“I have no use for marking up albums no one’s heard of because it’ll sit in a box for a year and that’s not why I released it,” says 23-year-old La Puente, California-based musician and label owner Kevin Greenspon. He’s a man after my own heart. Death to snob cults that hide great new music away from hungry ears! It’s time to bring it all out.
And that’s exactly what Greenspon does with his ingenious “batch system.” This is clandestine chemistry of the best kind. When a music fan orders from Bridgetown Records, Greenspon sends you a selection of pristine tuneage in multiple formats as part of a package price. “Label death” watchers take note—this simple scheme could save the whole system. It provides hardcore music lovers with what they want most: new music. Tons of it.
“There’s a strong focus on releasing bedroom/home recorded albums, being interactive with every single supporter and keeping underground music affordable and accessible to anyone who has an interest in it,” Greenspon explains. “I’ll get emails from people who are surprised and stoked that an album they never heard of was better than the main one they wanted in the first place, so I know the batch system is working and it encourages me to keep taking it to a higher level.”
One of the higher levels that Greenspon has already reached is with his own music, which he does on the side while running the label.
This probably has nothing to do with reality, but a few years ago I started to play this sound tapestry-like Harmonia ’76 album (featuring Eno, Mobius and Rodelius from Cluster, plus Neu!’s Michael Rother) every week before Pehr shows… And the first or second week after I did that, Kevin strolls in and introduces himself. Maybe he was attracted by that CD? I’ve always wondered because Greenspon’s music seems to come from strikingly similar centers of inspiration. But maybe that’s my brain damage talking. Like that great Eno/Krautrock collabo, Greenspon lays out challenging, sonic filigrees of noise and melody, but has the sense to keep it short. And with repeating, identifiable sections that are actually kind of catchy.
“One thing I think a lot of experimental/noise/etc artists are lacking is the writing and planning of actual songs,” Greenspon says.
Quietly and purposefully, Kevin Greenspon has given shape and direction to contemporary underground sounds, and it is time to learn more about what he is doing.
Kevin Greenspon is a big Monday supporter and a good friend. But when I went to do this interview, I discovered that I knew shockingly little about this very motivated and savvy young guy. Check his Bridgetown Records site…it’s littered with above average to fucking BRILLIANT new music! Like Cleveland’s Cloud Nothings. I would never have heard of them if not for Kevin.
Let’s see what else we can learn…
Hey, Kev. What other label did you use as an example of how to do Bridgetown Records and how many releases have you put out so far?
I’ve drawn elements from countless DIY/punk labels that I like so that I could run the sort of label that I’d support if I was an outsider. There’s a strong focus on releasing bedroom/home recorded albums, being interactive with every single supporter and keeping underground music affordable and accessible to anyone who has an interest in it.
I strive to keep things interesting, never limiting my releases to one geographical location or musical style. I’ve put out 33 releases so far, over half of which were in the last year, and most of the other half was re-issued recently as well. They range from standard EPs or albums to splits and collaborations, re-issues or alternate formats of albums on other labels, live recordings or combinations of those.
What’s your deal with the band or performer like? We’ve been hearing a lot about cassettes lately. Do these releases actually make any money for the musicians?
Running a DIY label, payments or royalties are totally out of question. I give the bands around 1/3 of the copies I make to do whatever they want with. A nicely done cassette on high bias chrome tape with full-color labels and inserts costs less than $1 to make, so even if they’re $5 postage paid, selling one covers the cost of two. For the label, it’s completely self-sustaining and pays for another future release. For bands, it’s something to give to friends or people who put you up at their house, set up a show, or sell to get a meal or some gas on tour. In the punk world, that’s all you can really hope for. It’s definitely not making “real indie rock money” unless you’re selling them for $8, but that’s whack and I can’t stress that enough. I don’t think a lot of people selling tapes for $8 knew what it was like to mail $3 and two quarters in an envelope to get a 7″ in the mail two months later, and are applying the concepts of the new digital download era to a niche format that’s becoming increasingly obsolete. Releasing tapes is definitely not about quick bucks or revenue, but is more about being able to maintain what you’re doing as an artist and continue onward without the big business aspect.
Your batch scheme is brilliant.
I wanted to offer large combinations of albums that are distinctly different but complement each other in an effort to encourage fans of one or two bands to check out labelmates that they’d like but might not have ever heard of. It’s really important to slash the price and let people save some money for taking the plunge to hear some new artists, especially for international orders because they’re my biggest supporters. Shipping one package with 6 things costs about the same as shipping two packages with one album each, so I figure why not knock like $15 off? I have it worked out so CDs come out to like $4 each with shipping included, because I just want them to end up in people’s hands—I have no use for marking up albums no one’s heard of because it’ll sit in a box for a year and that’s not why I released it. I’ll get emails from people who are surprised and stoked that an album they never heard of was better than the main one they wanted in the first place, so I know the batch system is working and it encourages me to keep taking it to a higher level.
How can you tell you are gonna vibe with a performer and want to put a release of theirs out? Like with Cleveland, Ohio’s Cloud Nothings for example?
It’s all based on building personal relationships—these are my friends. I’ve known most of the artists for years or since before they were in these bands. I met the rest through touring, trading, support and appreciation. When I feel like I align with someone and their music whether it be from hanging out or online, it comes naturally. It’s not a random string of events and I don’t release stuff by people I don’t connect with. Sometimes I’ll test the waters to see what kind of person someone is if I’m digging their music, but if the shoe doesn’t fit, I don’t try to wear it.
Dylan Baldi/Cloud Nothings is one of only two artists I’ve released that I haven’t met in person. He was doing some other projects before Cloud Nothings and I really liked his first couple of songs. One of them just gave me this vibe of sloppy, badly recorded ’90s rock—being a loser and shrugging it off. I instantly related to that and liked how he carried himself so it was a good fit.
This week I finally released a split pop punk album with him that we’d been talking about for what feels like an eternity. Travis from Ancient Crux/Rapid Youth plays drums on my songs and I can’t imagine not having someone I’ve been close friends with for 5 years filling that spot. Dylan liked Travis’ songs early on as well, and I recently released a new EP + live album I recorded at Pehrspace for him… even deeper, we have a cover of a song by Sam Woodson/No Paws, who’s released several albums for Travis and I on his Family Time Records. If you follow the names, it becomes clear how everyone on the label’s interrelated and dependent on personal relationships and fostering connections with people they align with.
What’s been the hardest release to bring out?
Some of my own solo releases and the three Nicole Kidman albums are still pretty tough to get out there. This might sound crazy because I run the label and Nicole Kidman has a huge fanbase in L.A., but I had the hardest time getting anyone interested and maybe 2% of orders come from Socal. Local artists have been difficult for me despite how often we play and book shows for touring bands here. I don’t really see Bridgetown as an “L.A. label” because of how separated I feel it is from the actual scene here, and especially from what L.A. is perceived as via the Internet, but that’s not to say that friends from here that I release aren’t getting heard—it’s just not really by people who live close enough to see them.
What’s a perfect album for you?
Poppy and accessible but with something that makes it a little different, like honest or totally screwed up lyrics, weird guitar parts, cheap recordings. Something short. 15-28 minutes max is perfect for a full-length, especially if it’s fully realized and the fat is trimmed. Less is more.
What releases are coming up this fall that we should be excited about?
I don’t know if these’ll be out in Fall, but I’m really excited to eventually put out some releases by Terrors and Human Hands. All of their live sets in L.A. and earlier releases are top notch and they deserve a new crowd who’s unfamiliar with their work. Hopefully the long overdue full-length by Rapid Youth, if those kids can ever break away from the other ten amazing bands they play in so they can finish it up. Peter Moran and I have been talking about a comedy album. It’ll be a real curveball, but I like to surprise people with unexpected combinations of albums.
How would you describe your musical aesthetic and what you’re doing in your solo work?
Synthesis and separation: taking elements from lots of genres and mixing them together regardless of how different they are. While I do have releases that are a kind of a youngster pop punk songwriting style, my main focus is on collage of “ambient” guitar and other sources written into narrative albums.
One thing I think a lot of experimental/noise/etc artists are lacking is the writing and planning of actual songs.
I’m a total pop song fiend and it has a huge influence on the way I assemble my “experimental” work. I prefer to write songs, keep them short and have a comfortable pacing not unlike what you’d hear on Top 40 radio as opposed to lengthy, directionless improvisation. While the sound as a whole isn’t as straightforward as normal pop, I carefully place movements with timings similar to how a chorus would move to a verse, a bridge, etc., and for live shows I string together passages from 3-10 songs into each other so that the complete piece lives and breathes, and is it’s own work independent from the album versions of songs that it is built from.
What kind of instrumentation are you using to develop these pieces?
Guitar, cassette/field recordings and a couple of pedals that are pretty much standard: overdrive, chorus, tremolo etc. I’ve never really had fancy gear or recording equipment but I like to find what I can do with what I have.
Where are you going on tour?
Gabe/Vehicle Blues is flying in from Chicago. We’re playing in places that most people foolishly skip over on tour like Santa Rosa or UC Irvine, which have both been awesome for me in the past. We’ve got killer Socal shows with labelmates or friends who make awesome music like Former Ghosts, Little Teeth, Ancient Crux and Trudgers.
I can’t wait for pool parties, climbing mountains, watching bad movies all night, throwing things into the ocean and goofing off with John Thill in Napa. I’m also really glad I coordinated the release of my new full-length vinyl LP, two new tapes, a KXLU live album, split with Cloud Nothings, and 3 re-issues so that I’d have a lot of merch of my own music out simultaneously for once.
If you could release a cassette by any band—current or classic—who would it be and why?
There’s this band from Lansing, Michigan, called Cheap Girls that’s been one of my top five current bands for the last few years. ’90s style college rock/power pop that’s better than most of the original guys, real bummed out vocals and lyrics about sleeping pills and sitting in the car outside of parties. I relate to their songs a great deal and I’d love to up my game and do a huge edition of tapes for a band that’s more accustomed to CDs and LPs but perfect for the cassette format.
Thanks so much for the interview, Sean. I think the show on the 13th will be my best Pehr show yet!
Don’t miss this Monday…
Sean Carnage presents
with the comedy stylings of Peter Moran
+ DJ Kyle Mabson & DJ JCiocci2000 (of Paperrad)
Starts 9:30pm / $5 / all-ages
Pehrspace—325 Glendale Blvd., in Historic Filipinotown