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Enter Jay Howell, the Sacramento artist who was featured in LAS earlier this year after the release of his Negatron collection. Both he and Kaiser had a hankering to collaborate on an audio/visual project of definite but evolving scope, a way to put the art back into art-punk, whatever that would turn out to be. With Kaiser tapping the resources of Omnibus to reel in a loose assortment of fringe musicians and Howell to arrange the external packaging, the two old friends birthed the Mt.St.Mtn. label, a distinctly underground imprint through which they would release challenging music in limited, uniquely packaged runs of vinyl. The parameters that were set for the label immediately assured it a statistical obscurity, but as I found out when I probed the two with questions, Kaiser and Howell wouldn't have it any other way.
Okay, official interview type questions then: Where did the idea for Mt.St.Mtn come from?
MARK KAISER: We've been tossing around the label as a concept for a long time now, its based very loosely on ideas we got from a handful of magazines, zines and labels - Arkitip Magazine, Lex Records and others.
JAY HOWELL: MARK AND I NEED AN OUTLET TO COLABORATE. WE LOVE TO WORK TOGETHER AND THIS SOUNDS LIKE FUN AND NOTHING ELSE BUT A REASON TO DRINK COLD ONES AND MAKE ART.
Who is involved with the project, and how did they come to be involved?
MK: Mt.St.Mtn. is Jay Howell and myself. Jay and I have worked on various projects together for the past 11 years or so, since the beginning of Omnibus Records. We've played in a bunch of bands together, booked lots of shows, worked on various art projects, and a bunch of other stuff that made us look really important to young kids who didn't know any better and kept us from getting real jobs.
JH: JAY HOWELL (ME) and MARK KAISER- WE HAVE BEEN MAKING BAD MUSIC TOGETHER FOR YEARS. MARK ALWAYS HAD HIS OMNIBUS THING GOING RELEASING GOOD MUSIC AND I LIKE TO DRAW PICTURES, SO WE HAVE TALKED ABOUT THIS KIND OF PROJECT ENDLESSLY AND THEN ONE DAY WE WERE ALL "WHY NOT?"
Are you looking at a release this year?
MK: We've got a lot of interested parties and we should have at least one of them actually get us music this year. The first release is looking like it will probably be from The Mall, a really great noise-punk band from San Francisco. Chris Woodhouse is re-recording some Karate Party/solo stuff he's been working on over the years, The Intelligence, The Hospitals, and a few others have agreed to releases, its just a matter of getting their songs and recordings together.
JH: YES, WE'RE READY TO GO.
How many releases do you think you'll handle, on average, per year?
MK: That depends. This project isn't about releasing records on some sort of schedule to maintain a consistent cash flow and press & radio presence. We're releasing records when we feel we have something that needs to be heard that fits the aesthetic we're trying to achieve.
JH: I HAVE NO IDEA. I CAN DRAW ALOT OF PICTURES THOUGH.
Something like this seems ambitious and artistically valid, but doesn't that sort of make it commercially unviable? Not that commerce would be your objective, but few people who already run labels look to get involved with something that won't make money.
MK: This project is entirely commercially unviable, that's a big part of what excites us about it. These records exist because there is art to be seen and heard. Not careers to be pushed and egos to be fed, not sales to be driven to justify advertising and promotional costs to further drive sales.
All small labels are money pits, its really a matter of what you're looking to achieve in running a label. We're not looking to make money. That's never been in the picture even for Omnibus. We're here to promote the art of artists we like. We're not trying to make a career out of putting a ton of work and money into pressing records, pushing careers, and playing bank account for a handful of many-times thankless, demanding, unrealistic twenty-somethings. We've already got jobs & careers. That's not what drove me to start Omnibus, and its definitely not going to be a part of Mt.St.Mtn. The limitations in format and pressing quantity are partly there to ensure that.
Do you think that a project like Mt.St.Mtn would be viable for a group of people who didn't already have connections? It seems very rare that a label like Crouton or Constellation, with perhaps similar goals as Mt.St.Mtn, can maintain itself. Everyone wants to hear creative music and see creative art, but yet the music industry/scene seems more and more driven and controlled by fads and/or popularity. I dare say that I imagine the success of the Shins and Mates of State has had as much impact on Omnibus as much as the rest of the catalog combined...
MK: Anyone could start a label, even one with very specific limitations and parameters, happens every day. All labels started somewhere, most of them from very humble beginnings. Omnibus was certainly impacted by the success of the Shins and Mates Of State, but they too started from scratch on Omnibus and we worked with a handful of resources and connections to build them up to move on to a much larger place. The fun in labels and collecting records is building something from nothing and finding something new. That was the fun in Omnibus until it turned into the 15 headed operational monster it became.
Mt.St.Mtn. has access to 11+ years of Omnibus connections, but we're not really tapping many if any of them since we're only sending a handful of each release to press & radio people, if any at all. We're not advertising or playing any "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine" games to get magazine attention. If it happens it happens, but a pressing of 300 copies doesn't need magazine attention or lots of radio play. This label is something entirely different from Omnibus; it's an art project that's to stay an art project. We're not making promises or taking responsibility for getting people on good tours, getting bands press attention and radio play, pushing them onto bigger labels or booking agencies, making other people money and dropping everything to make sure they're getting what they want. It is what it is, and that's that.
JH: I DON'T WANT TO AWNSER THIS ONE EITHER.
How do you view artwork and packaging as part of the experience of recorded music?
MK: I think its entirely important. I love to see bands and labels that have a well thought out aesthetic. Packaging is one more extension of the artist and the music they create. It's another opportunity to tell you where they've been, what they were aiming at artistically, their personalities, their influences. I think the medium is a big part the experience as well. I really like the weight and the feel of records and the routine of putting them on the record player, dropping the needle and flipping sides.
Additionally, what do you think of the whole iTunes phenomenon and what looks like the emergence of the digital age over even the compact disc? I know you're not going to dis on the web, since Mark and I are internet buddies, but some thoughts… And further yet, your thoughts on file sharing? Personally, at least for my label, I don't have an issue with people sharing music. I of course would rather that everyone bought an album and/or went to a show and truly supported the artist, but isn't the ultimate goal to get the sound into as many ears as possible?
MK: I think its great. I'm not a techno-phobe - I'm not speaking for Jay though, he hates computers most of the time. iTunes, SoulSeek and other sites have made lots of rare, out of print recordings available to share. I pilfer MP3 blogs for all kinds of rare stuff or things from other countries that have a hard time being distributed here. It's a convenient way for busy people who like convenience to buy and share music. There's a downside to the internet explosion too of course in that regional uniqueness is giving way to more homogenous scenes, but underground art and punk music has always been reactionary and I'm sure things will continue to evolve and new ideas will always form.
Sure, the internet is now saturated with musicians trying to peddle their records, but I think there have been some great achievements on behalf of musicians and music fans. It has provided a level playing field for musicians and labels of all sizes, and it provides the ability for quality control. Major labels have a problem with digital downloading because the shit they're trying to sell, by soaking up advertising space and major radio play, small labels can't afford. They are closing doors for competition by buying up distribution and sales outlets and then cramming bad, disposable, prefabricated art into every possible place. Crap doesn't sell as well when people can sample it ahead of time.
It doesn't matter if the new Poo Biters has some great press quotes from big magazines that their label is buying expensive advertising space from, or if it's on MTV every 15 minutes or is on billboards and bus-shelters everywhere you go. If it sucks it sucks and kids can't be tricked anymore into paying the major-music-industry-inflated price of 15-18 bucks just to find out if it sucks. Cry me a fucking river. The music industry built up a false economy for itself, cashed in heavily on that for 40 years, and now is whining that people have caught on and found a way around their bullshit. No matter how many people digitally "stole" albums from Omnibus, I went from working my ass off to sell 1000 records to working my ass off to sell more - 20,000+ in some cases. Independent, previously underground music has exploded and I think the internet has been the reason why. Supporting artists has been a big thing in the culture of more underground/independent music(s) anyway. If people like something they tend to buy it, even if someone already burned/taped a copy for them, and if they don't it's probably because they didn't have the money to buy everything on their list and would have had to pass it up anyway. If you create a cheap, disposable product that people only want for a very limited amount of time - the life of the fad - and try and sell it to people that only have so much money to spend on all the things your parent corporation convinced them they want, you're going to have a hard time selling your crap.
JH: COMPUTERS CAN'T DO LOTS OF THINGS. THEY'RE JUST A WAY MORE WIDE SPREAD VERSION OF A BOOM BOX THAT HAS TWO TAPE DECKS AND YOU CAN RECORD AN AWESOME MIX TAPE FOR SOMEONE WHO YOU WANNA DO IT WITH. THE DAY AN AVARAGE COMPUTER CAN SHOOT A DOWNLOADED VINYL RECORD OUT OF IT'S SIDE IS GONNA BE AWESOME AND I LOOK FOWARD TO THAT. THIS DOWNLOADING ISSUE IS SO TIRED AND IRRELEVENT. CDs ARE TRASH AND THEY ALWAYS WILL BE- I'D RATHER KEEP OLD ISSUES OF MAGAZINES AROUND THEN A STACK OF FADED, SCRATCHED, CLOUDY-COVERED CDs MESSIN UP MY HOUSE ALL STACKED UP. BUY OUR RECORDS, DOWNLOAD THEM ON YOUR COMPUTER ALL FUCKIN DAY LONG. THATS WHAT COMPUTERS ARE FOR- COMMUNICATING ALL THE FUCKING TIME WITH EVERYBODY AND LOOKING AT AS MANY NAKED PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE. THATS IT, REALLY.
File sharing will certainly become an issue with limited run releases such as Mt.St.Mtn - and how do you get around the "please reissue" pleas if people really want it and can't get it?
MK: That's an easy one, "No". Our mailing list will be the first to know when a release comes out, and our releases are available for mail order to anywhere in the world. What's left will be available to stores through one of the best independent distributors there is, so if you snooze you lose.
Does the prospect of an Intelligence LP on Mt.St.Mtn winding up on eBay for $50 frighten you? Excite you?
MK: You should see what we're going to get for the test-pressings. Probably all of which will eventually go to the Intelligence "have you sold anything yet and can we have it for beer 'cause we're out of drink tickets" fund, per usual.
Working with others from the Sacto area - do you consider that a simple logistical/convenience issue, or do you find merit in the idea of local communities and artistic cooperation?
MK: I've always been very much into building a strong local art community that works together and gets shit done, and I love Sacramento (and the rest of California for that matter), but I would never limit myself to working exclusively within the confines of any region. I've worked with Jay for years, we've moved apart and back again many times and continue to work together because we click, have the same ideals and both love getting drunk and poppin' off at the bar.
JH: AND FOR THE OTHER QUESTION SACTO RULES AND THATS THAT. SEE ALSO: www.mtstmtn.com
SEE ALSO: www.omnibusrecords.com
SEE ALSO: www.punksgitcut.com
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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