Interesting Bits (I Am The Studs Terkel Of Banality II)
I will be posting an excerpt from my novel (working title: St. Somewhere) before Monday. Until then, enjoy this unedited interview with Ben McCosker, owner of Load Records. The heavily edited version ran in/on Pitchfork last year. This virgin submission includes “interesting bits” and author’s updates. I’m in bold.
There is something to be said, and it’s been said a million times, for an independent label that thrives on a singular vision, on the whims of the person that steers the ship. For example, (and this can work for several, currently hot genres) a label that puts out a bunch of faceless Gang Of Four/Birthday Party knock-offs is not that type of label. Where they may be following the tastes of the proprietor, they are still catering to the ears of a million cookie-cutter hipsters in bright Sauconys (2004 author update: sub “Sauconys” for “Roos”). What swirls through a Hot Topic outlet in Birmingham, AL differs very little from what walks down the street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It may look and sound different, but the lack of originality and herd mentality are interchangeable. It may as well be a bunch of Phish fans or frat boys. As the once burgeoning electro/new wave filch-fest dulls in its metropolitan birthplaces, the sound filters down to America’s moderate size cities and we get fed the “rednectroclash” that has reached an unfortunate conclusion in abominations such as Faint remix albums (2004 author note: include Black Mustache, Metric, and IMAROBOT). These are precisely the areas that should be using disparate influences to create something wonderful, much like Cleveland in the late-70’s. Providence can be counted amongst the elite, largely based on the power of Load Records (2004 author note: poor intro wrap up on my part).
So, is there truth to the rumor that Sonic Youth asked Lightning Bolt to join them at a (insert high-profile NY gig) gig under the criteria that LB play last? It seems that SY were afraid that they would get erased by volume?
They did ask Lightning Bolt to play last, yes, but the show ended up being a traditional Sonic Youth headliner. So, yes and no, nor is there truth to the rumor that Lightning Bolt agreed to play the show under the stipulation that they play their set in the men’s restroom. I’ve heard that one, too.
Would you say that Load came up during the heyday of the independent, vanity pressing, handmade noise era?
Yes, ’93 was a big year for that. Blackjack and Bulb Records to name a couple, but weird stuff was harder to find then than it is now.
Your earlier discography was more “rock,” albeit a scuzzed-out “rock,” but you started leaning towards the abstract a little later in the game, right?
The earlier stuff was more linear, yes. My first release was a Boss Fuel 7”. Garage = Yes. I’d say the Scissor Girls 10” was the break from the trad rock, and the Von Ryan Express started me on a strange odyssey. I still put out the rock, Vaz and Noxagt……
What was your first full length, or your induction into “officialville?”
Thee Hydrogen Terrors “Erotic Adventures Of….”
What is the Load universe going to give 2003, it being the ten-year mark and all. (2004 author update: ewww….so untimely)
Pink and Brown’s “Shame Fantasy II” and Noxagt’s “Turning It Down Since 2001” are the most recent. Later in Summer/Fall, Sightings “Absolutes,” Khanate “No Joy,” Friends Forever “Killball,” Mr. California and the State Police “Audio Hallucinations” 10”, and later in September, the “Pick A Winner” DVD/CD package – a Load compilation with accompanying videos. In October, there will be a ten-year anniversary festival of sorts, then after that an album by Vincebus Eruptum and respective DVD’s for Dear Rain Drop and Wolf Eyes.
Quite a to-do list there. Do Vincebus Eruptum sound like I think they do?
No, they sound like EyeHateGod. The folks in Bad Wizard thought the same thing you did and were a little weirded out when they played together.
Hate sludge it is, then.
Yes, for lack of a better word with “core” at the end.
Friends Forever are the band that plays their entire set from inside their van – parked near the entrance of the club.
That’s them. Strobe lights, pyro, the works. In front of the club. Inside the van.
Can they still do pyro after Great White’s little snafu?
You can do whatever you want outside of the club.
….and their upcoming full-length “Killball” is a concept album about an extreme sport of the future?
First off, it’s a really brilliant record that far overshoots their “band that plays in the van” hype. It has a weird anthem rock feel, and the feel of a marching band, but the band is being marched down a dead end alley. Conceptually, it is about a future in which all sports are played to the death, for instance, golf is a sport of assassins. Killball, the sport, is based on American football (circa 1920 – 2016), but the players wear no helmets or pads. Each player is given PCP before the game, then they are each equipped with a machete and a switchblade. Tonight you have chosen to play Killball.
The CD is dedicated to the Denver Broncos.
The CD is dedicated to one of the worst teams in the NFL.
Yes, even with expansion teams. I think that it harks back to the John Elway era. The concept is not irritating and I think that it’s an overall fun record. It’s not Jock Jamzzz 23.
…and what the hell is that?
You know, those cheap ESPN compilations with “We Are Champions” and such.
Oh, of course, but perhaps in the near future we will hear it blasted over the sound system at the ESPNzone. Patrons will be enjoying Friends Forever with their half-eaten, over-priced hamburgers. EAT HARD!!!
…a man can dream.
On to Forcefield…
Who are recently defunct; the tour culminating in the Whitney Biennial performance was the last chapter, which was insane. It made the front page of the Art Section of the New York Times. (2004 author update: hyper untimely, the Whitney Biennial is coming around again, if not going on right now….I know nothing)
I personally found Forcefield’s aesthetic to be a cryptic combination of urban paranoia, suburban acid damage, and Sid and Marty Krofft.
That’s about right. They were a weird video/music/lifestyle combo for sure.
It took the animal and ill-defined animal suit approach to the next level.
Barkley’s Barnyard Critters is very similar. It’s Brian Gibson of Lightning Bolt and Rich Porter. They are costumes/video/music….and getting plowed before shows.
Are they affiliated with the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain? Or at least the gift shop?
I wish. They dress up as liberal renderings of real creatures. I set up their first show, with Holly Go Lightly, and the drummer passed out. I had to prop him up on the stool.
Give me the Reader’s Digest Condensed version of the Fort Thunder Story.
It was a large loft space in Eagle Square, a section on the edge of Olneyville in Providence. It was originally founded by Brian Chippendale (Lightning Bolt) and Matt Brinkman, but included quite a number of other folks. Lot’s of shows and weird shit stapled to every square inch of the place. My favorite events were the wrestling with speed metal DJ’s, featuring a battle royal at the end with a large multi-person creature. For a while, there was a building next door open with a lot of space. All of this directly gave birth to Lighting Bolt, Landed, Pleasurehorse, and The Olneyville Sound System. Of course, locals like Six Finger Satellite and Dropdead always played there. I guess it fired up in 1995 and fell sometime in 2001. Fort Thunder was hooked into a weird nationwide community of collectives.
So now, 90 percent of Providence bands dress up as some sort of critter?
Yes, it seems, even the rock bands, but not all. We still have your metal scene, a crusty scene, a post-Locust scene, maybe five garage bands and some straight up indie rock.
“Post-Locust” would be the tilted-trucker cap (2004 author update: these are now found on the heads of sorority girls who may or may not be Locust fans), former crusty or clean kids, black hair, a few choice piercings….
Yup, every town’s got ‘em.
Did The Black Dice come out of Fort Thunder/Providence scene?
That’s a weird one. I know they claim roots here, but that’s hardly true. They recorded a demo called Spit On Your Corpse with Brian Gibson (Lightning Bolt) playing bass.
Then, out of nowhere, you throw a wrench into gears with The Hawd Gankstuh Rappuh MC’s (wid gatz).
You are going for the records that don’t sell. That record is one of the few redeeming items made by white men in the field of disgusting rap. It’s so hard to explain to people sound unheard. Their debut on that Wordsound compilation () changed my life. I still listen to it. One of those guys fell off the face of the earth, one of them is in Lybythth; an L.A. electronic thing, and the third guy is Devin, who is in Pixeltan with Hisham of The Black Dice.
One thing that I love about The Hawd Gankstuh Rappuh MC’s (wid gatz) is that, while sonically as experimental as any “accepted” underground hip-hop, real fans of underground hip-hop, who can be the most irritating, humorless, and all around dumb individuals in the hipster universe, are, or would be, very turned off by The Hawd Gangtuhs.
Yes, they are. GSL is putting out a hip-hop record. It is sooooo bad.
So, Load has a huge female audience, right?
Ha! I wish….though a lot of females go to Lightning Bolt shows. They are not macho at all. Neon Hunk is a male/female duo. Sightings tend to be kind of a dude band. But Lightning Bolt are too girly for hard rock, even though a lot of metalheads like them – they may do a tour with High On Fire.
Do you book Load tours?
I used to, but there is no time now. Maybe I’ll do a Lightning Bolt tour.
You would think that LB would have a booker…
They don’t want a booker. They want to play old bordellos and coal mines.
Are Lightning Bolt picky about who they tour with?
Well, they’re only touring once a year. They play out a couple of times a year, and they practice A LOT. They don’t seem too concerned with success.
I mean, I would never imply that you would take the “let’s see what the most fucked-up release I can get distributed” angle, because I don’t think that you release “fucked-up” music just for the sake of the gesture, I think that you release music that you like, aesthetically and sonically.
I think that the music will stand the test of time. The label has been a long process of insisting on independence.
It’s just that, to readers and listeners who were not privy to the 90′s noise scene, or are not privy to the more discordant side of things, or free-form……it’s new and very left-field. Especially to hard core kids that are now flocking to Lightning Bolt shows. These are the same kids that would have been swallowing a very easy to digest message via a power-violence grindcore band several years ago. Now things are more open. Much more left-field.
I think that the legacy is important.
Were those canned answers?
No. I think Lightning Bolt were partially on the floodgates, but I think new wave might be what people get instead of newer sounds.
Are you patronizing my straight-ahead questions with CMJ-style answers?
No, I swear. I just think that people don’t need new wave music circa 2003. I want to push a new paradigm and I think so far so good. Whether anyone agrees/buys it is a bigger question. My exclusive distribution deal with Mordam has been the best thing that has ever happened to the label. Makes it easier for me to cram bands down peoples throats; bands that they would otherwise never hear.
I think that the new new wave is a flash in the pan. It will sound really stupid in three years. The new new wave bands, especially the ones that can’t write their way out of a paper sack, are adding nothing new to a previously explored genre.
Well, I’m obviously not the American Rough Trade or anything. I’m putting out music that few want to touch, and it’s easier now for me to get esoteric music out there. I do think that songs exist on Load. It just twists the notion of songs. Load bands rarely have intelligible lyrics, but I think that they have better arrangements than lyrics.
There are partially realized pop songs trying to claw their way out of portions of the last Lightning Bolt album, but they are more on the nursery rhyme end of the spectrum.
Well they are all pop songs. Very simple, as with The Pink And Brown, who do more of a blues-rock based sound. Same with the metallic, riffed-based sound of Noxagt.
There is no shortage of intelligible lyrics on The Hawd Gangstuh’s album.
Very true. They are the best example of the poop joke that Load was based on to begin with…taken to the extreme.
Load is a very long-running and legitimate poop joke, maybe the longest running. You really put the “ass” back in “harassment.”
No, that would be Howard Stern, who is also a longer running poop joke than Load is. I even lived in Jersey for three years and I still don’t get Howard Stern.
This is because you are not stupid. You lived in Jersey during college, right?
Right. I got my masters in Library Science/Information Sciences at Rutgers. It’s the punch line to my life. Then I worked in Research and Development Labs. I tested Skippy Peanut Butter. I worked in R & D labs for Aqua Fresh Toothpaste.
You didn’t have to eat a jumbo tube of Aqua Fresh for “research” did you? They didn’t make you eat it on Saltine Crackers for eight days or anything like that?
No, but I had a case of samples. They had a separation problem with the stripes. Really, it was the most boring work you can imagine. I also did work at Hoffman La Roche in a vitamin lab. They owned the lab where LSD was invented. They also got indicted for a worldwide price fixing of wholesale vitamins and had to pay out hundreds of millions of dollars. The stories of vitamin deficiencies were awesome…Rickets, Berry Berry. The latter is a Vitamin B1 deficiency. The name is an anglo-ization of the disease Beriberi. It swells the body and legs to an enormous size and generally carries the victim off within 24 hours. I worked for a company that supposedly had the cure for this affliction, which is actually nothing more than limejuice. I was in Jersey for school and work from ’92 to ’94. I worked for Smith Kline Beecham and CPC Foods as well. Maple Syrup Peanut Butter was a failure.
Color me with surprise. I’m going to surmise that all of this had an influence on what was to become Load Records.
I couldn’t work in a corporate job for an extended period of time. When I decided to leave my job at Hoffman La Roche, I put in my notice and ended up with a three-week period of no work until my last day. I basically came up with the idea for the label from sitting in a cube for three weeks with nothing to do. A forcible “nothing to do” is very unnerving.
Did you ever work as a librarian?
I was an “Information Scientist.”
Which is a librarian…
…but with a little more money due to the appending of “Scientist.” I think that I was too much of a “dude” for library work, and I didn’t enjoy Jersey, but I got to see plenty of Ween and The Unsane. I guess all of this makes me a lowbrow intellectual. I’m not cutout for the straight life, and it took me about 154 temp jobs to find that out. I’ve worked for a suicide hotline, or, I’m sorry, “acute psychiatry emergency line”…
Thank you. We don’t want to offend anyone.
…sandwich board, human resources, Mister Potato Head…
What do you mean “Mister Potato Head?”
I mean that I worked for Hasbro corporate HQ, and that is their pride and joy. I’ve had 12 different jobs at Hasbro, HR, PR, you name it. So, for income I temp, I do some free-lance programming (2004 author update: Ben now runs Load and free-lance programs from home…full time), I do the label, and I work part time at a record store. It’s a metal record store called Armegedden that’s owned by Ben Barnett of Dropdead and his wife. Metal, extreme metal, politics, hardcore…..
I don’t know what comprises your personal expenses, but do you ever feel like you could live off of Load? Is that even a plausible goal?
I’ll get close in June. I’ll be making 200 a week with bonus possibilities.
That was a serious question.
No, no joke. I’ll still do programming, but because of the Mordam deal, things are much more predictable accounting wise. All Load releases sell well, relatively speaking. I can count on moving at least 2,000 CD’s and 1,000 LP’s of anything. Some are repressed. The Men’s Recovery Project’s 2000 CD “Boldies Over Basra,” with its topical title, is in the second repress.
Are you following a release direction with Load? Is there a path that you are consciously going down?
Well, I’d like to see more sideways rock/subversive neon culture documented in audio and video that can also include more straightforward sounds like Noxagt.
So multimedia calling you…
Yes, the future through these eyes is multimedia. Labels must change or be left behind. I must distance myself, especially from major labels, which are just the cocaine whims of A & R guys. I want to put together compelling packages that aren’t as tradable with file swapping. I want to create the ultimate collector fetish items. Aren’t you going to ask me a “success of Lightning Bolt versus the other bands on the label” question?
Hey, I’m trying to do this right. I asked the “future of Load” question.
Yeah, and I touched on the file-sharing issue, and threw in some major label hate.
We are a team. Ok, success of other Load bands…..
I really hope that Noxagt does well.
I’m picking up a Dirty Three meets Hammerhead feel with Noxagt. I immediately noticed the viola can sound like a guitar, a voice, or…..a viola.
It’s less emo than Dirty Three.
…and more metal than Hammerhead.
Billy Anderson produced it. He produced Acid King, High On Fire, and Sleep. I think he hit the “double kick” distressor on the board.
I detect some single-bass drum PG-13 blast beats on there, yes. Did you write the liner notes under a pseudonym?
No, that’s the guy from Skullflower. Noxagt are more on the “easy to understand” angle than, say, Neon Hunk, which is a bit more “difficult.”
I regard the Neon Hunk artwork to be “difficult.”
It’s a bad trip, yes, but like Lightning Bolt, they are 100% drug free.
They may be drug free, but that artwork is not drug free…and I mean hard, extinct drugs.
…or DMT influenced.
What is that again?
Don’t remember. There was a special where “toxic twins”-era Aerosmith were talking about it.
Got to bring the interview back around. Check this out: Let’s riff on some new music that you like. Any genre. Hit me.
Reggaeton. I love it.
Those are cheap flea market reggae compilations, right?
Right, but they’ll have the same guy toasting over the tracks. The hip-hop one is great because it has one guy toasting over 78 seamless tracks. Lot’s of weird noises thrown in, too, like air horns. I do like some stuff on the hard rock scene. I think that The Whip is a fine direction for rock. That’s Joe Preston’s new band with former members of Karp (2004 author update: R.I.P.). Comets On Fire is an excellent rock band. I really like what Wolf Eyes do to rock music. I want to hate electro, but I think that some of it is worthwhile. I think that Adult. can write a good song. I’m listening to the new Dan Melchior’s Broke Revue CD right now – pretty good. I’m doing a 7” with Wolf Eyes, who I really like. They are not genre hoppers like The Black Dice, they are the real deal. I mean, I like some Black Dice, but Wolf Eyes are more fun. They are the focal point for the whole Midwest movement of DIY electronics, which includes Neon Hunk, Hair Police, Viki, Mammal…..
It’s like the future as predicted by Bananafish magazine circa ’95.
Yeah, but with a focus on really entertaining shows. Wolf Eyes played a high school a month ago. I feel like that would be the equivalent of seeing The Sun City Girls open for Black Flag while I was still in high school, as opposed to The Hooters and The Outfield.
What about any of the Yesterday’s Post-Punk Today movement?
I think that Le Shok were one of the best bands doing that, otherwise, I don’t like much of it. They weren’t revolutionary or anything, but they were a piss-take on the bands that came after they broke up. It’s distressing to see the Yeah Yeah Yeahs existing with their marginal talent and whatnot.
They are trimmed down Boss Hog with “angular” guitar jabbings.
And overt Spencerisms. I think that Garage has embraced new wave full on….
I like some….The Clone Defects, The Lost Sounds, The Piranhas….it’s just more organic. I can’t deal with stuff like Hot Hot Heat.
The new new wave rock bands will crash and burn in the blink of an eye, just like every other flaccid genre of yesterday. Do you think that, like Austin, Chapel Hill, and Seattle before it, Williamsburg has run its course?
No, it’s got a little life left in it. It’s got everything a pilgrim needs…garage, new wave, indie-dance, electro, even stoner rock with Tee Pee Records. Everyone’s listening to ESG and sippin’ on Corona; I feel like I could beam myself through a time wormhole.
…and the post-Gravity rock of The Panthers, etc.
Who just got signed to a major label. They can now testify in Maxim Magazine, which reminds me, I saw someone on Friends with an MC5 t-shirt on. I really don’t want to come off as a hater…I’m just a provider of a more culturally devolved alternative. I have found, however, that Load customers are into the new new wave and such. You have to understand that there are unnamed labels, contemporaries and labels bigger than me, that give me tons of shit. They think that Load is a Lightning Bolt vanity label.
Their existence gives you shit, or do you mean they literally say things like that?
Both. It’s really weird how a bunch of small labels all fish in the same pond and still talk shit all over one another. At least Load isn’t some kind of nostalgia label. Well, I may be partially blamed for Amphetamine Reptile nostalgia if that ever happens, but I hope not. I mean; we’re all in the same boat. We all have sales that Polyvinyl wouldn’t cross the street to piss on. I do find a lot in common with Bulb, Menlo Park, Scratch and Sniff Records, etc.
Do you actively attend shows? How old are you these days?
Yes, I go to about 1 – 2 a week, sometimes more. I’m 34 – born in the 60’s.
That’s not old, but do you feel old. Do you ever feel like the “old guy at the show?” The Larry Tee of atonal noise? The Kim Fowley of balls-out damage?
Yes, but since I run everyday, all the kids look soft. After ten years I still feel like Load is documenting a fresh new world. Dayglo, video/dvd, distorted, atonal……