Plug Research Interview
Better Propaganda: So Allen, how would you describe your label Plug Research, to people, in a nutshell?
Allen Avanessian: In a nutshell? Well, basically we just sit down, listen to music that we love and we want to release, and if we feel it's something unique and something a little more innovative than the usual thing, and just- you know- entertaining basically ...that's the kind of label we are. You'll definitely find unique material coming from Plug Research in terms of genres. We have different hybrids of music in most of our releases. We just like to experiment in those ways. So, in a nutshell, I would just say, you know, entertaining music and just new and exciting stuff.
BP: That seems to be a really common thread with indie labels, is that it's a labor of love. And it's like that with you guys too then?
A: That's definitely why we're doing this, because we love to do it, that's exactly it. Most everyone knows that independent labels aren't swimming in cash or anything like that... It is a labor of love, and we basically release stuff that we love, and hope something catches on and we can keep doing this.
BP: I really like this slogan you have on your website that says "Trying to work it out since 1994." So what does that mean? (laughter)
A: Well, ...it all works together. When we say it's a labor of love and we're trying to work it out, meaning... we're always, you know, introducing something new- at least we think we are- and we hope people see and hear what we do... That's basically what it means, trying to make people catch on to what we're about, and hope people are just a little more forward-thinking, in everything, in all sorts of art, all different formats of stuff, from music... even with politics, that's pretty much it.
BP: A lot's changed since 1994... that's probably had a lot of impact on your label. What do you think about digital downloads, I mean, you weren't thinking that way ten years ago.
A: What do you mean "what do I think about them?" ...we're basically doing it. I think it's great, it's obviously the future, you know. Digital downloads. Any sort of distribution, whether it be digitally, or whether it be just regular hard copy distribution, it's good to basically get your music out there in any format, especially as an indie and as an indie artist as well.
BP: There seems to be a big split still in indie labels, where some are just, you know, ready to go and get their music out any way they can to any sort of audience, and then some have very specific and strict anti-mp3 agendas. You're obviously taking one position; you have your mp3s on our site. Why do you think labels don't want to play that way?
A: I don't know. Maybe a lot of people are uncomfortable with stuff they're not really familiar with.
BP: Right. I can tell for sure, from being the editor for our site, that we've gotten a lot of attention for some of your artists. In fact, we've had two number ones this year on our site from your label. Camping is number one right now today. Milosh and Camping have been trading the number one spots back and forth.
A: See, and that's great, because these are both debut releases for us. I'm sure there's a lot of people who have just heard their stuff for the first time, which they probably wouldn't have been able to, if it wasn't for you guys. That just makes mp3 distribution more available to a wider audience, I would say. For people to just be able to check out debut releases, like I'm sure a lot of people have heard about the Milosh record, but want to check it out. I know there's definitely a lot of people checking that stuff out on iTunes as well, they'll go on there and listen to 30 seconds of a track, and then maybe go and buy the CD instead of download it. It's always good to let people listen to stuff, and just get it out there and that's why we have the internet and these sort of streams. So yeah, it's great.
BP: Let's talk about that Milosh release. What's it like working with him, he's from Toronto, yeah?
A: Yeah, I've never personally met him. We've talked on the phone plenty of times. It was very interesting, and basically we got a demo from him, I believe, about almost two years ago. And the production on the demo was really interesting to us. It felt- you know- some more work could be done on the production side, but basically we had someone here who was making electronic music, sort of in the same vein as like maybe Boards of Canada or something, but he actually could SING. And it just blew us away that we had this soulful singing over these electronic beats, and that's sort of a hybrid right there, with R&B soul meets electronica. So yeah ...we felt it was quite unique, and we worked pretty hard on putting the whole album together. It took about a year to basically finish the whole thing up; mixing it and mastering it and sending it off and we're pretty happy with the final result.
BP: You use the word 'hybrid' a lot. In my notes, you know, I was using the word crossover, because you guys are branching out into stuff that incorporates guitars, stuff that incorporates singing like you're saying. When you guys started, wasn't it more of just like an experimental electronic thing, and it's... this is some new steps for you guys?
A: Yeah, I guess it was experimental/electronic in the sense that when we first started, that was kind of what we thought was something new. Generally at that time, when we were releasing records- I mean even Jonah (betterPropaganda Electronic Music Director Jonah Sharp) knows works that no one in the States was interested in this stuff. We were just getting faxes and emails from overseas, and were shocked like "Wow, our records got out there?" and (laughter) "How did this happen?" So basically that's how we moved on with the label, and just figured we could keep doing the sort of stuff that we like, and there's definitely an audience there, and hopefully there will be a bigger audience. And now, in the States, the States is our biggest market. And it's exciting to be able to do this sort of thing and have people be into it.
BP: I'm noticing that there's a lot of bands now that are really stirring it up on the genre thing. I mean, we sit here and try to categorize stuff, and we have the hardest time sometimes, you know, "okay, are these guys an 80s tech pop band?" "Oh no, they're an experimental band." "Well actually, they're really a pop punk band." "Well, no..."
A: Right, right.
BP: It's hard to tell sometimes.
A: Right, you have all these sub-genres and sub-genres (laughter) of stuff. ...That's why I don't like to tag or label anything. ...that's why I like to call it 'entertaining music,' it's a form of entertainment any way you look at it. It's really hard. If you hear some electronics, and then you hear a guitar in there, what do you call it, 'indietronica' (laughter) ...it's just ridiculous. It's music. It's just a form of music, and that's it. Just take it as it is I guess.
BP: So we've all been pretty shocked here at our office that Camping's been such a popular thing with our audience. And here's this German guy that's putting out- what, like- bossa nova done with a sampler with bursts of noise and experimental crashing collage stuff in it, I mean, that's kind of unlikely to be a number one, what do you think of that?
A: Well, I think a lot of people... I guess the CD is sort of misleading, because it's not samples at all, basically, Steven Gardner and Ben Bailis out of DC and New York, they produced the record, and it's all real instruments. They might have used a little bit of noise and stuff from their laptops or guitar pedals, but it's all real instrumentation. And a lot of people think they've been sampling bossa nova records or something and asking Henning to sing over it. It's not the case, it's just basically their interpretation of what German bossa nova music should be.
BP: WOW, 'cause that was my next question, you know, what are they sampling? (laughter)
A: They're not sampling Jobim or anything like that, (laughter) it's all real instruments. They're playing brass sections, they're playing guitars, everything, the drums...
BP: Hey, you're in a band called Headset, right?
BP: Tell us about Headset.
A: Headset is basically sort of a production team. What happened was a few years ago, Stephan Betke from the Scape label, who is also Pole, asked me to do a track for his electronic jazz compilation, which was I think Statitism 2 on his label. He basically said make your own interpretation of what an electronic jazz track should be. And like okay, for fun, I'll just hook something up. And Jimmy Tamborello, who's also Dntel, got together and decided to work on it together. We did something for him, and he asked us to do a full length. And with Jimmy's schedule and my schedule, it took about two years to come up with some sort of a concept. Mainly it's sort of supposed to be an electronic jazz thing, that ended up kind of turning into this whole electronic jazz hip hop collaboration. So we're basically like a production team, I would say, Headset is. And I asked, Daedelus from the label to work with me on one of the tracks, John Tejada also from the label worked on a track with me. We just collaborated with some MCs and that's the final result.
BP: You've put out a bunch of John Tejada's stuff by now, huh?
A: We put out a full length by him called Daydreams in Cold Weather, and there's a new album due out in September, Logic Memory Systems, also that's coming out. In the past, we put out Mr. Hazeltine stuff, which is his moniker, and those were just 12"s, EPs and that sort of thing.
BP: Dntel is also on your roster, they have some releases with you guys?
A: Dntel, yeah, he's released the Life is Full of Possibilitiesalbum. And an EP, and has done production work on some other albums, like on the Languis record he plays the accordion I believe on one of the songs... We're all sort of this core family of producers who help each other out and work with each other, yeah.
BP: Does really the whole label like kinda interweave itself? You're explaining this this way.
A: Yeah, because we're all L.A. based pretty much, most of the artists. Yeah. We just feel we all have the same sort of aesthetic with music, and love working with each other. We're always hanging out anyway. We share an office with dublab.com, who's an internet radio station, and a lot of their DJs are our artists, so, yeah, it just works that way.
BP: Now, I'm up here in San Francisco, and I'm sure you're well aware of the inter-city rivalry, and it's real easy for us up here to make fun of L.A., and (laughter) - I'm sure you know of this- and it surprises us here to hear that this amazingly inventive and creative and just artistically weird and beautiful label is down in L.A. because L.A., in our minds, you'd always associate with really slick stuff that's more aimed at a commercial audience that wouldn't take chances. Do you feel out of touch with L.A., or you've got a pulse of it and it all makes sense?
A: Not at all. Like I just said, we just have a group of people here we love working with. There are just so many labels in L.A. actually right now that are some of our favorite... well, some of our favorite music is coming out of L.A. The Stones Throw label is one of our favorite labels out here. We love some of these producers that are coming out... There's just a coalition of artists, musicians... I'll admit, a few years ago, there was definitely not the kind of scene that we have now. I think it's for the most part, we have a lot to owe to a station like dublab, and just the people they've been bringing in. And I also feel a lot of artists have moved down here too. We keep doing shows, we keep doing different sort of projects, and everyone wants to get involved. That's it, yeah. L.A.'s great. (laughter) Love it down here. The weather's great, and we're just having fun.
BP: I noticed you gave a shout out to Tigerbeat6 on your website, you guys link him on there. You like kid606's work?
A: I enjoy some of it, I'm not a big fan to be honest. I've enjoyed some of their releases a lot. Like I said, we basically get into all kinds of stuff, all kinds of different music. There's just so much stuff coming out right now, so it's hard to follow what everyone's doing. I haven't even heard the last two records he's done.
BP: I think he does like two a week or something.
A: (laughter) Right.
A: Well, I heard the Dykehouse track on this compilation that Sam gave me at Midem a couple years ago, which I was blown away by it. I haven't heard the new album yet, hopefully we're supposed to be getting a package from them soon, so (laughter), I'll make sure to check that out. But, I think we feel Dabrye on the label, which is AMAZING, that's the sort of aesthetic we follow anyway. And Dabrye's also done some interludes and some editing on a new Thomas Fehlmann record we're releasing at the end of the year, so it should be fun.
BP: And what else are you working on right now through the rest of the year? What else are we going to see from Plug Research?
A: Well, the Headset record comes out tomorrow, June 29th. Then there's a dub project out of Vancouver, called Calamalka, it's a live band doing a lot of dub and sort of this ...atmospheric live element to it. And then we have a couple of EPs coming out, Daedelus "Something Bells 12", there's a new Adventure Time 12 called Glass Bottom Boats, both 12's include remixes by Caural, Nobody, Edit, Subtitle, Omid.... What else do we have coming out, let's see... end of the year we have the new Ammon Contact full length that's due. Keeping busy. The John Tejada record, full length. coming out. A new artist by the name of Back Ted and Ted, a 12" by him, and that's just Plug Research stuff, and then we have our other label, Sofa Disk, which we're releasing the Build An Arc record, which is a jazz project, and there will be remixes by Madlib and Jay Dilla, a single off of that, so, yeah.
BP: Awesome, well, thanks for your time.