Pairing the word “industry” with the word “music” was probably the worst thing to happen to it. When music becomes a business, it can stifle creativity and lead to reheated pop garbage, void of any real substance.
That’s where Midwest Action’s newest series, Indie Label Spotlight, comes in. We’re not here to bitch about the record industry and explain how major labels are ruining music. Instead, we’re here to talk about the independent labels that are doing things right.
In this edition we talked with Pat Sullivan of Tall Pat Records home to some of Chicago’s best rock acts including Flesh Panthers, Hollow Mountain, Dumpster Babies, The Rubs, Negative Scanner, and more.
What were drinking when you convinced Dumpster Babies to let you put out their record and start up Tall Pat Records?
Old Style. I like PBR as much as the next guy, but when I’m at a gig I prefer a bottle in my hand. Makes rock’n out easier. So when I’m at the Empty Bottle I drink Old Style (said directly to the camera).
Did it take you some time to gain ground as a label or were things doing well from the start?
Define “gain ground”. I’m still not sure if I’ve really “gained” ground as a label, judging by the stacks of records sitting in my apartment. For the most part I’ve been playing the long game. I’ve got a pretty busy a day job which keeps me from spending all my time on music, and leads itself to a slower approach. I’ve watched a lot of labels start up over the years, and it was all about building a catalog, Bill Roe (of Trouble in Mind) told me that the first thing to do was establish a solid back catalogue so that people would take you seriously. Its hard to get momentum when you’ve just got one release! As far as were I’m at now; this thing is gonna be like Big Star. The world wont take no head until after I’m done. Then everyone will say they were there; like fucking Woodstock. So better buy the records now so your not a dirty liar in the future.
Where’d the slogan “No Weak Pits” come from? Have you come across any pits that weren’t strong enough for you?
“No Weak Pits” comes from perhaps the finest double act in history, Scharpling and Wurster. If you don’t know them, I wrote a thing for the reader about the genius of The Best Show (their radio program) and Scharpling & Wurster. The motto is a reference to “Hammerhead”, the king of the Newbridge, NJ hardcore scene. Its an all time classic call that everyone should listen to right now, top five funniest things I’ve ever heard. Newbridge Hardcore For Life.
More then that its a way of thinking. A weak pit occurs when you’ve got squares standing around refusing to get down to the rock’n’roll sounds cuz its not “blog approved” or some shit. Its our duty as propionates of Strong Pits to give those fuckers the Newbridge Nudge with our elbows. Further more, weak pits can be caused by drunk folks going at it too hard. They also need to have the Nudge laid upon their skulls. A strong pit features a mix of genders, heights, sizes and so on, throwing down as hard as they can, making that o-so-rare human contact that only comes from the mosh pit. It should be an inclusive act of violent self-expression. Few things in life feel as good as releasing the raw energy that good rock’n’roll inspires. A Solid Pit for that brief moment channels all that into a feeling of rage and community. No Weak Pits man. No Weak Pits.
You seem to have the market cornered on great garage rock bands, how did you end up with such a solid roster after only a few years in the record label game?
Well, I just go with what I’m into, which just happens to be cream of the Rock and Roll crop in the city. All of my success is thanks to my impeccable taste in music. I don’t go for none of that crapy 80s power pop or barbershop shit. I’m a bit of a puritan about rock’n’roll music; just read Ian Svenonius’s book “The Psychic Soviet”, that’ll help. Rock’n’Roll aint so much a music form as a political statement; and “Garage Rock” as people have called whats going on these days is the core essence of the genre. Don’t get me wrong I love me some post-hardcore and wish more of that was going on, but all truly great rock’n’roll comes at the listener as an assault. Its goal should be to shake things up, to remind people that there is another, different and often better, way to live ones life. Thats where the whole DIY revolution comes in man. I wrote my college thesis on the organizational development of DIY culture so I take this fairly seriously. Well that and partying. Its allowed to be both at once.
The other secret is that I go to a lot shows, hangout, and generally be cool. Bands like working with the label because I’m up front with stuff. If there’s a delay, they know whats going on. If something fucks up, they know. I don’t keep people in the dark. Transparency helps keep everyone happy. But mostly, I’d say its thanks to just having superior musical taste.
You’re a part of the BOCRL (or the “Benevolent Order of Chicago Record Labels” for long) how did that come about? Do you think there is enough room in this city for all these DIY labels without things getting competitive?
I actually started up BOCRL after talking to Robyn Chang (of Gary Records) and Joe Montanaro (of the Rubs/Why Pick On Me) as a way to try and compete with some of the bigger guys around town. It had been an idea that I’d had for a while, which mostly came out of a lack of resources and knowledge. Its not like anyone’s going to get a small business loan and turn in to SubPop! So we might as well join forces and work together to put Chicago on the map. I ended up sitting down with Joe, Robyn, and Nathan Johnson (Randy Records/The Yolks) and we plotted how to get something like this working. After that we’ve added a handful of folks, from Dumpster Tapes to Max Pelt to Already Dead, and others. We’re trying to keep things thing going without growing to fast and having it flame out.
What really makes it all work is the sheer number of quality bands in the city. There are enough bands in town that everyones got more than enough to work with, and bands have a lot of options when it comes to getting stuff out into the world. I wish I could put out everything, but my wallet aint that deep! So better to work together then compete. Plus its some type of secret society/union thing that I’m into. More, I cannot say.
Do you think you could run a successful label in another city or is there something special about Chicago’s music scene?
Yeah I could do this elsewhere. I got really involved in the San Jose scene when I was in college, falling in with the Asian Man Records people. I’ve always been a big fan of the San Diego scene, being involved in the Swami Records scene. I’m a rock’n’roller and no matter where I end up, I’ll strike out and find my peoples. But the Chicago scene, for my money, as some of the best rock’n’roll going right now. Music is in a weird place right now. there’s almost too much of it for the average dumb-as-nails consumer to figure out. Thats probably why shit like Mac DeSucko sells. From where I sit, I’d say we’re in for a mid-80s indie label renaissance. People need someone to organize the onslaught of sounds for them! Chicago is leading the way with labels; from HoZac, Trouble in Mind, & Numero to us smaller guys; this is the city where people are telling you want’s really hip, and doing so with their blood and treasure.
What local acts are you listening to these days?
I’m biased towards the stuff i’m working on, so at the moment i’m deep in to the stuff i’m tracking and mastering. So lots of Dumpster Babies, Glyders, Jollys, and Clearance is getting air time. Beyond that lets walk into the PatCave. I’m into the following right now:
- Pussy Galore “Dial M For Motherfucker” (Caroline)
- Tenement “Brused Music” (Grave Mistakes/Toxic Top Records)
- Radioactivity “Silent Kill” (Dirtnap)
- Flesh Lights “Free Your Self” (12XU)
- Heroin “S/T” (Gravity)
- Unwound “Challenge to a Civilized Society” (Kill Rock Stars)
- Buck Biloxi and the Fucks “Streets of Rage” (HoZac)
- Negative Scanner “S/T” (Trouble In Mind)
- Kira “Here I Am, I Always Am” (M’Lady’s)
- Thee Headcoats “The Good Times Are Killing Me” (M’Lady’s)
- Rocket From The Crypt “UK Tour Collection” (Swami)
- Honor Roll “The Pretty Song” (Eskimo/No Core)
Any upcoming releases you’re excited about?
Man if there’s something I’m NOT excited about its not coming out. So everything, no putting out stuff half-harted for this guy. I’m keeping some stuff close to the chest but 2016 is starting to take shape and i’m pretty stoked.
How tall ARE you?
6’6”. Yes I did used to play basketball. No was I wasn’t very good.