Nanobot Rock Reviews: First off, Stephen, thanks for talking with us today. We’re glad we could get this worked out.
Urban Scandal records is still in its infancy, almost a year old, if I’m not mistaken. Already you’ve established yourselves as not only having an ear for new talent like Owl Paws, New Wounds and Fairbanks, but also as a distribution source for many Bay-area bands. Would you take us through the process, from the spark, the vision, whatever – to having an up and coming Label?
Stephen of Urban Scandal Records: I guess technically we started in December 2011, with our first release happening in January of 2012. We are looking forward to our 1 year anniversary, and it has been surprising how quickly it’s taken off.
Personally, I’ve been playing music since I was 15; I’m 23 now. Throughout all the bands I was in, I’ve always kind of been the driving force on the “business side” of music – booking, promotion, organizing tours and the like, so I’ve always been wired towards the behind-the-scenes groundwork that goes into a project. I guess its work, but not if you love it.
I was in a band called Greedy Eyes and after a tour we just kind of broke up – I found myself in a position where my music stuff – as far as playing in bands – was iffy, and over the course of the year, I kept coming back to the idea of a label. I know a lot of guys in a lot of bands and it just kind of made sense.
I was lucky enough to know Derek from Owl Paws for a few years and wanted them, and asked if they were going to release anytime soon. We met up for coffee and it kind of snowballed from there. It really is because of Owl Paws that this launched.
What are your personal musical strengths?
I play guitar and sing, but I’ve really seen myself as more of a songwriter and enjoy the collaborative process
Have you been able to fold that into the bands you’ve worked with on Urban Scandal?
Not as of yet. To be honest, the “Business” and “Artistic” side both kind of run independently. I didn’t want to be that guy who launches a label to be self-serving, releasing my own stuff. I will say I am looking to possibly release solo stuff, but that’s a ways out.
We all get involved in music because we love it, obviously, but how has your perspective changed from simply a fan to being “The Man”?
*Laughs* Honestly, it was the lack of a drummer that sparked it… When Greedy Eyes broke up, I knew that even though I like and are friends with some guys, I didn’t necessarily want to be in a band with them, you know? Being in a serious band made the business of playing music much different than friendships formed over music. This label honestly allowed me to be in music, and be involved but without having the obligation of splitting hairs.
In terms of the business aspect, is that something you’ve studied apart from experience?
I did attend SF State for one year, and while it was great, moreover, it helped me realize it’s not where I wanted to be.
With the advent of internet marketing, how has Urban Scandal not only been able to maintain a successful digital market and still keep it old school with CD and Vinyl?
I am a HUGE believer in the Physical copy. I know there are some that would say the idea of being in a dying industry is crazy, but in all reality, we’ve sold way more copies of physical works than digital. The tangible is very important, and while digital is also important and easy, it’s just not as romantic, if you will.
The real advantage is that mainstream is going to digital, but those who CARE about music, artists, the true fans will embrace the physical, tangible works.
Physical… may just be more for fans, anyway…
One thing I like about this whole thing so far is that it’s freeing to not be accountable to anyone, to have the final say. We’re not going to be a punk label, but we can release punk, right beside an indie band or whatever. I like to go across genres.
Do you feel as though there is a greater musical integrity and perhaps more chance for “happy accidents” for bands who release full albums as opposed to singles sent straight to iTunes?
Absolutely, I’ve really changed my strategy because of the fact that everything has merit. I really have kind of made up my mind to try to not to release 7 inch vinyl or singles because there is more merit in a longer work. And allows for more choice for the listener and find hidden gems and allows artists to explore.
It takes so much longer to write, but the tradeoff is there is a really cool progression that happens that allows you to write and go deeper.
What, to you, is “success” from a label stand point, from an artist perspective, and from a promotional side?
Musicians – success is more so in live shows and how recordings turn out, how songs sound, how an audience responds. Probably not so much a record sales point, as much as a “turning out quality music” point, you know?
Label – I love seeing a sold out show when one of my bands is playing to a packed house. It’s almost as exciting as being on stage… almost.
Personally, being able to do this full time would be awesome.
What have you seen as the key attributes to success – however that is defined – in music?
Drive is a lot of it. There are just so many ups and downs. Running a label is less up and down because I kind of run this on my own, and it’s my own rules to run it on.
As a musician it’s tough because you’re around the same people ALL the time, and if you’re touring you live in a van with four or five other people and it’s a relationship dynamic that is a lot of work and you need to be personable… A lot of times, you may have a connection that’s a friend of a friend in some town and they can help you get some show lined up, and you want to maintain those relationships but there’s also something of a distance in not really being friends with these people on a daily basis, so when you meet them, you have to be friendly and talk to them about the band, the tour, etc…
San Francisco has been good to you, it seems. Obvious other musical hubs have been Portland, Chicago, Austin, Denver is getting there… What do you feel makes up a good “Music city”?
Can’t speak for every city, but a good “Freak Factor” is big *Laughs* Yeah, having a lot of weirdoes, bigger cities have a lot of culture clashes smashed together.
Loads of interesting and odd people are vital, but then having clubs and venues who support that are huge in keeping a scene going.
Venues like Sub-mission in San Francisco, or Gilman in Berkeley are great examples of that… It makes it better to have that than playing in some guy’s garage and other one-off shows.
Also, all-ages shows are massive part of that. You have to have access to fans that are going to buy into the bands, the scene, and honestly… who wasn’t a kid who wanted to go rock out?
I definitely did!
You get to put on a dream concert – 4 bands, dead or alive… Who plays and what’s the Venue?
Beatles, seen Paul a few times… Nirvana, I’d love to see that… Frank Sinatra circa mid-to-late 40’s – Before Rock ‘n’ Roll… and Probably Led Zeppelin.
In terms of a venue… maybe the Fillmore… in the 60’s.
Lastly, in the vein of Chuck Klosterman’s book, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs:
“Hunters in Saskatchewan shoot and kill a Sasquatch, proving its existence. The same day, Scientists in Scotland capture a live, Loch Ness Monster, proving its existence… THE SAME DAY The President announces he has a highly treatable form of skin cancer. You are the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle… What is the Headline?”
“The World Ends Today, 12/21/12!”
Anything you’d like to add?
Thanks for doing this Kevin, for helping out with Nanobot… And go listen to local, Underground music!