Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Baker's Dozen #5....Grant McCracken from Bitter Melody Records

I first discovered Bitter Melody Records maybe a year and a half ago when my friends in Discourse put out their first 7” with him. Turns out Grant had already been doing plenty of other oh I dunno, totally kick ass things like re-issuing old Most Precious Blood and Indecision records on vinyl, as well as helping out several bands from his local area. Fast forward to today, he just released a new record for Gut Feeling (ex-Undying), he’s about to unleash the new Manalive 7” on vinyl (which I glowingly reviewed a couple weeks ago), as well as new projects featuring his fellow North Carolinians Muscle & Bone and Old Flings.

And if all that is not enough, dude is also a teacher….it’s always cool for me to discover fellow punk and hardcore kids who have gone on to work in education. Anyway, I’ve never met him in person, but I already feel a weird sort of kinship with Grant (teacher, love of 90’s style hardcore) that I tend to only experience via this community.

Anyway, I have a feeling you are going to be hearing a lot more from Bitter Melody in the future, consider this an introduction.

Describe how you stumbled into the punk and hardcore community. When did you know it was probably going to become a permanent fixture in your life?

It’s a little hard to pinpoint the exact place where I fell into the punk community.  I remember a friend telling me about Black Flag in the sixth grade.  I remember buying Green Day’s “Dookie” on cassette when it came out.  There was always something I was attracted to with punk rock.  The first legit punk show that I went to was Blanks 77 and LES Stitches in 1998.  I wasn’t super into either of those bands but it was the first “show” I went to.  It wasn’t a concert or a stadium event.  And after that show, I knew I wouldn’t give a shit about “concerts” ever again.  NC was a great place for shows then.  We had Pablo’s and then 533 in Winston Salem.  We had Cedar St. house in Greensboro and Boiling Point in Charlotte, and various other clubs.  1998-2000 exposed me to every type of punk and hardcore.  It exposed me to straightedge and animals rights.  It totally shaped my outlook on the world.  I guess I would have to say that I knew it would be an important part of my life after that first show in 1998.  My involvement has ebbed and flowed over the years, and now with the label, it has come full circle.  I spend as much time now at shows as I did when I was 16 and it is as important as it has ever been.

It's always seemed to me like North Carolina (really the Carolinas in general) was a cool microcosm of the hardcore scene. You had Catharsis bringing the super radical political flavor, Undying and PFC bringing the vegan edge, some of the better Christian bands like Hopesfall and Advent, the posi edge with Reinforce and later The First Step, and then down in South Carolina Stretch Armstrong, Prevail, etc. As someone who has no doubt watched all these bands come and go, how would you say the scene in the Carolinas has evolved over the years and where are things at presently?

I wouldn’t consider myself an expert on the NC/SC scene, as my own involvement has ebbed and flowed over the years, but I have been around in some fashion since 1998.  Things seem to evolve regionally, and as show spaces disappear and key people move out of areas they dry up for a little while.  But even in periods where there isn’t a ton going on, there can still great things happening.  Even one person/band can help create a music scene.  Asheville is producing some great bands right now as well as Greensboro and Charlotte.   Growing up, I spent a lot of time in Winston at 533, Charlotte, and Greensboro at house shows.  Now I spend a lot more time in Asheville at shows but Greensboro has been doing great things the last few years too. 

Record stores are also very important to a healthy music scene.  Charlotte has one of the best on the East 
Coast, Lunchbox Records.  And Asheville has Harvest and Static Age.  They are always supportive of what I do and offer a lot of support to the bands in their areas. 

I do think that I came up in a great time in the NC punk scene.  I was exposed to a lot of ideas and politics.  Catharsis, Prayer for Cleansing, and Undying were obviously huge influences on me.  Those ideas have shaped my world view and I still carry them with me.  It’s hard to say where or what I would be without being exposed to those things through the punk scene.  I’d love to see that broad of a spectrum and exchange of ideas and come full circle again.  We need it.

I think good, good things are definitely happening in NC (as far as music goes anyways – don’t get me started about our current sad state in politics).  I am curious to see where it goes from here, but I have hopes that it will continue to grow.

What could have possibly prompted you to think it would be a good idea to start a money pit (record label)?

A label (particularly one that specializes in physical media LPs, tapes, etc.) is without a doubt something that is going to take up a lot of time and money.  I have always been a vinyl nerd.  As a kid, I had records and that just carried on and became more of an obsession as I got into punk rock.  I started this label almost 4 years ago simply because Most Precious Blood’s Merciless had never been pressed on vinyl and I wanted to see that happen.  Indecision and MPB were huge influences on me.  So I contacted Trustkill and worked out the details to press it.  Of course, at the time, I had no idea how or what to do to get that done, besides securing permission/licensing fees.  I talked to anyone who would talk to me to learn how a label should work.  Jacob Bannon at Deathwish, Var at No Idea, and Justin at Underground Communique offered me great advice.  Justin, in particular, was a great help and I’ve called him on multiple occasions to get his advice.  When I started this process, I didn’t have a lot of expenses.  I teach in a public school and have a small apartment, so with no kids and not many bills, I gambled the 2500ish dollars to press it.  It wasn’t so much that I thought it was a good idea, as much as I had a little disposable income and was willing to gamble it. 

Wow, how did I not know you pressed "Merciless" to vinyl, that's my favorite MPB record! Do you have any other ideas for re-presses in the future?

A couple.  I remastered and reissued Indecision’s “Unorthodox” on vinyl a while back.  I’d love to continue with Indecision’s back catalog.  With any luck, I can continue with this in 2014.

There are a couple more records from my youth that never saw a vinyl treatment that I would like to work on too.  I’ve got a few ideas that I’m thinking about for Spring, but I will wait to see what happens with those before I say anything yet.  Fortunately, there’s enough great music being made right now, that I haven’t been thinking as much about represses and reissues.

That rules that you're a teacher, so am I. I have to ask the teacher question, which I also put to Nevin from IFB Records. To what extent do you bring punk and hardcore into the classroom/your relationships with colleagues? I tend to talk about it from time to time with my kids and peers, but if anyone (particularly my co-workers) say they want to come see me band, or if the kids want to hear it, I tend to get nervous and say something like "Uhhhhhh.....I'm not really sure you wanna do that" haha.

I teach in elementary school, which is a very different environment than middle and high school.  I share my love of music with the kids, and if they ask, I will tell them that I listen to punk mostly.  Occasionally, I will play some music in my room, but it is usually pretty tame.  I’ve played them some Old Flings and Muscle & Bone from my catalog but I tend to stay away from hardcore.  I do talk about my choice of veganism and straightedge when it’s appropriate.  Kids will ask me about my favorite foods and why I don’t eat meat every so often. 

With colleagues, I tend to keep it professional.  Many know that I love music and some know that I play occasionally, but I don’t talk about punk and hardcore a lot with them.  Most of them know that I don’t eat meat and that I don’t drink/smoke, but that’s about as far as I go.

I love teaching though.  I’m starting on my ninth year teaching… I think haha.  It’s hard to believe, the time passes so quickly.  It’s always nice to run across other teachers from the punk and hardcore scene.

When you consider signing/working with bands, how do you balance your own personal feelings towards the band and their music with what you see as the potential for the thing to actually sell a few copies and for you to recoup your money? Which generally takes precedence?

I have to keep money in mind.  I wish I was financially secure enough to press any and everything that I want, but without a doubt, my own personal feelings toward the band (as individuals and as a band) take total precedent.  I’m not going to put out anything that you won’t find me listening to in my car.  That said, recouping the money for pressing is a concern that I have to think about.  Touring is important.  If a band is not touring then a record is not going to do as well.  I try to run a self-sustaining label; I don’t care about making a profit.  If it happens, it happens, but that isn’t my goal.  It’s nice when one project can carry the weight of another project that might not do as well.  

What gets you more stoked…..getting YOUR copies of a record in from the plant, or hearing the BANDS reaction to getting THEIR records from the plant?

That’s usually when the anxiety of the project actually sets in for me.  Yes, it’s exciting to finally see it finished, but seeing 500 records in my living room is a little panic inducing.  I usually think, “Holy shit.  I hope I can sell these.”  Haha.  It’s great to see the project come together and I love it when the band is as stoked about the final outcome as me. 

In your experiences, what are the best places to press vinyl/get your jackets and inserts printed, and what are the worst places? Why?

I love Dave at Lucky Lacquers, for lacquer cutting.  He’s passionate about what he does and he always does a killer job. 

For printed material, Imprint, Solid MFG, and Econopress can’t be beat.  They all do great work and will go out of their way to help you.

For vinyl, I really haven’t used too many different places.  Rainbo does solid work and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.  I just wish they had some more options with vinyl colors and customization.  I have used United once and they did a great job on that project. 

I haven’t had any really bad experiences in manufacturing.  Everywhere is slow and vinyl will take a long time to come together.  I like to press in the US and I don’t have any plans of doing any of my pressing through any of the foreign plants. 

Your fairy god mother grants your wish and you get to put out a split with any two bands on the planet. Who shares the wax and why?

This is a hard question.  Like my label, my taste is all over the place.

The Weakerthans and Lucero would be a killer split.  The Weakerthans took Lucero out on tour once and it was such an amazing show.  They are two of my absolute favorite bands and you don’t find much better songwriters than Ben Nichols and John Samson.

I’d also love to see a Ke$ha and Taylor Swift split.  

Talk about the most frustrating and the most rewarding things about running a label.

The absolute most rewarding part of the label for me has been the people.  I’m coming up on four years doing the label and I have made so many connections and friends all over the world because of the music.  Some of the closest people in my life right now are a direct result of Bitter Melody.   I have had immeasurable fun going out with Old Flings on East Coast runs, and met some of the raddest people.  I will hop in the van with any of the bands I’ve worked with any day.  The second most rewarding part has been working with my friends and their bands and seeing them get recognition and move to that next step.  Shipping my NC/SC friends’ LPs to someone in Russia or Turkey is crazy to me.

The most frustrating part is dealing with myself. Haha.  I’m a little/a lot OCD when it comes to the process.  I feel like I have to make everything perfect.  I listen to mixes, masters, lacquers, test presses, and final presses until they drive me crazy.  I proof layouts and text until I get a headache.  It’s stressful.  I worry about whether or not the world will think this project I’ve spent so much time and money on is as awesome as I think it is.  I really want the best for the bands I work with, and I really want to get them the exposure that I think they deserve. 

For people who are considering jumping in and starting a label, what’s the one essential piece of advice you would give them?

Don’t spend money that you can’t afford to lose.  It’s expensive and there are no guarantees that you will see a return on your money - no matter how awesome you think the band is.  Tapes can be a great starter if you want to do something that isn’t as big of a financial commitment as vinyl.

And besides that, just put out music you love.  That way, even if it doesn’t sell well, you will feel a little bit better about the whole thing. 

Obviously you love every record you put out or you wouldn’t spend thousands of dollars on them, but let’s be real here, what’s the one record from your catalog that you listen to the most/that has the most value for you and why?

That’s a difficult question because there are different types of value and what I listen to the most changes.  The record that I have worked on that has the most meaning to me is probably Indecision’s “Unorthodox”.  That record changed my life when it came out, so being able to remaster it from the original tapes and give it a nice layout/package was awesome. 

Currently, I am listening to Oddczar’s “One Word” a lot.  It is such a solid record from some of the best dudes.  I listened to Old Flings’ “Spite” for a year solid, I think, and I have been listening to Old Flings’ new songs nonstop, as well.  They are just getting better and better.

On the theme “Baker’s Dozen”, what do you have cooking for the rest of 2013 and into early 2014? Give us a virtual taste of what we can expect from you.

I’ve got several irons in the fire right now.  We are repressing Discourse’s first 7” and upgrading the packaging.   Old Flings’ “Spite” is going to be due for a third press very soon, too.

For new projects, I am working on Manalive’s “No Profit in Suicide”.  We have the tapes for that now, and the vinyl should be available this Fall.  Manalive notably features Amit Sharma (Mother Night), Brian Meehan (Kill Your Idols, Milhouse, Celebrity Murders), Chris Ross (Ensign, Nora, Rain On The Parade), and Nate Gluck (Vision, Ensign, For The Love Of…, The Fire Still Burns). They play hardcore in the vein of Deadguy, Strife, and Indecision. It's loud, heavy, and pissed off.

I just sent off the masters for the Old Flings / Fake Boys split 7”.  I think this 7” is one of the most solid splits that I’ve ever heard.  It’s going to blow people away.  It’s two of my absolute favorite bands.

I also have things in the works from Muscle & Bone, and hopefully something new from Gut Feeling and 
TN’s Sundale in the next year.  I would also love to see a pressing of the Family Cat record that I released on tape earlier this year.

I’ve got some other things in mind for Spring 2014, but nothing is nailed down just yet, so I will keep a lid on those things for now.

Thanks for the interview.  As I said before, the people I have met because of the label have been the best part.  Hopefully our paths will cross again soon.  If you are ever down this way, make sure to hit me up.  

 For all things Bitter Melody: http://www.bittermelodyrecords.com/

No comments:

Post a Comment