Friday, September 25, 2009

An Interview with Eric of Torture Garden Pictures Company

Eric, owner and proprietor of Torture Garden Pictures Company, released high-quality, DIY records for years before relocating to Houston this summer. Now that he calls the Bayou City home and immersed in the burgeoning GCHC movement, he's got even more projects on the way. I recently chatted with Eric, via e-mail, to discuss all things brutal.

No Funeral: What spurred the creation of Torture Garden Picture Company? Were you involved in any bands, labels, or other projects prior to TGPC?

Eric TGPC: Torture Garden Picture Company was created solely to release the INPITE one sided 7". I was in a band with the singer at the time and thought the material shouldn't be gathering dust unreleased. I was in a band called 13 S.O.S. which later changed its name to KERUM and I did a radio show called The Mongolian BBQ before starting the label.

No Funeral: The label started when you lived in Maryland. However, you recently relocated to Houston. What was it about Maryland that was bumming you out? What is it about Houston that is not bumming you out?

Eric TGPC: I've lived in Maryland ever since I moved to the US in 92 from Germany. I was bummed on their underground punk scene ever since I became involved with it in the late 90's. Apathy and bad taste seems to thrive there. I actually didn't see how positive and productive the underground scene could actually be until my old band KERUM went on a full US tour in 2003.

My move away from the East Coast has been overdue for years. Without shit-talking, I'll say that my confidence and trust of the MD/DC scene was broken beyond repair over three years ago. So far I see a higher caliber of bands here in Houston and a really fun gay bar scene!

No Funeral: The Torture Garden Picture Company features underground stalwarts like Machetazo, Frightmare, and Agathocles. You’ve also released material from bands like Mind of Asian, Coffins, and Brody’s Militia; bands that don’t neatly fit into the general preconceptions of metal or punk. What is the motivation or driving pathos behind the records you produce? Is it a matter of being a fan, feeling that these bands deserved to be heard, or is it something else/more?

Eric TGPC: I'm glad you used the term "features" when describing my label's relationship to bands. Too many times you hear someone say bands "on" this or that label. That makes it sound as if a label OWNS the band...

I'm a fan first and foremost. I think most people involved in the underground scene likes more than just one sub genre of metal or punk. Hardcore, grind, thrash, doom, powerviolence, whatever... When I first started the label I mainly just wanted to help friends get their bands' record out. There had seemed to be some strange barrier at the time preventing bands from releasing vinyl themselves. It was before the use of computers and CDrs made record pressing more accessible. Sometimes I'll have an idea for a record that I'd personally love to have and start from there. Sometimes I'll hear CD only release and think "This would kill on vinyl!" Most times though, I'll be contacted by the band itself asking me for help or wanting to work with me. There are only a few releases I regret being involved with, but I did what I could the help the band out at the time.

No Funeral: You mentioned the apprehension of DIY bands to release their own vinyl. I want to know not only what you attribute to that behavior but how you make the TGPC releases so spectacular. The ones that I own all have tri-colored vinyl, glossy inserts, and an overall aesthetic that major labels like Roadrunner don’t have. How do you do it? Are you going broke doing it? What tips or tricks do you have to share?

Eric TGPC: I really don't know what it is about bands not releasing their own material. There are bands that have, of course, but I think it may be a problem of distribution maybe. The idea of "Ok, we've got 500 of these records now what do we do with them?"

I've never really though about it but major labels in stereotypically are not going to pay special attention to individual projects. When someone at a larger record company is laying out a record, deciding what color to press the wax on, or designing the center labels- they are at work on the clock at the moment. Is someone at Jack In The Box going to focus extra time and care with your chicken sandwich order? No, they want to get it done and on the next one. Plus there may be one employee talking to the pressing plant, another employee involved with the printing plant and so on. I think that is their main difference from smaller labels in general.

With my own releases, I get to focus on designing with the end result. I deal with every aspect of production- so in the end it rests on my shoulders. Cover art is important to me and I like to somehow tie in the color the record is pressed on. I'm color blind, so generally I'll take two or three colors from the cover art and use them thematically for the rest of the record.

Sometimes my ideas will come back to bite me in the ass. That tri-color record came out great in my opinion, but cost as much as an LP to press in the end. Unless I wanted to charge $9 for a compilation 7", there was no possible way of breaking even on that. Same with the packaging for the RAINBOW OF DEATH 10"... Don't get me wrong, profit and return does not factor into my decision process at all when I decide on a release. But it’s silly to be so wasteful. Since I started the label in 2002 I dare say that I have not encountered one penny of profit.

As far as tips go, I’d say to take you time and do it right. Don't bite off more than you can chew and don't expect to make money.

No Funeral: In addition to all the cool music, Torture Garden Pictures Company takes the aesthetics of vinyl such as artwork, colored vinyl, and packaging to new heights. Each release is top-quality. Why is releasing high quality material important to you? Do you demand this level of work from yourself, do you feel that the listener deserves a total sensory experience, or is it a little of both?

Eric TGPC: I hold myself responsible for how a release turns out. I'm a bit of a control freak which is why the label has always been a one man operation. I try to do the best I can with the small amount of money I have. There has certainly been releases I'm not proud of or have been unhappy with and unless it’s a co-release (which I hate doing for this reason) I've only myself to blame.

No Funeral: Have you ever considered running a festival like No Idea Records’ Gainesville Fest or Initial Records’ old KrazyFest?

Eric TGPC: No. I've only set up a handful of shows in the past and I don't think I'm very good at it. Plus, although it’s cool to see that many bands in one or two days- I think it’s almost impossible to treat bands properly. Most bands on those ridiculous fests don't even get paid enough to make it back home.

No Funeral: How has Houston treated you so far? You’ve come at a when the city is filled with cool music and venues. This was a pretty stagnant scene in the first half of the decade. What are you’re impressions of heavy music in the Bayou City?

Eric TGPC: I've already had a strong impression of Houston. I've worked on five projects with bands from the area prior to my move and already have a few things lined up. Venues come and go, just like anywhere. But what’s good about this scene is that most of the people I deal with have been involved with the underground for at least a decade. There is probably a bunch of fly by night jerks around, but I have yet to deal with any!

No Funeral: Texas has a long history of bands that don’t ever leave the state, neither to “make it big” nor even to be heard in other parts of the country. You mentioned the number of musicians in Houston that have decades of experience in the underground. Houston, more than any other city in Texas, has and has had so many bands (Aftershock, Dead Horse, Bamboo Crisis, etc…) that were content to stay here and start band after band. What do you make of this makeshift philosophy?

Eric TGPC: Texas is sort of an island in that respect, unaffected by what’s going on elsewhere. My first visit here opened a world of punk/metal that I didn't know existed. My friend Dan playing records and tapes by ripping bands I had never heard of!

Some of that may be attributed to the apprehension of bands to release their own material, or an apprehension to tour outside of the state. Back on the east coast you have New York, Philly, Baltimore, DC, Richmond and so on all in a line making small tours easy. You could drive the same distance here and not even be out of the state yet!

No Funeral: Are there any bands you have not worked with that you want to? When are you going to release an Insect Warfare record? You’re damn near the only label that hasn’t put one out?

Eric TGPC: There are too many bands to mention that I'd love to work with, but I have my hands full at the moment. Well, I love INSECT WARFARE and I actually have worked with them on three releases already (the Violent Noise Party compilation, the split cassette with THE KILL, and another compilation not released yet). I had a few plans for releases with Beau that all kind of fell through when the band split up.

No Funeral: Speaking of Insect Warfare, I completely forgot about the split cassette with The Kill. You also released the Warmaster demo on cassette (one of the best demos in years, by the way). Why cassettes? Is it a grim and cult gimmicky thing? Is it an honest love of the format? Is it a matter of “why not cassettes?”

Eric TGPC: I've always loved cassettes. Bands have consistently been releasing demos on tape and I think that is THEE format for demos in my mind.

With the split for THE KILL, it was just a realization of an idea I had years ago for a one minute split. 30 seconds on each side. The cassette is the only format that makes sense for that. It has sides to split the bands on (unlike CDs) plus its possible to adjust the amount of tape spooled as to not waste space (unlike vinyl). It was never a question of "why not cassettes"- the cassette was the only format that made sense.

No Funeral: Beau’s a bit of an odd bird, isn’t he? Even though Insect Warfare maybe gone, sort of, are you interested in working with any of his leather punk bands? KG Beasley and the Leather Violence are, umm, interesting.

Eric TGPC: Beau's great! Besides Dave from PLF, he's the first person I became friends with in Houston. I'd be down to work on any of his projects. I love the whole leather punk idea and I've been a fan of bondage and Tom Of Finland-esque imagery for years. I've actually used that imagery for a couple of my old bands in the past!

No Funeral: As the owner of an independent record label, what are your thoughts on downloading music? How is it impacting TGPC releases?

Eric TGPC: Downloading and MP3s have never concerned me. People that want records and the real deal with cover art/inserts will always want them. Downloaders would never have bought the record in the first place. I don't feel as if it impacts the label in the slightest.

No Funeral: What future releases do you have planned?

Eric TGPC: The VACANT COFFIN and NASHGUL LPs are both going to press this month. I'll be doing a compilation CD for the much overlooked Swedish band LEFT IN RUINS and I'll also be releasing another split EP for EMBALMING THEATRE, this time with GRIND CRUSHER from Norway. As far as Texan bands, expect records in the near future from WAR MASTER, THE DRUNKS and THE FILTHOUNDZ!

1 comment:

Brian Curtin said...

Remember when he faked cancer as a cash grab?