El vinilo como formato musical pareciera estar diseñado para nunca morir. Tanto el tamaño de un disco como sus demandas hacia el escucha (costos, limitaciones físicas, etc.) lo hacen perfecto para el amante de la música, premiándolo con una experiencia más íntima con su colección – además de su distinguida calidad de sonido. Y aunque bien es cierto que el formato se encuentra en un periodo de popularidad renovada, no es tan fácil conseguir música para disfrutar como en otros formatos (un saludito a iTunes en el celular).
Hace unos meses atrás, mientras buscaba nuevas fuentes de discos en el Internet, me topé con un pequeño sello norteamericano por el nombre de Secret Stash Records. El mismo se especializa en sonidos de otras épocas (y otros países) – ya sea la cumbia peruana mezclada con psicodelia de Los Destellos, el funk soviético de Pavel Sysoyev o una reinterpretación del clásico de Miles Davis, Kind of Blue, en reggae. En fin, este sello independiente está trabajando material interesante para que nuevas audiencias – y nuevos fans del vinilo – las puedan redescubrir.
Le enviamos a Eric D. Foss, VP Sales & Marketing de Secret Stash Records, unas preguntas sobre los comienzos de su negocio, cómo han trabajado sus proyectos y algunos de sus discos favoritos, entre otras cosas. Conozcan el mundo de Secret Stash Records a continuación. [Entrevista en inglés]
PRI: When did Secret Stash Records get started and how did the label came to be?
Eric Foss: There really is not incredible story about how the label came to be. Cory (my business partner) and I had both been working in the business for a few years. We both happened to be sick of working to make other people wealthy. We also saw a sharp decline in CD sales and noticed that a lot of stuff that was once working on CD didn’t really work anymore. We decided to try and carve out a much more satisfying gig by working with music we loved.
Secret Stash actually started in my home in New Hope, MN. We probably ran out of there for the first 9 months or so. All of the records were shipped from the plant to my house, where I would personally pack and ship every order out of an 11′ x 8′ spare bedroom. It was pretty crazy when I’d ship a new release. You’d walk into my house and the living room would be filled with dozens of 13″ x 13″ boxes waiting for the UPS guy.
PRI: How would you describe the type of label that you guys run?
EF: We are extremely independent. We’ve never taken one penny from an investor, distributor, or other label. Nowadays we do all of our own assembly. We also do our own distribution. We do sell to distributors, but only on a non-exclusive basis. A lot of labels who hype the independent nature of their business actually take advances form people like Universal. They hand over their distro [distribution] rights to one single entity who ends up having a lot of control over that label. Because we are intimately involved in every step of our releases, we are able to exercise very strict quality control and ensure that everything we sell is worth the money customers are plunking down.
PRI: The label is located in Minneapolis, MN. Is there a healthy market there for the music Secret Stash is rereleasing? Who is your main audience and how do you reach them?
EF: Minneapolis is an amazing record town. Many people claim that we have more record stores per capita than any other city in the country! I wouldn’t doubt it either. From our offices in Uptown there are 5 record shops within walking distance (or maybe a short bike ride), all of which focus heavily on vinyl. We have some of the best utilized public/community airwaves in the nation, which happens to also be home to countless shows that spin tons of funky vinyl. With all that being said, I think we still have a long ways to go in building our profile here in town. We really need to do a lot more to engage local vinyl junkies.
Honestly, we do way more business overseas than we do here. Obviously, the best way to nurture that business is via the Internet.
PRI: How do you go about the process of finding and deciding which records to release?
EF: Well, it’s sort of a chicken and the egg thing. You either have the contact and then the music, or vice versa. Neither method is necessarily better than the other. You have to really let things happen sort of organically. But, generally speaking, we’re are constantly digging for records. When we find something interesting that hasn’t been tapped yet, we dig deeper. There is no magic secret. It’s just a lot of time and patience.
PRI: What’s your favorite record that Secret Stash has put out? What other records – not released by the label – do you count amongst your favorites?
EF: Wow, what a tough question!? What I can say for sure is that we’ve never put out a release that we don’t really enjoy personally. With that said, my two favorites might be The Rhythms of Black Peru and the reissue of George Danquah’s Hot & Jumpy. There are a lot of great labels out there doing some amazing things right now. I picked up one of those Brazilian comps on Soul Jazz and just fell in love with it. Masstropicas is killing it with their Cumbia reissues.
As far as older releases I’m a nut for any of the old Westbound stuff. I also love 60s post-bop. I must listen to ‘Round About Midnight at least once a every 10 days or so. I also have hundreds of 78s. I love western swing and some old goofy novelty recordings. Tex Williams is pretty great.
PRI: For the Los Destellos record, you organized a viral campaign to reveal the record. How did that work out? Will you be doing that for the next releases?
EF: It actually worked out pretty well. I think we’d like to try it again and make some tweaks. A lot of it just needs to be times up a little better. Our website is built on WordPress and one of the guys in the office has become quite an HTML whiz. We’re always trying new things with the website to help grow the business. What did you think of the puzzle campaign?
PRI: It kept me glued to your Twitter account and website – once I could finally make out part of the word “constelación” I was a few short google searches away from finding out which record you were putting out. It was fun! When did you first hear about Constelación and what about the music of Los Destellos caught your attention?
EF: I thought it sounded sort of deranged. Some of it sounds like it’s out of a weird cartoon or something. It seems like every time someone tries to pontificate about the importance of their favorite artist or style, they always talk about the mix of influences that create that sound. Often, I think a lot of that is fluff. I can’t always hear what people are talking about. But, when I heard this stuff, I was floored by the strange mix of styles that came together to make the Cumbia Peruana sound.
PRI: The Tabou Combo record is one of my favorites – has the band seen or heard the disc? Are they happy with the release? It must be exciting for musicians to be approached with plans to rerelease their music – how did they first react to the project?
EF: This has been an extremely fun project to work on because the band is still around and so is the label. Even more fun, the band and the label still work together very harmoniously. I first approached the band, then they passed me to the label, and now I sort of communicate with all of them depending on what I need. We just set a box of records to the band last week, so I’m not sure if they got ’em yet. I do know that they are thrilled about the release in general. I think they’re just happy to see interest from a different market. They also seem very pleased with the care we’ve put into the reissue.
PRI: Tell us about the “Kind of Blue” Reggae Interpretation record. Any other unique projects like that one coming in the future?
EF: I must admit, I wasn’t intimately involved in this release. It sort of came our way through another individual. But, that record is amazing. It was recorded by Jeremy Taylor (an American jazz musician) with a bunch of random Jamaican musicians. We had a hard time figuring out what to do with it because it was only enough music to fill one side. We decided to create dub mixes for the b-side and I think it worked out great. Cory made all the dubmixes himself. I think he knocked it out of the park. We don’t have any more releases lined up from that source, but we’re always looking for more interesting rarities to dig into.
PRI: When we first recommended your label through Twitter, one of our followers raised the concern about “needle-drops” from forums he read online. Are you aware of those postings? How would you respond to those concerns?
EF: I know that there are some people who assume a lot of things about what we (and other new labels) do. In fact, just last week I got a voicemail from another label. They said we were bootlegging the Destellos and Black Peru albums. They basically told us to back off. I called them back and revealed my licensing sources and some details that proved the legitimacy of our work and they apologized for making the accusations. I think some people see a new start up doing some of this interesting stuff and they are automatically apprehensive because it’s not coming from a known trusted source.
To address the question of needle drops specifically, we have been forced to use needle drops a couple times. It happens sometimes in the reissue game. We invest lots of time and money to make sure that in those instances, we get the best sounding product possible. Let me be very clear about one thing, even when we do a needle drop, everything is fully licensed before release. It’s amazing how much great music is out there, but there are no remaining master tapes for it.
PRI: What’s the most challenging aspect of your business and what do you enjoy the most?
EF: We run a lean crew. It’s me, Cory and an employee named Will. The hardest thing for me is to find time to keep pursuing new projects. Because our staff is so small, I’m forced to do a lot of things to make sure existing titles are successful. Finding time to look forward to new releases is tough. What do I enjoy the most?… Finding new projects!
PRI: Any chance we’ll get to hear a Puerto Rican re-issue from Secret Stash in the future?
PRI: Awesome. I hope that happens soon enough! Eric, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions and I look forward to receiving my copy of the Constelación reissue in the mail.