Nevin from IFB is an awesome guy who runs one of the best d.i.y. labels and distros around. He caught my attention a few years back when he started releasing records for Cloud Rat and Old Soul, two of Michigan’s best bands who also happen to include some of our very finest people. A little while later I started checking out his distro, only to discover that is stuffed to the gills with some of the best international hardcore, screamo, grind, crust, post-rock, etc.; all at the cheapest prices you’re going to find anywhere.
Nevin doesn’t have much of an internet presence; no Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, any of that, just a simple website where if you want to buy any of his stuff, you have to actually send him an email and communicate one on one. He also relies a lot on trading (thus the distro) to get his records out there. All in all, the way he runs things harkens back to an earlier time where punk and hardcore really were about community, interaction, and building friendships.
I really respect the fact that he is able to run his label in such a fashion, and do it in a way that sees the label thriving. Oh yeah, he is a teacher to boot! Anyway, enough of my rambling, read on!
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?
I came to punk through metal. It went from Metallica and Megadeth to Sepultura and Fudge Tunnel and I started getting into some of the politics I'd hear (mostly from the Sepultura). And then I bought the Napalm Death - Scum tape because it was the coolest looking tape at the store, and was not ready for that. I still can't get into it. I wasn't that raw yet, and guess I never will be. Anyway, I was constantly drawn to the underground for some reason - looking at the thanks lists and trying to check out bands I didn't see at the store etc. I became aware of Lookout/Fat/Revelation/Victory etc. at some point and bought a few of those releases, but got into DIY punk from this dude who did a distro out of a backpack downtown. He carried stuff from Ebullition, and that sealed the deal. When I got that Downcast LP I think that would be when I was hooked on the DIY underground - so much passion and so much to say and think about - it was overwhelming but it was probably the best turn my life could have taken.
I’m glad you mentioned Ebullition because one of the things I really appreciate about IFB is you really seem to be carrying the torch of a label like them in terms of d.i.y. packaging, having a big distro, being more political, etc. It seems like in a lot of respects the scene (broadly speaking) has become more "professionalized" so to speak and certainly less political for the most part. As a person who has been around for quite a while, what do you attribute this shift to?
Ebullition was definitely a big inspiration for me - I modeled my website off of them in terms of just having a list (though I add small descriptions) rather than a "web-store" with PayPal buttons and zillions of pages to load just to scan through the distro. I don't like that format myself, so I didn't want to replicate it. Anyway, I deplore the professionalization of punk in terms of "professional" business ideas and models. We all love a great looking record that's well recorded and looks great, and that's not what I'm talking about - more the change to capitalist style marketing of limiting things, hyping them up, over the top advertising. In terms of advertising, I would rather see label ads in zines etc. that show the releases and have little blurbs about them or something, not ads imploring you to act fast or you'll miss out, or how limited it is, or how it's the best thing in the world. Just relax a bit - it's punk, and it rules on its own, and all that glitz and bullshit just ruins it. I can buy a Rihanna CD if I want all that nonsense. I don't think I will though. I think the cause of all this is that HC/punk is more mainstream in that it's much easier to find and more widely available. Nobody has to read thanks lists of bigger bands and play hit and miss to find more underground bands. This ease and availability makes it less of a die-hard club and attracts people that don't really understand or care about any of the larger ideas of punk or DIY. That would be my guess anyway. With all cultural changes, though, I'm sure there are 1,000 other factors at work.
What could have possibly prompted you to think it would be a good idea to start a money pit (record label)?
I really just started it because I wanted to release stuff from my bands (When All Else Fails, and Jiyuna at the time in 1998). I had already fallen in love with the whole DIY ideal, and was buying emo and HC records and loved the handmade packaging aspect of it, so we just did it. I actually never lost money on the label overall - I'm very organized with stuff like that, and we would usually sell enough of one release to make back the money, and then drop it on another release. It went that way for years, until I really started doing the distro and selling used records and trading releases. Then I was able to generate more money and kind of get ahead. At this point I only have to put my own money into the label if I say yes to too many things at once. I don't ever take any money out of the label, so it just kind of goes on with its own financing at this point.
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?
If I like a band, I will release it without thinking of sales. The fact that the label money is not my money probably helps in that calculus because I'm not putting myself out or relying on the label to pay for anything. I have a pretty wide array of labels that I trade with, so by selling some, trading some, and hoping the band buys more for tours etc., I usually make the money back. I do lose money on some releases, but it gets evened out by others that sell well and repress, and the used records that I do. I really only think about sales figures when considering how many copies to press. I try to get a sense of how much touring will be going on with the band and if they're known at all and then decide how many to make. Lately I'm doing a lot more split releases which really helps with each label being able to take fewer copies - it kind of spreads the record around instantly and makes it less of a financial burden for each label.
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?
I get the most satisfaction out of making the packaging actually rather than the record. When that first screen-print comes out and it looks great, I really love that feeling. the 500th screen-print elicits a different feeling, but that initial sense of "this looks great" is really nice. I'm lucky to have my friend Joe (www.fmprintcorps.com) who does professional screen-printing to help prepare my screens. I just do the grunt work.
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've been very lucky with pressing plants - I've used a number of different ones over the years and have never had a problem. I pick pressing plants for different reasons - I usually use Archer and United. I do a lot of Michigan bands and Archer is in Detroit, so lots of times the band can pick them up themselves which saves lots of shipping money. United has always been good to me, but won't press a record with samples. I've used Rainbow a couple times since they had a deal going with Lucky Lacquers and he did some of my lacquers for a while. As far as printing goes, I do all the screen-printing - any pro printed covers were done as split releases, so I didn't handle that part. There's a great local printer in town that does my inserts/orders paper for me. He pretty much does it at cost and is an awesome guy. He was somewhat of an activist in the 60's from what I gather, so I think he likes the stuff that I'm doing, not because he likes hardcore, but that it’s counter-cultural and artistic, and that's much more interesting than the lawn service and real estate ads which probably constitute the bulk of his business.
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?
Christie Front Drive and Left for Dead? Makes no sense, but those are two very influential bands to me in totally different areas. I have ripped off CFD's drums big time, and ripped off LFD's riffs for the beginning of Merkit. Both rule.
Talk about the most frustrating and the most rewarding things about running a label.
The most rewarding is certainly all the friendships you make. After doing this for so many years, I know people all around the world - booking tours is so nice because there are people all over I already have relationships with and don't have to rely on random unknown contacts. Also, getting to meet those people (especially overseas) is really rewarding. Doing the label really makes me feel plugged into this massive international scene. I don't really have any frustrating parts of the label. There are tasks that I don't really enjoy - mostly typing up the records onto the website, and updating the website/blog. I don't enjoy the internet oriented tasks, but they do help because after I spend all that time making an update email, I send it out and then start to get orders and feedback, and that's the more rewarding part. I guess it’s like painting a room, where the prep work and painting sucks, but then you look at it and like the way it turned out.
For people who are considering jumping in and starting a label, what’s the one essential piece of advice you would give them?
Do a distro as well as a label - this allows you to enter the world of trading records, which allows you to form relationships with other labels and kind of plug into the larger network. You get to know label folks for split releases/advice etc. The label really got going once I started to trade and do a distro. Also if you play in a band, taking a decent size distro with you on tour is a huge help - some towns don't have any local distros/good punk record stores, so kids hit the distro hard and it really helps make up for shows where no one shows up. Another piece of advice I'd give is to try to keep the label money separate from your own as soon as possible. This might take a while, but it definitely takes a source of stress out when you don't feel like the label is eating up all your money. Also don't take the label money for yourself - it’s also a source of stress to have to rely on it for paying bills. With the money being separate, you can relax with the label, do what you want, and not have to worry about it so much. If I wanted to take a year off of the label/distro, I could just stop and start up again whenever I want - it's all paid for with its own money and I don't use any of it for my bills, so it’s no stress.
You tend to do a lot of split label releases, often with 3 or 4 labels involved, often with labels involved that are located on different continents. How do you manage to delegate and coordinate everything when there are people all over the world with their hands in the mix? Also, do you tend to press the vinyl all in one country and then ship it to the other labels involved or do you press your copies in the U.S. and for example Moment of Collapse presses theirs in Europe?
Most of the time there's one label kind of heading up the project and actually does the work of getting it pressed/printed etc. Then the other labels kick in for however many copies they want to take. The Old Soul records for instance - I pressed/printed etc. and then sent copies to the various European labels that have been involved in that. Other records like the Resurrectionists/Lich LP, Gentle Art of Chokin' LP, Lentic Waters LP, Drainland LP etc. that I was involved in, I had nothing to do with the work of getting them pressed, I just paid for my copies and they were sent from the label heading it up. The Cloud Rat - Moksha LP actually had a separate US and European pressing - that's the only one that I've been involved in to have 2 separate pressings. Cory from Halo of Flies and I handled the US, and he got the records pressed and printed the booklets while I made all the covers - we kind of split the work on that one. It really is a great model since it takes the full financial burden of pressing vinyl off of just a single label, and it allows the record to be distributed/traded by a number of different groups which gets it in people hands faster and easier. As a small label, I will have a hard time selling 500 copies of almost anything, but if those 500 copies are split around the world, they'll spend less time sitting together in closets and more time on folk’s record players.
As a fellow teacher, I'm curious to what extent 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, I tend to get nervous and say something like "Uhhhhhh.....I'm not really sure you wanna do that" haha.
Pretty much the same drill with me. Because in the end, I honestly don't think they want to sit through it. They would have to stand around at someone's house in a rough neighborhood all night with all these weirdo’s walking around and would most likely just feel out of place and uncomfortable, so we're probably doing a favor by keeping it a bit under the radar. I guess I just don't want a lot of drama at work. As far as interactions with the kids, they know I'm in a band and stuff but I keep it minimal talking about the band. It's just weird I guess - kind of like my other world that I live in. I do try to bring the ideas in my class though. We talked yesterday about how uncool the anti-gay laws were in Russia that just passed, and I am always questioning power/privilege/money etc. Just kind of throwing some ideas in the mix that aren't always represented. They end up knowing about vegetarianism and when talking about issues of racism or something, I just am really explicit that it's just not cool at all. The good thing is that most all young kids are not racist, and they're not homophobic either. A lot of that prejudice will be gone in the next 20 years - it’s that slow cultural change thing again - unfortunately some of these things just take time as well as effort.
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?
A different day might produce a different answer here, and I'll eliminate my own bands from the running because your own output holds a different kind of space in your heart. So I'd have to say the first Cloud Rat LP right now - I really feel they're the best hc/grind band in the country right now and are just great people. Their music has the perfect blend of hideous filth and sincere, powerful emotion.
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.
The next release will be a new Old Soul LP - it’s a massive epic dose of post rock/screamo goodness. I just started working on an LP for a Kentucky band called The Elsinores - it’s kind of dreamy melodic punk - not the kind of thing I usually do, but when you hear it you'll know. It's just so good. There's probably another Cloud Rat split 7" on the horizon as well as more Old Soul stuff. I'll have a split LP with my band Autarkeia and Me and Goliath as soon as we get off our asses and record too. I'll probably kick in on a few split releases, but honestly don't have a ton planned right now. I just got finished with a shit load of records kind of back to back, so I'm taking it a bit easy and not seeking stuff out too actively for a bit.
Thanks a ton for the interview - Peace, Nevin
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