The tUMULt & Aquarius Records interview [2010-02-02]Andee Connors runs San Francisco based muilti -genre label tUMULt he’s also joint owner (with Allan Horrocks) of possible the most well know & respected experimental record shop & mail order business in the world Aquarius Records. Andee kindly took time out from his busy Schedule to answer a few questions via email.
m[m]When, how and why was tUMULt formed?
Andee tUMULt was originally created to re-release the first 4 records by the unsung geniuses Souled American, a woozy, skeletal druggy country combo from Chicago, who had some records on Rough Trade and just never got their due. They've been one of my favourite bands since I first heard them in college.We had tracked down one of their later records for my store aQuarius, from a label in Germany, assuming that the band was no more, we ended up selling HUNDREDS of their records, enough that the band, who were in fact just dormant and not dead, heard about this little store in San Francisco selling crazy amounts of their record. They got in touch, we were a little bit star struck, and began talking to them about coming to California, to play some shows, which they did, and it was amazing, and we were hanging out after one of the shows, the band were incredibly high (although I think they generally are), and we started talking about reissuing their old records, or releasing a new one, I told them I would do ANYTHING they wanted, then they started talking about a box set, I sort of thought they were just joking around, wasted, but a few weeks later they called about beginning work on the Souled American box set, which became Framed, a 4cd set, containing all their out of print Rough Trade records. It was pretty thrilling for me, to start a label, to release records by my favourite band. And it sort of just went from there...
m[m]who’s involved in the label running? And who does what?
Andee Just me. I do everything. I get help with some of the layout stuff, but it's ALL me, which is why releases end up taking so long. Worked around the store, school, life... trying to get a little more organized, but we'll see.
m[m]Who decides what will be released on the label? Is it just one person or a group of people who decides?
Andee Just me again. People are always telling me about cool bands I should check out, and I do, and I love hearing new stuff, but ultimately, it's just me.
m[m]What’s been the biggest and smallest selling release on the label so far?
Andee Biggest selling is probably either Weakling, the only release by one of the greatest black metal bands ever, short lived SF group, or Leviathan, the first proper release from Wrest, a double cd collecting all the best tracks from the early demos. As for smallest selling, probably too many to name haha. But for me it's just about getting bands heard, and hopefully heard by some other big label who might want to swoop in and dump a bunch of money on the band. I'm just a stepping stone. And I'm small enough that I can take a chance on anything, no matter how absurd or fucked up or unsellable, which are three words that generally describe my favourite bands / records!
m[m]List your top ten favourite releasers on the label thus far & why?
Andee I know it seems like a hokey answer, but I love ALL of them. Favourites shift and change constantly. Currently tUMULt's going through a little pop phase, so the Ovens and The Memories Attack are the ones I’m obsessing on, Ovens are from SF and write insanely catchy ultra brief blasts of perfect power pop, equal parts Beatles / Zombies / Guided By Voices / Weezer, but with plenty of Melvins and eighties hardcore and Maiden and Fucking Champs mixed in. Songs about getting fired, getting hurt, getting high... They are amazing. And The Memories Attack are from Hallifax, and carry on that tradition of that region's rad home recorded pop (one of the guys was in Eric's Trip!), and the whole record is packed with incredible songs, catchy, jangly, heavy. I also still love Solar Anus, a double disc collection of all three albums by a bizarre tranced out psychedelic doom band from Japan. All the black metal too of course: Weakling, Leviathan, Crebain, Diamatregon, Draugar... Really I can't pick ten absolute faves. 'Why' is easy though. Because they all rule. Totally UNobjectively, some of the best records EVER released!!
m[m]tell us a bit about how you came to take over Aquarius records & how do you think it’s changed since you’ve been in charge?
Andee Well, my partner Allan and I had been working there for years and years, and the current owner seemed less and less interested in running a record shop, so we talked about leaving and starting our own shop, but by that point we were sort of running aQ anyway, and had written thousands of reviews for the website, and it seemed silly to start from scratch, so when we broached the subject with the old owner, she seemed pleased, to be able to move on, and to have the store live on. As for how it's changed, well, I of course think it's gotten WAY better! Haha. It has grown quite a bit, business was booming, although like everyone else, the recession slowed things down a bit, but since Allan and I took over, we definitely have the store packed with more stuff, we carry lots more lps, more tapes (!), the website keeps getting bigger and bigger, more lists, more reviews, soon to have a download site, an aQ label... and we're always trying to make it better. We really want the store to live on, watching all these cool little shops close has been totally heartbreaking, and we for one still think records and cds and shopping for records and cds and hanging out in a cool shop where you can check out new sounds and shoot the shit with other music obsessive’s is as relevant as ever, and will never be replaced by iTunes or the like, at least not completely.
m[m]Could you ever see Aquarius turning into a chain of experimental shops? Say one in another US city & in Europe?
Andee Probably not. We talked about opening another store, we looked at Portland, Chapel Hill, people email us all the time asking us to open stores wherever they are, but the way aQ works, it doesn't seem like it would be possible to have more than one, or if we did, it would end up being its own special thing.
m[m]Can you tell us a bit about the neighbourhood Aquarius shop is in & how long have you have been there?
Andee aQuarius is in the Mission district, we've been in this location for about a decade. Before that we were in Noe Valley, before that the Castro. We moved to the Mission specifically because so many of our customers, and employees lived there. Noe Valley was kinda yuppie, and lots of folks would make trips up there just to come to aQ, but the Mission is a way better fit. The store is bigger, more light, more space, we're so much closer to cool coffee shops and book stores, and again, it's definitely where most of our regular customers live and/or hang out. When I first got to SF, it was one of the only places punk rockers and musicians could afford to live, predominantly Latino, lots of families, but also lots of affordable apartments, and of course all the stuff that make neighbourhoods great, breakfast spots, cafes, restaurants, over the last few years, it's definitely begun to get gentrified, but it's still pretty great.
m[m]what are the most enjoyable & equally the most annoying side of running a label & record shop? And what advice would you give to someone wanting to set up a label or shop?
Andee The most enjoyable thing is of course all the amazing music. I'm voracious when it comes to music, and I definitely feel honoured and privileged to be able to listen to music for a living. Obviously there's more to it than that, but just discovering so much amazing music, and constantly being amazed by the sounds people can conjure up is a joy. And being able to spread that music, is just as amazing, to discover some band, track them down, get their records, review them, and then sell hundreds of copies to people all over the world, that's amazing. And it makes me feel like we're more than a store, we're a community and arts resource, we help bands get heard, and get discovered by bookers and other labels and other stores, but most importantly, into the ears of folks who are gonna love it, be moved, be blown away. It's awesome. The annoying stuff is all the NON music related stuff, taxes, business stuff, inventory, rent, payroll, sometimes frustrating waiting for EVER to hear back from bands or labels, it's sometimes frustrating for me that I can never listen to a record without reviewing it, that's sort of an added pressure, instead of just listening purely for pleasure, but as far as bummers go, it's pretty mild. We used to joke when folks asked us for advice about opening a store, that we had the perfect advice: DON'T. But really, if you're into it, DO IT. Especially now, it's time to start rebuilding, just be passionate, don't be in it to get rich, have a focus, do it cuz you love it, the more stores and labels and bands the healthier the underground. So yeah, anyone who wants advice can totally email me and I will do everything I can to help. One thing I would definitely suggest, that we've learned the hard way, is know something about business and running a business. It'll help. A LOT.
m[m]what’s the strangest or most elaborate item you’ve had sent into either Aquarius or Tumult?
Andee We get sent a lot of weird stuff. The starving Weirdos sent a box with 15 full lengths, in a decorated box, all with full on cover art, out of the blue, from a band we've never heard of. We got another box, that was packed with cd-r's that documented a band's only show, one night only, played till they dropped, the box was hand painted and had all sorts of stuff glued in it and onto it, like a distortion pedal that was destroyed during the show, as well as pair of smashed glasses found on the floor afterwards. There was also an amazing little velvet lined box, inside was what looked like a little space ship, with a million tiny guns glued to the outside, and the box was meticulously decorated with tiny newspaper clippings, took us a while to realize it was a USB drive with a band's record on it. Actually probably the most
elaborate / impressive thing we've gotten, is a super limited Moss tape, that came wrapped in an actual chunk of moss, and then housed in elaborate welded metal sculptures, some weighed as much as 6 or 7 pounds, all of them had hinges and moving parts, weird jaws that opened, or pieces that spun around, and all of them were covered in sharp nails, sticking out in all directions making them virtually un- mailable, the one i bought has a huge length of chain welded to it that hangs off the side. So cool...
m[m]What have got coming out in the near future on Tumult?
Andee Lots. Most of the upcoming black metal stuff is below, but as for other stuff, long in the works release from Finnish blackdrone kult Tiermes, 2 disc proper cd reissue of the Have A Nice Life cd-r, that's been out of print for a while now, a sort of confusional mix of black metal and twisted pop, complete collection from defunct Nintendo grinders Nemo, and possible Terminal Cheesecake boxset, and a few more that I'm probably forgetting...Lots of new black metal: Mastery, insane one raw primitive blackness from right here in SF. A new double disc from Dead Reptile Shrine, total mind melting black-noise-folk-metal-weirdness, creepy atmospheric black ambient piano / vocal griminity from Tomb Of..., gorgeous washed out dreamlike black metal bliss from Italy called Smorzando, a cd reissue of one of my favorite records from another Italian weirdo black metal horde Ovskum, and finally SORT of black metal, a double disc collection of some of my favourite UNblack metal from the last few years, twisted, bizarre Christian black metal. Oh and the "I'm Sorry And I Miss You" comp, which is Slint's Spiderland, reinterpreted by some of my favourite black metal bands, worth it alone for Leviathan's cover of "Good Morning Captain"!
m[m]What five records or projects have most impressed you last year that you’d never heard before?
Andee Wow. That's a tough one. I guess it would sort of line up with my top records of the year. Probably my most listened to record is a group called True Widow, who sound kind of like a nineties slowcore band, classic indie/post rock, but darker and broodier, and the songs, holy shit, so catchy and evocative, been ages since I found a record I ended up listening to EVERY day over and over and over. Another band I'm super into is a band called Changing Holes, who are really hard to describe, they sort of remind me of the Stangulated Beatoffs, which is probably too random a reference to help much, but they make these weird, short, rhythmic, looped, fucked up, heavy, noisy jams, that just destroy. They give away all their music for free online, but I think I might be releasing their last record physically. Let's see. Coldworld is a black metal band from Germany, who make the darkest, saddest, most beautiful and blissed out depressive shoegaze-y music, totally captivating, lush and expansive, and another record I can't stop listening to. Freedom Hawk, the best stoner rock / hard rock record of the last FOREVER. Totally groovy and catchy, like old Queens Of The Stoneage crossed with vintage Kyuss but with Ozzy on vocals. Guilty pleasure to some, but for me it's pretty much perfect and guilt free. Soror Dolorosa is another one that knocked me on my ass, totally old school sounding gothic doomy deathrock, all clean guitars and crooned vocals, incredible riffs, so much atmosphere, surprising that it's a side project of weirdo Faerical black metal punk combo Nuit Noire. And then there's No Balls, a Brainbombs side project that somehow takes all the stuff we love about BB, and cranks it up and/or strips it down, one part, pounded out over and over, super distorted and hypnotic, barely any vocals, just total sludge-y hypnorock bliss. That's more than 5, an sure I could go on and on and on...
Thanks to Andee for his time, effort & pictures for the interview. tUMULt site can be found here & Aquarius Records here, were you can sign up to their wonderful & highly quoted bi-weekly new stock review list.