Monday, November 21, 2011

Taking a Closer Look at KillingHorse Records Part I

In just a short time KillingHorse Records has managed to build a strong foundation and lasting reputation with a handful of incredible releases that have made an immediate impact on the New Jersey underground landscape and beyond. With releases from Ben Franklin (RIP),
Secret Country, Invisible Lines, Cicada Radio and ¡No Pasaran! the label is quickly establishing itself as a quiet giant on the independent music scene. As their releases become quick favorites I decided to ask Mike and Ryan about the labels origins and direction. Here's part one of my interview with the men behind the music. James Damion

James: You started Killing Horse in the midst of a fragile economy and at a time when a lot of record labels were on their last legs. What made you want to do this?

Mike: Our circle of friends became close because we all loved music. Where we are from, we are the music kids; a lot of us were in bands. We consumed records, talked about them incessantly and went to shows as much as we could. Seeing shows is where music became accessible to us, a lot of the bands we were seeing were smaller, young, and poor. They just got in a van, and made something happen, not only that, but they did it with a great attitude, they were generally psyched to see people from towns they weren't from at their shows. We would listen to bands like Black Flag, or Fugazi, and see how SST records, and Dischord did things, how anything could be done on your own, as long as you had the will and organization. We started noticing a lot the bands we liked were all on the same kinds of record labels, Like Merge or Sup Pop, labels that did things their own way and made things work. In the meantime we started our own bands, we would see our friends bust their ass to find a space to practice, put all their free time into writing songs, beg venue owners to let them play, and get all their friends to come see them. Then they would spend all their money to get a record made, they would have them sitting there in boxes in their bedroom or their apartment, and then the band would break up. They would be bummed that they had to look at this graveyard of unsold records that cost them all the money they had. Ryan and I had this vision, that we could take the knowledge we had from being in bands, working in the music industry, constantly listening to music, being passionate about our friends' music and the willingness to put some hard work into something despite expecting little return, and turn that into something that could benefit our group as a whole. If we could pool our resources and our contacts and let each other know about pitfalls, what worked and what didn't work. We could start a record label. We could do it with a realistic approach and set small goals for ourselves, so little by little, we could keep moving forward. For us the key is to keep our goals realistic and attainable, believe in ourselves, and do things that we like, we don't look at it as a way to get rich; we just want to be able help our friends continue to make music we want to listen to.

James: Tell me about your partnership with Ryan?

Mike: So Ryan and I are really close friends. We have a mutual respect for each other. Ryan is a quiet genius, the dude can play any instrument, and he’s a wiz with sound. When we started KHR, he was doing a great job producing and engineering records on his own out of the practice space he shares with ¡No Pasaran! and Secret Country. Between our friends he's our go to guy for anything that has to do with sound. Me on the other hand I'm different, I work at Maxwell's in Hoboken. I go to shows a lot; I'm talking to people in bands, booking agents, managers, and label reps on a regular basis. I am able to see what the needs are for people in bands. It really helps us grow our network of friends and like-minded people. I gravitate to anyone who has a DIY attitude about things, anyone who isn't trying to just make a quick buck. People who make decisions based on passion and their heart. Generally those are the people I want to hang out with, talk about music with, and ultimately work with. Also I'm a get-off-the-couch-and-go-do-something guy. When Ryan and I said to each other, “Hey dude- lets just start a record label”. We both knew that would actually happen.

James: How does the partnership work? Do you handle different parts of running things? Is there something you individually work on? 

Mike: Ryan generally does the technical stuff, if a band wants to record with us, he's available to do produce their record, like he did with ¡No Pasaran¡'s 'Porter In The Making". He manages the website, until we can get a nice professional one. He currently does the accounting stuff, handles the Inventory, talks to the Record manufacturers I do most of the PR stuff, work with the bloggers and the journalists. I work with our promotions team; we are constantly looking for new music. So that takes up a lot of time as well. I try to reach out to other venues whenever I'm out of town. However, we talk a lot and pick up the slack for each other when the other person is too busy.

James: My initial introduction to you and the label was through ¡No Pasaran! How did you hook up with them?

Mike: Well, let's see. Eric and I have been best friends since we were in 5th grade; we went to High school together played in bands together. Romel is from Kearny, NJ too, Just like Eric, Ryan, myself and a lot of the KHR bands. He's been in bands like Dog Tired and They Fought Back, local bands that were doing the same thing the KHR bands are doing now. It’s a bloodline that keeps going back. Those are the bands we saw play live, or looked at their 7 inches and said - I want to do that!  Tom, the drummer, was in the awesome Jersey City Band, The American Watercolor Movement (among a million other bands).  His musical taste and sense of humor clicked with not only the band but us as well as soon as we met. We've all worked at Maxwell's together at some point in time. We planned on working with them from the start, but wanted to make sure we did it at their pace.   ¡No Pasaran! is enjoying a much more active time now then they have been in the past couple of years, I like to think that the stuff we are doing with them helps them stay motivated and want to keep making music, which is awesome because everyone who hears or sees them loves them, because they put their heart out there with every show and every release. That band alone is a really good example of why Ryan and I wanted to start a record label.

James: "Porter in the Making" is a favorite of the blog, which begs the question. Are they going to be doing an LP with you in the future?

Ryan: Actually, we haven't discussed future releases much.  At the moment, those guys are busy plugging away with live shows and pushing "Porter".  Of course, we'd love to do an LP down the line - or possibly just another EP like "Porter".  In the end it's really up to the ¡No Pasaran! Guys, and we'll be more than happy to help them in any way we can.

James: What are the chances of a re-issue of "Credentials"?

Ryan: Technically, it would be just an "issue" of Credentials, as the album never really saw an official release.  We sent out a few copies as part of the reward system that we did with the Kickstarter for "Porter," so there are a select few individuals who actually own a physical copy of the record, and I do have a few more copies laying around - so it is possible that it could see a proper release in the somewhat near future.  I engineered the record myself, so I have a bit of a personal stake in it, and would love to see it come out.  We've been hoping the mystery would build around it - the fabled lost ¡No Pasaran! Record. So we'll see what the guys want to do, and take it from there.  Hell, the Beach Boys' "Smile" finally just came out, so maybe it's time "Credentials" saw the light of day too.
¡No Pasaran! Lay is down at the Brick City Sound Riot.

James: You used "Kickstarter" to help get "Porter in the Making" out? What are your thoughts on using that platform? Do you think fans share a responsibility in getting the bands records made?

Ryan: I think the platform is fantastic! It really gives DIY groups a chance to do some things that they ordinarily may have been prohibited from due to financial restrictions. Of course fans share some responsibility in producing new material.  After all, without them, there's no market and no demand for anything we're trying to do.  The Kickstarter platform allows fans, especially on this DIY, grass roots level, to really become part of the process and show their support in a way that can truly benefit the artists in a direct way.  When you boil it down, it's really just a glorified pre-sale with some extra benefits for people who choose to get involved, and allows us the gauge the interest in a project before it's completed.  With "Porter", the fans clearly showed plenty of interest in new ¡No Pasaran! material; we were able to fund most of the project through it. It was a great success for us, and we'll definitely use it again in the future, however, it seems that almost everything is funded using Kickstarter these days.  It's really exploded out of nowhere in the last year.  I think it's important to use the platform sparingly, and not for every single thing you do. Otherwise it becomes like the pay-to-play system where you're asking your friends to buy tickets for your show or vote for your band every day to the point where fans lose interest very quickly.

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