|Kepi Ghoulie - Keeping Me Alive/Accused of Love (7")|
On Valentine’s Day 2020, STARDUMB Records will release a new Kepi Ghoulie 7” featuring two Tom Petty love songs. I heard it and believe me it's REALLY excellent. So this was the perfect opportunity for this blog to take a glimpse "behind the curtain" of the music business and to have one of the most interesting conversations ever with Stefan Tijs, head honcho of the label and all around nice guy. Let's Talk about STARDUMB Records!
1) For the viewers of this blog who would not be aware of STARDUMB Records, what would you tell to introduce your label?
Stardumb was founded in 2000 and most bands I work with could be labelled power pop, punk rock or something in between, I suppose. I'm based in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, but I’ve been working with bands from all over the world. If I look at my most recent releases, Lone Wolf is the only Dutch band actually, haha.
2) Do you remember when you started it all and why? Was this an out of the blue decision or were you thinking about starting your own label for quite a while?
|Stefan about to spin Lucy and the Rats|
That comp was well received though and before we knew it five more releases followed, but that was that. I enjoyed putting out records enough to start a new label though and from day one I was more serious about it with Stardumb, but I don’t think I could’ve guessed I’d still be here 20 years later, ha.
3) Nowadays, do you still run STARDUMB Records on your own or do you have some helping hands?
I actually got more helping hands in the early days than now, haha. The label had quite a booming start and we had a really cool scene in Rotterdam in those days with lots of young people with enough free time to help out every now and then. The scene is smaller now and grew older, so most people have more on their hands nowadays whether it’s work, family life and/or their own projects. So at this point it’s basically just me doing all the work on my own, although I know there’s a handful of people I could always call for help if I really needed them.
4) Is this a full time job or do you have a regular job on the side?
Stardumb totally is a labour of love. The label is sorta keeping itself alive financially these days, but I personally never made money with it, so yeah, I have a job next to this. I’m fortunate enough to make a living as a (children’s books) illustrator working out of my own studio, which is where I run the label from too. And my job allows me to squeeze in some hours here and there for the label whenever needed, so I’m able to get orders out on pretty much a daily base and stuff like that, which is nice of course.
5) In your opinion, was it easier to run a label in early 2000 than it is nowadays?
When I started Stardumb in 2000 a lot of people who had been in the music business for a while already were complaining that sales dropped a lot since the 90’s (the early 2000’s were the heydays for illegal mp3 downloads of course), so I guess I missed the real peak, but in this specific niche of power pop and pop punk I’m specialized in I still think it was easier then. Not for me personally actually, because I was young with not much of a clue about the business side of things, so I made a lot of mistakes, ha. So if it comes to running a company it’s a lot easier for me now, since I’m a lot more organized and I learned from my mistakes, but still I moved way more units then than I do now. But hey, I’m thankful for every sale. I think it’s great there’s still people buying vinyl by obscure bands on independent labels. It’s easy to get lazy these days with Spotify offering these ready-made playlists, but there’s a lot of good music out there that doesn’t make it to those playlists. It’s cool quite some people realize that and make an effort to find out about what else is out there.
6) Let's talk about co-releases. Are co-releases a necessity today for smaller labels (as opposed to majors)? Can you explain how the whole process is working? Is one of the labels taking the initiative? Who decides where the records are gonna be pressed (example in Europe or in the USA, or elsewhere). Who's taking care of the promotion, etc… Please tell us everything.
|Geoff Palmer's album|
So there’s still a bunch of releases that are Stardumb only, like the two most recent Even In Blackouts releases or that Local Drags EP that came out a few months ago for example, and in a way I actually like it like that best, because it’s just really clear what’s expected from me. The more parties involved, the messier it potentially can get. But sometimes co-releasing does make sense, and it’s a different story each time.
Like for example last year's Geoff Palmer album. The vinyl edition is on Stardumb (I generally sell more LP’s than CD’s), but Geoff and I both have been friends for something like 20 years with the great Malibu Lou of Rum Bar Records and Lou happens to be specialized in CD’s, so that all just turned out to be a perfect fit. The three of us have been working together with the same kind of enthusiasm on that album and I think we really complemented each other.
Or the sophomore Lone Wolf album which came out in October... At first that was gonna be just on Stardumb, both on LP and CD. I don’t have official distribution in Japan though and I happened to know Kazu of Waterslide loves Lone Wolf and I know Lone Wolf would love to tour Japan at some point... So I hooked up with Waterslide and eventually we did the CD-version together, which is great because he can obviously do more for them in Japan than I can.
My newest release is a Kepi Ghoulie 7” with two Tom Petty love songs, which drops on Valentine’s Day. That one and most of the other recent Kepi Ghoulie releases (including Groovie Ghoulies reissues) have been co-releases with Eccentric Pop in the US. I’ve been working with Kepi since 2001 and we became close friends, but for a good while I slowed the label down because in that period I needed almost all my time for work as well as some personal shit I had to deal with. In those years I still released an occasional single by Kepi and we did a Kepi art book too, but no time for albums. After releases on various labels Kepi found a great home in Eccentric Pop in I think 2013 and they’ve been working together successfully since. When I got more active with the label again though Kepi asked if I wanted to join in with their ongoing projects, taking care of Europe. Which of course I did!
|Local Drags EP|
As for where records are pressed and stuff, that all varies too. It usually depends on which label is taking the lead, who’s taking the biggest chunk of the pressing or who’s got the best deal. I’m a bit of a control freak, so I love taking the lead, so with most of the co-releases I’ve done I’ve been taking care of the pressing part.
7) About your personal taste in music: To what kind of music did you listen to as a teenager? What were your favorite bands as a teenager? Name 3 bands that you consider still have an influence on your own work today.
I’ve always listened to a wide variety of music, but as a young kid in the 80’s living in a small Dutch town I was pretty much dependent on what the radio fed me or what my mom was spinning. Besides John Denver, who she was a huge fan of (and who I only got to appreciate to some degree after my mom passed away, but probably mostly because of sentimental reasons, ha), she luckily listened to a lot of good stuff too, like Neil Young and Johnny Cash, music I still listen to myself today.
The first music I really “discovered” was hip-hop. Beastie Boys and Run DMC both hit the charts in 1986 and that’s probably the first time I really heard hip-hop and as a ten year old I was fascinated by the rawness of it. Since I was still very young it took me another year or two before I was actually able to really dive into the genre, but when I finally did I dove real deep. I think I've heard every single hip-hop release from the US, UK and The Netherlands that came out between 1987 and 1993, hahaha. One of my first faves was Boogie Down Productions, and I think I should name them, or actually their main man KRS-One as the first of the 3 bands that still have an influence on me. I’m not even listening to him that much these days, but I learned so much from his lyrics… He even said things that were in conflict with what I’d been taught to believe my whole life until then… It didn’t turn me into a rebel I think, but it did teach me to question everything, or at the very least to realize there’s often two sides to a story. He helped me shape up to the curious and compassionate person I like to think I am. Plus through a compilation he put together he introduced me to Billy Bragg’s music. That’s a nice bonus too of course.
It wasn’t until 1993 until I discovered punk rock and while they weren’t the first punk rock band I got into, from this period I think I should pick Screeching Weasel as the second band that still has a big influence on my life. Quite literally actually, because Screeching Weasel was the first band on Lookout! Records I ever heard and without that label I doubt Stardumb would have ever seen the light of day. I haven’t paid too much attention to Screeching Weasel in the past 10 to 15 years to be honest, but the amount of amazing songs they made in the 90’s is quite incredible. And by finding out about them it opened the doors for me to discover The Queers, Groovie Ghoulies, MTX… I worked with those first two bands, became friends with Dr. Frank of MTX, worked with both Vapid and Jughead of SW... so I guess that says enough about the impact that picking up that “Anthem For A New Tomorrow” CD in some skate shop in Scheveningen had on my life.
One more to go, right?… I’m thinking what bands I’ve been having on heavy rotation ever since I
|Stefan DJ’ing at the Punk Rock Raduno festival in Italy|
8) Do your personal tastes always guide you when you decide to release a new record? Have you ever been tempted to sign a band because you thought I might be "good" for the sales of the label even if you did not actually liked the band you signed?
I did get a few offers through the years that might have been good for business, but if I’m not feeling it I can’t do it. I don’t think it’s a shame if other labels choose differently, especially when there’s people financially dependent on the label, but I guess music is too close to my heart to really look at it as a product. That might be the reason why – after all these years – I’m still running this label as a thing on the side though, haha. But then again, if I was just gonna sell something with the sole purpose to make money, there’s easier markets than the music one.
9) What are the plans for the future/next releases in 2020 as far as STARDUMB Records is concerned?
|Lucy and the Rats 7” coming up in March|
10) Any information you want to share with the viewers of this blog.
I just wanna thank everyone that got this far for reading all this. Hope I didn’t bore you too much. And if you own any Stardumb release: Thanks a lot for the support! It might sound silly, but every single sale means a lot to the bands and me. It’s literally an encouragement to keep on doing what we’re doing. So cheers!
PURCHASE ALL THE GOODIES HERE: https://www.stardumbrecords.com/
Thank you to Ratboy for this interview, and to Stefan for the great music! I checked out Lone Wolf based on a review in Razorcake, and they are one of my favorite bands making music today! Thank you too for making partnerships between Stardumb and other labels so that shipping is affordable; that is very considerate for fans in other countries. Best wishes for your continued success in doing what you love, Stefan!
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