Cash Carter’s ears and heart have always been in the right place. His resume astounds: he started his own record label (the recently-resurrected Science Project Records) when he was in high school; he co-owned the Jacksonville, Florida record store Moon Colony Razorblade; he’s played the drums in countless– no hyperbole here– bands, including The Cadets, Thee Harmonious Firsts, and Little Gold; and these days he’s a co-owner of the Athens, Georgia, vinyl pressing plant, Kindercore Vinyl.
Given his friend-at-large reputation, it’s fitting that he’s also the drummer for the indie supergroup Blunt Bangs, a band that specializes in life-affirming power pop, destination music for people who spend their afternoon flipping through record bins, waiting for something to change their lives. Proper Smoker, their 2021 debut, recalls the guitar-driven acts documented in pre-Y2K staples like the Trouser Press Record Guide to ’90s Rock and the Spin Alternative Record Guide. Full of riffs, chiming arpeggios, candied choruses, and wistful confessions, Proper Smoker reimagines the world as a place that took as gospel Spin’s decision to choose Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque over Nirvana’s Nevermind as 1991’s Album of the Year. Here, melody is virtue, the hooks forever resonant.
The first singles, “Odessa”, “Decide”, and “Silence Is Golden”, satisfied an audience that’s still in love with the possibilities of loud guitars and mini-anthems. The latest, “She’s Gone”, comes with a video that’s a not-so-sly nod to the band’s rambunctious pedigree.
I recently spoke with Cash about supergroups, the supposed death of guitar music, and the demands of a vinyl-obsessed world undermined by a pandemic and a wrecked supply chain.
CF- Cash, let’s get this straight: Is Blunt Bangs a real band or a one-off supergroup?
CC- Yeah, people call us a supergroup. I don’t necessarily cringe at that– I don’t think any of us do– but I don’t think we really thought about it that when we formed the band. Reggie Youngblood [formerly of late-aughts dynamos Black Kids] and I started the band back in Jacksonville, and we ended up moving here together to continue the band. And when we got here, Ray [Heekin], who was our original guitarist, moved here with us– we didn’t have a bassist.
When we got here, we found the bassist in Brian Vogel. Ray left the band first, and we got Christian DeRoeck, who we call “Smokey”– he was in the band Woods for a while and Meneguar. He’s in Deep State, and he and I are in Little Gold together as well. He had just become friends with us, and he was a great guitarist. It wasn’t like we were seeking him out because he was in all these other bands. I think we had all just become really close friends, and it worked out that way.
Now we have Eli Saragoussi. She ended up doing some artwork for this previous album, but she wasn’t on the actual album. She joined us pretty much immediately after the album was recorded. She’s from a couple of bands, most notably Baby Tony and The Teenies. It’s a matter of we weren’t looking to form a supergroup or anything like that. I just think once you get a certain age, and you’re a musician, you’ve already been in a ton of bands (laughs)!
What experiences or lessons did you bring to the table this time around– lessons learned, things to do, things never to do– from your previous bands?
Whenever I was younger, I really hated it when people would tell me what to play, but that doesn’t bother me anymore. I would say that we all write the songs, but whenever Reggie or Smokey or someone has a specific thing in mind that they want, I don’t mind them telling me that I should go this direction or go that direction or whatever, whereas when I was younger, that kind of thing really bothered me.
I think I brought that and just knowing how to be in bands with people and knowing how not to take things personally. That’s the lesson I always say that being in bands has taught me– how to deal with people in general. You throw four or five people in a van for months on end, you learn how to defuse situations when you have to (laughs)!
We’re in our 40s at this point, except for Eli. I think it’s kind of awesome how we were in our 20s, thinking about people in general and bands in their 40s… I don’t know if people think about us that way, but I feel like it’s different in music now. I don’t know if it’s because we grew up in it, and it’s like, “We’re still doing that.” Maybe people do look at us like we’re the weird old dudes in the band, but it doesn’t feel that way (laughs)!
Was there ever a point where you felt out of touch, too old for the scene?
You know, I don’t. I don’t know what’s going on in music right now. I know I’m in my 40s, and I don’t think any of us feel like we’re in our 40s, necessarily. I mean, I have a family, things like that, but it doesn’t feel any different from when I was in my 20s or even a teenager. When we play shows, there are people who come out the shows that are our age, but there’s also kids that come out to the shows. I think there’s a movement going in music where ageism hasn’t completely disappeared. I mean, there was a label that was interested in putting out our music who turned us down when they found out how old we were…
Did they give that reason specifically?
And it’s a label that I like, so it’s a bit of a bummer, but that’s really all that I’ve experienced with that. But generally speaking, there’s a band like The Wimps that started in their 40s, maybe late 30s, and that’s happening, more and more. Like I said, I don’t think ageism is completely disappearing, but I think it’s mattering less at this point. Maybe it’s because of the internet, maybe it’s just because rock ‘n’ roll is still relatively young, so the rules are still changing. But yeah, I just remember thinking when I was a kid when I turned 25, I was old to be in a band, and now people are starting bands left and right in their 30s and 40s, and no one seems to blink an eye at that. And it’s not music just for old people, you know?
If you could start all over again, would you rather start like you did before, pre-internet? Or is the internet a blessing that you wish you’d had back in the ’90s?
That’s a hard question for me because there are benefits to both. I toured back before the internet. When I’m talking to younger bands, I tell stories about not having GPS, not having email, using old books like Book Your Own Fucking Life and Punk Rock Bible, just having those and literally calling up clubs and saying, “I’m Cash from this band, and we want to play,” and it’s like, “Okay, well, send me your music.”
The benefit to those days– (A) they promoted for you, because I do think promoters these days rely on the internet a little too much. (B) they found bands for you. There was no way for you to go find bands from the city; promoters did that. That’s something that bothers me a lot these days. You book a show somewhere, and they say, “Okay, build a bill.” I’m thinking, “I don’t live there! What do you mean ‘build a bill?’ You’re the promoter? This is your job.” I do think the promoters back in the day– and there are good promoters out there now; I’m not maligning all promoters–but back in the day, it felt like it was taken a little more seriously. But in the age of the internet, it’s easier to book shows; it’s easier to get the word out there; it’s easier to connect to people. I think there’s some people, even people I play music with, who like the old way of doing things.
Whatever you think about Morrissey– and Morrissey’s an asshole– there is that mystique where Morrissey or Belle and Sebastian didn’t do interviews, right? There was this separation between art and artists, artists and fans, musicians and fans. But people have to get used to the fact that that privacy doesn’t exist anymore, that people don’t do that anymore. And if you try to do that, then no one’s just going to hear about you. It’s also made people more accountable, which I’m definitely for.
It’s hard. Touring is easier, but I’m not sure it’s as effective because I remember being in The Cadets and touring, and we would run into the same bands over and over again, even if they weren’t bands similar to us. I remember running into The Strike everywhere we went. That’s not a band that we matched in any way, but I just remember running into that band over and over and over again and always having a pogo stick contest with them every time we ran into the band. It felt like a smaller world back then, and there are benefits to that, and there are drawbacks to that.
There are some things I miss, of course, like promoters being better about that, knowing the people at the club when you get there, so you don’t get ignored by the bartender, which happens a lot now (laughs)! And I felt like people came out of the shows more back then.
But generally speaking, I think it’s better now– booking is easier; connecting to your audience is easier. People complain about Spotify a lot, but even being someone who owns a vinyl pressing plant, I see Spotify as pretty valuable. I wish that they would pay the artists more, of course, like everyone does– but none of my bands ever got paid from the radio, either, you know?
I’m torn. I cherish my trips to records stores like Wuxtry and Low Yo-Yo, but it’s tough to drop $20, $30, or more on something I’ve never heard before. I’ve been burned many times. With Spotify, I’ve discovered bands I’d otherwise never encounter…
Totally. There’s this band, Pardoner, who had one of my favorite albums of the year [Came Down Different] that I found because of Spotify’s Blunt Bangs radio. It’s also a part of the reason why older people are still in the music because we can keep up with what’s going on with the new stuff even when we have busy lives, like whereas, when I was a kid, I could go and hang out in a record store, or I worked at record stores and find out about new music. Now you can find out about it anywhere.
What precipitated the move to Athens? Was the move always on the radar?
I don’t know if it was a long time ago. Reggie had never lived outside Jacksonville, except when he lived in England for a small amount of time while they were recording the Black Kids album, but he’d never really lived outside of Jacksonville. And I think he was itching, and I had toured through several times with different bands. The final straw was when I was filling in for drums for that band The Pauses. We came through Athens, and I decided I was going to move away from Jacksonville, for no other reason other than it was time to move. I love Jacksonville— I still love Jacksonville, but I just had the idea for a pressing plant, and I felt like Athens was a better place for it. It was cheaper than Jacksonville at the time, and it’s close. It’s not the west coast, so it’s easier to get back to the family in Jacksonville.
I met Ryan Lewis, who is my business partner at Kindercore. He and Dan [Geller], who are my business partners, owned the label, and we hit off really quickly. We felt like family. And touring through, Athens seemed like a good place to be for music. It seemed like a good place to start a business. I was ready to get out of Jacksonville for a little while. I actually thought, “I’ll move to Athens for a couple of years, and I’ll probably end up moving back to Jacksonville,” and that just never happened. I think Reggie was ready to move, and if we were going to start this band, we felt like starting somewhere fresh was a good idea. I got here a couple of months before Reggie and Ray moved here.
I wish that my old band The Cadets had moved here back in the late 90s when we got out of high school. There are things going on in Athens that a lot of people have a lot of problems with right now, but I definitely feel like in the ’90s that would have been a good move for us.
What continues to make Athens such a special place for bands? Have you discovered what’s behind the curtain?
One of the things that I noticed when I moved that felt different from other places that I had lived in and been in bands in is, even in Jacksonville, competition wasn’t always friendly, you know? If there was a rise in a band that started becoming popular, there wasn’t this idea of bringing everybody with them. There wasn’t a camaraderie. It always felt more insidious than helpful. I remember moving to Athens, and one of the bands I immediately joined was Helen Scott. I only played with them for a little while, recording an album that never came out, but when we were recording the album, I remember thinking, “We need horns.” And oh! Here’s all these Elephant Six people who are willing to play whatever on your album, not ask you for money, and just do it because they want to do it. There’s always been this sense of community here where everybody helps each other out. When you’re in a town and some band gets popular or famous, and then everybody resents them, that doesn’t really happen here.
The other big thing is that when I first moved here, it was really, really cheap. Like Jacksonville was cheap; Athens was really cheap. Everyone moves to New York expecting it to be like the Chelsea Hotel-era of New York, and it’s not. I love New York, and I love visiting, and I know people who have made a go over there and have survived. But part of moving to a place if you’re a musician or an artist is being able to work and pay your bills, but having enough time to do what you want to do. I have friends who live up in New York who have to work five jobs just to pay their rent, whereas, in Athens, you could work for two days a week at the time and were able to pay your rent money, so you had time to do other things. Most places that you worked for understood that. That just creates this kind of community. Things are changing. I think that just like everywhere else in the world, Athens is getting more expensive. There are things that have been in Athens for a long time that are going away. I hope that we can retain the specialness that we moved here for, but I’m starting to see it disappear. But even being on tour, I’m seeing it disappear from everywhere.
It’s a bummer, but I have to keep reminding people, “So, you’re going to move to New York and pay $5000 a month for rent, and you think this isn’t happening in New York?” New York is becoming one big strip mall. But it’s happening everywhere. I think everyone in these small towns, in these small pockets of artistic communities, is going to have to reckon with that. The cities are going to have to reckon with that.
I’m curious– how have audiences reacted to Proper Smoker? It seems like such an obvious hit…
It’s weird. Like I said, I pay attention to Spotify, and if you were to pay attention to Spotify, it looks like the record’s not doing super well, but it does seem to be doing pretty well. All the bands I’ve been in, none have been super-successful up ’til this point. The only tour I’ve ever been on that made money was the Little Gold tour that we did in 2014, but we’re actually making money on the road, which is shocking, coming home with money, which is shocking! It’s absolutely shocking!
I ask because I’ve been overwhelmed the past few years by some outlets’ general disdain for any bands that still feature a guitar as a prominent instrument. I take the slight personally as someone who grew up playing the guitar, loving those kinds of bands. The hate seems bizarre and out of nowhere. I’m thinking of Pitchfork and A.V. Club, specifically.
Well, I think that Pitchfork and A.V. Club and those places do a disservice to themselves. It’s the music blogs. For example, Pitchfork really fucked over Reggie.
I wasn’t sure if I should bring that up. [Youngblood’s band Black Kids were quickly promoted by Pitchfork as The Next Big Thing and then unceremoniously dismissed and dissed soon after.] I remember Thee Crucials playing Jacksonville and meeting some of Black Kids at an afterparty, and they were the coolest even if they were on the verge. You’d never had known they were an “it” because they were so nice, down to earth, so I was blown away by Pitchfork’s about-face. It felt beyond critical, more personal.
It’s not like I expected Pitchfork to write anything about Proper Smoker, not saying that, but having done what they did, and they’re still getting clout from that. There’s an article from last year about “the reviews that built Pitchfork,” right? That review is always there. They always talk about it. There’s been several articles written about it, so you would think that something that Reggie’s involved with, they would have at least said something, but they didn’t. But here’s the thing– I don’t really know anyone who pays attention to Pitchfork anymore. Pitchfork has become like a Top 40 blog. They’re writing about stuff that they don’t even need to write about. I mean, A.V. Club is a little better–they were my next go-to after Pitchfork— but they’re getting that way too. Do you have to write about the Kanye West album? I mean, I know that you have to…
But do they really have to?
Right. And do you have to write about the Halsey record? I’m not saying anything negative about those artists…
But there are mainstream outlets to cover those bands…
The story I always heard– maybe this isn’t exactly true– is that Pitchfork started because they loved the Built to Spill album Perfect from Now On. They didn’t think it got enough attention, so they started a blog to promote that album. Look how far they’ve gone off course from that. It’s better now than it was when they were just writing articles that had nothing to do with the music– It was like, “Hey, look, I’m going to be snarky, and people are going to laugh at this point.” It’s better than it was then, but it’s still pointless now. I used to go there and find new music based off the “Best New Music” tags, and I don’t anymore. Again, I’m 43, so maybe I’m not the target audience.
I employ a bunch of people who are in their late teens, early 20s, who go to school for music stuff, and they don’t care about Pitchfork and or A.V. Club. There are a few blogs here and there, like Brooklyn Vegan. But ultimately, I think that more so than those blogs doing the bands a disservice, I think they do themselves a disservice to completely dismiss an entire genre of music. Again, I’m around a lot of young people who are into music, and I don’t see them wearing shirts of the people that are being covered on Pitchfork. I see them wearing Built to Spill or Grandaddy t-shirts, stuff like that. They want to hear this music. They do love this music, and they’re into it. I don’t know who Pitchfork is aiming at anymore.
I think what bothers me the most is the politicizing of it all like you can’t be in a guitar-driven band and be politically progressive at the same time… If you’re playing a guitar, you’re guilty of some ism. It bewilders me…
They’re dismissing a time in guitar-driven music when guitar-driven music is more multicultural than it has been since all the early bands stole their music from old black blues musicians and since the whitewashing of blues and things like that happened in the ’50s and ’60s. It is the most diverse than it has been since then, so now that it’s the most diverse, they’re choosing to ignore it? It doesn’t make any sense. It’s crazy.
I get covering other things than rock music. Absolutely! Of course, you should cover all aspects of music! Sure, it sounds like because I’m in a guitar-driven band that I’m offended that they’re not covering guitar-driven bands, and that’s fine. Whatever. I’m not saying they have to cover us. I don’t care. Here’s the thing– I have a kid. My kid is eighteen. They’re non-binary. They listen to everything. I’ll be in the car with them, and they’ll listen to a ’90s hip hop, listen to kinda new Top 40 pop, but they’ll listen to like Cat Power, and then stuff like trap. These kids listen to everything, and for a blog not to mimic that and try to review all kinds of music and dismiss guitar-driven music, they’re doing them more than a disservice.
A lot of reviews of Proper Smoker mentioned “’90s nostalgia.” Does that tag bother you?
Well, I mean, here’s the thing– I don’t know if it’s a nostalgia for us because it was from our past. It’s a weird thing. The ’90s are now as far away from us as the 60s were whenever we were in the ’90s and teenagers. All the bands were trying to be like bands from the ’60s. Pavement was trying to be the Velvet Underground, and now everyone’s trying to be Pavement.
The ’90s nostalgia doesn’t bother me for a couple of reasons. It seems like bands that I was into in the ’90s, like Pavement, who I loved, are bigger than they’ve ever been. There are bands that I got made fun of for liking in high school that everyone loves now.
There’s a bit of ’90s nostalgia, but I think we’re to the point in music history where there’s a nostalgia for everything. It’s not just ’90s nostalgia. There’s ’60s nostalgia, there’s ’50s nostalgia. The ’90s that was indie rock, like grunge or whatever. But everything is popular now.
So yeah, it doesn’t bother me. I mean, is it true? Yeah, probably is true, you know, but I think that Reggie gets pigeonholed for being in a dance band, and ever since I’ve known Reggie, his favorite band has been Teenage Fanclub. It’s not like we set out to sound like a band from the ’90s. We just set out with, “Hey, we love Big Star, Teenage Fanclub, and Elvis Costello, that kind of stuff. It’d be fun to play that music, and if something happens, something happens, but if it doesn’t, who cares?” We’d been in this band for a long time before we put out an album, and I’m not sure an album was the goal. I think we just wanted to be in a band.
I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me earlier to ask this, but it’s the 30th anniversary of Nirvana’s Nevermind. What’s your relationship with that album?
I don’t want to be one of those people who says, “The Beatles suck!” It’s like, “Okay, you can say you don’t like The Beatles, but to say they suck? You’re trying to shock people.” I don’t want to have that kind of reaction to Nevermind, but Nevermind didn’t really influence me. I remember when it came out, and I liked it. I liked Nirvana; I don’t dislike them. But I think of things that affected me more, like Dinosaur Jr. The two could correlate very easily; they’re from the same school, but that kind of stuff spoke to me more. I like Nirvana. I think they’re very important to music. I think that Nevermind affected all of the musical landscape in a positive way. It made people think, “Hey, I can play music too. These guys are writing great songs, but they’re not Yngwie Malmsteen up here. They’re just playing chords, and it’s great.” I think that was important.
I think it was important that you didn’t have to look like a rockstar, although now that has become the look of the rockstar, which is odd– but again, it didn’t really affect me. I bought the album when it first came out– or actually, Dennie [Cash’s older brother, also a noted nicest-guy-in-rock-n-roll and drummer for essentials like The Mondellos and Thee Monarchy V] bought the album when it first came out– and I liked it, but I even remember then, it’s not like I just sat there and studied it. I listened to it a couple of times, but I was more interested in other stuff. It’s weird to see it become the cultural touchstone that it has. I think it affected the entire culture, and I think it affected the music industry, but I can’t say that it personally did much for me.
A lot of people said Nevermind made them pick up and guitar and start playing. Man or Astro-man? made me pick drumsticks and start playing. I learned to play drums playing along with their records. But the other thing is that they bridged the gap between that world and my childhood because I remember them being so nice to all of us, all the kids. I remember when we started playing music and them letting us open for them. I have this memory of my old band The Cadets and our guitarist Chuck, we’d cover “Spheric Waves” by MoAm?, and we would always open for them in Florida. One thing MoAm? would do is if it wasn’t an all-ages show was they would open their soundcheck to anybody who couldn’t get in to see the show, the younger kids. They would play a whole set of theirs for soundcheck, just for the kids who couldn’t come see it. That blew my mind!
Also, I remembered Chuck sitting up on stage after they’d gotten done with their soundcheck with Brian Causey, and Brian showing him how to play “Spheric Waves” and being amazed at these guys, who are our idols, these guys who are rockstars taking the time to sit here and show Chuck– who was 16 at the time, maybe 15– how to play the song right. It just blew my mind!
I remember Teasley, the drummer would always write me postcards from the road, and I was in high school. He must have done that to a hundred other kids. That kind of stuff means a lot, and it’s that kind of thing that made me get into music.
The other thing is that made me– even at the pressing plant– go “I’m never going to shit on anybody’s music. Ever.” Because I’m sure that The Cadets were shitty to them, and it didn’t matter. They were going to be nice to us; they were going to encourage us anyway. That’s how I dealt with my record store when I had a record store. Anybody that worked there, I told them, “You DO NOT shit on anyone; I don’t care what it is. You don’t shit on their music taste, ever.” And I’ve followed that through with Kindercore. It doesn’t matter what I think of that person’s music. It’s important to them.
That’s the perfect segue way to my next question. How did you get involved with the Kindercore name?
I moved here to do something with Ryan [Lewis]. When I moved here, I had met with Ryan and Dan, and we had talked about restarting. There was even a project where we were going to put out a 7-inch, but that fell through. But then Ryan got a job at Habitat for Humanity, and that put everything on the back burner. I had this idea of starting a pressing plant, and I went around and talked to different people. There was a guy here who used to work at a record store, who also owns a label, who I went to and said, “Hey, I’ve been thinking about starting a pressing plant,” and he said, “You can’t do it here.” He convinced me that it was impossible because of regulations. I later found out that it was because he tried to start a pressing plant and failed, and that was why he discouraged me. He ended up being not a very nice person, and an “I can’t do it, then no one can do it” type of a guy.
So Ryan got injured moving a piano; it fell on him. And he came to me when we were sitting at Caledonia and said, “Hey, I can’t work for Habitat anymore. The boss is not someone that I can continue to work for. You moved here just to do something with me, let’s do something!” I said, “Okay, let’s do the record label.” He said, “No.” Then I said, “I’ve got this idea for a pressing plant, but this guy said it can’t happen here.” Ryan said, “Ah, that’s not true. Let me figure out if that’s true,” and he figured out that it wasn’t true.
When we started the pressing plant, it wasn’t necessarily going to be called Kindercore, but when we started trying to come up with the name, it was me and Ryan at first. I suggested bringing in Dan, calling it Kindercore. “That name is already out there, people know the name, and I feel like if it’s you guys, it’s still Kindercore.” It took a little bit of convincing, but they agreed, and that’s where it went. Kindercore Vinyl is a completely separate thing from Kindercore Records. They’ve tried to make it clear like when I wanted to do a label, they wanted me to make sure that whatever label I do is not Kindercore, and that’s the reason why I revived my old label from high school, which is Science Project Records. I did that because it was a label that existed before, so there is some separation,“This is Science Project Records, not Kindercore.”
It’s hard to say how it feels to be under that name because I only know it as the pressing plant. But there are things that happen here and there that make me aware of the importance of the label. Some guy did a painting of all the Elephant Six people, and I know that Kindercore is part of Elephant Six, but it really hits home whenever your two business partners are in that painting. I try as someone who came in as an outsider– and I think that some people have seen me as that when it comes to coming back into it– I tried to be aware and sensitive to how important it is to someone and not ruin that for people. We stick to the same kind of ethos that they did as a label.
What was it about the pressing plant idea that spoke to you?
It was like one of those things where if you’re going to be in a band these days, as you get older, if you’re going to continue music, and if you’ve got a family, you’ve got to come up with a way to make at least enough money to support your family. That’s why I opened the record store– it was in Jacksonville, and it went under– and I just kept moving further and further back in the line, like in the beginning of it, when I was making the record.
I understand the demand for vinyl is overwhelming at this point, and a lot of folks from smaller labels are pointing fingers at major labels for messing up a good thing, like clogging up the lines with a few million copies of the new Adele record when a smaller label is left in the cold for a release or Record Store Day. Is that a real problem, pressing 3 million more copies of Rumours?
That is part of it, but there’s more to it than that. I wish that everyone would read about how everything is pushed back so they would understand that when their records are late, I’m not screwing them over. The pandemic did a lot of things to manufacturing as a whole, but specifically, record manufacturing. We were are already on an upward trajectory, but it was like a slow steady of how popular records were coming. But something happened when the pandemic hit, and vinyl sales skyrocketed like they never have before. People say that we’re still not to the point where we were in the ’60s and ’70s. That’s not true. We are. The problem is Soundscan isn’t really keeping up with records and records being sold online, so you really can’t tell, but the demand for records is over 600 million a year at this point. The global capacity, last I checked and maybe it’s a little bit more now, is 130 million a year, so that tells you where we are. The demand has gone through the roof. Whenever I started this pressing plant, I would always joke, “Yeah, it’s getting better, but it’ll never be like it was in the ’50s and ’60s. We will never see that again,” and we’re there now, so the demand is definitely a big part of it.
The other part of it is, just like everything else in manufacturing, the pandemic is affecting the supply chain in every way you can imagine. In the process of getting records made, you have something mastered for vinyl. You then can get the lacquer cut. Then you get a “mother” made, which makes stampers. The stampers go on our presses that press the record. First, you test pressings. And then with improvement, you get a record made. Then you have to have packaging made and all that stuff, right?
Every part of that supply chain is broken. First of all, last February that fire happened at Apollo [Masters]. There were two places that made blank lacquers– Apollo in California and MDC in Japan. Apollo made 89% of the lacquers worldwide, so the only place left making blank lacquers right now is MDC, who used to only make 10-20% of the lacquers worldwide, so there’s only one place. So, of course, there’s a shortage in lacquers!
Then there’s a shortage in nickel. Stampers are made of pure nickel, so there’s a stopgap there. Before, you could get a lacquer cut within a few days, and then it got shipped off to a plating facility. Sometimes it took a couple of months to get a lacquer cut of the album. It depended on the supply of lacquers at the time. Then it used to take about 2 to 4 weeks to get stampers made. Now, it’s taking up or 4 months to get stampers made. That’s just to get the stampers made, and then you got to send out the test pressing and then the test pressing has to get approved. Whenever there were two places making lacquers and the demand wasn’t so high, the quality control for blank lacquers was pretty good. Well, now there’s only one place making all lacquers worldwide, and so the QC for blank lacquers is non-existent at this point. You don’t know if a blank lacquer was bad until it’s been cut and the test pressings made. So whereas our pass rate for pressings used to be 97% or 98%– and we very rarely got a test pressing reject– now we get a lot of test pressing rejects, and a lot of it has to do with either the lacquer was bad to begin with, or the cutting engineers are so backed up, pushed, and so stressed out, they’re not able to pay as much attention.
Then on top of that, there’s a shortage in cardboard and ink, so there’s a shortage for all of the jackets and all of the center labels. We just got told this past week that the company that makes center labels couldn’t get in any paper.
Then there’s a shortage in PVC worldwide. Well, that’s what we use for making records. Trying to get in PVC is a nightmare. We’re on our fourth price increase on PVC. And this fourth price increase is more than the other three price increase combined. So the price of records is going to go up at least another dollar or two at cost. Then that’s something we’re going to have to deal with because clients are going to be pissed.
So yeah, demand is an issue, and major labels coming in is an issue, but there’s the supply chain issue, and that’s not even to talk about parts that we have that are for regular maintenance. People have spare parts for when something goes wrong. We don’t have any spare parts. A machine goes down, and it’s down until we can get a new part in, which sometimes doesn’t exist anymore. We have to get a different kind of part that ordinally wouldn’t go for it and rig it to work on that part, and so the machine goes down more often. We had our chiller go down because of two fuses. We went to find the fuses, and there were three of them in the world. We had to have that specific fuse. So I mean, it’s like this perfect storm.
I just want to tell people to go into Home Depot, go into Starbucks, go into your grocery store. See how much shit they’re out of that affects all of us, and those are multi-billion-dollar-a-year corporations. We’re a small business. If they can’t get shit in, we can’t get shit in. You think we can? I know your records are important. Believe me, and it’s important to me, and I am trying to do my best to get it out as quickly as I can. And I know it’s been pushed back three or four times. I get it. I know you’re upset. You have a right to be upset. But look around– the world is in chaos, or at least the manufacturing world is in chaos. Your records are important, but nobody’s dying if you have to push your date back two or three times.
What’s behind the surge in popularity?
I think a couple of things happened. Generally speaking, there are people in their 20s and 30s who grew up with just digital. When we grew up, part of your identity was what you listened to. Part of that was the shirts that you wore, your collection of CDs, or even the CD wallet or booklet, and I think there is a bit of nostalgia for that. I think that people have started wanting to have that identity again, especially because with the advent of the internet, music became less of an identity for people. Our tribes were based on what we liked and what we listened to. Now that you can find that anywhere, it’s harder to get the record and have the record. If you really liked it, you’re going to buy the record. That becomes part of your identity, part of your tribe if you own the record. If you listen to music, it doesn’t matter. Everybody listens to everything. Everyone’s heard of Pavement. But if you have all Pavement’s records, then you’re real fan. I’m not saying that’s true. I’m just saying that’s the thought process.
I also think that when the pandemic happened, people were looking for ways to support bands. You can’t go to shows, so what can you do? You can buy the record And I do think buying records is a disease. So once it starts, and you’re in the pandemic and trying to support these bands, once you start buying records, then, “I’ve got to buy this turntable. That’s $200. I have this $200 turntable, so I need more records.” It’s like this disease that spreads, and all of a sudden we’ve created a bunch of record collectors!
Back to Blunt Bangs, I know y’all are considered a supergroup in the indie circles. What are some of your favorite supergroups?
I’m one of those weird music fans who there are certain bands I know everything about, and then there are bands that I don’t. I like the music, and I buy the record, but I don’t know every single thing about them. Even the supergroups. I don’t think of us as a supergroup, and again, we don’t mind the term supergroup. I just don’t think it’s necessarily applicable.
But it’s the easiest ones like Traveling Wilburys and The Highwaymen. I’m trying to think of any indie rock supergroups, but indie groups are so incestuous. I guess there are things that I wouldn’t consider a supergroup that people would consider a group because it’s members of other bands. There was the Monsters of Folk, and I like that fine, but that wouldn’t be something where I would say, “Oh, I love that band.” I guess Wild Flag was considered a supergroup. That would probably be one of my favorites. I guess Quasi was considered a supergroup. I guess even Silver Jews would be considered a supergroup if you think about it. They’re one of my favorite bands of all time! There was the Causey Way, and Servotron was definitely a supergroup.
There are some regrets in life that sting me to my core, and there is one involving Servotron. There was a tour they did where they had four shirt designs, a design for each one of the members of the band, and I didn’t get them. I didn’t have the money to buy them at the time, thinking that they would have them when they came back around the next time. And I never got any of those shirts, and if there’s any shirts in the world that I could buy, it would be those Servotron shirts, so if anybody out there has those four Servotron shirts, size medium, get in touch with me.