Monday, September 22, 2008

Don't Go Away Mad, Gerard Cosloy

So the other day at the Sonic Youth Message Board, the discussion of the band signing to Matador started; now, i'm not really for or against any label, but i'm not into label worship or (undeserving) label hatred; that is, i don't love or hate labels, i like and dislike bands left and right, plus there's good years for any label and years that are not that good. People who automatically are into an artist because they are signed to a certain label seems myopic to me and it's something that gets on my nerves.

After someone pointed out that the label had released stuff by Cat Power, Bardo Pond, Cornelius, Guitar Wolf, Guided By Voices, Mission Of Burma, Pavement and Pussy Galore among others (pretty much all of which i agree are most excellent, i would also add Yo La Tengo and Belle & Sebastian), not to mention all the distro they do for smaller and/or international labels; i made the following remark:

Yeah, but they also have Love Of Diagrams, Lavender Diamond (granted, they only had an amazing EP i love dearly but the full lenght was awful), Mogwai who have gone pretty much downhill in my opinion since Rock Action, Brightback Smelly Hippie or whatever they're called, the New Pornographers, and i mean bands who are active.

The only one right now you mentioned that's still in the label is Cat Power (*of course, then i forgot to mention YLT, B&S, as well as Times New Viking).

Fuckers also dropped Bardo Pond (They didn't sell records, eh? NO SHIT!! You should have known that ever since you first listened to them!).

Anyhoo, independently of my personal feelings towards Matador, no label is god. Matador, Geffen, same shit for Sonic Youth.

(And don't get me the 'creative freedom' thing, Thurston is just goofing around as always...having released A Thousand Leaves, NYC Ghosts & Flowers and Murray Street on a major is pretty much the most freedom any band has enjoyed in a major since the 70's).
Now, this item was brought to my attention recently, and so to pinpoint it's relevance, i'll quote the part that concerns us:

We’ve been chit-chatting for a while now about adding a feature to the Matablog specifically devoted to a former Matador band and/or old moment from the label’s history, and such a move is long overdue. It just so happens this notion came up again a day or two after some rocket scientist posted on the Sonic Youth.com message board that Matador was a big heap o’ crud because we “dropped Bardo Pond.” Listen pal, unless your name is Darren Mock or Barry Hogan, you can fuck off. We put out 4 Bardo Pond albums and did the very best we could. Seriously, the web is Blame The Label Central. How about blaming some of the fans who aren’t interesting, attractive, charismatic or funny enough to get anyone to check out their favorite bands?*
...
(* - we do genuinely believe the majority of Matador record buyers are extremely interesting, attractive, charismatic and funny. Especially when they are giving us money. Even when they’re griping on message boards)

I never said that Matador was a crap label and that Sonic Youth shouldn’t sign with them, nor did i ever said that the big meanie label was destroying artists; that’s besides the point even.

Any full time label does decisions, good and bad, for it’s own sake of business survival, that’s a fact; that’s why, to the eyes of artists and fans, sometimes they make “bad choices” we don’t agree with, and there’s periods when rosters change and staff gets drafted and the label gets re-structured, and some feel the “sound” of said label is lost or that the quality of the bands has dropped (all relative as taste is personal), that’s why no label is perfect. Not SST, not Atlantic, not Motown, not Drag City.

Labels bring the business side to the music, they are the ones putting the money to produce the records and they are the ones who take them to the shops (or to another company that takes them to the shops); a label isn’t a creative entity by nature unless they actually participate in the creative process of the writing and recording of the sound material and, more often than not, when the label actually gets their hands in the way of this process, the results are bad. A label head could be an artist, but then he’s being creative as an artist, not as a label; artwork and graphic design is also not a function of the label but a part of it.

I’m not decrying “sellout” or indie/punk purity, labels have a very important purpose and, yes, it has to do with money, which is a good thing when done right. Yet labels aren’t to be followed or admired just as bands since they are a mean and not an end, that’s why i think label worship is stupid. I might admire the conviction of a label (Crass, Industrial and Dischord, to name a few), their business strategies and their rosters, but never to the point of buying a shirt or favour them over a band since it’s not a creative entity giving us feelings and sounds like artists do; labels are the way in which we receive those feelings and sounds.

Trying to do “the very best you could” to “help” Bardo Pond (or any band like that) is a defeating point for an independent label, since the whole point of independent and underground music is about having a way other than that of big business and mass culture. Artists like that are made to stay underground since they are not built for everyone to like; if not, i’m sure Bardo would be playing something more palatable and not long psychedelic dirges. There’s, of course, other artists who are playing music that can be liked by more people if they get a fair push, like you know quite well having Interpol, The New Pornographers and Cat Power on your label, to name a few. Making a band “as big as Interpol” isn’t the only meaning of “success” (by the way, why are you referring to Bardo Pond in past tense?).

So, i want to clarify:

1) I don't think Matador is "a big heap o’ crud", i also don't believe it is the absolute paradise of labels; no label is either, at least not forever if it's a real label and not a one-off part time operation or a boutique kind of deal.

2) Concerning Bardo Pond, it was great that you released four albums by them and backed them all the while they were on the label; my point was, they are not a radio band, not a singles band, not a band that sells tons of records; they weren't when you signed them and they didn't become one by their fourth album with you, you should have realized that. I (myself personally) think that a band like BP are more a band that has their fans who support them but won't become the next big indie craze leaders; i feel like Bardo Pond benefits from a label that supports them while not expecting sky-rocketing sales. Of course, businesswise, that might not have been possible and some decisions had to be made.

Gerard, while you invited me to "fuck off"; i, in turn, would like to interview you so you can explain to me and others how you have handled two very successful labels (i write for about four music publications here in Mexico plus another one from the UK, i'm sure any of them would be delighted to print the interview). You can contact me by sending me a private message through the SY Board if you like to or through here.

Sincerely,

Marcos Hassan.

2 comments:

Gerard Cosloy said...

Marcos,

if you would like to interview me, you can send any questions you like to gerard@matadorrecords.com and I will do my best to answer them.

The matador blog post was meant to be in fun and I do not seriously want you to fuck off. Or even start buying records you don't like. We released Bardo Pond records not because we were trying to turn them into "media darlings" (sorry if I am misquoting you), but because we liked the band and wanted more people to hear them. That's a messy process sometimes, but I have no bad feelings about the way we treated Bardo Pond and no bad feelings towards them whatsoever.

As far as a band like Bardo Pond being "made to stay underground", I think we will have to respectfully disagree. Without turning into rock star jerks, I believe Bardo Pond are similar to most of the bands we've worked with --- they wanna do what they do with a minimum of interference, they wanna be paid for their work and they have great respect for the intelligence of the audience. But very few of them actually define themselves as "underground".

"Making a band 'as big as Interpol' isn’t the only meaning of 'success'"

I couldn't agree more. Again, the blog post was coming from a particularly sarcastic point of view (ie. mine) and was not intended as a genuine attack on you or your values ---- even if you inspired the post :)

thanks
GC

A. Ranna said...

Gerard is a hypocritical douche.