Having been around for so long in the underground scene, we started to notice that a lot of people tend to ask the same questions. We decided to gather up a lot of these questions and offer you some answers. Maybe now you will all leave us the hell alone!
Answers by Joseph Raimond. Questions are in no particular order.
Can I send you a fan letter to give to J.B.O. for me?
For a quick response, we advise everyone to send letters directly to our bands. We do however forward all mail for our bands, it just might take awhile for them to get it.
Why wonít you trade a box or your releases for a box of the rad new single on my label?
Because we do not sell releases by other labels, only our own. We are not a mailorder, so we have no way of selling other labelís releases.
Why donít you do a mailorder then and offer stuff from other labels as well?
Because we simply donít have the time to deal with so many individual orders, nor the space to stock so many records. We concentrate simply on doing our label, which in itself is hard enough with our limited time and financial resources. There are so many mailorders out there already, we doubt that yet another one would be worth doing. We also are not a publisher or a booking agent.
Did you meet Elvis Presley?
No. He died when I was twelve! Someone actually came to my door a few years ago and wanted to meet me as a person who had recorded Elvis! Imagine his disappointment when I told him I never recorded nor met Elvis, that we simply licensed an old recording of his from his former backing band.
What is "Undertainment" supposed to mean?
"Undertainment" is a cross between "Underground" and "Entertainment". Or, for all you gothics out there, between "Undertaker" and "Entertainment".
Didnít AM Music use the word "Undertainment" before you did?
Nope. We have been using it for a long time. AMís Undertainment was anyway a very short lived sub-label of theirs that did not last for more than a few releases. AM itself doesnít even exist anymore!
Why wonít you release "Numb Tongue No Taste" as a normal CD release? It would sell really well with those two tracks from Faith No More that are not on any of their albums.
Because those are the two worst tracks on the whole tape, and by far the worst two tracks Faith No More ever recorded. Seriously, this was taken from their very first demo, long before they had developed their sound, and we doubt seriously that Faith No More would like to see them released again.
Will you copy for me the Faith No More demo tape?
No, I have better things to do than to dig up old demos and copy them for fans. I also want to have nothing to do with spreading unauthorized recordings without the bandís knowledge.
Is the cassette scene dead?
Pretty close to it. Seems like the few people still in the scene are today copying CD-Rs.
How many employees does MT have?
None, Florian and I do all the work.
You guys seem to do mostly punk music, and then all of a sudden I see that you are releasing something totally different like Frank Sinatra!
What we release on MT simply reflects our own personal musical interests, but we do put out mainly punk and experimental. Lets face it, there is so much good music out there, that we just donít want to limit ourselves. Think of how boring the world would be if there was only punk music!
But donít you feel then that you might not belong to a particular scene?
"Scene" reek of cliques and fads. Sure some labels got associated with some particular scene that suddenly got popular and made piles of money. But then the inevitable happens and the fans get older or go on to something else and the label is then stuck being associated with some dead scene. Look at SubPop as the best example. I think it is great that they are still holding in there, but it is to this day hard to look at a Subpop release and not think of grunge. No, it is better not to belong to any one particular scene too much.
Is it true you guys cut the saw-blade records yourselves?
Yes, for many years we did, on an old shaping machine we bought from a broke pressing plant. It is a dangerous machine that almost cut off one of my fingers several times. Now though we have a new process for shaping the records. It is much more expensive now, but at least I donít have to worry about my fingers anymore!
If I send you my record, will you cut it into a saw-blade shape for me?
No, I am not interested in going into business shaping records for other labels.
Does Florian really sell shoes?
Yes, he has a cool store in downtown NŁrnberg that started off selling Dr. Martens shoes. Today they sell all kinds of things, but are still NŁrnbergís best address for anyone looking for Dr. Martens.
What do you think of free music downloads in the internet?
The more the better. Anything that circumvents the major labels and reduces their profits and power can only be applauded. I just wish that more artists would utilize the distribution possibilities that the internet offers and try to get away from the commercial aspects of making music.
What do you think of GEMA?
I could write pages answering this question, but I will try to be brief. To be blunt, I think GEMA is the biggest obstacle to new music in Germany. In my opinion, it does more damage to the underground music scene than internet MP3 downloads and the CD-R combined. It is not that I am against the idea of intellectual property (actually, I am, but that is a philosophical issue), and I can understand why an artist would join GEMA, especially if he or she is selling a lot of records. But like so many other such organizations in Germany (IHK, Bau und Berufsgenossenschaft, GEZ, to name only a few), what started out as a logical idea intended to help a particular profession has turned into a bureaucratic monster that does nothing but perpetuate its own insatiable hunger for money. All the laws are on GEMAís side, regardless of the issue, and the well-being of the artist has long since disappeared from the agenda of GEMA. And like so many such organizations, the few that do profit from GEMA are of course the superstars out there. The struggling musician gets very little from GEMA. The rich get richer as they say.
What do you suggest?
For a start, I think that GEMA should stop forcing artists to pay for their own GEMA costs when they press their own records. Most bands donít realize this is what will happen until they get an unexpected bill from the GEMA, usually years later and after they have pressed several records. I know of several bands in which this drove them close to bankruptcy. GEMA should be much quicker in getting artists their money. One of our bands waited over four years until they got paid. A band should have the right to let their label release an initial pressing of a record, say 500 or 1000 copies, GEMA free, without GEMA costs at all. This would be an incredible help to the many small labels in Germany that are struggling to make ends meet. Of course, this would only be acceptable if the band agreed to it. What good does it do to be in GEMA when a label canít afford to release your record because of the GEMA costs they will have to pay.
What book has influenced you the most?
That would have to be Walden Two by B.F. Skinner. I also advise everyone to read "The First Immortal" by James L. Halperin.
Do you hate Mordam?
It is not that I hate them, I donít. I just think they are a bunch of elitists masquerading as politically correct punks. They flout their one big happy "family of labels", but what about all those labels that they didnít accept into distribution? They let the petty grudges of one label against another stand in the way of letting a label get distributed. I donít hate them, but if they ever go broke we are throwing a party.
What do you think of the bands that Empty USA has released?
Since the whole problem with Blake started, people have begun comparing the records he has released with our records. Luckily, Blake has considered it his goal to release unknown, unsigned bands. I often wonder if this is some sort of response of his to our releasing so many known bands. You know, try to be as different from us as he can. In any case, comparisons were inevitable, but who can really compare the Ramones to a band like the Reatards? The two labels are so different in their approach that comparisons are difficult. Some of Blakeís bands are OK. I often wonder though how he can even make his investment back on most of them. I mean, totally unknown bands are hard to sell these days, when people don't have as much money to spend they are not as likely to spend money on a band that they have never heard of.
But what do you think about Empty USA as a label?
I think it is cool that Blake is willing to invest in unkown bands, that is certainly commendable, but I often find that the releases themselves are often somehow generic. I guess that as an entity, Empty USA lacks some kind of an identity. It is just not original enough for me. Empty USA seems to me to just be one of dozens of Estrus-like labels: same graphic style, same "northwest" garage sound, even the same bands sometimes. Yawn. He seems hell-bent on adhering to some sort of "northwest" sound, as being part of some scene or something. Punk to me was about being original, and that is what Empty USA lacks, originality, at least in my eyes. But most other labels are not original either. By putting out so many unknown bands, and of course not having a distributor for Europe, Empty USA simply has such a low profile that he really hardly exists, at least over here. I think he is probably just as unknown in most parts of the USA, as a lot of people I know over there have never heard of him nor ever seen one of his records.
But do you think MT Undertainment is original?
Yes, I donít think any other label has come up with such cool ideas as our saw-blade series, or our MT Lite series. Weird vinyl, collectors versions, strange packaging, eye catching graphics, pissing off the authorities and major labels, whatever it takes to make MT stand out from the rest. Yes, I think original ideas is what has made MT a special label, a label that stands out.
What other labels do you think are original?
I always liked the approach SubPop had. Their singles club was a fantastic idea. The hand printed covers from Independent Project Records was something no other label has done. I also always loved the punk attitude behind Eric Hysteric's Wasted Vinyl, practice room recordings and photocopied covers.
Who does your homepage?
We designed it ourselves.
Why isn't there a bunch of annimation and flash stuff on it?
Before we started our homepage, we thought a lot about what we wanted. The number one priority was that it convey information. The graphics should not be too big so that they take forever to download, and fancy but ultimately meaningless intros would only keep people away. I remember the page for a now defunct deathrock label here in Germany. When you clicked on their homepage, you got a skull showing out of a lake of water, with the reflection of the skull rippling through the water. Very impressive I thought the first time I saw it, even though it took awhile to download. The second time was like "oh yeah, that was cool, but when is it over?". The third time I checked their homepage I thought "ugh, this is taking forever" and didn't bother waiting for it to finish. I never went back.
Basically, we are not out to make a work of art on the internet, just to give people an easy to navigate, comprehensive overview of our label activities.
You could at least have a shopping cart system for ordering on it.
We considered this, and even bought a program to build an online shop. The thing is though that we have distributors around the world selling our records for us. Selling is their job, we are just the label. If you can't find one of our records in a store near you, then fine, ask us. But we want to concentrate much more on the label side and not be too dependent on mail order orders. The other problem is that we have put out over 500 releases, most of which are long out of print. Of the records still in print, many of them have export restrictions, and it would end up becoming so incredibly complicated to include info like "this title not available if you live in the UK, France or Canada". No, we include collector's information on all our releases, including those no longer available. If someone does want a title that is in print, they can click on "order" and then get all the ordering info they need.
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