For the latest issue of Ox Fanzine, I interviewed three different labels. Among them was Square Of Opposition, which is run by Chris who seems like a pretty cool person. He also puts out great music. Apart from Antillectual and Literature which are both going strong, he also released records by the now defunct Spraynard and Snowing (which is probably one of my favourite bands ever). Those are of course not the only bands that released records on Square Of Opposition in the last eleven years, and the label is not the only thing Chris invests a lot of time and/or money in.
As Chris’ answers to my (pretty generic) questions were very detailed and due to the fact that there’s only a translated version available, I wanted to share the whole thing with you, unabridged and of course in English. The label interviews that are featured in Ox Fanzine on a regular basis are meant to provide general information about the label, the people behind it and the underlying philosophy. Chris had a lot to say, but you can read that yourself after this horrifying picture.
Where and when was the label founded, where do you currently reside?
The label started in 2001 in the region of eastern pa known as the Lehigh Valley. I still live here and I run everything out of my house.
Who has founded the label and who is running it today?
The label was started by Ray
, and myself. Seth
and I had graduated high school in the spring of 2000 and, since we weren’t going to college or anything right away, it was decided that we should find a constructive way to expend our time and energy (and money). We started booking shows, he started playing music more regularly, and I taught myself how to screenprint. The idea came up that we should start a label together to help out our friends’ bands. Ray
was a few years older than us, but we knew him because he was in Defiant Trespass
– which ended up being one of the two bands on the first release we ever did. So that’s how the three of us started Squareof Opp
found himself out of time and money as Defiant Trespass
kept plugging along – touring, etc – so he bowed out after the first 3 releases. Seth
moved to Arizona (then Chicago, then Texas, and now back to PA) and the distance just got too much to deal with. He started Natrix Natrix Records
while he lived in Austin TX and he released a bunch of really awesome stuff under that banner. He plays bass in Literature
now, so he’s still a part of the SofO
“legacy” or whatever. I still see Ray
all the time too. I am the last surviving crocodile as far as the day-to-day label shit, but we’re still friends, which rules.
Do you make a living with the label?
Ha! Fuck no. I think it’s finally hit a point where it’s not LOSING that much money. Every penny earned has always and will always go back into the next project. I’ve got years and years of credit card debt to dig my way out of too, which is fucked up. If you want to start putting out records – and I really suggest you DO because it’s incredibly rewarding – just don’t put that shit on credit cards. Save up the money, find a way pay for the projects before you commit to them.
Do you make enough money to cover your expenses?
I guess I more or less answered this with the last question. I don’t keep really keep reliable records of my sales, so I can’t say for sure, but I think I’ve hit the break-even point on current projects. If I were to guess, I’d say it’s probably been at that point for about the last 2 years. Before that, though, I was losing money on every release.
What do you do besides the label?
I run a screenprinting company called Lehigh Valley Apparel Creations
. Shameless plug! Before the printing thing took off, I just had typical shitty jobs – just to make enough to keep putting out records. I also book shows and help run an all ages show venue/art gallery.
What are your preferred genres?
I’m drawn more to a common aesthetic than any genre, I think. I love all kinds of music, but especially the stuff that captures that DIY spirit.
Do you have any role models, other labels/label owners that inspired you?
Yeah, for sure. You’d be hard pressed to find someone that wasn’t influenced by the obvious people/labels like Ian Mackaye/Dischord or SST, the kind of labels that really started with nothing and became these crazy influential entities. That shit is incredibly inspiring. On a more personal, minute level, I definitely think I took cues from lo-fi bedroom labels like Unread and Shrimper and the whole northwest US K Records/Harriet Records vibe. Yuletide, Vermiform, and Gravity were big for me too. I ripped off a ton of packaging ideas and aesthetics from that early/mid-90’s emo shit, especially the stuff coming from the southeast US (in/humanity, asshole parade, end of the century party, etc). I’ve also been really influenced by the folks I’ve collaborated with (Dead Tank, in particular) and the folks I’ve traded with (IFB, Adagio830/Vendetta, Rok Lok, Sons of Vesta, Primary Thoughts, fuck the list goes on and on and on).
Which bands did you sign first, and what’s currently on your roster?
I’ve never had a single contract with any band and I’ve never laid claim to a roster. I’ve always approached everything on a single release basis and it’s always been with friends, so there’s no need or desire for professionalism. The first bands we ever worked with were Defiant Trespass and Government Satire. Some of the current bands would be Literature, Spraynard, 1994!, Nona, Peeple Watchin, Get to the Chopper, Orphan Donor, Rations, and We Were Skeletons. The most well-known band I’ve worked with is probably Snowing, but they broke up about 8 months ago now.
Which release was your most important/best one?
I honestly couldn’t answer that. So many have been really really significant in their own way. Without the Defiant Trespass/Government Satire
split cd, the label might never have started. Looking back, it’s weird and awesome that we released a tape with our friend Erik
who, years later, ended up being well known internationally as Mischief Brew
. Robot Attack
made the first vinyl record we released. The Insurgent
7″ was the first record we did with a band that wasn’t from PA. The Get to the Chopper
7″ was the first time I’d ever personally played on a record. Antillectual
EP marked the first international release. All the recent work with Snowing, 1994!
, and Spraynard
have gotten the label a ton of attention, way more than it’s ever gotten before. I recently released a photo book
, which was insane because it was the first foray outside of audio releases. Every release has a story, every release is significant in it’s own way – that’s probably why I’m still excited about the label after eleven years, right?
What fascinates you about running a label?
The records themselves are interesting, seeing each project through to fruition is rewarding. It’s a constant learning experience, both in terms of technical aspects and personal growth. Working with friends, making new friends, trading with labels and getting orders from all over the fucking planet, getting really awesome emails and shit expressing appreciation for all the work that goes into the label… all that shit, man, it’s the best, it all rules.
What’s your overall label policy/philosophy?
To quote Kill the Man Who Questions
: “fuck this as a commodity
“. Starting a DIY label is not a fucking career choice, it’s not a fucking marketing scheme or some bullshit business model. I see too many labels started by fucking bean counters who are just looking to maximize their market presence or move as many units or what-the-fuck-ever. Fuck that and fuck them. Do this for love or get the fuck out because we don’t fucking need you and we don’t fucking want you. Years after your profits have dried up, I will still be here for the love of DIY. I will never release or not release something based on whether or not it’s profitable or marketable.
I don’t know where this fits in any sort of interview, but I’d like to add some closing thoughts, if possible. I just want to tell anyone reading this that you are the heart of the DIY community. You can and should start a label, start a band, make a zine, book a show, etc. We started this label because we were looking for a way to get involved in the scene around us and the notion that, 11 years later, somebody thinks I’m worth interviewing is mind-blowing (and humbling) because I’m still just a dude doing what I love to do. Without you making something that matters – even if it’s just something that matters to you and 5 of your friends – without that spark, that creative energy, DIY and punk and whatever name you want to give this scene/community that we’re all in together WILL die. Fuck internet hype, fuck profit and loss statements, all that matters is the passion that you have for this shit. Please, get involved. If you don’t, who will?
Thanks to Chris for the interview. It’s great to see someone putting so much effort and Herzblut (this should be used worldwide, like Wanderlust and Schadenfreude) into everything he does. If you want to show your appreciation, check out the Square Of Opposition online store
. There you can buy all of the label’s releases (if they’re not sold out), LHAC
merch and of course a lot of distro records. Chris
has a habit of adding a lot of random things to those orders, so far I’ve received a magazine about wrestling which is only 5 years old (mint condition!) and a small book that features every word
that Arnold Schwarzenegger
says in Terminator II
. Complete with timecode and everything. It’s easily one of my favourite novels.
Also, here is a kid talking about Square Of Opposition on youtube: