EWING PARTON OF THE STATIC CULT LABEL
Interview by Kevin Chesser
"We aren't putting out color vinyl variants and goofy packaging schemes and garbage for collector assholes, we are serving the art. I wish everyone could do that."
Ewing Parton runs the Static Cult Label out of San Jose, California. Static Cult is a familial collective of musicians who specialize in lo-fi patchwork dirges, jagged, inferno-of-fuzz guitar romps, deep, haunting psychedelia, handmade merchandise, and lots of other shit that doesn't have a thing to do with what's safe, popular, or profitable. Ewing played with the space-rock band Duster for years, and now fronts or contributes to what seems like damn near all of Static Cult's various projects. Mr. Parton was kind enough to submit to an interview for Perfect Sound Forever, detailing the struggle, freedom, and reality of being a small DIY label who puts art first and business a very reluctant second.
Perfect Sound Forever: How are things going with the Static Cult Label these days? Seems like you're staying busy; new albums, new music videos, and so on.
Ewing Parton: We are kind of in a weird place right now, a transition. I've sort of been the one running shit for a while, even though John (Argetsinger) in Seattle is really half of the label. I'm the one that takes a long time to ship orders out, I'm the one who doesn't want to listen to demos. I can't imagine anything worse than trying to sell a sort of art that you believe in, so running a label makes absolutely no sense for me personally. I don't want to be involved in the business part of it at all, even though in our tiny label's case, "business" really only means trying to lose money slowly. The idea of being a salesperson, though, is pretty disgusting to me.
PSF: How did the Static Cult Label get started? Was it always a dream of yours to run a label, or did you just find yourself at the helm of it one day after spending so many years befriending musicians and being one yourself?
EP: I did a couple other tiny labels before, and it was usually as an excuse to put out some music that friends and I were making. With The Static Cult Label, I had recorded something and felt like I didn't know anyone that would want to put it out, and my friend Jason (of Helvetia) was also recording an album, and about to be in the same situation. Our orphan records became the first two releases. It's always been a small thing for friends, and it usually ends up the same. I always think "I hate this fucking business, why would I ever do this?" Here I am again, still trying to get that lesson to stick.
PSF: What is the origin of the name ‘Static Cult'? Was that something you dreamed out of the blue, or does it have a particular significance in regard to the label?
EP: It's the name of a Mohinder song. The concept was something about a secret group communicating via static.
PSF: What musicians/labels did you follow growing up? Is there an approach or ethos that you feel SCL looks up to or tries to emulate?
EP: I was a hardcore kid in the 1990's, into Gravity (Records) and related labels/bands, but also into Sleep and Black Sabbath and smoking grass. It was actually really easy to do things yourself despite there being no Internet back then, and there were plenty of little tiny labels doing exactly that: silk-screening, hand-making covers and things. So here we are almost two decades later, still silk-screening, still hand-making covers and things.
PSF: Who do you consider your like-minded contemporaries? Are there labels operating right now that you are inspired by?
EP: I don't know anyone. I'm not saying we're on another level, I'm just saying I don't have Facebook or anything, or pay attention to how people are broadcasting/communicating/selling, so I'm not connected with a lot of people. I do like Pan, Utech, Type, Secret Eye, and Editions Mego.
PSF: So many of Static Cult's bands have overlapping members; in some ways it seems more like a collective or family of musicians than your standard record label. What does that kind of relationship between musicians impart to the creative process?
EP: It is a family. The Static Cult Label doesn't have contracts. We split any income with artists like no "real" label would or should. All of our artists own their material 100%. If any artist wanted to take their release to a different label or even put it out on their own at any point, they are totally free to do that. Hopefully, they'll make a truckload of money in the process. Our only goal together is putting something good out there.
PSF: If you were going to describe your label's music to someone who had never heard it (or anything like it) before, how would you describe it to them?
EP: It's sort of rock n' roll, that's what I tell people. But I don't have to do that much anymore. Most people don't even get/care what a record label is doing. There are two different audiences. There are people that are downloading songs from blogs and getting the immediate banger single satisfaction, which is fine, but then there are people that are more interested in a context, or want the album experience, the intended delivery. Maybe the latter group might put more weight on the label's role, but even then labels aren't so much "curators" anymore.
PSF: Today, the word "indie" is used more frequently to describe a style of music rather than an ethos. Is the "true" independent label or band endangered, in your opinion?
EP: Maybe, unless they adapt to become licensing experts. That's where the money is at for labels. But in that scenario, "indie" just means "smaller." But who wants to spend all day negotiating licensing arrangements? Not any band I want to listen to.
PSF: Are there always going to be hold-outs?
EP: I hope so.
PSF: Is it often that you release records by people that you don't personally know?
PSF: I have seen the bumper sticker "Real Musicians Have Day Jobs." Do you buy that statement?
EP: Nope. I think they meant to say "I Am Jealous of Musicians That Get Paid Enough to Not Have Day Jobs," but that might not work on a bumper sticker.
PSF: How many of your artists are career musicians?
PSF: Is running the label your full-time job?
EP: No. The label doesn't make any money. I work a regular job. The label sells like tens of physical things per month, not thousands. It's not hard to fill a few orders every couple weeks.
PSF: There is an obvious amount of pride taken in the packaging & album artwork with your releases. Who are the artists your bands work with the most? Is there a considerable portion of the musicians who draft & design their own album artwork?
EP: Each band usually provides their own artwork or knows kind of what they want to do, but each release is a new approach. I've done a couple covers, John's done a couple, some we've paid other artists for (EIAFUAWN's Birds in the Ground, Helvetia's The Clever North Wind, El Buzzard's Songs for Total Dicks, Parton Kooper Planetarium's Glass & Bone). Sometimes we'll have an idea of something we want to do and then the band will be into it, like Fotosputnik's Translucent Marmoset cloth covers, or Canaan Amber's EP in a paper bag.
PSF: What do you think is symbolic or important about music being rendered into a physical product?
EP: For bands that are actually out on the road, it's good for them to have something they can try to get some gas money from, so Helvetia and Disco Doom have had multiple formats. For bands that don't play out as much or don't play out at all ever, we can do more limited things for people that enjoy those, and then put the download out there for everyone.
PSF: With that in mind, a listener can get a pretty solid idea of what your label is about through the multitude of free downloads available on your site. What are the challenges in striking a balance between the popular demand for digital and the personal preference to release vinyl?
EP: I'm not sure we're responding to any sort of demand, but I think our goal has always been to make this music entirely free to anyone that wants to hear it. If people want a physical thing to hold, I'm glad that we often have that too. We aren't worried about the balance, we just want to make good shit, always.
PSF: The WNBA featured a Breasts song in one of their commercials; extremely random. How did that happen?
EP: We never told them it was a Breasts song. It was right after the Breasts debut came out. It was one of the first songs we had started working on for the second album. Someone working on those commercials wanted that song, so we gladly took the money. We didn't even know if we'd use the song at all at that point, it wasn't finished. I understand that bands don't want to sell their hits to commercials, some selling out thing, I get that. But in this instance, no one really knew this band even existed, we weren't about to have any hits, and this was for basketball. Nothing wrong with any part of that arrangement. We used the money to make the "Quadroon" video and buy a couple microphones for our studio. Breasts eventually became a different band entirely and that song evolved into a Parton Kooper Planetarium song. The version that's on the Parton Kooper Planetarium LP is pretty different from the WNBA version, but it's still the same song ("Future Unions").
PSF: Have any of your bands gone on to major label or mainstream stardom?
PSF: What would you say is the single biggest challenge in keeping the label running?
EP: There aren't really any challenges, because we don't have to respond to anything except our own wants. We don't have to consider how much something will sell, or how well it will be reviewed, or how "successful" it will be, or any of the concerns that might come with running a label as a business first and as an outlet for art second. We have the luxury of doing whatever we want. At the same time, we are not funded by anyone/anything except our day jobs, so our resources are limited and we can move slowly enough to put a lot into each release. We aren't putting out color vinyl variants and goofy packaging schemes and garbage for collector assholes, we are serving the art. I wish everyone could do that.
PSF: What's coming up next for the label? Are there any up & coming bands or tours that we should keep our eyes open for?
EP: Parton Kooper Planetarium LP comes out in November (the digital version will be free for everyone), some other free downloads before the end of the year, and after that, I have no idea. No tours planned at the moment. Some new videos should be out by the end of the year too.
PSF: If somebody wants to see a Static Cult band play within 3 or 4 hours of them, what's the best way they can lobby to make that happen?
EP: Disco Doom (from Switzerland) just finished playing all over the U.S., Helvetia gets out there from time to time, Fotosputnik plays close to Chicago, and I think all the other bands have either broken up, are too lazy to play shows, or could be talked into playing anywhere if you split their bus fare and promise some liquor.
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