Words with the Rock Philosopher
By Dave Crimaldi
Last month I attended the album release of King Country here in Denton and noticed the Mas Music Records T-shirt worn by Greg Latham. Some investigating revealed the trio of psychedelic weirdos from Waco were in some unholy alliance with the aforementioned label based in Austin. I wondered what kind of psychosis is required to start a music label in this day and age? What exactly does a label do in the digital age? I was intrigued and found myself scanning the MMR website and recalling the good old days when consuming music involved action like walking down to the music store in the northern New Jersey town where I grew up, considering the album covers (tape cassette actually), making a purchase and walking home perhaps listening to the new music on my portable tape player through clumsy earphones. There was that anticipation that a kid might have on Christmas morning. You remove the cellophane, unfold the inner sleeve, note the photos, credits, thank yous, art work and pop that sucker into the listening device. This Twisted Sister tape better not suck (It did but only in retrospect!) There was an entire ritual to music including the reports you'd give your friends come Monday. Mixtapes were shared - what a concept having friends that would make mixtapes for you? Where else could GG Allin's "Bite It You Scum" exist alongside The Smiths' "This Charming Man"?
As the digital age gave us more of everything, faster, smaller, more convenient, more efficient, I contend we lost a bit if our humanity and sense of a true music community. Music is about community not pressing buttons on a smartphone. So let us slow things down a bit, remember the good old days and what made it so good. There were interactions between real people in the real world. In order to have a recording of my band Aural Fixation, we had to hire a guy for $100 to come over my house where we practiced, record everything to tape with his dumpy gear and two microphones, work his magic (or not) and present to us 100 tape cassettes we'd sell for $2-$3 a piece at shows, mailing to friends after receiving a check or cash in the mail. I even got a royalty check for $2 from radio airplay. Aural Fixation was a commercial failure selling perhaps only 30-40 units, the rest of them ended up in a landfill I am afraid. There would be no career for us in music although the vocalist Mike Hogan did work his way up to the position of Digital Director of Vanity Fair and once required my counsel for an interview with Lars Ulrich. To my credit despite being a terrible band member, documenting and discovering new music and the people that make it happen has become a personal obsession late in life.... and now let's get to the interview.
Michele Mas Martin of Mas Music Records grew up in the Bay area, moved to Austin and is now a part of a collective of musicians, promoters, venues sticking to a Do-It-Together organizational model. Read on.
Q1. Can you introduce yourself? Are you an Austin native? How and when did you get involved in music?
My name is Michele Mas Martin and I own Mas Music Records. While I am not an Austin native, I definitely feel like Austin is where I’m meant to be. I’d been visiting annually for Levitation Festival since 2012, threatening to relocate at the end of each festival. Recently, I finally found myself in the position to do so, so I packed up my records, clothes and mountain bike in my little German car and drove to Austin, Texas. I’ve never looked back.
I grew up in the Bay Area in the late 1980’s, at the height of the second “British Invasion” when the clubs were filled with the sounds of everything from the The Smiths to New Order to Jesus & Mary Chain and beyond. CDs were just becoming popular but I used to save all my lunch money to buy vinyl. Imagine six goths piling into one car and heading to Tower or Rainbow Records and sending international money orders off to foreign lands, hoping they arrived someday. My friends and I spent hours hanging around listening to our precious vinyl acquisitions. There’s something special about vinyl; the liner notes, the artwork, the manufacturing of taking plastic and pressing it into something that plays music when the needle drops. It’s truly an art form.
Q2. As a record label in the digital age, what, if any, is the business model? Since you have founded Mas Music Records, what have you learned? What has been most challenging/ rewarding?
With MMR, I’ve tried to evolve the DIY philosophy into a DIT *Do It Together* model. Friends and oftentimes members of the bands on the label contribute their skills and/or time at what I call “mate’s rates”. It sort of balances out all the funding the label puts in to manufacture the product and brings a higher level of commitment to being part of the label. We are more of a community than a corporation.
In regards to the challenges of running a label...where do I start? It’s all challenging, really, but once you get the final product in your hand and it sounds great….it’s all worth it. A few things we’ve experienced along the way so far include finding more women to work with and building a good team, quickly, of the right people who have the time & the talent to contribute. We are both a new record label and new to the industry as well so absorbing all the newfound knowledge and determining how to allocate the small amount of resources we have is particularly challenging. Then, to top it all off, the digital age is the bain of my existence. Between all of the high level PR and media connections which aren’t available to small or new labels, it’s a tough market to figure out and break into. But, despite it all, one thing I’ve quickly realised is that there is no standard way of doing things...so we are trying to figure out what works for Mas Music Records.
Q3. What kind of bands can fans find on Mas Music Records? Who’s on your roster and why them?
AUSTIN AUSTIN AUSTIN. I try to keep everything local and the music all some extension or iteration of psychedelia. I believe our current roster is a good sampling of the wide variety of talent and versatility within the Austin Psych scene. We’re growing at a steady pace, just like the name states, MAS (More) MUSIC. Here’s a look at this year’s releases:
Peyote Coyote - This was our first release in the form of a 7”. Peyote Coyote had recently relocated to Austin from Florida and I dug everything about them from the very first time I saw them. They have a female drummer (Cari Gee) who I found very easy to get along, work and collaborate with. The band also had a great selection of material already ready to go so we were able to push out the first release rather quickly.
The Sun Machine - These kids have been some of my closest friends from my earliest days in Austin. They are a staple of the community and owners of Austin’s top DIY venue The Electric Church. I partnered with the venue and the mobile recording studio to pool our resources and release a record.
Nolan Potter’s Nightmare Band - Nolan is one of the most talented dudes in town. His versatility as a musician, endless creativity and incredible technical skills coupled with access to excellent tools for recording is a dream come true for a label. After nearly 30 bands, Nolan has built this “Super Nightmare” band and MMR put 60 minutes of brilliance in the form of a tape release.
Q4. Do you have your own set of mentors for running a label?
I do have quite a few mentors and I’ve been fortunate to build some great relationships with other small Texas labels. My friend Mike Nesbitt at Little Cloud Records in Portland, Oregon was my first inspiration for starting the label here. Then I met Corey Savage from Houston’s Wallflower Records one night at Hotel Vegas and he helped me organize the paperwork to make it official. I’ve also been lucky to meet some great audio engineers and other audio nerds who don’t mind sharing their knowledge and answering my endless stream of questions. I’m also a huge fan of Christian Blands’ label Reverberation Appreciation Society; to make records that look and sound as great as his releases do… that’s the dream.
Since our inception on Jan 1st, 2018, we’ve just been trying different things and seeing what gets results that make us feel good about what we hope to accomplish, all the while BUILDING COMMUNITY.
Q5. What influences your decision to work with a band?
Of course, I have to like the bands music but I also want to like the band as individuals, as well. I’m basically hoping to build a “family business” where bands aren’t just a name on a roster. Ideally, the bands have some technical expertise built in, meaning they have knowledge about recording / mixing / mastering / PR / web design & are willing to contribute those skills to help build the label they are on. I’m a hard arse about only putting out high-quality recordings; making records is pretty easy but making records that sound good isn’t so easy. I also look for bands who are able to and want to tour. We are spoiled for band options in Texas, especially Austin, so it’s important to cast a wide network net. I have friends who run psych festivals in around the world. The ultimate dream would be to get a MMR band on tour in Europe or Australia.
Q6. What would you advise anyone starting their own label?
Like my wise old father always told me, “Patience and Fortitude”
Q7. What does Mas Music have coming up?
Some exciting releases and a few shows we are hosting.
We’ve just completed a few projects including a 60 min tape for Nolan Potter’s Nightmare Band, a CD release for King Country, and we’ve got a 7” heading into production for The Sun Machine. I’m very proud of this Sun Machine release. It was recorded at the Electric Church on the 24 track NEVE console that sits in the box truck parked out the back of the venue. Post mixing, we had Matt Schweinberg from Annabelle Chairlegs mix it to analog tape, then mastered for vinyl in Chicago by James Scott of Populist Recordings. It took some time, but it feels like we are getting our process down and it sounds great!!
We have a partnered showcase coming up in Galveston with Wallflower Records and Wakethezine. We’re also working on a quarterly shared showcase with our pals at Dreamy LIfe Records from DFW and gearing up for another SXSW showcase with multiple small record labels (aka the Texas Vinyl Mafia) in 2019.