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JON MUELLER: Chris Rosenau [also of Pele] and I took some of the songs from the first Pele record and remixed them for fun, but they turned out surprisingly better than we thought they would. Our friend Karl Paloucek was always telling me about this Pele remix idea he had that would involve multiple boom boxes in his basement. He recorded a song on cassette, made copies, and took the tapes apart and made physical loops out of the tapes and then played these on different players, manually slowing down and speeding up the heads. When he heard we were playing around with our stuff, he said, "you've got to hear mine." Eventually, other friends started saying the same kind of thing -Josh Modell, who never played an instrument in his life, came up with this startling remix that's almost like fucking industrial music. We knew then that we had a record on our hands. But who would put it out? No one, of course. Obsession is sometimes a great motivator. Crouton was then born.
I think what Crouton and like-minded labels are doing is really interesting... it seems that to get anywhere today you have to follow a certain set of "rules" even in the "indie world". Sending out copies of your records to radio without full jewel cases can often lead to them being passed over. You know what I mean.... How hard or easy do you think it is to run a succesfull label these days? How do you balance the mechanics with the bullshit?
It depends what your concept of success is. If a radio station passes over your music because it's not in a jewel case then you have to question what type of people work there, what their interests are, and if you'd even want to try to "convince" them that your release is "worth it." You learn real fast who not to send your promos to. On the other hand, I've had radio stations call us just to compliment a release that they've actually gone out and purchased because it's something they wanted. So, why whore yourself to a broad mass of media outlets in hopes of someone NOT throwing your stuff away? Because those are "the rules?" It is much more reasonable, and easier, to work with people you can form some type of relationship with that you have an understanding of what their goals are and what their purpose is. If you have patience and believe in your work, that is success. If you're just trying to bombard everyone, hoping for mass acceptance, you're soul is headed for a real bummer.
How do you decide which bands to release on Crouton?
To a large extent, it is a vehicle for the projects of myself and/or Chris Rosenau, but the Folktales series began offering solo releases from individuals from around the world. Being on a small budget, I must really have a great interest in the work of someone before I approach any talk of a release. But this helps me, too, as well as the artist. I would not feel comfortable promoting something I did not have a great connection with or interest in.
If there was a band that you simply loved but didn't really fit the mold of what you were doing, would you discriminate between them and something like Telecognac?
There are all sorts of musicians I really enjoy, but that does not mean it is possible, or even of interest, to put their records out. Somehow, certain things just make sense - with the history of the label, the direction it is moving, and the voices that speak to me in my sleep.
Do labels like Constellation, who also work with custom packaging and labor-intensive releases, have any direct influence on the way you do operate Crouton?
Not directly. It's all just about doing what you enjoy doing, supporting the work you feel others might connect with somehow, and not shoving anything down anyone's throat. I've said before that what Crouton does is not for everyone, and shouldn't be presented that way. So, while there are many labels who might follow a similar ideal, everyone has their own approach.
Who does all of the actual physical labor involved with Crouton?
Physical labor? Well, Chris Rosenau does the engineering and mixing for many of the releases. Scott Kawczynski does all the design and oftentimes brutal assembly - you should see a pair of hands after installing 500 grommets - and I do whatever's left.
How'd you come up with the name? Are you fans of the salad bar?
Go and fill your tub with very hot, but bearable water. While the tub is filling, go and put a newspaper in the microwave for about a minute and a half, and then read it. Once the tub is full, make sure the room is just steaming, and dump a box of ceasar salad croutons into the water. Take off your clothes and get in the tub. The hot water and steam will open your pores, and as you lie there, sweating, the seasonings from the croutons will enter your body. Let them soak in. You will feel almost faint. Then, before you pass out, immediately stand up and look in the mirror. You will be invisible.
Hmm, a nice segue into my next question - do drugs have a place in rock and roll?
Drugs seem to find a place in almost everything.
Is Milwaukee legit, or is it a wanna-be version of Chicago?
Neither. Milwaukee is just trying to survive, like anything else.
There is an obvious difference between Crouton and other indie labels - it seems that a lot of of the "indie" labels today are just low-budget versions of the majors. How do you keep Crouton from stagnating?
Just by doing what we want to do. That leaves the freedom to change direction or continue to pursue anything of our interest - within reason. I want to be surprised with what comes out. I want to get excited about something unexpected happening. There are a few labels who I blindly buy everything they put out because I know it will always be good, even if it's different from the last. That's how I want Crouton to be. People shouldn't be so concerned with placing a judgement on music under the guise of genre or taste. Ideas (in sound or word) can affect you beyond that. That's how Crouton progresses.
What are the five biggest musical disappointments of the last few years?
That's hard to say, I think the ability and possibilities of working with music have greatly expanded over the last couple of years, which is very encouraging. Many, many people now have the ability to make a record or bring their music to strangers in one way or another. But what is disappointing, is the accompanying struggle for popularity, the focus on mainstream acceptance in general.
Crouton releases appear in limited quantity. Why is this - to create a more frenzied market? to make the releases more valuable on the Ebay/collectors market? Because you just cant afford to press any more?
I think the editions are numbered reasonably on all levels - interest, cost, and most importantly, a sense of personal connection. It's great to have something that you know everyone else doesn't have, whether they'd like to or not. If you like something, you can tell someone else about it, share your experience of it with someone, tell a story. That is the greatest pleasure of music and writing, to me - to be able to share something with someone and wonder how it translates to them, and how they might transcribe it to someone else. An endless story... SEE ALSO: www.croutonmusic.net
Eric J Herboth
Eric J. Herboth is the founder, publisher and Managing Editor of LAS magazine. He is a magazine editor, freelance writer, bike mechanic, commercial pilot, graphic designer, International Scout enthusiast and giver of the benefit of the doubt. He currently lives in rural central Germany with his two best friends, dog Awahni and cat Scout.
See other articles by Eric J Herboth.
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