Interview: J. Randall (Agoraphobic Nosebleed, Grindcore Karaoke)
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J. Randall is a lyricist and vocalist for Agoraphobic Nosebleed. He might be more famous for the stuff he says on the Internet. What was once merely a vehicle for his opinions on everything from Russians to Scion has become a promotional platform for his new label: Grindcore Karaoke.
With six releases within the span of a month, the label, which offers all its content for free (so far), has grabbed the attention of bloggers big and small. It helps that the first release, Wadge’s Grindcore Lu’au, is an amazing party-grind album. It also doesn’t hurt that every release after that has fallen into the spectrum of “worth listening to” to “awesome”.
In a time in which labels are losing money, MySpace has fallen by the wayside, and touring has become prohibitively expensive, Grindcore Karaoke presents a different way to promote small bands. I asked J. Randall about the role of labels today, the Internet as a promotional tool, and his plans for the new label.
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In your e-mail, you said, “I’m all Passion of the Christ about what I’m trying to do here”. What would you say it is you’re trying to do?
A little history: Scott [Hull, of Pig Destroyer and Agoraphobic Nosebleed] and I had the Drum Machinegun comp on Relapse, and Hull’s been doing This Comp Kills Fascists. With the comps we were doing, we were trying to support what we came up through. We came from that run of 7 banger labels like Bovine, and we see that kind of micro-label in crisis at the moment. And you look at the micro-labels, and you see that’s where certain genres get a foothold and go from being completely obscure to the next big thing. But with the smaller labels tanking, a lot of these small bands are gonna run into a wall of nothing. At least with the Kill Fascists comps, some of these bands kind of got a foothold. These are bands the average person didn’t know about a year ago.
Weekend Nachos got bigger, for sure.
Yeah! So, with me doing this free label thing at the moment: I was rolling out a lot of pretty negative shit last year, and some of it was borderline contempt for how people don’t try to help out the guys that are up-and-coming. So I was kind of like, “Well, I’ve been giving this shit the shaft for so long, I gotta put my money where my mouth is and support some shit that’s cool, that most people don’t know about”. Like Wadge. He’s had record after record out and has been doing it for years. Then people come in and download that shit, and he may as well not have even existed the day before that shit dropped. It’s crazy. It was just buried in obscurity, but just make something free…
And what an album to open a label on!
That’s probably my favorite grindcore anything of all time.
What’s your process for finding bands to put on Grindcore Karaoke?
I hunt shit down. All the time, I’m kind of like a musical channel-surfer. I find a lot of these bands and just start talking to them. A lot of it I find for the comps Scott and I have been putting together for Relapse, which gets me in the mode to do that. There’s tons of incredible shit I think people just don’t know fucking exists.
I’ve listened to Robocop for a little while. I’ve always been sort of disappointed with the New England area. We’ve got our classic bands, but it’s hard. You see all this great shit coming out of California for the last 13-14 years – Stapled Shut, Lack of Interest. So anybody that’s doing anything in New England that’s on the level, I’m into it.
“Maine is the Bastard”! I hope he does that shirt. I’m stoked about that. That shit’s fucking genius.
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Are you planning on charging anything for any of the albums?
Honestly, when I approach somebody, I tell them that it’s a free release label. If a person wants to roll the dice and try it, make a little off of it, I’ll definitely support them on that. If they want to do a promotional run, then charge five bucks, fine. We’re talking about different ways to make some [money] while keeping the releases on the free side. Might start selling some shirts right alongside the downloads. Shit that you can’t rip off of Rapidshare (laughs). You’re competing with expenses in this day and age that just weren’t there back then. It’s definitely not the industry to be in to make a buck these days.
Bandcamp only allows you to have a certain number of free downloads before you have to pay for it right?
That’s true. I pay out of pocket. I’m a couple hundred bucks in, man, but I’m about doing this. I’m not loaded, but if I was trying to do a 7″ for one of these bands, I’d be out the same kind of money. This way, I can get out six bands doing it for the passion of fucking doing it. Any of these small labels, they’re making it on the side, hobby-style, and just making enough to make the next one. I could have blown my whole nut doing one 7″, but I have six records out.
So what do you see the role of labels being in the future?
I think they’re gonna be more like A&R firms. The Internet is in every way an attention-contest, so you’re gonna probably end up paying a label to help promote your band. It’s kind of fucked up, for a label to be taking your record and selling it digitally and taking a cut, but then again, you’re competing with everybody on the Internet, so maybe having Relapse or Prosthetic in your corner isn’t so bad.
So in your mind, labels are just promotional vehicles.
I think that’s their greatest value. I love Relapse, the people who work there. I can’t say enough nice things about that label, because they do juice your shit. They get behind you and put that shit fucking everywhere. And that’s what counts. They have the staff for it. I think they’re probably the largest indie label in the States due to staff size alone. It’s an international organization.
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Let’s talk about promotion. You get a lot of stuff out just by using Twitter alone. In your MetalSucks interview, you said you thought only about 1% of people who use Twitter use it to its full potential. What do you see that potential being?
Basically with Twitter, you’re sharing these little micro-thoughts. You have the opportunity to rub your brain against whoever the fuck is following you. It’s a platform! You write something that’s worthy of people’s interest, and they share it, and it becomes a larger part of what you’re doing.
A lot of bands, they’re pretty one-dimensional. Their lyrics, the ideas are almost an afterthought. The fucking riff rules right now. No one’s saying fucking anything anymore. No one’s hanging their dick out and really going for it.
I always make a point in the releases to have the booklet. I’m very adamant about that. It’s like, “How do you share your ideas?” That’s a whole other dimension of what makes a band great. If you don’t got it there, you’re gonna rock somebody’s ass for 10 minutes, and then they’re on to the next thing. But if you’ve got some substance there, some ideas, then you’ve got people like the Bastard Noise, where it’s not just, “We’re gonna pummel you with this fucking sound”, but it’s got all this bizarre, fucking sardonic humor. That’s why they’re a fucking iconic band. It’s something bigger than just music.
People don’t want to go there. That end of it ain’t good for a lot of bands. I love both hardcore and hip-hop. Hip-hop, it’s beats, but it’s lyrics, too. But with hardcore, you can get away with not sharing a fucking idea. I just don’t understand the idea that if you have the opportunity to let people know what you’re about, why you’d dodge that. It’s like I said in that MetalSucks interview. If you had Rollins, Ian McKaye, any of these dudes that are passionate about their fucking lyrics – these dudes just wanted to get their words out. If they had the sort of platform where they could get people to read their shit when they were hungry, you better believe they’d be taking advantage of it.
Moving forward, what are your goals for Grindcore Karaoke?
Basically try to put out as much stuff as I can and help make whatever’s next happen. Labels can’t afford to take 10 grand and roll the dice on some obscure thing. If that’s the final word, then bands stop at Internet obscurity. A lot these people, I’m talking to them about doing the free releases, and some of them are at the point where they don’t want to try anything anymore. They’ve just fucking had it. They recorded all this shit, they don’t get any feedback on it except for by three friends of theirs, so what’s the point? And that sucks. At this point, I’m just gonna keep doing what I’m doing.
I tell you what, if Relapse came to me tomorrow and said, “Hey, we think your little program there has some merit”, I would hand the entire thing to them, because I know that would be the best thing for these bands. I would point these bands in that direction. I don’t even give a fuck that my name is attached. I know if Relapse had this, it would be all the better for all these bands. I would hand it to them with a fucking bow on it and keep finding more bands. We’re seriously at a point where all this shit is going to evaporate, and that’s gonna be it. I’m just trying to grab people’s ears. It’s the attention contest versus attention deficit disorder. That’s what the Internet is right now. That’s why I’m releasing so much shit. I want to be sure people keep coming back, and they’re excited. I’m trying to make an onslaught of stuff.
Well, as easy as it is and as cheap as the technology is, can you see other people going your route and making small labels to release obscure music?
Yeah, I mean, I don’t want to say I’m trying to “lead by example”. I don’t see myself as leading anything, but I’m definitely trying something as an experiment. Hopefully more people will be using Bandcamp and figuring out how to promote this shit and get heard. If you go on Bandcamp and search for grindcore, there are so many people releasing their bands for “name-your-price”, a dollar, free. I can’t say enough good things about the entire service. The people on there sound good, and it’s as easy as putting it on my iPod, hitting scramble, and getting blasted. Most people are downloading music these days, and there’s not much differentiating between the people who do it themselves and the people who have labels behind them. It all comes down to promotion, so if you can figure out a way to promote yourself, you’re just as legit as all the bands with label support.
[With Agoraphobic Nosebleed] I don’t play shows, but I’ll go on the computer and run my fucking mouth, and we sell good. We sell real good. I don’t want people to forget about my ass for a second. If I ain’t getting feedback or we aren’t selling, I’ll go online and start pissing on fuckin’ everybody. I’ll start fights just to get people talking about my fucking band again (laughs).
That’s very Massachusetts of you. “Let’s start a fight”.
Yeah, but it’s a pussy fight because it’s online.
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