Thank you for buying our records.  By buying records from us you are supporting working musicians that take what they do very seriously.  And no doubt they will spend any money they make on booze and drugs.

 Words and Interview by : Aaron Pickford
Thanks to Josh from Eolian Empire for taking the time to answer my questions.  Check out some of our reviews by hitting these links and see why we think their artists are worth checking out.

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