Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Mike from Volcom

I'm sure you're probably aware of Volcom - you'll have seen the likes of Geoff Rowley, David Gonzalez and Dennis Busenitz throw themselves off (and up) all sorts of things on skateboards in their clothes for years now - but I'm not sure you know about their in-house record label, Volcom Entertainment. They've been putting out music via downloads, CDs and - most importantly - records, for years now. Since so many bands I like have had music out on Volcom - bands like Turbonegro, Riverboat Gamblers, Valient Thorr, High on Fire, Melvins, Harvey Milk, Tweak Bird, RTX, Andrew WK, Earthless, Kurt Vile, Torche, Best Coast and Saint Vitus - I thought we should find out what's going on. I tracked down the label's boss man, Mike Nobrega, at their Costa Mesa HQ to find out what the deal is...

Which came first for Volcom, the record label or the clothes? What do you do there?
The apparel brand started in '91, and the label pretty much came together as a fully thought out thing in '95. Eleven years ago I was hired in to work here. The label had got some notoriety through this band CKY - and some other things - and some major labels came along and wanted to do a deal where Volcom Entertainment we kind of be like a repertoire source, and develop artists that would go on to maybe be at the major label. That's where I came in, and where we really got a lot more organised as far as areas a typical 'record label' would handle. The sales and marketing, the repertoire, the development, managing the catalogue... All of the things like that. 

So you're doing the hard work for the majors? Are you not in danger of having loads of artists just pass through?
No, no. At the time, that was kind of the model, but we're not under that model any more. That went away in the late '00s. Maybe around 2007 or so. The situation with labels in the US became more dire. Labels went out of business, and you've seen over the years how it went from six giant major labels to five, to four and so on. So as we gained more independence, our bands actually stayed with us for longer. Valient Thorr have been with us since 2004, and we're about to start working on our fifth album with them. So quite the opposite happened in a way. The bands we'd been working with, from a development standpoint, actually ended up staying longer. Probably because the demands on their success we not as overblown as they would have been with a major label. A major label wants success straight away, and that's why so many bands get dropped, and careers get ruined because of that. Because we're part of this big brand, and we're a unique hybrid, we have a bit more space and a bit more breathing room to let people grow.

So it does it help that you're an independent label with the backing of a giant brand?
To a degree. From a financial standpoint, we're not a 'deep pocket' kind of thing. We're pretty frugal with the bands, we try to make really good financial decisions that are good for the bands down the road for years. The old system, where a band would take a large advance or something, you're really just taking a huge loan and putting yourself into debt immediately. That's just not a good way to go. It's better to be more financially responsible so that further down the road the artist will get returns, even if they're small. But returns, as opposed to anything they might gain having to get paid back because it all went out in the beginning. We're a small team here, but we work well together and we try to run our operation as honestly and realistically as possible. I think that's what appeals to a band like Torche, say. We signed Torche about this time last year, and released their album in April, and it was extremely successful for us. Really beyond what we had anticipated. All the bands are great to work with. They're all really good people.

There's been some really good stuff out on the 7" Singles Club. How did that come about?
That was this guy Kurt Midness, that was his brainchild. He built it over the years. He plays in a band called Black Bananas, and he has really good taste in music. It's become really respected and renowned, and it's something we're all very proud of. Everything from making the records, to designing them, to curating the release - he's done all that stuff.

How independently does the Volcom label operate from the Volcom clothes brand? Do you pass each other in the corridor?
Oh, absolutely. We're all in the same building. Our office is smack dab in the middle of the creative area of the building. It's a pretty large building, and there's a lot of people, but from a company standpoint we are actually a separate company within the corporation. From a marketing standpoint, and a branding standpoint, it all works together hand in hand. To them, we're a component of marketing; and to us we're a label to our artists. It all flows. We have our own autonomy over the label. Honestly man, Volcom is a really great place to work. They foster everybody's creativity and talent. They give you the room to do your thing and to experiment, and I think that's what makes the brand successful overall. I think you can see in the stuff that comes out of Volcom that they really appreciate art.

What have your personal highlights been, as far as music that you've released?
Jeez, there's a lot. Like I said, the bulk of our roster has really been here as long as I've been here. Riverboat Gamblers and Valient Thorr and all those things. Really, the highlight is just seeing them all grow! In 2004 Valient Thorr was just an obscure, weird little band from the southern part of the US, with a loud voice and a crazy look, you know? But seeing them develop, into a band that's toured the world, and is known all over the world, that's a big highlight! I think the whole thing is a highlight!

Cool. What can we expect from the label in 2013?
We're gonna continue along with the Turbonegro record, and the relationship there. That's been a relationship that the brand has had for a long time, but we never had the opportunity to do records with them until recently so we're very happy about that. They've got the fascinating twenty year history so we're really happy to be working with them. That, and Valient Thorr are going to be releasing a new record in the summertime. They'll be touring all over the world. Then we've got some new bands. There's a young band from Orange County called the Lovely Bad Things; their first full length is coming up in February. Out of New York we have a young bunch of guys called The Dirty Fences, and we're doing their first full length this year too. So we have our long-term artists that we're continuing to work with, then we've got some talent that's coming up. It's a really nice mix.

Check the Volcom Entertainment website for a cubic assload of cool shit.

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