Interview with Damian Master of Colloquial Sound Recordings

One of my favorite and best labels in the underground over the past few years has been the hardworking and heavy-hitting Colloquial Sound Recordings. And as I've gotten to know Damian Master, the dude who founded and runs the label (and plays in a number of the label's bands, including A Pregnant Light, Aksumite, and others), I've come to admire and respect him and his label as much as any other - the guy is nothing but honest and has more integrity than just about anyone else. He's had nothing but good shit to say about me and HSS since I started communicating with him back when CSR began, and his support for what we do is certainly appreciated. So as a slew of new releases (6 tapes, a CD, and a few new shirts, all of which can be purchased from the CSR BigCartel, or downloaded from the CSR Bandcamp) was dropped just a couple of days ago, I took the time to do an impromptu interview with Damian about the label and his bands. I've come to accept that I'm not a great interviewer (which, if you're wondering, is why I rarely do them), but I'm really pleased with how this one came out. I owe most of that to Damian just for being who he is- intelligent, friendly, funny as fuck, and committed.. Enjoy our conversation, and get those new tapes. They all rule, as I hope you would expect.

PMHC for-fucking-ever.

Is there or has there ever been a "defining vision" or "mission statement" for Colloquial Sound Recordings? Did it start as a means to release music by your own projects or was it always intended to put out music by others as well?

No, there's never been an official statement as such - It really started quite spur of the moment.  This is evidenced by the awful name choice.  I hate it.  You can tell it's a "first draft" name.  At least it abbreviates well, CSR.  I definitely have a vision for what goes on and how it gets done.  It started off because I didn't want to release the Aksumite demo under any other label.  They all presented me with these issues that I couldn't get over.  Like, I didn't want to be on the same label as some goofy band, or whatever.  I grew up punk so if I couldn't think of someone who could do it justice, my very next thought was DIY.  I model the label after Dischord as close as possible.  Fast, friendly, reliable, upfront, honest and respectable.  

When we started it was right when certain labels and bands starting ripping people off left and right or taking unreal amounts of time to ship orders and making enemies.  That was an inspiration as to how to NOT treat a supporter base.  I think some of the music those labels put out was great, but eventually the drama around the label overshadowed the music.  At least for me.  A joy we have in this age is an almost endless supply of good music.  There's an endless supply of bad stuff too, but I won't go out of my way to support or seek out these assholes because of their art.  I'm sure it's good or whatever, but so is this Nifelheim CD I've played a million times, you know?  Not being a lazy rip-off scumbag became a mission statement and being grateful became a mission statement.  

As far as what I wanted to put out - I had no shortage of my own material, but I didn't think I would be soliciting bands or having them solicit me.  I didn't think this thing would take off, really.  

You've got a pretty diverse roster on CSR, with black metal, doom, punk, and neofolk all accounted for in one way or another. Do you have plans to branch out into even more areas of music? 

NO!!!! Respectfully, I would say that black metal, doom, "punk" and all that stuff is pretty much under the metal category.  Maybe it's not subgenre specific, but I think the "punk" stuff you're referring to is more like Aksumite, which is still pretty rooted in Celtic Frost, etc.  When I think of punk I think of The Queers, Screeching Weasel, Bad Religion, Ramones, Pistols, etc.  I think all the stuff on our label should appeal to a general market.

The neofolk thing is weird.  It's only just that one project.  Field of Spears.  I liked his stuff and was surprised no one put it out, so I offered.  Also, he had four releases.  One for each season, and I thought that was so cool.  I wanted to do a 4xCS box set and at the time it was the most ambitious release for CSR.  A four tape box set.  I think the new Field of Spears is awesome, and wanted to give it a home.  

I really hate when labels genre-hop.  "Micro-labels," especially.  There is no identity.  A techno record next to a shitty powerviolence rehash record, next to a power electronics record, next to bedroom black metal... just gross.  I hate it.  Some labels do it well, but most don't.  Neo-folk is so aligned with the metal community for whatever reason, so it's not a stretch.  If anything, I think it's a nice palate cleanser.  I love all different kinds of music, but I don't want to stray too far from the "distorted guitar and screaming" path.  Every other sub-genre on the label is pretty much under the underground metalpunk banner. 

With the new A Pregnant Light compilation Before I Came on CD, on top the dozens of tapes you've released, I have to imagine you've been asked a bunch of times whether or not you have plans to release vinyl in the future.  Is the format of the records you put out all that important to you?

It's so unimportant to me, but it's so important to everyone else.  It's shocking.  I love CDs, I love cassettes, I love LPs, but people don't realize how much cost goes into manufacturing a LP. People say "dude, this should be on vinyl!" but these are the people that just download off of a blog anyway.  People always want what they don't have.   I wonder, if I put the stuff out on LP, would the people who said they would buy it buy it? Or are they just running their mouths.  

I don't care what format a release is on.  They all have merit.  Some people are turned off by the fact the music is on cassette... like, ok.  Who cares?!?!?  I think it's stupid and closed-minded.  Every format sucks in some way.  We are just going with one that's cool to us and allows us to be prolific and share a lot of our ideas.  We will and have spread to other formats.  That's a promise.  I can't wait to shake this 'cassette label' thing.  It's like being called the prettiest girl in math class.   Can't I just be a pretty girl?  

While it has been really interesting and gratifying to watch CSR grow to become a pretty popular underground label, there are also, of course, the haters - people talking shit and criticizing just for the sake of doing so, and people trying to project bullshit politics on the label... How do you deal with the seemingly baseless hate thrown at CSR? Do you embrace it and use as motivation of some sort, or do you just laugh it off and roll with it?

It is my understanding that most of the babydicks and jagaloons that complain do so on Facebook.  I have never nor will I ever have one.  So, I don't see it.  I get it fed to me by people sometimes if it's funny or outlandish.  I have yet to encounter a hater that's smarter or funnier than me, so it's pretty easy to "cope" with.  I know there are loads of people out there smarter and funnier than me, but it takes a certain defective personality/upbringing to complain about something you don't understand or agree with when it comes to music, or especially and specifically underground metal music.  I always wonder who these civilians are, and when they'll finally move on.

Example: some people were really pissed there was a death's head on the Quincunx demo. They wanted to know about any Nazi leanings or sympathies.  I would say "there's a picture of a woman being choked on the cover.  The lyrics are all about rough sex.  I mean, the song 'Gag Order' opens with the lyric "BITCH!!!" what do you think the song is about?"  Then again, I realize that most people aren't clever.  The death's head has been in use by militaries for literally hundreds of years before the SS used it, and it's being used in the US military now.  So, they get caught up on the totenkopf when in reality - there are probably more women's issues things to take issue with.  I know for a fact they're just fetish lyrics, but if you wanted to pick something to go at - why not go for the obvious, but I think people can't see the obvious because sadly, they are that dull.

I'm a lifer for this underground stuff.  I heard Nirvana in 1993, started diving into the SST catalog and have been underground ever since.  It's not meant to be easy or nice or pleasant.  I often wonder what went wrong in my happy childhood that caused me to be drawn to abrasive distortion and white guys yelling at me.  It's not normal.  If it was, it would be mainstream.  People get it or they don't.  It's weird because for all this deep underground talk - APL is incredibly accessible on a lot of levels.  Some people hate on that, like it's selling out.  Yeah man, like selling 60 tapes is really getting me that house in the south of France I've been wanting.  

One of my favorite things about the label and the bands on the label is the shroud of mystery. There is little mystery in underground music today; with the explosion of the internet, everyone knows, or claims to know, everything about bands - where they're from, who they are, what their favorite sandwich is, blah blah blah. Have you always aimed to protect that mysterious vibe or is just a consequence of the way you do things?

You know, I'm actually writing a column for Lurker's Path about this very concept, and I don't want to seem like I'm cross-promoting, but I haven't fully fleshed out my thoughts on it yet.  I will say this- the air of mystery isn't as deep as you think.  You know why no one knows who is in Dressed In Streams?  No one has asked.  You know why no one knows who is in Alluring?  No one has asked.  You want to know why no one knows who is in Quincunx? No one has asked.  I'm all for mystery, but to a point it becomes a cheap gimmick.  CSR has always been one thing: authentic.  Even as we were finding our way in the first couple of years, we were always authentic.  

Everyone involved is strong, cool, and unafraid about what people think.  The other reason I think people are intrigued by the "mystery" is that I don't announce releases or share across social media anytime I get a song from a project.  It's so annoying.  I was following this one label on twitter, and every day it was like "rough demo tracks are in, mind blowing!!" or "this new album is going to bring armageddon!" or some other lame jocking.  It's like, who cares about stuff you can't hear.  No one cares that Aksumite wrote a new song.  Why don't I just wait until I release it and then let people talk about it.  I'm not a major label involved with a serious marketing push.  I just put stuff out.  It's more fun that way as well.  People never know what's coming out.  

That's not mystery though - that's just poker face.  I would much rather be that dude lays down a killer hand and smokes the competition quietly than be that guy who's jumping on the table going, "I've got a royal flush and all you guys are losing your money!!" Even if it's true... that dude still looks like a moron.  

Do you get a lot of demo material from unsigned bands? If so, have any of them ended up having material released by CSR?

Oh my gosh, YES.  All the time.  So much of it sucks. I think I've only ever worked with one band who sent me stuff.  I listen to it all.  I would totally release something by a band if I thought it was killer.  I will say this - if someone e-mails me and says what a big fan they are of my label and how it would be a "honor" to be a part of the roster, I always look and see if they've bought anything from me.  As of right now, I'm the main source for all sales.  I don't have distribution.  Chances are... if you own it, you got it from me.  How are you going to tell someone you're such a fan, if you've never supported the label?  That's so foolish.

The other thing that bands continually do that annoys me to no end is sending me links to material that's already "out."  Meaning, they've posted it on their bandcamp page and are looking for a label to release it.  That's so insulting to me.  It's like, why would I bother to release this thing you're probably pushing to everyone.  It's not exciting.  It's not shiny.  I mean, chances are, no one has seen it or cares, and that's why you're reaching out to me, but have a little decency.  Again, it's like - have some self-esteem.  Don't just post it online because you did it, especially if you want to work with someone.  That being said, that's just my opinion.  I'm sure lots of labels that don't mind and aren't insulted, and maybe insulted is a bit strong, but it feels cheaper to me.  I also have this sneaking feeling that I'm one of a dozen or more e-mails getting this link.  I would absolutely work with someone who has interesting material unique to CSR.    

I have to say I was surprised by, but thankful for, the emergence of the CSR Bandcamp page. Did you do that because it was something you felt like you had to do, or because you legitimately wanted to?  

Oh man, great question!!! I was so dead-set against it.  I thought it was stupid.  I didn't care.  It was a huge learning process.  I never really used bandcamp, so I never really saw the appeal of it.  I really underestimated how many people use that website as a tool.  It's really interesting to me what that service has become.  They're really changing how people listen to music.  I'm surprised they don't have a smartphone application.  Maybe they do?  I didn't want to have a bandcamp, but then after the outpouring of support from it I realized that just because I don't get it, or use it, or whatever - doesn't mean other people don't.  

Ultimately, it's a tool to promote the music.  People can check it out.  Hopefully buy and support.  One big fear I had was that I know I've seen a lot of people just go to bandcamp and use it as a streaming service, while they work in the background or whatever.  I hated that idea.  I hate that people listen to my releases on laptop speakers.  I eventually got over it.  It's old news, but people consume music differently now.  They want to listen and then decide of they want to support.  The old infrastructure I grew up with is dead. For some people, streaming on bandcamp and posting about it on facebook is support... which is kind of weird.  Whatever.  I'm no longer of the "let's change the world and be hardline to these core beliefs" as I used to be.  I mean, I still hold true to my beliefs in what the label is or what it should be - but I'm no longer sweating things like people forming opinions on A Pregnant Light based off of an iPhone speaker.  People have the right to be tasteless, I suppose.  

A Pregnant Light and Aksumite seem to be two of the most popular bands on CSR, or at least the ones that people seem to think of when talking about Colloquial Sound Recordings bands. Is this particularly gratifying considering that these are your projects? Do you intend to keep those bands on CSR or have there been offers by other labels to release their music?

Yeah.  It is, actually.  Another good question.  It's nice to think that the bands that drive my label are driven by me.  I'm not just cashing in on a particular artist's success to fuel my own passions. I used to hide the fact that I was behind a lot of the music on the label...  Lots of people cant grasp that one dude is doing all this stuff and that becomes the issue rather than the music.  I play music.  It's the thing in the world I'm best at, and I'm not even that good at it.  I am committed to working on it all the time and making it better.  

The issue of bands "moving on" from CSR, I have the Tony Wilson attitude from Factory Records, "All our bands are free to fuck off whenever they please."  There was some talks with other labels for a while about APL and Aksumite, but it wasn't really ever a true gauge of interest because these labels were contacting me - the label contact to find out what's up with these bands.  They didn't know that the right hand and left hand they saw were connected to the same body.  So, that sort of made things interesting.  I had some offers from cool people, but again - it just didn't feel right.  I thought about it and said, there is nothing that a label can do for me that I can't do for myself in some way.  

It's kind of funny... it's not my dream to own a label.  It's my dream to make music.  There are about three labels I can think of I would work with as A Pregnant Light.  Maybe like, Sub Pop, Matador, or maybe like a big metal label. It's kind of funny, my roots are in hardcore and punk, so I would love to for APL to be on a hardcore label like Deathwish, but that SUN BAT HER band seems to have ruined that dream for me.  haahha.  I just want to talk to Jake and Tre Deathwish about how cool 100 Demons is.

A label that would afford me the freedom to be able to record the way I want to, and take time and not worry about money or quality.  To just be able to create.  I never wanted to be artist and engineer.  I wanted to just make the art, but I found that being the one that puts it all together allows me to be totally free.  At the same time, again, I'm influenced by Dischord.  I know I'm no where near this level, but I think about the way Fugazi approached their career all the time.  They never took the easy money.  They never took the carrot the major labels dangled.  Bands like Nine Inch Nails or Wilco or whatever made all that money in the 90s and 2000s and when the beast went tits up, they could self-release and self-finance or whatever.  It was on the backs of that initial major label investment.  They were so smart about their careers.  I don't think APL is major label fodder, but I do think that these things happen all the time on smaller scales.  

Speaking of A Pregnant Light, is the Madonna cover ("Live to Tell") from a couple years ago reflective of a legit interest in the Material Girl, or is it ironic? I admit this question is for me more than for anyone else's knowledge... I'm in all honesty a HUGE Madonna fanboy.

Ironic?  That's MORONIC. I've never done anything ironic.  I love Madonna so much.  I don't think there is a hint of irony in that.  She's great.  I could go on for ages about her.  Do you think Sigrid Sheie and Kris Force would have sang and performed on an ironic cover?  No way.  They love her too!  Anyone that knows me knows my love for Madonna is deep.  I think everyone likes her, right?  She's great.  I was aware that at the time it might seem like a gimmick, especially with those two amazing women helping me out, but it was totally meant from the heart.  I actually would love to do another Madonna cover, but I fear that would be viewed as a gimmick.  "oh yeah, that band that covers Madonna." I'd rather not people say that.  Then again, people will always trash talk.  

And now for the gratuitous "what does the future hold" question... can you give us a glimpse into what you've got in store for fans in the future? As it's one of my favorite bands on CSR, I have to ask - is there anything new from Dressed in Streams coming soon?

I am in the process of signing a digital distribution agreement that will put CSR titles on iTunes, Spotify, eMusic, etc.  Stuff that requires a lot of time and connections.  I was contacted by a third party that is legit, so I'll work with them on that.   

We are also going to start encouraging working on longer-format releases.  I could put out demo tapes forever, but I think people are getting sick of it.  It's also nice to change up the pace and make myself and others focus on a cohesive artistic statement rather that a quick blast. You know? 

As for new DIS material... I had a falling out with those dudes.  The one guy in particular, I hope he gets mauled by a tiger.  

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Damian, Best to you personally and to your label and its bands. Keep up the great work.

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