Calculon Records have been peddling their underground wares since 2005 to become a formidable force to be reckoned with in the Doom/Sludge/Hardcore scenes. Not shy at supporting both established and up and coming bands, artists they have worked with include the likes of Lazarus Blackstar, Charger, Church Of Misery, Stumm, Sourvein, A Horse Called War & Agents Of The Morai to name a few. Their latest EP by hardcore deviants Jesus Of Spazzareth is due to be released anytime now, so I caught up with label founder/owner Podge to ask him a few questions.
Why and when did you start Calculon Records?
I’ve always wanted to run a label but never really done anything about it. Being in Bumsnogger made me move to actually doing it proper. It started with Donny (Withered Hand Records) and I doing a split 7” release between our bands at the time, Bumsnogger and Among The Missing for our tour. After that Martin Ives, then of Charger / Calculated Risk, helped me out with the Charger / Black Eye Riot split, this lead to a huge boost of confidence and I asked Sourvein who said yes. Getting them on-board brought Church of misery and from there on people have been pretty much asking me to work with them instead of me asking them. The idea originally was to have it mainly up and coming bands on the label, something to help the new guys out.
Who else is involved in the running of Calculon or do you do everything yourself?
People have helped in their own ways here and there but I’m a bit of a control freak and like to do everything my own way & I’m not much of a team player really. To be honest, there isn’t much anyone else could help with. I always remember Ives’ comments once “I love it when I get e-mails from kids asking to do work experience at Calculated Risk… Umm, sure, you can sit on the sofa next to me while I tap away on my laptop…”. There really isn’t enough to do that warrants more than one person
What releases have you been involved with so far?
CAL013 – Jesus Of Spazzareth – CD / Tape EP
CAL012 – UFO Gestapo – CD EP
CAL011 – Tiger Warsaw – CD EP
CAL010 – Slomatics / Agent of the Morai – Split CD
CAL009 – A Horse Called War – CD EP
CAL008 – Stumm / Taunt – Ltd Ed 7″ Vinyl
CAL007 – Castor Troy – This City Will Destroy Us – CD EP
CAL006 – Sourvein / Church of Misery – Ltd Ed Split 7″ Vinyl
CAL005 – Bumsnogger – Alcohol & Swine – CD EP – SOLD OUT
CAL004 – Lazarus Blackstar – Ltd Ed 7″ Vinyl
CAL003 – The Legion of Doom / Mothertrucker – 5 Track Split CD
CAL002 – Charger / Black Eye Riot – Ltd Ed Split 7″ Transparent RED Vinyl
CAL001 – Among the Missing / Bumsnogger – Ltd Ed Split 7″ Transparent PINK Vinyl
I’ve also still got a few that I’m working on, but after having my fingers burned a few times I only like to announce things when they are ready.
What do you look for in a band before offering them a release?
This is a difficult one to answer. I suppose first of all I have to like you, not just your music but you as band members. You could quite clearly be the next big thing but if you are a bunch of dicks then I can’t be bothered dealing with you. I’m not going to make my life overly hard for your benefit. Second of all you have to be willing to work as hard as I do, too many bands these days see their responsibility ending with sending me a CDR or they just want something to give to their mates. What I want from you is to do shows outside your home town, pimp the release, push your selves, you don’t have to give up your day job but its not hard these days to string a couple of long weekends together and call it a tour. Also I need a band to be realistic; yes you may have 2000 friends on myspace but if 99% of them are half dressed women from the USA then that’s really no indication of how many records you are going to sell is it? So don’t come telling me you’ll shift 500 7″ easily. Its taken over a year to sell 500 Church or misery / Sourvein records and they are always going to be bigger than you. Harsh but true.
Bands like Slomatics and A Horse Called War are perfect examples; the other bands have been good but those two stand out from the crowd purely because they helped me as much as I helped them.
How do you decide whether it should be in the form of a vinyl or CD format?
Totally depends on the size of the band, if its your first proper release or you are still fairly un-known then there is no way I’m doing vinyl. Despite there being a lot of audio nerds who say CDs sound like parp and vinyl is the only way to go, I tend to find that unless your band is called Isis or Sunn0))) and you release it on 85 colours of no more than 3 per colour then vinyl doesn’t sell, which is a pity because vinyl for me is all about getting a big eye full of some awesome artwork. Still, CDs are way more popular and generally cheaper to produce so I can offer the band a better percentage of freebies when it’s done, so it doesn’t really bother me.
How easy have you found it to sell and/or get distribution for your releases in the UK and Overseas?
Unlike a lot of small labels I stay away from proper distribution, you’ll not find any of my stuff in HMV or Virgin. The bands I work with generally aren’t at that stage and so its, in my eyes, a waste. I have my web store and I have regular customers both in the UK and throughout the world so I’m happy with that. As for worldwide distribution I drop a couple of labels an email every now and again or they check my site and we maybe trade 5 or 6 of each release.
And what has the feedback been like?
Other than a few smarty-pants people who tend to pick small holes in my work because I don’t match their particular home made brand of ethics everyone seems happy, in fact I’d go so far as to say that people really like what I’m doing, both as bands and as listeners.
You had to repress the Stumm/Taunt split 7″ last year, why did you do this and did it cause you many problems?
Bah, where do I start? First of all I was never told it was ready, then it was sent to some guy in Scotland who thankfully liked it and tracked me down via email to let me know it had been sent to him. So I contacted the pressing place who arranged for a collection and delivery back to me. They never told this guy in Scotland and just turned up on his door one day, if he hadn’t been in, who knows what would have happened. So it came to me week after the guy had contacted me, or about 10 days after it was dropped off with him, not bad considering I’d paid almost fifty quid for a next day delivery.
Then… the problem with that record was that it was done on super think vinyl. From what I could tell, it was maybe too thick and some of the machinery that presses all the stuff had left imprints and scratches on the records. Every single one had exactly the same marks in the same places so it was clearly a manufacturing issue. If you read the small print on 99.9% of all contracts you sign when you get vinyl done they have some little awkward bits in like if the package is not check before its signed you can’t claim on anything damaged in transit but the main one that hit me was “all issues regarding quality should be raised within 48 hours or delivery of the goods” now, considering that I often get stuff sent to work so that I can collect it easier mid week that gives me from 6pm to 7am the next day to check 200 or more records and fit in some sleep. That’s just impossible to do. So I never checked them and sent a load off to the bands, for orders and to distro places.
A week or so later I got a couple of emails asking to refund or replace because its all scratched, so I replaced them but asked for the old ones to be sent back so I could check and I noticed that the marks were the same. By now its nearly a month since the records were first delivered. After a lot of emails and phone calls I managed to convince the pressing plant to take them back but it cost me a bloody fortune in postage replacing people’s records and sending around 150 back down to the pressing plant. Thankfully it’s all as it should be now. This is also why I’m doing more and more CDs as its a lot less hassle.
You also offer a service of putting your vinyl releases onto CDR, I for one thought it was a great idea, especially if you want to put mp3’s on to your computer/mp3 player, but why did you decide to do this and what has the response been like?
This was an interesting one. There was a thread on the old Southern Lord forum (dedicated vinyl fans that lot) and it brought up a few questions about how do people rip vinyl to mp3s for their iPods and such. A couple of people said they bought the records and ripped them themselves, some said that they hunted it down on the internet and some said they never bought records as they didn’t have a record player. So I started a new thread listing a few options and everyone put in their opinions and thoughts. At the end of it all it seemed to me that people are going to rip it no matter what and people will download that rip if they don’t want to pay for it so it makes no difference if I include the CD at cost with the tracks. Quite a few people have said its such a good idea and I’ve noticed that a few other people are tending to do that or have a download link somewhere so it seems people have had similar ideas around the same time.
Calculon is also a distro so what labels do you carry stock of and how do you manage to keep your prices as low as you do?
I don’t specifically carry anyone’s stock, I generally let people approach me and then we look at doing a trade, my stuff for theirs. You’ll find a few labels cropping up time and time again but I don’t carry everything they do, it’s just not economical to do so. As for my prices, it’s simple. I keep them low because I make a loss. Well that’s not why I keep them low but its what happens. For me music shouldn’t be a business as such, OK bands have to sometimes make a living out of it but I’m just one guy running it out of the corner of a room. I know I’m never going to make a living out of this so I don’t try, I’m lucky enough to have a reasonable paying job so I don’t mind putting some in from my own pocket. Plus it’s a hobby and I often sell to my friends and its not right making money out of your mates. Someone once pointed out that he pays a fiver a week to play 5 aside football then another fiver for the post match drinking and every now and again he pays to travel the country to play against other teams. He doesn’t make any money out of it, why should I? Essentially its the same thing, having fun, doing what you like.
On an average week, how many hours would you say you put into running the label/distro?
I would say that owing to my (lack of) social life, too many, but I’m known for being an unsociable grumpy bugger so if I didn’t have the label I’d still probably be tinkering away on something by my self. I spend a good two hours on the internet a night, not all of that is promoting my label but it is mainly on music related websites. Insert smutty comment here.
What releases do you have planned for the future?
As above, you’ll know when they are ready.
Apart from the record label, what other areas are you involved in within the underground?
I’m a big helper, some would say hinderer to the UK website www.ninehertz.co.uk. If you don’t know it, shame on you, but it’s basically a lo-fi UK based stonerrock.com. Again its a hobby for a few of us so its not especially pushed or big but everyone on there enjoys it and says how the forum is the most relaxed and friendly one on the web. But its more than just a forum, there is a whole website full of news, reviews, tour dates and all that kind of stuff. It’s just undergoing a revamp at the moment so were hoping that it picks up a few new people but still continues to stay manageable.
On top of the website, 9hz also run gigs in Sheffield and the odd one in London. Instead of putting on a band every week, the idea is to put on gigs only when there is something really special, this has led to a reputation throughout Europe, maybe even the world (we’ve heard one of the guys from Neurosis is a regular reader) of being a good bunch of people to do gigs with. This year we are also doing a big gig at the underworld in London. People should check out the site for more info on that as its going to be a bloody good one.
Added to all that, I also have my own band, we’re just starting out at the moment. Its drums and guitar and were still finding our feet a bit but you can check us out at www.myspace.com/rachmanite We’ll have a free demo out some time late July / early august. Be warned, its not really a stoner, sludge or doom band in any way shape or form, I’ve been playing that for almost 10 years now and I’m pretty much over it for the time being, think more along the lines of Dove, Torche & Unsane.
Thanks for the interview Podge and please use this space for any final words…
Cheers for the interest and keep up the good work, I don’t tend to check your site as often as I should but when ever I do I find my self reading it from cover to cover so to speak.
Check out the latest releases/stock/news for Calculon Records at: www.calculon.co.uk
Interviewed by: Lee Edwards