Sep 28, 2012

an interview with Daniel / Sorry State Records

You may be familiar with Sorry State records label already, and if you're not you should be ashamed of. Sorry State is one of the best diy labels out there with great releases the last few (or not so few) years, so i got the chance to interrogate Daniel, the man behind Sorry State, and i'm glad he did me a favor and answered my questions. I think the result is awesome beyond doubt. You can go to sorry state's bandcamp and listen all the releases online and if you got the strong financial position to donate some money or you can order some stuff from Sorry State's page.
Questions : Mike
Answers : Daniel

FC: Hi Daniel, thanx for doing this interview. What's behind Sorry State meaning? Why you started the label in the first place? What goals you have already achieved and what's there for the future?

I got the name Sorry State from a Leatherface song off the album Mush. At the time it was probably my favorite album, and I thought the name had a nice sound. Plus, my first release was a Direct Control 7" and me and the members of the band are all from the same sorry state of North Carolina. Well, actually I don't think North Carolina is sorry anymore, but I still like the name.
I don't think I ever had any goals when I started the label, I just thought it would be cool to release a record by one of my favorite bands. Today I have lots of goals. Me and my friend Bobby just bought a 4-color screen printing press and I would like to get our printing business off  the ground. I hope to maybe open a record store soon in Raleigh, North Carolina. I also want to continue releasing great records, but I would like them to have more of a considered aesthetic impact. I want my releases to  feel like works of art. And a big goal is eventually to be able to quit my day job, but I don't know if that one is realistic or not.

FC: What should a band do if they want to release a record through Sorry State records? They must been close friends of you and if you're more keen on releasing bands from Chapel Hill in particular?

Actually, I have never released a band from Chapel Hill. I have released lots of bands from North Carolina, but other cities: Raleigh, Charlotte, Wilmington, etc. Chapel Hill sucks. The only reason I live here is because I work here. There are no good punk bands in Chapel Hill, unfortunately, so I drive to Raleigh (about 40 miles away) at least once or twice per week.
It's tough to say how I find the bands on the label. These days many more bands ask me to be on the label than I can possibly put out, including lots of great bands that I am sad to turn away. I do end up releasing mostly friends' bands for a couple of reasons. First, I have lots of talented friends who are in great bands. Second, I know that my friends are good people. If I were to release records by someone I don't know, there's a chance they could be shady characters, but I know that my friends are  honest, hard-working, and share (at least to some extent) my politics and aesthetics. Lots of bands do send me demos, and even if I don't release most of them I try to listen to all of them, and on most occasions I will  buy a few copies for the distro. I hate to say it, but these days it is easier to listen to an mp3 file sent via email than a physical release sent through the mail, so if you want me to hear something I encourage you to contact me that way.

Smart Cops
FC: You released also some of the best bands outside United States. Holland's Citizen Patrol, Sweden's U.X.Vileheads and Instangd and Italy's Smart cops. Did the bands contacted you to release those records or it was you that push the things to that direction?

These releases all happened in different ways. Citizens Patrol and Smart Cops both contacted me. I was friends with Marco from Smart Cops after my old band, Cross Laws, played with his old band, La Piovra. When Smart Cops started Marco sent me the recordings. I liked them and his timing was good, so I decided to release the record. Smart Cops have changed a lot over the years, but I still love them. I finally got to see them live (and drive them on tour for two weeks) this past summer and it was a great experience. It was the first time I had met the other guys in the band and I consider them all friends now, which makes me like them even more. I knew Citizens Patrol after another of my bands, Logic Problem, played with them a few times in Europe. I think maybe No Way was supposed to release their LP but ran into financial problems, so I took it over and I'm proud to have released it. Instangd is one of the few bands I really pressed hard to release. Marcus gave out a few copies of the Instangd demo CDR on the last Regulations US tour, and one fell into my handsΙ I think maybe Direct Control played with them or something. I loved the demo and emailed Marcus about releasing it, and thankfully he agreed. The first EP is one of my favorite things that I have released, and their other records are great as well. When Logic Problem toured Europe we drove all the way to Umea and got to play with them. Ι they have only played a handful of shows, all of them in Sweden, so we feel very lucky to have had this experience. UX Vileheads also played the show, and I loved the band and agreed to release their stuff too. I love hearing hardcore and punk from all over the world, and hopefully I can continue to release great bands from outside the US.

FC: Can a Cop be Smart afterall?

The decision to become a cop doesn't say much for them!

FC: what so red hot about whatever brains? they look like losers to me...

Haha, the band would probably be the first to agree with you, but I won't bite. I think Whatever Brains are one of the most exciting bands in the world right now. Lots of people spend their time drinking shitty beer and arranging the studs on their jacket, but Whatever Brains are true punks and, more than that, true artists. They don't give a shit about subgenres, they never try to be anything they're not, and they put more heart into their band than just about anyone I've ever heard, and they do it all with punk ethics. I'm tired of bands that sound like Discharge; I want bands who try to sound like nothing that has ever been heard before, and I think Whatever Brains succeed. I am extremely lucky and privileged to be associated with them.

Whatever Brains
FC: I read on a Stripmines interview that they are extremely appreciative that you put out their record. For me, this is the album of the year, so i guess you are extremely appreciative towards them too?

I am, indeed,  very appreciative of them. I can't believe how much work they put into that LP, and I agree it is one of the best records of the year. It's funny, because lately I don't want to listen to much straightforward hardcore; I prefer music that is a little weirder, that has a more unique sound while still remaining aggressive. I don't really care whether music is "brutal" or not, because no matter how heavy you make your guitar sound or how deep and guttural your vocals are, there's always someone who is harder, faster, and meaner. I thought the brutality arms race was completely played out, but Stripmines punked everyone by simply being harder, faster, tighter, and  more brutal than anyone else out there. Why listen to another hardcore record when you have the Stripmines LP?

FC: Do you like to share with us your Fight Castle experiences and smoking blunts at a record store in Chicago at 5 in the morning?

Oh, those stories are probably too long and too boring for anyone who wasn't there. I  will, however, say that Chicago is my favorite city in the US and this is just one of many, many incredible nights that I have spent with the punks there.

FC: Ok, time for the serious question: I read that Chapel Hill has it's own “Occupy Wall street” type of thing but a smaller one. Do you think that type of actions have any real meaning in the life in the capitalist world? Does the “punk” scene had any relationship to occupy Chapel Hill? Do you have a strong political background as a scene over there?

It's funny that you mention this, because just the other day I walked through the area that they had occupied and thought about the fact that they weren't there anymore. The protestors occupied a public square for nearly a year, through a very cold winter and terrible weather. As far as I could tell (I only know a couple of people who were closely involved), most of the protestors were not punks but graduate student / activist types. I don't know how to measure their impact, but I think it is important for people to raise their voices when they think something is wrong, whether or not is has an effect.
While there are some anarchists in Chapel Hill, the scene in Raleigh that I am more connected with is not really political at all. In many ways, this is disappointing; while I think most political discourse is pointless and stupid, I think it is important to be self-aware and to think about how the world around you (including government and other institutions) affects your life. I also think that music is better when the lyrics mean something (just look at Otan, for instance). However, there are positive aspects of the way we tend to handle politics here as well. Our punk scene is very inclusive, and accepts people no matter their beliefs or opinions (within reason, of course). Many more "political" scenes that I have interacted with are pretentious and exclusionary, and I am proud to say that the Raleigh punks, by and large, possess neither of these characteristics.
Another thing to remember is that most of the punks here were raised in the south, and being polite and deferential is part of our culture. Most of us are raised never to bring up religion or politics, and to politely ignore them when they do come up. Further, most of the punks here aren't students, rich kids, or other privileged types. Most people have to work very hard just to survive, and they want the punk scene to be somewhere they have fun. I understand even if sometimes I don't agree. At the end of the day, I want people to be honest and to do the things they are passionate about. If they are passionate about politics and they are rigorous and intelligent in how they come to their views, then I want to hear what they have to say. I don't want to hear another bullshit speech about nuclear war or whatever from a "political" band who is just saying it because they know that's what they are supposed to say. Fuck that, I have no interest in it at all. Don't try to impress me with what you think I want to hear, I want to know about what is meaningful to YOU, no matter what it is.

FC: in a previous question you told me this : "Our punk scene is very inclusive, and accepts people no matter their beliefs or opinions (within reason, of course)". Have you been in the position to struggle against right-wing beliefs or/and people and if are those beliefs and people acceptable in your scene?

No, I don't think right wing beliefs or people would be tolerated in our scene, though what constitutes "right wing" might differ for some people. Since our scene is so accepting of gay people, women, Latinos, African-Americans, etc., it's just not a comfortable place for those who want everyone to look like them. I think that's a very good thing… hopefully our scene will continue to welcome everyone, though it would be even better if more of these people started bands, zines, etc. and made their voices heard.

FC: Sorry state released, in my humble opinion, some of the best hardcore records lately. U.X. Vileheads Lp, Bukkake Boys Lp, Stripmines Lp (as already mentioned) plus Double Negative. Have you made some good deals with the devil to release all these top-notch albums?

I am very lucky. Like I said, I have a lot of talented friends! I think one reason that Sorry State has so many great releases is because the bands know that I work so hard on the label, and that I put every ounce of my energy and devotion into it. I think maybe, because most of the bands on the label are my friends, they feel a responsibility to do their best because they know I will do my best for them. At least I hope that's the kind of environment I help to create. That's what community should be: people helping one another to better than they would be otherwise.

FC: So, sorry state records is not against "music piracy". I'm laughing with that big business term, and in your bandcamp everyone can download the label's albums in great mp3 quality if he's not willing to donate for them. Do you feel that this "policy" have helped out the label and it's existence throughout the years?

Well, the "policy" hasn't been in place for many years… maybe one year at most? It started out as an experiment, and I like the experiment so I will keep it in place for now. I think the most important goal of any label is to allow as many people as possible to hear the music, and having the releases online for free helps with that. It certainly helps for people outside the USA who would have to pay insane shipping rates to get the vinyl. I have been pleasantly surprised with how many people have been willing to donate for downloading the digital versions, but still only about 1 out of every 100 people who downloads an album chooses to pay for it. The rates differ for different genres, though, and of course hardcore trails far behind. People who download the more "punk" or "indie" releases like Whatever Brains and Brain F? are far more likely to donate than people who download Stripmines or Bukkake Boys. Still, I am thankful for anyone who makes the conscious decision to help out the label financially, and I hope that people will continue to do so. As long as there are enough of paying customers to offset the costs I incur from the free downloaders I will continue to offer all of the releases for free.

FC: Besides releasing records, you have been in Cross Laws, you are playing on Devour and you have also recorded Pure Scum's demo. No time for vacations right? All your daily life flying around music? Any other projects you're involved with?

That's just the tip of the iceberg. Cross Laws and Devour are both broken up, but nowadays I play guitar in Infeccion, play bass in Logic Problem, run the label, book the occasional show, and as I said above I'm working on starting the screen printing business. I also have a day job teaching English at the University of North Carolina, but I would say 80 or 90% of my time is devoted to music in some way.
I do work very, very hard. I don't sleep much. I drink a lot of coffee. I spend very little of my time drunk, watching television, or doing other things I consider a waste of my time. I try to make the most out of every moment of every day. I had this realization a few years ago that the most important thing in the world to me is participating in the creation and dissemination of art--I mean this in the broadest sense of the term, i.e. including music, writing, etc. It's what I live to do, and I do it as hard as I can for as long as I can every day, and I feel extremely lucky and privileged to do it. Yesterday was my birthday, and I spent fourteen straight hours cutting, scoring, folding, and stuffing No Tomorrow 7"s. I was so tired by the end of the day that I didn't even want to go out to dinner with my girlfriend. But it's exactly what I want to be doing! And I don't take vacations, I go on tour!

FC: I see that beyond an earthly being you are also a “Cookie crisp & leads that make no sense whatsoever”. Is that any life after “whatsoever”? And who writes Devour's lyrics? Why so much bleakness?

D: I think I wrote that part of the insert. Jamie, Devour's other guitarist, was credited with "captain crunch" and I got "cookie crisp." It was supposed to describe our guitar sounds, because at the time I was playing a Marshall stack and Jamie was playing some big, burly-sounding metal amp like a Mesa Boogie or something. And of course Jamie can write and play proper leads while I can just make wild noises. It's funny about the captain crunch / cookie crisp thing because by the time we recorded Insect Circuitry we had basically switched places. I was playing guitar out of a Sunn Concert Bass amp and using a Big Muff pedal as my main distortion, so I had basically no treble at all in my sound. Jamie eventually gravitated toward a more traditional rock guitar sound. I also grew more confident about playing leads, and eventually wrote some more structured parts. When Devour stopped playing we had at least a dozen songs that we had written all of the music for, but Cody hadn't written lyrics and vocals for very many of them. I hope that sometime I can compile the best recordings of all of these songs onto a digital release or something. Our next record was going to be really weird. Ι like Technocracy-era COC playing Joy Division covers on acid or something.
As for the lyrics, Cody wrote all of them except the song "Useless Ruin," which Matt wrote. The lyrics are very bleak, but I promise you that Cody meant every word that he screamed. I hope he doesn't mind me saying that he has lived a very hard life. He is one of the smartest, most caring and genuine people I have ever known. He cares so much that he really takes it to heart when the world disappoints him, and all he can do is scream. Or drink. I wish he'd do more screaming and less drinking.

FC: If you had the opportunity to travel back in time, which two albums you would like to release on your label? And of course, pick two bands that you would like to release their records and they are not already on Sorry State.

I don't think there are many current bands I'd want to release that aren't already on Sorry State. I don't really think there is much prestige associated with putting out a record. Basically, I want to do a record for a band when it wouldn't come out otherwise, or if someone else wouldn't do it properly. There are a lot of current bands I love, like Crazy Spirit and Ropes, for instance, but Toxic State and Youth Attack both do great jobs putting out their records. Going back in time, though, I must admit that it would be pretty cool to have a hand in putting out Wire's Pink Flag and the Fall's Hex Enduction Hour. Those albums are two of the greatest things human beings have ever accomplished.

FC: Besides great hardcore punk records you have also released some garage rock or even “alternative” (speaking about the sound) albums. Do you thing all that garage explosion that's going on lately is just another hipster thing or a trend and no-one will remember it some years from now?

I have no idea. I turned 33 years old yesterday, and I have no interest in putting on a costume or defining myself as a "garage rocker" or a "d-beat raw punk" or other such nonsense. I'm just trying to listen to as much good music as I can before I die. I will say that often it is really fun and energizing to be part of a tight-knit scene (like the retro 80s HC scene of a few years ago with bands like Direct Control and Government Warning), but it doesn't feel like we are in one of those times right now. Instead, right now feels more like the 90s, when the most interesting bands were not the ones working within strictly defined templates, but instead the ones who discard templates entirely. For instance, this fall I will release an LP by a new band called Broken Prayer that mixes elements of hardcore, post-punk, and Nervous Gender / Screamers-style electronic music. This is the kind of thing I want to hear right now, bands with no boundaries. I don't think too much about what I (or anyone else) was listening to 5 years ago or will be listening to 5 years from now. I want to be involved with what I'm excited about right this minute. When it's time to move on I'll move on.

FC: Give me your top-5 hardcore punk albums of all time.

I am sitting in a room surrounded by thousands of records, yet I find it impossible to answer this question. I can name some bands: Minor Threat were the band that started it all for me, that made me love punk; the Fall consistently challenge and amaze me; Direct Control proved to me that you can still make good music; Leatherface remain very close to my heart; Poison Idea and Negative Approach will always be there when I'm seething with rage; the Buzzcocks and Gauze make me certain that there is no limit to what human beings can accomplish with drums, guitars, and voices.

No Tomorrow
FC: I saw a picture of No Tomorrow playing in front of a fest banner with some big companies advertisements like Newcastle Brown Ale beer. What relationship may have a hardcore punk band with big companies banners and if that has anything to do with the diy ethics? I'm asking that because No Tomorrow will release  a record on Sorry State records, plus all the conversation around  hardcore / crust bands that played  - or will play in the future - in big festivals with rock-stars, banners and promoters like Tragedy on Hellfest.

This question kind of bums me out. I wish I hadn't used that picture; I know No Tomorrow don't want to sell beer (or anything else), and I'm very much against corporate sponsorship myself. In that photo they are playing this festival called Hopscotch that happens every year in Raleigh (in fact, this year's version just happened last weekend). The people  who run the festival are very much from the Pitchfork end of the indie scene, and the festival is heavily sponsored by corporations. Unlike a lot of people from the indie scene, the organizers of Hopscotch actually recognize that the DIY punk and hardcore scenes do contribute something important to the vitality of our area's larger music scene, and perhaps the wider artistic culture as well, and they always ask lots of local punk bands to play. I'm sure that whatever they're giving us is pennies to them, but for DIY bands the pay is much better than we would receive at just about any other show, and often it's fun to play to a different crowd than the same 50 or so people who come to every DIY show. My new band, Infeccion, played a Hopscotch show this year and it was quite fun. That said, were I to organize something similar myself I would not rely on sponsorship to help cover the costs.
Punks must realize that they have had a hand in creating this culture of corporate sponsorship, or at least in allowing it to thrive. The DIY scene in the US, by and large, just doesn't take care of bands anymore. The biggest problem, as I see it, is the $5 show. Despite huge changes in both the punk scene and the wider economic climate, punks have clung to the idea of the $5 show like a religion, but I think they're guilty of following the letter of the law rather than the spirit. When I first started going to DIY shows in the mid-90s, most of them cost $5, and a gallon of gas cost about $1. Now a gallon of gas costs about $4, yet shows still cost the same? Further, clubs and other venues have continued to increase their share as their costs rise, so the bands are actually getting less of that proportion than they were before. At least in Raleigh, it seems a regular thing for a touring band to get paid less than $100 sometimes even only $30 or $40. Local bands virtually never get paid anything at all. I'm not saying people should be able to get rich off their bands, but in this climate where being in a band is essentially like throwing your money down the garbage chute it's not difficult to see why bands turn to corporate sponsorship.
If things continue this way, pretty soon you will only be able to see 3 types of bands on tour: corporate-sponsored bands, bands who are trying to get corporate sponsorship, and rich kid bands whose parents or cushy day jobs support their "hobby." If the DIY touring network in the US is going to survive, we need to change this culture in which people give you shit for asking for more than $5 at the door. If I attend a donations show, I always throw in $10 or $20, and if you can afford it you should do the same. Promotors shouldn't be afraid to charge more if the show's or the bands' costs were higher. I also think the standard wholesale prices for records and other merch are too low, but the problem isn't as bad as it is with touring and things are starting to change just a little bit, so I'll leave that argument for another day.

FC: Close the interview the way you want.

I have to say thanx again for all your kindness. Thank you so much for the thoughtful questions. I hope my answers didn't waste the time of anyone who chose to read them. Thanks to everyone who supports the things I do by buying (or even just listening to) records, going to shows, etc. Thanks especially to my girlfriend, Jet, who puts up with a lot of shit in order for me to indulge my passions for music and art.

2 comments: said...

cool to read it....... thanks

Bond said...

Youre the man Daniel. Raleigh owes everything to you.