Copy of email interview with American label topshelf:
Thanks dude! Will this be posted online anywhere? I'd really love to have an online version as well to share with people if possible. Either way. Interview's below!
On Feb 23, 2011, at 2:40 PM, Ben Bowsher wrote:
Sorry this has been a while, I've just been swamped with some other stuff, but I've just got some questions together. Thank you very much for doing this, man. I hope they're OK, feel free to go on as long or as little as you want. Also, if it's OK with you, some of your answers might lead to some more questions, so I might email you some more.
OK, so firstly, For those people who might be unaware of Topshelf, could you just outline who you are and what Topshelf does?
Hi, I'm Kevin and I co-run Topshelf Records with my friend Seth. Topshelf Records is an independent record label out of Boston, Massachusetts.
What made you want to start a record label?
Topshelf was first born out of necessity as a means to help promote and release music from bands that we were playing in at the time. The scope grew as we started releasing our friends' music as well. So, basically, we started this to get our music and that of our friends heard outside of the New England basements it was currently confined to.
Who growing up, do you feel influenced your current musical tastes now?
I never really had a "big brother" figure or whatever so I've always been very independently minded when it comes to checking out new things; sometimes to a fault even, haha. Your peers and local scene (if you're fortunate to have a good one) tend to be big influences for your music tastes and this was no different for me growing up. If I had to get specific. I'd say Saves The Day's "Stay What You Are", Braid's "Frame & Canvas" and Toe's "Book About My Idle Plot On A Vague Anxiety" all left the most lasting impressions on me.
Do you have any advice for people who maybe want to start releasing their friend's music?
Key word there is "friend". One of my favorite aspects of Topshelf is how the vast majority of our roster is comprised of really good friends. I think it's important to start simple and not try and do too much. The rest I'll sum up with a quote from one of my favorite DIY labels while growing up (Said Sew Recordings): "A job is work but work isn't necessarily a job. Stay busy in the daylight, stay busy in the moonlight, and don't worry about the limelight."
All of the bands you have put out are part of the DIY scene, would you consider yourselves a DIY label?
Considering Seth and I manage nearly every aspect of running the label in our (ever-shrinking) spare time; definitely. I realize there are labels that might tout the DIY ethos more prominently than we do, but I think there's no question if you're doing this type of thing, sure, you're very much engaged in a DIY operation.
Do you find it hard to balance the idea of being commercially viable as a business with the principles of DIY music?
Not really. We've been doing this for five years now and I think we're finally at a point where we've married the two just about as happily as we can. I think it goes without saying that people appreciate having principles placed over commercial viability. I suppose that _is_ our commercial viability, ya know?
How do you go about releasing band's records, do you approach bands, or are the releases brought about through friendships?
I think there are clear stages in which labels grow in terms of expanding their roster and working with new bands. At our core, we'll always be working with new and old friends alike on projects — I don't see that ever changing (and the day it does, I quit). I think once the label's grown some and has some attention, that's maybe when you start branching out and maybe working with friends of friends; or bands whom you don't necessarily know, but appreciate, respect and enjoy. Caravels, for example, is a band that was repeatedly recommended to us through bands on our current roster after having played with them... so it just made sense to get in touch and see if we could potentially work together.
Are there any bands you haven't had release a record on your label that you'd kill to put a release out for?
Oh, haha, SO many. There'd be a lot of dead... are we talking people here? ... Yeah, fuck it. A lot of dead people. Haha, we'll see. We've grown a lot more brash with regard to getting in touch with bands about working together over the last couple years so who knows what might happen.
With this scene seemingly starting to gain some momentum, do you have concerns about it becoming popularised? Where the sound is similar but the value becomes lost, or do you not see that happening?
As I see it, we're riding the crest of a second wave of several genres which have already gone from obscurity to popular and back again over the course of the late 90's to mid 2000's or so. I mean, all the while plenty of bands have kept on keeping on. But yeah, to be honest, I dunno or too much care where it's headed. If a band's talented, passionate, hard-working and authentic we want to work with them whether this gets popular or not.
Do you see there being a difficulty between creating this strong and open sense of community and maintaining the core ethical ideals of the scene?
I've given this question (or some version thereof) some prior thought, actually. I gotta say, to this point at least, I feel like most everyone "gets it" and is very in tune with fostering this thriving national (multi-national?) DIY music community. I really am seeing a lot of positive stuff everywhere in the way of support for bands and showgoers alike. This is really evident on a lot of online communities and in real-life context at VFW or house shows. Bottom line, I think people gravitate to a community like this because it has such strong ideals... That being said, I'm sure there's a critical mass at some point. What a shitty answer, haha.
The creative output and variety of the label is impressive, do you think you'll diversify what you put out even further?
Though I think we've definitely found a niche for ourselves, it's an open-minded niche. I feel like there's so much room for diversity in our roster and that's a great thing. We're certainly not actively looking for any specific genre and I place a good deal of pride in the fact that we don't need to.
You recently celebrated a 5 year anniversary, what do you consider the greatest achievement of your label so far?
Getting to celebrate a five-year anniversary, haha!
And what was the hardest thing you've dealt with in the past 5 years?
This past summer we invested a lot of time and money into a compilation CD project for Warped Tour 2010. The pressing plant we chose to go through botched the project entirely and then closed down without any warning. This left us out on the road and committed to a tour with barely anything to sell. We were losing money most of the Summer and had to pay through the roof for rush production and delivery costs through another pressing plant to get our CD's to us to sell. It was a nightmare. Heh, I think we learned a lot from that though!
What excites you about looking at the possibilities of the next 5 years?
I don't even know where to start! There's a lot to get stoked on. Mostly though, it's just the continued growth of the label and having all of the bands we work with benefit as a direct result. It's making me really happy to see a lot of our friends succeed at what they're doing.
Some of the bands you've put out I really love, Pianos Become The Teeth and The World Is A Beautiful Place... in particular. Are you aware of the respective scene emerging in the United Kingdom? And if so, are there any bands in particular you'd love to sign?
Thanks, they're both really talented for sure. It's tough to gauge what's going on from over here, but in keeping tabs on Big Scary Monsters, Holy Roar, Faux Discx, etc. I can definitely tell there's a lot of cool stuff happening over there. While I don't think we're quite at a point to be extending ourselves overseas too much, bands like Tall Ships, Enemies, Adebisi Shank, run, Walk!, Super Tennis (R.I.P.), Pennines, Rhodes, This Town Needs Guns and Talons (whom we have actually worked with before) get me pretty pumped.
One last thing, I'd really like to put a high res image of you and seth in with the feature, I don't suppose you have one you could send me?
They gave me some really good answers, and with a photograph and all the copy I can go straight into design ing these layouts, content included, which is a massive advantage over having to dummy copy everything up.