Tuesday, April 12, 2011

10 Questions with Chris Harris of Nice People Records

Nice People Records is a Norman, OK based record label owned and operated by Chris Harris. The label has released CDs and 7 inch records for such artists as Skating Polly, The Boom Bang, Brother Gruesome, Gentle Ghost, Feel Spectres, and Harris’ own Depth & Current.

This interview was conducted via email on April 11-12, 2011.

For more information on Nice People Records check out their official website and Facebook page.

Dave: What is the history/story behind Nice People Records?

Chris Harris: Well, it started as a free mp3 label, as a means to get some bands off their butts and get them creating. Recording a full-length record is a real challenge. And, it can be both a financial and creative struggle that can crush a band. I feel like lots of bands shrivel up and die before they ever really get anything out there. This was about giving bands an outlet that was more immediate than a full length record. So, we released somewhere around 30 free mp3 singles from bands that we really love. Eventually, I wanted to do something more tangible than just downloads. So, Nice People evolved into an actual record label.

Dave: What made you want to start a record label?

Gentle Ghost

Dave: How do you decide what bands/artists to work with?

Chris: It absolutely has to be something that I love. I have lots of friends and acquaintances who pour their hearts and souls into their art. But, if I don't have a true passion for what they're doing, I can't invest the money or time into releasing their record. If this was just a vanity label, and I was outrageously wealthy, I would have probably put out dozens of records in the first year. But, it's not. I want Nice People to be a label that fans can trust. I don't want it to just be a clearing house for my friends' bands.

In addition to loving and believing in the band and the record, I need to know that the bands will be very active in promoting the record and their own music career in general. I get lots of emails from bedroom warriors who've never really even played shows. And, while I listen to everything, and I appreciate that, historically, there has been some great music that came out of these situations, I totally prefer working with musicians and bands who are very active in their local music scene. I also need to know that the bands are willing to load up the van, and get out of town (at least regionally) to promote their music.

Dave: Were/are there any record labels that you look at and think “I want to run Nice People like that”?

Chris: Merge, SubPop, Saddle Creek, Secretly Canadian
I was also heavily influenced by local label, Little Mafia, and Austin-based label, Sundae Records.

Dave: What do you think about the music scene here in Oklahoma?

Chris: I think that there are some great bands and great outlets for their music. I think that there are some local businesses that are very supportive of the scene. So much romanticism exists in relation to the DIY scene. But, honestly, to have a thriving scene that will demand some national attention, it does help to have people with some power and influence in the community at large who are very supportive of the scene. But, there is also some danger in that. Sometimes, it leads to an abundance of hype men or cheerleaders with a t-ball mentality. When I say t-ball mentality, I refer to the idea that every kid should get a chance to play, and that fairness is paramount. I think that it creates some confusion when people who are very outspoken in support of the scene, cannot differentiate between bands or artists who are truly deserving of attention and praise, and people who are just good friends or friendly people, who happen to be in a band.

I probably won't win many friends saying things like this. But, I believe it's honest. And, I believe that it's important. I think that we all need to be good ambassadors for the scene. And, to do that, I think that the scene needs to put it's best foot forward. If someone who has no experience with local music, gets their first exposure to local bands from watching some shitty band who got a good opening slot for a national band because someone was doing them a favor, or being nice, or some other non-merit-based reason, then it gives those new to local music a bad first impression of what local music is.

Dave: What are your thoughts on the current state of the music industry and the illegal downloading of free music?

Chris: As far as my personal morals and ethics go, I'm firmly opposed to illegal downloading. I truly believe that every band and artist should decide for themselves if having their music out there for free is a benefit to their career. If a band really doesn't care about illegal downloading, and sees it as an effective promotional tool, then they should put their music where their mouth is and just give that shit away. That's what Depth & Current does. We still sell CDs and vinyl. But, if you don't care about the container, or supporting the band financially, you can go download all of our songs for free from our website.

Illegal downloads are here to stay. Depth & Current doesn't have any national clout. But, still, as soon as we released our first EP, the songs showed up all over the internet. We figure that if we offer them up ourselves for free, we can at least control the quality of the digital files and make sure that the artwork and credits stay attached to the files themselves.

So, while I'll never agree with some of the asinine, logically deficient excuses that people give for illegally taking something that an artist created and has chosen to sell, I realize that it's a losing battle. I'm willing to plow ahead and look for the most practical ways to continue to exist as a band and label in this environment. We're striving to provide something that will have some value to fans.

Dave: Of all of the records that you’ve released, do you have a favorite?

Chris: I love them all exactly equally!

Dave: This is a High Fidelity inspired question. What are your Top 5 bands/artists, records, movies, TV shows, and books/authors?

Chris: bands:
Sonic Youth
The Beatles
Neutral Milk Hotel
Flaming Lips

Neutral Milk Hotel - In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
Nirvana - In Utero
The Beatles - Abbey Road
Flaming Lips - Clouds Taste Metallic
Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation

Dave: What’s next for Nice People Records?

Chris: Paying some bills! Ha! In the first year, I had 8 releases. I don't know that I'll be able to match that in the second year. But, we'll see. Honestly, it all depends on how the records sell. I have plans for our first DVD release, for Mickey Reece's new film, The Seducers Club. I'm also planning to release a 7" from Penny Hill. Those two projects, along with the debut full-length from Depth & Current on vinyl, will probably take us through the Summer.

In addition to this stuff, I'm taking some steps to make Nice People a bigger, more legitimate operation. I'm putting together the promotional arm of the label to handle P.R. for our releases and bands. And, I'd like to eventually be able to offer this kind of promotion as a service to other bands as well. Sometime this year, I'm going to search for a national distributor. We could have had distro by now. But, I wanted to put together a bigger catalog before shopping it around.

Dave: Any final thoughts?

Chris: Oh man... I know that free music is awesome. I know that kids today can't even imagine saving up their allowance to buy a record at a real record store. And, it worries me that people don't acknowledge that music has value. It may not be worth $10 to buy a CD. But, if you're bothering to download it, and you listen to it, then you should acknowledge that it has value to you, and support the bands and people who make it. Sure, it's easy to record music for free on your laptop. But, if that's all the music that we had to listen to, it would be a sad day. There is still a lot of time and money that goes into creating lots of the music that we love. And, getting people to think about the people making the music is very important. Sure, The Foo Fighters probably don't need your $10 to pay rent. But, there are plenty of great bands who COUNT ON your support. Go buy a t-shirt. Go to the shows. Hell, make a donation! Support music!

No comments: