Saturday, January 5, 2008

Interview with Arclight Records!

One of the driving forces for me, ever since the advent of my printed-zine days has been to discover bands that really “hit it,” that completely do it for me. That’s, of course, probably every music fan’s goal. To actually find a label, however, that’s putting out MANY things that do it for you is really some kinda surprise though, and Austin Texas’ ARCLIGHT RECORDS has managed to do that over the last year or so. The thing I instantly admired about these guys is that they don’t make themselves genre specific. A myriad styles see the light of day on their label, with the common denominator being good music in the ARCLIGHT eyes. Mine too, and hence we have some words with David Elizondo and Mauro Arrambide, the founders, heart & soul (well, spleen, kidneys, pancreas..etc.) of ARCLIGHT.

RAY: As with most things, I guess it's best to start at the beginning (although that would mean logic would apply and I'm not good with logic, but anyway...). Who exactly are the people behind the label known as Arclight? Can you give us a little info on the person/people who formed the label, your backgrounds, what got you into music?

MAURO: Arclight was started by David Elizondo and Mauro Arrambide. David had opened a studio in Austin, and we had mutual friends. I was looking at learning some engineering stuff and we were introduced. I have been involved in music in one way or another since I was young. My Dad played in bands when I was a kid and still does and I’ve sort of always been around it in one form or another. I’ve started playing in bands in high school and moved to Austin and played in bands here as well.

DAVID: Well, Arclight started off as the idea of Mauro Arrambide and myself, David Elizondo. We figured no one can pronounce our names, so why not start a business. Actually, I had recently opened Republic Studios (RIP) in Austin, Texas. Mauro wanted to learn how to engineer and through mutual friends we got together. After a short while we realized we had similar tastes in music and a mutual interest in running a label one day. Several bands that we dug were coming through the studio to record at this time and we approached a few of them about releasing their stuff. We kind of like informal approach that labels like Dischord had, and that is what we did. These days, as priorities have changed, Mauro is definitely the driving force behind the label. As far as my background goes, well, I started playing in bands in high school and college...really awful ones. Honestly, I am not a great musician. However, while still studying at UT at Austin one of my bands was recording in a local studio and I started to become fascinated with the studio aspect of music. So I changed my major to something where I could get access to the studio on campus, as well as an internship at that same studio. After that I worked in several different studios in Houston and DC before opening my own in Austin.

RAY: Have you ever been in bands yourself or have you been more "into it" from the listener's perspective? If there are bands in your history, you can elaborate. If not, you can just say "I suck at playing but I know when I hear something I like." Or some such crap... :-)

MAURO: I’ve been in bands since I was a kid, but it wasn’t until I moved to Austin that I got sort of serious about it. The one that stands out is Speedloader which is part of the reason Arclight was started.

DAVID: (I guess I kind of touched on some of this in the first question, but...) It has been some time since I have been in a band. Almost a decade actually. I sang in a couple, played guitar in a couple. Nothing great, but we tried to be original. I definitely feel I know what good music is, but who doesn't...after all its a very subjective thing. But I feel I can detect if a band is genuine, or at least I hope I can.

RAY: At what point did you decide "Ok, I'm starting a record label" and what kind of a process was that to go through? How long did it take, what was involved, etc.?

MAURO: I had released some Speedloader stuff on my own label called El Scorcho, it was a split 7” with The Bulemics so I had some bit of an idea of the process. Dave and I had talked about it all the time when working on sessions in the studio. We sort of just decided fuck it, lets do it. At the time we were record Southern Gun Culture & SuperHeavyGoatAss, hence the first release. The SGC/SHGA split. Kind of went from there.

RAY: What was your thought process when it came to bands that you wanted to sign? From listening to the stuff you release, the thing that I pick up is that the bands are not at all the same so-called "style" or "genre," but what they have in common is good songs & a lot of depth.

MAURO: Both Dave and I have a pretty diverse record collection. I definitely don’t listen to the same stuff all the time. I grew up listening to my Dads records, Neil Young, Hendrix, SRV, and ZZ Top and at the same time started getting into metal and hardcore, but as I got older started listening to anything that was out there. I don’t get stuck into the genre thing. If I like it, I like it. I’ve used that same philosophy with bands that we release.

RAY: Three records that really hit me as especially strong are the new one from AMPLIFIED HEAT, the self-titled debut by PHONOGRAPH and "Tonight..." by MAGNET SCHOOL...all 2007 releases. With AMPLIFIED HEAT, you've got a raw, rip-roaring set of hard bluesy rawk, calling to mind the first 3 ZZ Top albums. PHONOGRAPH has a rich, mid-America Tom Petty feel with just delicious songs. MAGNET SCHOOL grabbed me with it's insistant melodies & strong guitar jangle, coupled with some left-field chord patterns that make it stand out. Can you comment on these 3 bands & releases in as much detail as you'd like, don't be shy! I'm interested in knowing how you found these bands, you know, the circumstances of that, how you think they've developed, etc. (I understand PHONOGRAPH already has a new EP out, is that on your label? How do you think they've progressed)?

MAURO: This could be a long answer. With Amplified Heat, my band had played with them when they were called Blues Condition. Around the time they changed their name I told Dave he had to check them out. Once he saw them we were pretty sure we would offer them something. They dug it as well and it has gone from there. I dig the progression they have gone. They have grown as a band and as songwriters. I think the new album is the best stuff they have done so far (not that the old stuff isn’t good) and I think they have a lot more to offer. I’m psyched to see what comes next.
Phonograph is a good story. So one of the guys in the band. John worked at Joel (from Book of Knots/Players Club) studio, Studio G, in Brooklyn. I guess Joel had mentioned us to them and they contacted us. The album was already done and they were just looking for someone to release it. I guess they had a label that was interested but fell through. Once I got it and listened, I was hooked. It is a great record and couldn’t be happier with the timing as far as our releases. It was something fresh and new for the label and added more diversity as well. The thing that struck me with them was the songwriting. To be honest I when I first heard it I didn’t think Tom Petty. I was reminded of old Neil Young and Uncle Tupelo. Must be how my brain works. Once the first person mentioned the Tom Petty thing I could see it, which isn’t a bad thing at all. The new EP is on a label called Red Ghost. I think it just came out in Dec. but has been available on iTunes for a while. It is a great release and I can only see better things coming from these guys as well. We hope to work with them in the future if they decided to.
With Magnet School, I’ve been buddies with Brandon and Mark. I work with Brandon at my day job and Mark at my other job. I knew there were working on this record for a while and once I got a final listen there was really no question that it was something we wanted to be associated with. As you mentioned the hooks and melodies are without question one of the best things that record offers, but also (as with Phonograph & Amp Heat) the songwriting is superb. From start to finish that record is top notch. It reminds me a lot of the great early 90’s bands that were breaking out around then. I’m psyched to see the response the release gets so far it has been really good and we can only expect more.

RAY: I've been wondering...what kind of money/time/effort is involved in say, finding a band like PHONOGRAPH, signing them & then getting them in the studio and getting an album done...from beginning to end? Of course, I know some monetary things & the like might be considered private or such, and I'm not trying to get in your "business" business, but how this all works behind the scenes, especially with a label that seems focused on artistic integrity is interesting to me.

MAURO: With Phonograph the album was already recorded so we worked with manufacturing and promoting the record. All our efforts went into marketing it as much as we could. We’re relatively small so it isn’t all that great but we do what we can. Pretty much with any release we work to promote it as much as possible. There’s no use in releasing something if no one knows it’s out there. That’s my philosophy. It’s difficult to compete with some of the bigger fish out there who have the funds to buy ads and hire huge PR firms to get the word out but we do what we can to squeeze our releases in there to get some notice.

RAY: I know you guys are based in Austin TX. I've kind of gotten the idea that Austin's a little bit of a musical mecca over the years, what with the Austin City Limits TV Show & also, isn't that South By Southwest Music Festival (I may have the name wrong) there? Is Austin really happening or are you going to tell me that my ideas are just blown out of proportion & the scene there really sucks? (Just kidding...I think :-) )

MAURO: Austin is a great music city. You can go out on any given night and see an array of different types of music. I wouldn’t live anywhere else in Texas that’s for sure. The scene here is great, unfortunately the bands that the mainstream sees aren’t some of the best ones Austin has to offer. There are ton of bands that have been doing it here for a long time who deserve their spot putting Austin on the map. They may not have that mainstream appeal but you can’t deny their tenacity with sticking with it. Lifers! I think we have a good mix of what Austin has to offer, but there are others such as Pong, New Disaster, Broken Teeth, The Bulemics, Crash Gallery, Gorch Fock, so many others. There is a label in town called Australian Cattle God. Those guys are putting out some killer Austin bands as well as some international acts. Anyone wanting to get a full array of what Austin has to offer should check them out (as well as our stuff, haha!)

RAY: Are most of the bands you sign from the local area?

MAURO: Some are but we also have release stuff from bands in NYC and Richmond, VA. Most are from Austin though.

RAY: Are many of the bands on Arclight touring nationally or even going across the pond? Can you give us an idea of what it takes, planning-wise, financially & all that to get a band scheduled for, let's say, a U.S. club-type tour, get 'em on the road, bring the whole thing off?

MAURO: Most of them have. It’s pretty infrequent unfortunately. With gas prices as high as they are it’s difficult. The last time I toured (2003) it was rough. I can only imagine now. Even with that most of the bands try and do runs around the release date of their albums. They understand that it helps. We help promote the tour as much as we can with PR. As far as the booking goes that is usually handled through an agent of the band itself. We make sure to promote as much as we can up to the tour to make sure the public knows they are coming through. None have made it across the pond yet. Would like to but it’s extremely difficult. Anyone reading this want to bring any of the band over let us know!

RAY: Are you always actively looking for new bands to sign? Do you have a kind of comfort-level with what you want as a roster, as far as number of bands, etc. and then hold off at that point & work with the bands you have?

MAURO: Yes and No as far as actively looking. I see and hear new stuff all the time. We receive tons of mail and email, but we have to somewhat picky. Like I said we’re a small operation, two guys, and our resources are limited. With any band we work with we definitely let them know what we will do for them. We are open an honest about that and that is one thing I think attracts bands to us. There really isn’t a limit as to how many bands we want but I don’t want to take on too many. That will take away from who we have and anyone else we sign on. It doesn’t help anyone involved, ya know? None of the bands are signed to contracts with us so are free to move along if they choose. Most have stuck around so I guess that’s saying something.

RAY: What do you see as the future of Arclight Records? Do you have a so-called "mission statement"? What do you think of the Led Zeppelin reunion? (What?!?!?) Will the Cowboys win the NFC? (Huh?!?!?) Seriously....what's in store?

MAURO: I see a release from SuperHeavyGoatAss in Spring 2008. An Arclight Showcase at SXSW 2008 (in March) featuring Phonograph, Amplified Heat, Magnet School, Freshkills, Tia Carrera, and SuperHeavyGoatAss
I guess our mission is to put out music we dig and to promote these bands as much as possible.
BTW, I’m psyched for eh Led Zep reunion. Clips I saw online looked awesome. Hopefully they will tour.

RAY: Any really funny, goofy or just plain obscene stories connected to the running of Arclight Records that you can share?

MAURO: Man, can’t think of any off the top of my head. When I was on tour with Speedloader our van broke down in New Jersey so we spent a week in NYC, which happened during the black out in 2003(?). Wasn’t funny at the time but in hindsight it definitely is. I think that was one of the best times I’ve ever had in the city.

RAY: Any final comments for our readers?

MAURO: Just want to say thanks for all the support we really do appreciate it. The music biz seems to be changing and it’s the real music lovers out there who are keeping it alive! Here’s to you! CHEERS!

The thing I really like about ARCLIGHT RECORDS is what’s embodied in their dialogue above. Here’s a label doing what they do with the main focus being the music itself and just diggin’ it…regardless of the genre. Sort of what RAYSREALM is all about, now that I think about it. J Check out these cool guys & what they’re doing at:

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