It's All About The Music 

Pacific Rim 2

Notes from the Pacific Rim: Luann Williams’ DIY record label.
by Randy Kamradt

In my interview with John Andrew Fredrick we talked about how Luann Williams created a recording label just so The Black Watch would be able to release their latest recording on decent terms. I saw two things from that, first, of course, The Black Watch is a great band that deserves to be heard. Secondly, who is this lady that puts together a recording label for her favorite band? I decided to get ahold of her, and find out. I wound up hearing a lot of great history of the American music scene, and about Austin, the eye of the musical storm, along with how to create your own record label.

Randy: How long have you been in Austin and part of the Austin music scene?

Luann: (Laughs) A long time… I moved here in 1988, and it’s certainly changed a lot since I moved here. When I first moved here it was definitely smaller, a more close-knit community of people and bands and everybody knew each other. But that was quite a while back and it’s grown a lot. But it’s still very vital, it’s just different. A lot folks in the bands that I used to go see are married and have kids now, or someone like Spoon that we used to go see early on went on to much bigger things. It’s changed as much as it’s grown, it’s still incredibly vital, there’s so much going on, all the festivals that go on, ACL, SXSW, and Fun Fun Fun Fest. It seems like there’s a festival ever weekend.

Randy: So do you ever perform or are you just a facilitator?

Luann: No, I’m just a behind the scenes girl. I ran a magazine call Pop Culture Press for a really long time. I started that when I lived in Memphis, Tennessee. Did it for a couple years in Memphis, and then moved to Austin… and took it to a different level in Austin; it became a national publication for many years. Maybe not as big as The Big Takeover — that was our model — but we also did a CD sampler with the magazine, and before that we did flexidiscs. We released between seven-nine flexidiscs, which did all right, you know, they were the little floppy singles, and we did some really great ones. Then we decided they were not really a sustainable thing; you could only play it a couple times and then they’re not worth it anymore. At that point we started doing CDs, which was probably around 1990-93, something like that. So we became popular because of our CD samplers, which were really cool 15-20 song samplers with a lot of up-and-coming bands. We had Cotton Mather on one of them, we had Spoon on one of our samplers, Magnapop, a band from Australia (Died Pretty), The Dentists They Might be Giants, Kelly Willis, Jimmy Eat World, I’ve almost forgotten about so many of these. It’s like a trip down memory lane… The Wedding Present, and the Ass Ponys were on one, Tommy Keene and Mark Eitzel, Velocity Girl. We were probably more popular for our samplers than for our magazine, but you had to buy the magazine to get the sampler. I'm pretty proud of those samplers.

Randy: So what happened with Pop Culture Press?

Luann: I handed over the reins to another guy about 8 or 9 years ago, he published it for about 5 or 6 years, and then he quit publishing it too. It went on for quite a few years, and it was a lot of work, so it went by the wayside. Then I thought, "I’m going to revive the brand by doing a label!"
Randy: Would you consider publishing it again?

Luann: Well, yeah, because it was so fun and so rewarding. I met so many great people. I heard so much great music and made so many great connections, and had great experiences, but it’s a lot of work, and when you have a full time gig…I didn’t do it to make money, cause, well, we didn’t make money, it was not sustainable in that respect. But it sure was a lot of fun. There’s a guy here in Austin that’s doing a documentary about the music scene in Austin, and they interviewed us about Pop Culture Press, along with many, many bands. I’m not sure when that’s coming out, maybe later this year, I don’t know. I can’t wait to see that, it’s definitely going to be a trip through time. It’s called A Curious Mix of People

Randy: Yeah that’s Austin, a curious mix of people!

Luann: Yeah, they interviewed a ton of bands from the 90’s and there was a really incredible scene here, an amazing club culture and lots of bands that played together or played on the same bills together, or had residencies at clubs, lots of little labels sprung out of that. There’s still an amazing scene, it’s just that the 90's one was incredibly vital. There were a couple of clubs that were kind of home for a lot of bands, there was a club called the Electric Lounge, which is now long gone, but I’m sure it’s featured quite a bit in this documentary. There was another one called the Blue Flamingo, a tiny, wonderfully weird punk club, Liberty Lunch which is a very famous club that closed I think about 15 years ago now (they actually closed in 1999). It was a fantastic place, we did a lot of interviews for Pop Culture Press there: Redd Kross, The Blue Areoplanes, The Chills… so many. A lot of the writers for Pop Culture Press went on to do very cool things: Texas Monthly, and The Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone and more. Michael Toland works for KLRU and Austin City Limits, the TV show, and writes for Blurt and lots of other magazines.

Randy: Austin City Limits is a great way for average America to see what’s going on in Austin.

Luann: Oh yeah, I still go to tapings all the time. There website is…they have some full episodes on there. At one time it was a lot of country artists or rootsy artists, but now they’ve expanded into — not mainstream by any means— but more rock and alternative and experimental stuff.

Randy: So I got to know about you from John Andrew Fredrick of the Black Watch and the Indiegogo campaign you initiated. Can you talk about that?

Luann: I’ve been a fan of The Black Watch for a very long time, I know them from Pop Culture Press. They used to send us their early records when I was still publishing the magazine. Then five or six years ago we all just became pretty good friends, so I was really trying to help them find a record deal. In this day and age, that’s a tough thing to do, because labels have no money anymore. New artists don’t get signed that much, people don’t take chances. We tried to find them a deal, and we worked on that for probably a year, they kept recording stuff, and I thought, “the world needs to hear this.” So I told them if we couldn’t find them a deal then I would start a label and so here we are. I’m crazy, but it’s been fun, it’s been a learning process. I told myself I would never start a label and I’ve worked in the music industry a long time so I kinda sorta know how to do that. Even so, it’s been quite a learning process. There are so many more details than I knew were even involved. One to raise enough money to do a record, and then there’s distribution and publicity, and getting it on iTunes, social media and the website. A lot of moving parts, and I was kind of a one-person show, though I do have some help, so I’m very lucky. We did a deal with a local label called Chicken Ranch Records, they’re friends of mine, and we’re a sub-label of theirs. I’m very lucky to be in a music community that’s supportive of one another, and my friend Mike said "We can just make it a sub-label of my label." It was a pretty ideal situation to be able to do that. Mike has a pretty cool roster on Chicken Ranch, and they’ve been around a while.

Randy: So do you have any bigger ambitions for Pop Culture Press Records?

Luann: Not at this point, I’m just trying to get through this record and see how it goes. It’s like a test. I had to dot all my ‘i’s and cross all my ‘t’s and after a year it finally saw the light of day. Now it’s in stores and on Amazon and it’s getting really nice reviews, I’m so pleased. The first single and video was on the USA Today website, and then it debuted on the Onion AV Club site. It’s been getting some really nice reviews around the country and there was a really nice review in Blurt. Then there’s going to be a be feature in The Big Takeover in the fall issue. There’s going to be some other great stuff, we have a great publicist who’s been working really hard. The fact that the band’s been recording for several years, and though in the past they released records on several labels, they've been putting the records out on their own label, so they haven’t had the support and the team of a label to help them. I’ve been very happy with the reviews so far, it’s been kind of a validation of our efforts. We’re trying to setup a tour to support the record; they played San Francisco in November. I know they have friends in Portland and Seattle, too, so I know they would do well up there.

 Randy: Given the changing business dynamics, what does a record company do these days?

Luann: Well, people can download the digital version, but we also do the vinyl and we included a download card for a free digital sampler of the Best Of with the LP.

Randy: Who presses vinyl anymore?

Luann: I worked with a company out of LA called Groove House but there are several vinyl pressing companies in the U.S. There’s one in Nashville called United Pressing Company and they’re so backed up, you usually need an eight week lead time on your order because they’re so overwhelmed with work. I went into Waterloo records here in Austin the other day just to talk to them about the CD and vinyl and half their store is vinyl now. I was in Portland last week at Music Millennium, and again, half their store is vinyl. One of the people at Music Millennium said that vinyl has kind of saved them.

Randy: I tend to find most of my new music online and it’s been a while since I’ve been to a real record store (except the used record stores).

Luann: People can discover a lot of music reading Pitchfork or whoever, and there are tons of blogs posting songs on their site every day. So people can find about new music there. I certainly hear a lot of stuff that way. A lot of people just post stuff on Facebook. Social media has in some ways replaced the record store. People find out about music that way. I used to work in a record store and people would come in and ask me for new stuff and what I recommended. There’s not much left of that now and people find out about via online sources.

Randy: What source did you use to get the music distributed online?

Luann: We used a service called Orchard. This is the first time I’ve ever had to use an online service to distribute music. I’ve certainly used online retail services many times for personal listening, but I’ve never used them to distribute for a label or a band.

Randy: Are you looking at other bands for your catalogue?

Luann: Not yet. Actually I just got an email the other day from a band who sent their MP3s, but currently I’m neck deep in this project. We’ll just see how this goes.

Randy: Do you get a lot of unsolicited stuff?

Luann: Not yet, because the label is just launched. I wouldn’t be surprised if I do, (laughs) but not yet. I’m hoping to fly under the radar for a little bit as far as that goes. I really want to put some effort and time into this record and get it off the ground.

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