Interview - Epicene Sound Systems

Interview - Epicene Sound Systems

Big record labels have the budget to pay for colourful advertisements in the right kind of magazines, so that everyone knows who's the "band du jour" and can buy their new CDs accordingly. But once you noticed that most of this music all sounds the same, with one band trying a successful recipe and everybody else jumping on the bandwagon, then it can happen that your brain awakes and tells you: "hey, this isn't what music should be about!".

And then you have to look for something new, something more original, something that can really challenge your mind... and sooner or later you will come across the name Epicene Sound Systems. Bands like Infidel?/Castro!, Behold... The Arctopus and Friendly Bears aroused my curiosity, and once I came across the Time Of Orchids EP, I knew we had to know more about this independent label from Dayton, Ohio, otherwise only known for its merits in airplane history and Guided By Voices.

You can visit Epicene Sound System on the Internet by clicking here where you not only can check out the label's history and a nicely stuffed catalogue, but also release a couple of MP3s to satisfy your curiosity.

But I won't keep you any longer. I emailed some questions to Matthew Reis from Epicene which he was so nice to answer.

Epicene Sound Systems started in 2002. When did you get the idea to make your own label?

I've wanted to start a label since I was a kid... like 13 or 14... I was always a huge fan of labels that had their own sound; when you mentioned the label, you immediately knew what kind of stuff you're talking about... like Skin Graft, some of the old Wax Trax stuff, Earache... Most of these kinds of labels were also putting out super weird cutting edge stuff.

You're from Dayton, Ohio, which is not necessarily a city coming to mind when talking about music, unlike New York, Chicago or the West Coast. Apart from Guided By Voices, I can't think of any other bands from Ohio. Is this cultural scarcity helping or rather disturbing your work as a label?

Well, it is cheap to live in Ohio... So in my case it helps, but as far as trying to get people in Dayton to care about what we're doing... it hurts... It' s like trying to give heroin to a straight edge guy. But there are actually a great deal of great bands that came out of Ohio: The Electric Eels, Peru Ubu, Devo, Brainiac, the Breeders... um... that's all I can think of at the moment... ha ha.

Your label is divided into two categories: Epicene Sound Systems and Epicene Sound Replica. What is the difference between the two and why?

The Sound Systems is for actual store ready releases (CDs/LPs), and Sound Replica is for super short run stuff that are usually on CD-R or cassettes (we're planning some limited 12" and 7" as well). The main reason is so no one orders a Yes, Collapse CD-R and then flips out when it's a CD-R and not a CD. It's just to separate the two, plus ESR is more for noise and the non musical.

You release a lot of different musical styles, from progressive metal to avant garde rock but also a lot of abrasive electronic music. How do you choose what to release?

It's just what we like, there is really no other reason. I would (and I'm sure Josh and Dan would agree) never really want to put something out just because we know it will sell, unless we like it.

You also release music in different kind of formats: CDs, 3"-CDs, vinyl, tapes. Why not only regular CDs? What format sells best?

We do LPs because we like them, plus sometimes (as in the case of the Upsilon Acrux LP and the upcoming Behold The Arctopus LP, another label is doing the CD; we wanted to be involved, so we did the LP).

3" are sort of a novelty, but think they're cool. If you're EP is really short, it's just a cool way to package it, seems how you're only gonna get like 21 min of music, it just looks neat.

CD-Rs and tapes are just cheap, and noise isn't the biggest seller in the world, plus at least with Yes, Collapse (that's our group) we progress constantly, so by the time we put out a tape or CD-R, we're already bored with the way it sounds... so we limit the run to like 50 or less, and then they're gone quick. Plus the CD-R / tape thing is sorta par for the course with noise... so it's like a nod to those who came first.

I have nothing against CDs, just sometimes the project calls for something different.

You did a lot of collaborations with Rice Control Records from Rhode Island. How did you come to meet these guys?

Forbes' old band Xthoughtstreamsx did a tour a long time ago and I booked a show for them... good stuff. When Infidel? Castro! and the Friendly Bears were looking for a label to put out their split-LP, both Epicene and Rice Control wanted to do, so we split it. It worked out well (as LPs are expensive) and so we asked Forbes to be a part of the Upsilon LP as well, because the man has great taste and I knew he would want to be involved.

Some of your releases are limited to very low numbers, like 50 or so copies. Other bands like Time Of Orchids, who are now signed to Tzadik (John Zorn's label), probably will sell a lot more CDs. What was so far your best selling release?

Actually I believe it is the Behold The Arctopus 3".

You play also in two bands: Harlots and Yes, Collapse. YC has already released a couple of items on Epicene. What about Harlots?

Harlots released a CD on Feeling Faint, but I'm not with them anymore, and I'm not on the CD. They're really good kids and the CD is great, everyone should go buy it. I was just sorta filling in for them for an extended period of time.

With the success of bands like Dillinger Escape Plan and Burnt By The Sun, progressive metal has become more popular again. Will that help sell bands like Time Of Orchids, Behold The Arctopus and Friendly Bears?

I think it is helping out Behold The Arctopus, but the Friendly Bears are so not heavy and Time Of Orchids is way too weird for most metal kids.

I doubt that you can live off the music you play and release. How do you manage to combine all these different aspects (label, music, private life)?

We all work full time jobs, practice on our days off, work on the label stuff in our free time, and take off work to play shows and tour (we have nice bosses). Josh and I both have girlfriends, and Dan actually has a life, ha ha. No really, we don't really have a lot of time to goof off or anything, but I like it busy.

Where do you sell most albums: record shops, concerts or mail order? How important is the Internet these days for a small independent label?

The Internet is the most important thing for us. We sell most things from our site. We don't really sell all that much at shows, a little at shops, and some great distros like Stickfigure, Electric Human Project, Aquarius Records, etc... I think that the Internet is the only way people really hear about the kind of stuff we are dealing with... other than in super progressive cities like New York and Chicago.

What are your future plans for Epicene Sound Systems?

We're doing a 3" CD for Upsilon Acrux, a one sided 12" with an etching on the other side for Behold The Arctopus, a Yes, Collapse / Cotton Museum 12", and too many CD-Rs and tapes to even get into right now. And by the time that all comes out, we'll have more on the plate... but we're a small label, and it's easy to bite off more than you can chew, because we want to put out more than we can afford, so we try to keep the list of upcoming things short... that way we don't get swamped.

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