Toxic Toast Records
Interview by Scott Bass
One of the beautiful side effects of the modern vinyl resurgence is the appearance of new boutique labels, those willing to explore esoteric turf and seal gaps in the marketplace that major labels wouldn't even consider. With a catalog that spans from indie rap to oddball punk to ska to cult movie soundtracks to "incorrect" music icons, Toxic Toast is one such label, masterminded by Andy George who we had the chance to speak to.
PSF: Please introduce yourself.
AG: I'm the owner of Toxic Toast Records. I'm older than I look. I was born and raised an undisclosed number of decades ago in Long Beach, CA. Spent time living in other parts of the world, including Tokyo, Japan. Ultimately, I ended up back home.
PSF: I understand you operate a record store in Long Beach, CA. What came first, the store or the label?
AG: I had an eBay store, importing rare LP's from Japan for about five years. The market started changing and a lot of rare titles started getting reissued. Around this same time, buyers on eBay stopped bidding on auctions and everything went "Buy it Now." That left me with a growing amount of stock I was storing and holding onto, as opposed to auction style where I sold every single LP I listed. I figured if I was going to pay money to store my inventory, I might as well have a physical storefront.
As for the label, I've always been interested in running a small niche label as well, mostly because I wanted to put out releases that nobody else was going to put out because it would be too great a financial risk.
PSF: What prompted you to start the label?
AG: To fill the gap of releasing things that don't exist. I'm literally just releasing things that I want on vinyl to listen to myself. I really don't care about marketability at the moment.
PSF: You may have the best label logo I've ever seen. Is there a particular story about that?
AG: Our metal logo with Grumpy Cat is actually a secondary logo, and it's stolen from Grumpy Cat. Our standard logo is toxic waste oozing, which is influenced by the name. Actually the name Toxic Toast comes from a Mighty Mighty Bosstones song and is about making toast in an oven because you were too poor to own a toaster or toaster oven.
PSF: Small indie labels typically focus on a sound or town... you on the other hand support an incredibly diverse roster of artists and musical styles. Was that by design?
AG: I am trying to create a lifestyle kind of brand with Toxic Toast. We have a physical record store that focuses on indie rock, punk, ska, metal and soundtracks. We also have a live music venue that showcases all different genres of independent music. I'm into ska, punk, cult movie soundtracks, and anything weird or anything good. I never set out to say, "I need to release a punk LP" or "I need to release a ska LP." It's just stuff I want to exist, so given my tastes it ends up being
PSF: How would you describe the Toxic Toast lifestyle?
AG: Everyone involved in working or volunteering at Toxic Toast is a nerd. Most of us are music nerds, but that crosses over with sci-fi, cult movies, and MST3K is a big influence. A lot of music influence comes from the punk, ska, indie rock, hardcore, and metal scenes. Since we got Toast, a lot revolves around her, everyone makes sure to say hi when they come in and a lot of talk is about her actions. Most official employees have been vegetarian, most fully vegan, this hasn't been by choice just a byproduct of punk rock being very pro animal rights. I am vegan myself and run Toxic Toast as a "meat free" environment.
PSF: Do you think there's much overlap between the people who buy the different genres of releases?
AG: I think labels stick with a single genre and try to pigeon hole their customer base. I had someone order every release up to a certain point: two cult movie soundtracks, two nerdcore LP's by MC Lars, and a folk punk album by Bridge City Sinners. I also think while not a genre, a lot of my releases appeal to nerds.
PSF: I think I may be busted... that must be it. I'll cop to liking nerdy stuff. is Nerdcore still a thing? Does Atom & his Package count as nerdcore? Do you have plans to reissue any other Atom albums?
AG: Nerdcore hip hop is still a small genre with a few dedicated artists and small dedicated fan base. MC Lars, MC Frontalot, MC Chris, and Megaran are all still putting out new material and touring. All of those artists have played at Toxic Toast Theatre at least once or twice.
Atom and His Package is no longer actively playing shows or writing music. The other albums he did on Hopeless Records are not available; Hopeless Records owns the copyrights.
PSF: Personally, I love cult movies and have lots of records... but the idea of cult movie soundtrack records, although interesting, is still kind of foreign to me. Can you educate me on the audience? As cool as I find your soundtracks to things like Deadly Prey and The Gruesome Twosome, I can't imagine who is collecting them. I want to become a fan.
AG: There are communities that collect cult movies on VHS. There is some similar niche in vinyl as a "dead media," even though it's coming back to life. Horror movie fans specifically have always been collector types that collect everything from shirts, to toys, to LPs, etc.. In the '80's Rhino Records would release cult movie soundtracks on vinyl. I own an original copy of Blood Feast soundtrack that they put out with the B-side Two Thousand Maniacs soundtrack.
Toxic Toast 2019
Herschell Gordon Lewis
PSF: So the Toxic Toast lifestyle is running a label, running a store, and running a music venue as well? Can you tell me more about your live space?
AG: I survived all of 2019 with no full time employee at the store, but this is changing for 2020. I will be traveling to Japan more often to import records for the store, and increasing my online footprint and sales. I also want to look into signing interesting outsider Japanese artists.
The venue is taking a while to get off the ground; we do not have the number of events that we would like at the moment. The music community is very slow to change and there is a lot more personality and networking involved. Many times, someone's opinion of an owner or agent can be more influential than the actual financials. It still makes no sense to me, but I'm trying. Even saying this might get me shit with booking agents in the future. Oh well.
I live in a 100 year old brick building directly across the street from the store. Wait, now am I going to have some stalkers show up? Anyways, it has high ceilings and about 40 units that have been turned into individual condo spaces. I bought it just before prices started going up in the city, and so I can afford mortgage and literally walk to work. This means I don't spend money on gas or car maintenance.
PSF: On the back of your two Atom & His Package reissues appears the note: "A portion of the proceeds will be donated to LGBT charities." Can you tell me a bit about the motivation for that?
AG: Atom is no longer making music, or actively a musician. He said "just donate my royalties to charity." Obviously, being gay, the LGBT issues are very important to me. I immediately asked "LGBT Charities?" and his teenage daughter responded excitedly "Yeah! LGBT Charities!" That was it, everything about the agreement was DIY punk "handshake deal."
Almost all of the people who have worked for Toxic Toast Records and Toxic Toast Theatre have identified as queer. Employees we've had were openly gay, bi, non-gender conforming and people of color. Long Beach is very diverse, with a large LGBT community. We strive to be inclusive and reflect our community.
PSF: It says a lot about your character that you still support charities even when the label isn't breaking even.
AG: Well, I'm not looking at it as "is the label breaking even." My mindset is, "is this release breaking even yet?" If not, I'm trying to figure out how to reach the market for that release and increase sales. Ultimately, I would like to turn a profit on the releases, but those are goals for the future. Right now, it's just about putting out the releases I want to see, and being supportive of the community.
PSF: Which labels do you like? Any you have taken inspiration from?
AG: Early Rhino records influenced me a lot. The stuff they did in the '80's from weirdo outsider music, Dr. Demento, cult movie soundtracks, punk, etc.. In fact, while working on the soundtrack release for Aerobicide (aka "Killer Workout") one of the composers told me that my label was "the new Rhino Records from the 80s." Sadly, Rhino records now just does mainstream re-issues of popular bands like DEVO, Ramones, etc.. As for punk labels, Asian Man Records have had a lot of influence on me. Never caring about trends, staying DIY and cheap.
PSF: How's the record biz?
AG: It's hard to get your LP's distributed into record stores, all the distro is controlled by large corporations that don't want to hold stock, they only want to sell units when it first comes out. They also don't want to take a risk on any small labels, even though it's consignment, meaning they don't pay if it doesn't sell- they still don't want to hold the space. Oh, and there is no money to be made. You're lucky if your vinyl release breaks even. Records are expensive to make.
PSF: What is the biggest gripe you have about indie records today?
AG: A Lot of people use shitty pressing plants. Pirates Press is horrible quality. It's also hard to get indie records distributed.
PSF: Can you tell me more about that? I've recently gotten back into vinyl after a decade away from the hobby and am shocked at how quality control in general has gone out the window. What's your experience and do you have any advice for small labels investigating the landscape?
AG: The sales in vinyl is being treated as a fad; it's not expected to last. Many stores are hawking low quality record players that damage your vinyl. If you're reading this, do not buy a Crosley or anything that "looks like an old record player" at Target, Walmart or Best Buy. If it has built in speakers, then throw it in the trash. If you have one, please do some online research and buy a good turntable. You won't find an acceptable turntable under $250. It just won't happen.
The trend is to go with new pressing machines that are automatic. The industry is going for pretty colors and color mixes as cheap as possible. Right now, everyone is going to new pressing machines in Eastern Europe (Pirate's Press) or Canada. If the company you're buying from doesn't make the vinyl themselves, they are definitely getting them made out of country with a new machine. The new machines produce records that many times are not flat (warped), have clicks and pops from non fill, when the vinyl doesn't fill the whole mold of the grooves.
Stick with the plants using old machines. RTI in Ventura, CA for runs of 500 or more, URP also for runs of 500+, but their set up costs just jumped up even higher, and Palomino for short run records as low as 100-300 units. The problem with runs under 500 is you won't be able to find anyone that will make less than 500 jackets, so you pay for 500 and waste the extras, or you come up with alternative ways like fold over jackets, screen printing jackets, etc..
PSF: What is the best thing about making your living on vinyl?
AG: I like talking to people about music and vinyl releases. I love surrounding myself with records and searching for my "holy grail" items. I love listening to music on vinyl, the quality is better than streaming. It's nice to hold an item with large artwork that adds to the listening experience.
PSF: Which release has sold best? Which one are you most proud of?
AG: I would say Deadly Prey has probably sold best, but we still have not sold out our run of 500. Most proud? So far Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD.
In Vietnam he was the best...
He still is!
PSF: What makes you say that?
AG: I grew up watching Troma movies and was very interested by what they did and how they made it happen. Troma always seemed to be the "punk rock" of movies; they did what they wanted and did it themselves. They embody the DIY ethics.
PSF: How does that work, do you have to find the filmmakers or are you able to arrange licensing with Troma Entertainment directly?
AG: So far we've only put out records where Troma owns the mechanical and publishing rights for the music. The releases that need approval and rights paid to musicians are a bit too complicated for us at the moment. There are some projects we've had to turn down because we couldn't even get in contact with some of the composers or publishing companies.
PSF: Any "dream" release that you'd hope to do someday? Any other classic "outsider" artists on your radar?
AG: Actually, one of my dream releases is coming true after years of talking with the rights holder. In 2020, we will be releasing a 12" with all four songs that Vampira recorded with the band Satan's Cheerleaders. Yes, Vampira from the movie Plan 9 from Outer Space. The same horror TV icon that the Misfits wrote a song about.
Most dream releases I want to happen haven't been released yet, and I am constantly reaching out to those who own the rights. Some have had negotiations fall through, and some simply haven't responded, but I'm still following all leads. Some of the licenses I've gotten have been through sheer persistence, sometimes over the course of several years.
The outsider artists is harder- it's easier to get permission, but it's hard to move enough units to break even on costs because of the nature of outsider music. It means less people know of the artist and there is not a big customer base. I'm hoping to put out Digital Unicorn, a side project by former Aquabats member Prince Adam. It's similar to Atom and His Package in a way, but more dancy and less punk.
PSF: What's the story of how you tracked down Luie Luie and acquired permission to repress his infamous self-released 1974 s/t LP? It just blows my mind that this reissue exists.
AG: Luie Luie was weird. Tracking him down and actually getting permission, the whole experience was just odd. Let me tell you, he is way more weird that he appears on the record.
I was doing internet searches and trying to find any official contact information I could. No website, no Bandcamp, nothing. I found a page that looked sketchy on Facebook, and I thought it was an unofficial fan site, but I decided to follow any leads and sent a message. In less than 12 hours after sending that message, I was on the phone with Luie himself, it was very surreal. It turns out he lived about a 2 hour drive from me, and we met less than a week after at a Denny's.
He was very hard to keep focused and kept going on about stories of his music, movies and art. He claims that he did Elvis songs in Spanish that got lots of play on Spanish radio stations, but he had a fight with his partner of business issues, so he claims he doesn't own the rights to those, so they probably won't see the light of day. He talked to a random table about how he was in a movie with Elvis Presley and made an album that is now selling for hundreds of dollars a piece on the second market. In fact, I remember him saying he had a stash of original LP's somewhere in a storage unit outside of the state.
When we finally agreed to contract terms, he made me drive him to his bank in my car to cash the check at that moment. He used a military ID for identification, so all I know is that at some point, he was in the military. Nothing more was said.
About a week after, I wasn't able to find any sources for the artwork, and because of scarcity and cost, I don't own an original LP, just the CD. I had to call Luie up and explain to him, I needed to make a photocopy of the artwork at Officemax to have a full sized digital copy of the artwork. He asked me "how much are you going to pay me," in all seriousness, not as a joke. I had to remind him, "I already paid you for the license of the release, that includes the artwork." I drove two hours again to meet him at Officemax and most of the awkwardness I blocked from my memory. Honestly, he's a nice guy but in his old age, his ADHD seems worse if anything.
PSF: Be honest--have you ever done "The Touchy?"
AG: No. I have not attempted any of the crazy dance suggestions from the Touchy album. Though I have laughed a lot listening to them.
PSF: Plans for the future?
AG: We are trying to increase the amount of events at the venue. Hopefully record swaps, vegan food fairs, cult movie screenings, and more live bands.
As for the label, I would like to sign new artists that are outside of the mainstream, who are doing new things that challenge our ideas of music. Also would like to get bigger cult movie soundtracks released.
Honestly, it's been a dream of mine to start a "church" venue, a religion based on music as the "faith." The worship events would obviously be live bands/concerts. I've wanted to do this as a protest against the fact that churches don't pay property tax. A dream of mine since the year 2000 or so.
Toast the rescue Lab
More info at https://www.facebook.com/toxictoastrecords/
Also see the Toxic Toast discography on Discogs.com
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