As Important Records reaches its tenth year; Behind The Wall Of Sleep talk to John Brien about his experiences of running one of the most eclectic record labels out there.
Important was started in 2001 in a small house on the beach along the New Hampshire seacoast. The first two releases, from Daniel Johnston and Merzbow no less, stated the breadth of intentions and set out to run a label that would function much like a good record shop with a wide range of interesting records under one roof. After ten years and 300 records Important Records are only getting better.
1) It’s been ten years of Important Records can you tell us how this all started?
I was working at a record shop in Portsmouth, NH with a great customer base and incredible co-workers. It was an environment of sharing and caring and it couldn’t have been better. We were part of a 10 store regional chain and the manager had really insulated us from the demands of the head office which, ultimately, got him fired. I quit the day he was fired because there was no way I was going to work for the office. I had a teaching degree which I wasn’t using and I started Important as I was trying to line up a teaching job. Initially, it was a label and a web-store. I was so busy that the teaching job fell by the wayside and I kept going with Important.
2) What have been you highlights of doing Important Records? And your fave release… if you can pick one? One of mine is Cave’s debut…
Personal highlights have been getting to know artists I really admire and developing layout and design skills. I’ve had to learn a lot of things I didn’t go to school for in order to run this label and this process has been a tremendous source of growth for me.
The highest points have been working wtih new artists and seeing them not only succeed under Important but then continue on to even greater successes.
3) Any low points?
Plenty. I think the weirdest might have been when Nate from Wolf Eyes threatened me physically (via email) over a packaging dispute. I’d used some 10″ inserts for a 12″ LP and they hated it. They’d recently used almost the same packaging for an Ecstatic Peace! LP so I thought it would be okay. I reprinted the jackets immediately and lost money on the project but still got harrassing emails from them about trying to “capitalize on Wolf Eyes.” The false perception of my intentions and the threats were upsetting enough but the worst is when artists you admire are upset with your work. Obviously, there have been many tremendous successes and this sort of thing is rare but when it happens it’s pretty rough. Working from home is hard because when you’re upset everyone knows it.
4) Important Records is renowned for having an extremely diverse catalogue – was this something you sent out to do from the start? Or has it changed from your initial vision?
I wanted to run a label that functioned like a great record shop.
5) Artwork and presentation seems to be an important esthetic of many Important releases. How do you work with this?
It’s changed over the years. Originally, I was fixated with the idea of developing a cardboard LP style CD jacket that had strength and quality but over the years my interest has focused more on the quality of the design than the quality of the packaging. I think a great record looks/sounds/feels great if it’s designed well even if it’s packaged in a jewel box or a digi. These days I’m less concerned with packaging and more concerned with quality.
6) Many bands seem to release records on Important and also have a home with other labels – i.e. Grails. How does this work for you?
I’m happy to have a non-exclusive relationship with artists, most of the time. I must admit, however, that losing Cave to Drag City broke my heart.
7) Has having a label become more difficult with more and more people downloading music legally? You now give free download tokens with any vinyl release – has this helped?
Important is structured so that I don’t have to sell a lot of copies to break even. The label started in 2001 when downloading was really picking up steam so I’m not sure I’ve ever really been conscious of the impact of illegal downloads. Important has never sold a lot of any one specific title so I don’t really have any comparative experience.
8) You seem to release a number of records each month – you can’t have another job too?
It’s been my only job for ten years. I’ve never rented space and instead ran it from home with a barn for a warehouse. To be honest, after ten years of doing this all day I’m feeling a bit burnt out. The label is better than ever, I love what I’m releasing more than ever too but I’m really burnt out from all the time I spend in front of a computer. I recently broke ground on a little greenhouse and I felt more satisfied after a day of digging than I have felt after a day of sitting in front of a computer. I started a cassette label recently and the packaging is quite elaborate. It requires screen printing, cutting, scoring, letterpress printing, dubbing and assembly. I do all of these things here and it gets me away from my desk to other parts of my office and it’s helped eliminate some of the monotony of sitting at this desk all day.
Important couldn’t possibly be more engrained in my life. We live within it for better or for worse.
9) Do you hope to continue at this prolific rate?
For the time being I need to continue and there are constantly more and more incredible records landing on my desk but I’m not sure how long I can be this prolific for. That said, I have no idea what other job could bring me so much satisfaction and pride. For the time being, there are a lot of records planned and I’m moving forward while trying to balance desk work with other more stimulating work.
10) What sells best CD’s / vinyl / tees?
We sell about the same amount of CDs as we sell vinyl.
11) Future plans?
There’s a new website coming, IMPREC300 which is an LP only pressing of live tracks from Mugstar, Grails, Master Musicians Of Bukkake, Bass Communion, NHK yx, Bardo Pond and a couple of others. New records are coming soon from Christina Kubisch, Larsen, Asva, Master Musicians Of Bukkake, Eleh, Eliane Radigue, Ellen Fullman, Barn Owl.
To celebrate 10 years Important Records present IMPREC300, a vinyl only collection of exclusive live tracks from a handful of Important bands including Master Musicians Of Bukkake, Grails, Mugstar, Cave, NHK yx, Bardo Pond, Grails, Master Musicians Of Bukkake, Chord & Bass Communion.
Cave “Encino Mang”
NHK yx “15 hell think i bamboo 5″
Bardo Pond “Absence”
Grails “Back To The Monastary”
Master Musicians Of Bukkake “Iron Age Nativity/Black Moss Invocation”
Chord “C9sus4 NYC”
Bass Communion & Pig “Lost Session Edit”