steering clear of the mainstream
since 2001

june 2010

interview
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asaurus records mainman matthew baringer
Matthew Baringer is the man responsible for Asaurus, one of today's leading DIY record labels.  With a slew of high quality releases comprising its back catalogue, including some incredible compilations and various albums and EPs, Asaurus has made its presence known on the lo-fi scene.  Doing most of its business over the internet, the label acts as a hub for dozens upon dozens of bands and musicians, including Baringer's own solo project, This Bank Holiday.  I conducted this email interview a few months ago to shed some light on the ins and outs of the illustrious microlabel business.

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How was Asaurus started? Why?

I started the label, mostly on a whim, to give a proper release for my friend Coreyís album I Like How You Like Planes. I thought it could be a nice hobby that wouldnít last very long. It seemed like the next logical step, as I was no longer playing in any bands but still had a desire to do something with music. Plus, we each had plenty of our own recordings lying around to pad our catalog. I asked Corey to take on some of the workload and co-run the label with me, despite the fact that during the majority of our first year, we did very little business.

How long did it take before sales started to pick up? How did the word get out?

It really wasnít until we released our first compilation, Finally Something to Replace Bowling, that I noticed a surge in website traffic and orders. It was released to celebrate our first anniversary in December 2002. Up until that point, the only records we had put out was music that Corey or myself was connected to, therefore totally irrelevant to most folks. But the compilation featured bands from all over the place and it really helped to get our name out there. It is still one of our best sellers, though itís been slipping recently. But thatís OK.

What is the label philosophy?

I feel it is important for me to offer people really good (and unique) music at inexpensive prices. I want Asaurus to be a convenient and reliable place for people to get new and interesting music where most of the money made goes back to the bands. Oh, and everything needs to be (efficiently) handmade in some fashion.

Have you ever considered using more complex packaging for a release? Do you plan to explore non-CDR releases at one point? Perhaps tapes, records, Edison cylinders...? How about professionally mastered CDs?

Well, we have released one compilation on cassette already, last yearís ďA Tape Between Friends,Ē and we will be releasing our second cassette very soon. It is a collection of indie-pop & lo-fi Smashing Pumpkins covers which should not be misconstrued into some sort of tribute record. I would like to one day release something on 7Ē vinyl, which may come sooner rather than later. The one thing I am completely uninterested in is professionally pressed CDs. And mastering? Címon!

Iíd like to someday start a second division of Asaurus that would only release really limited edition records with extremely handmade/elaborate packaging. I look at the stuff like American Tapes (http://www.msu.edu/~olsonjoh/) puts out and I just start to drool. Iíd love to have the time (and talents) to work on something like that, but for the time-being, Iíd rather make records that, while still handmade, Iím able to make enough of to keep up with the demand.

How much of a commitment goes into Asaurus, both timewise and moneywise?

Time wise, I work on the label around 80% of the time Iím not at my dayjob or sleeping. Iím constantly either filling orders, assembling packaging, buying supplies, designing artwork, maintaining the website, visiting the post office, sending emails, tracking reviews and radio charts, or burning many many many CDRs. It is a lot for just one person to do, but I love it and I canít see myself doing anything else right now.

At first, I had to use an awful lot of my own money (which there isnít much of) to get the label going. Weíre finally at a point where we break even, where we sell enough records so I can afford all the supplies needed, the constant postage costs, and still be able to pay all the bands without going into the hole. I know this because of my obsessive record keeping.

How do you get onto radio charts? Do you just send releases to them unsolicited? How much airplay do the releases get, and do they help get the word out? How long did it take for radio stations to start playing your music?

We get onto radio charts? Yeah, maybe a few times, really no thanks to me. College radio as a whole seems pretty unwilling to play anything besides Ďmainstreamí indie music right now, with the exception of some wonderful DJs. Iíve sent out a fair share of our releases to radio stations, almost all of them unsolicited. Maybe 10% of those records I can say actually made it on the air.

I think weíve only been charted 3 or 4 times, which is astounding and quite awesome considering who we are. But again, its no thanks to me. I send the records out, but the only reason it makes it onto the air is because a DJ takes a chance on it. It also helps that the music is really good. A problem I was only recently clued in on was program directorsí dislike of CDs not in jewel cases. Well, that completely excludes our entire catalog! I have a feeling the majority of the records I sent out were sent directly to the trash. Thinking about it makes me sick since I made all of them with as much love and care and time as I do every other record.

How much money goes into each release?

- It really varies, depending on what we decide to use for packaging materials and such. I try to cut as many corners as possible without taking away from the quality of our final output. What I love about doing CDR only releases is that there are no large upfront costs for CD manufacturing and sleeve printing and etc. I donít need to worry about selling X amount of copies so I can just break even. I know people whoíve invested hundreds and hundreds of dollars into releases, only to have hundreds and hundreds of copies take up valuable closet space. Iím sure you do too.

How many copies of each release are generally made? How does production work? Burn-by-request?

I would love to be able to have the time to sit down and make 100 copies of a release, ready to go for whenever someone was to order it. Unfortunately, it just doesnít seem possible. So this is what happens: You place your order and when I receive it, I make up a nice invoice so I can keep track of what I need to make that evening. I go to my closet where I keep all of the supplies, run through the dayís orders and grab what I need, i.e. 3 sheets of light blue construction paper, 1 brown paper bag, 2 floppy disks. I generally spend the next hour printing everything. I take a seat on my bedroom floor, watch some kung fu or a soap opera, and cut, fold, and glue construction paper. I have this square piece of wood that I rest on my lap and use as a tabletop. Iím not sure why I donít just get a nice worktable. At the same time, Iím burning the CDRs. Everything is made, placed in their envelopes, and taken to the post office the next morning. So yes, each record is entirely made to order.

What is the artist/label "agreement" for releases?

I really like the honor system. Contracts, copyrights, and publishing are over my head and seem totally unnecessary. I agree to be a nice guy and do everything I can to promote and sell records for each band. Sometimes it works out.

Do you sell your releases at cost-price? Do you make money on each copy you sell? Do you send money to the bands, or is it not-for-profit both ways? Like do you actually PAY the band MONEY, or do you pay them by the fact that you're releasing and promoting their record?

Sometimes I daydream about a time when I can live comfortably and support myself doing nothing but Asaurus full-time. If anyone has a business model for doing so, please get in touch. For the time-being, I like to consider Asaurus a no-profit label as opposed to a non-profit. We intend to make money selling records, but itís not really the case. For each bandís release, I keep a small percentage of each record sale to cover costs and the rest of the money goes to the band. So yes, I give actual money to each band. The profits from our compilations all go right back into the label. Without those sales, there would be no label. Since I currently have a day job, my only goal is to have the label pay for itself and pass the rest of the money to the bands and to charities.

What is the experience of putting out a comp like?

It is actually a little heartbreaking at times. When you make an open call for submissions to a compilation, you get all sorts of music sent to you. The decision-making process of who makes the cut and who doesnít is really really hard for me. I have a problem with saying Ďnoí to people and as a result I either find myself making concessions or ruining peopleís lives. Maybe itís not that traumatic for the bands, but I always picture it as such.

The flipside to doing comps is being able to work with a ton of awesome bands all at once, many of which you just wouldnít have the time to work with otherwise. Weíve also discovered many on our roster from their compilation submissions.

So you generally get more contributions than you can fit on a comp? How do you get the word out about your "call for submissions" - just by a notice on the Asaurus website?

Oh yeah, it really surprised me the first time we did a comp on how many people sent things in. Besides our first compilation, the only call-for-submissions advertising I do is on our website. But the word gets out in some internet-y kind of way.

What are some of the funniest / weirdest demos you've received? (always fun)

Unfortunately, I canít really think of any terribly weird demos weíve ever received. I can say my favorite demos to receive are the ones sent inside the folders with the glossy photos, their manager/mommyís business card, and the one-sheet that proclaims how unique and diverse their Ďsoundí is. It always perplexes me why these bands waste the money sending this garbage to labels that clearly want nothing to do with them. But I keep every one of them, just in case.

Ugh, I know what you mean... I'm thinking about hunting down all of those promo glossies I have in my archives and making some sort of big collage out of them. Isn't that a radical idea?
Also, you should recycle some of those press kits by sending them out with Asaurus releases. Especially when you're mailing review copies. Assuming you don't confuse the person on the other end, it could be pretty funny...

Yeah, I should probably start looking for a photographer who can capture the many different Ďvibesí of all our bands, huh?

When did you start recording songs yourself? When did Monotone come about? This Bank Holiday?

I started committing things to tape around 1994, with my first Ďbandí, which consisted of me on the drum kit and a friend on guitar. We played Nirvana and Green Day covers in my basement a few times a week. I positioned a vocal microphone above the drum kit, which was responsible for picking up the drums, vocals, and guitar. I was totally obsessed, as I still am, with recording everything, so I have tapes and tapes of many differently nuanced versions of ďIn Bloom.Ē

After that, I played drums in the band Bugg Superstar with some friends, many times outside of my basement. We were your average high school rock band, and once we graduated, the band was pretty much over. But around the same time, I found my basement packed with all sorts of musical equipment, and despite my lack of any real skills, I decided I was going to start recording stuff, all by myself, because I had read that was how Trent Reznor did it. I was never into NIN, but I remember being really impressed with how he put his control freak issues to work. These recordings came under the moniker Monotone, mostly because that was how I was singing. I couldnít tune a guitar, let alone play a discernable chord, but yet I managed to come up with 3 tape-fuls of material. When I got to college, I took some music theory courses and it ruined Monotone for me. Once I learned the Ďproperí way to do things, I couldnít go back to my old ways of songwriting/experimenting.

I started recording This Bank Holiday material after Corey finally flicked the switch that allowed me to get a grasp on how a guitar works. With this new knowledge, I was eager to get back to the basement and back to my love of multitracking. The first TBH EP I did, ďLonely People Read Alot,Ē was the result of those first recording sessions after many years away. With some distance, Iím really not at all happy with the results, but the full-length I put out last year, ďHome Time is Safe Time,Ē is something Iím ok telling people I had an involvement with.

So you feel your perspective is constantly changing as you go on... where do you see This Bank Holiday going in the future? Would you consider drifting away from the lo-fi formula if given the chance? Do you ever wonder if, one day, these releases will be coveted in the same way Guided By Voices' early Scat recordings are? Don't be modest.

Oh yes, definitely. The more I learn and experiment with songwriting and recording, the more the songs will evolve/devolve. I donít necessarily want TBH to always be recording similar sounding albums. Someone may not like one record, but love another. I donít want to ever feel like I need to write in a certain way to make some people happy. This is all ridiculous for me to even say, by the way, considering nobody knows who the hell I am.

I actually see myself getting more lo-fi, not less. I could never record in a real studio environment, or at least not in the same way I do things now. My songs really have no structure until I start recording them. I like to let them write themselves during the recording process. Mistakes are little presents from your own subconscious.

Itís romantic to daydream about such a thing, but no, I doubt anyone will be purchasing Home Time is Safe Time for $6000 on Ebay someday. To me, I think itís amazing that there are complete strangers out there who own copies of my records and always will, even after both Asaurus and myself are dead and gone. Itís the obscure and miniscule mark Iím leaving on this world, and regardless of what thatís worth to people, it is still magical.

Are there archives of recordings lying around somewhere, and, if so, are they ever going to see the light of day?

Oh, there is TONS. The majority of the archive is Monotone material, but there is also plenty of Bugg Superstar and This Bank Holiday noise to go around. I put together a CDROM full of pretty much everything Bugg related that I give to friends or anyone who expresses an interest. Iíve contemplated putting together a TBH outtake/rarity comp, not because anyone would want such a thing, but only because thereís so much material, Iíd like to have it all in one place.

Well, if you do ever release anything like that, I'd like to hear it. I think it's always fascinating to hear a band or artist's style develop over time...

I will put you down for a copy, because if I know for sure at least one person will be interested, Iím happy to release a record (with some hundred exceptions).

Got any neat stories? Interesting live experiences? Unexpected peculiarities of the DIY label business?

I personally have not played live since playing drums with Bugg and keyboards for Tune, which were ages ago. I would like to someday find the courage and a backing band to do This Bank Holiday in a live setting, but probably not any time soon. I was able to put together some shows for the Diskettes and Pants Yell! in Detroit that were both really really good times. But besides the awesome tunes, I canít think of anything interesting happening. Iím just not very good at anecdotes.

Where and how did the Diskettes/Pants Yell! shows happen? Were the venues open to them performing? Did the shows go over well?

Both shows were in the metro Detroit area, Ann Arbor and Hamtramck to be more specific. Both bands were on tours put together on their own accord and each wanted to make a stop in Asaurus-town (nobody actually calls Detroit that). The Diskettes played the inaugural show at my friend Amyís house, dubbed The Hiscock House, which has since become a really awesome DIY basement venue.

We set up the Pants Yell! show at a neighborhood bar, The Belmont, in Hamtramck along with my most favorite Detroit (and quite possibly all-over) band New Grenada and the amazing Kiddo. The owner was really nice and gave us free cheese pizza and insanely cheap drinks. New Grenada ended their set with actual fireworks, a la Great White sans the deaths and evacuation.

A lot more Asaurus bands are playing shows than when we first started. Besides Pants Yell! and The Diskettes, you can also see Quiet Bears, Patrick Porter, Colin Clary, Elliott the Letter Ostrich, and Sinkcharmer playing regularly. Just not in Asaurus-town.

So why "Asaurus"? (DONT SAY "Why not Asaurus?" PLEASE)

Thatís a really good question. I can honestly say I donít have a very good answer. I was bored out of my skull one day in some sort of Anthropology or Psychology class, and as always, I was doodling in the margins of my notebook. For some cosmic reason, the word ASAURUS appeared in my mindís eye and I proceeded to jot in down. It was that terrific suffix, made popular by the ďPizza-A-SaurusĒ and ďTennis-A-SaurusĒ shirts from the 1980s. When I decided to start the label and desperately searching for that super-clever name, I came across the notebook and the Asaurus I wrote down. It seemed meant to be, despite many peopleís troubles with the pronunciation. I just say ďItís A and Saurus, like brontosaurus.Ē

Wait... "A" as in "ay" or "A" as in "uh"?

I pronounce it with the ďuhĒ. Some of my favorite mispronunciations would be, in the rare case yr interested, a-sore-ez & a-source. Perfectly reasonable mistakes.

What's your favourite colour?

Iím a big fan of green, all different shades, especially when they are next to one another.

Have you got any advice for aspiring label creators?

Check your email often.

The Asaurus website is www.asaurus.org.  Indieville has reviewed numerous Asaurus records, including Matthew Baringer's solo project This Bank Holiday, which reached number sixteen on our Best of 2004 list.

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