Friday, November 11, 2016

Interview: Christine Kelly, Owner of Tridroid Records

Growing up, my favorite record label was Elektra Records.

Why? Because my two favorite bands, at the time, Metallica and The Doors were both on Elektra. Back in those days, there weren't a whole lot of indie labels that would be much to talk about.

But nowadays, any record label has the same reach as Elektra Records, worldwide, thanks to the internet. Christine Kelly recently acquired a label that I apparently dig quite a bit (based on my reviews anyway) and she took some time to talk to us today.

Glacially Musical: Thank you for taking some time for me today. It's a first interviewing a label owner here.
Christine Kelly: Thank you! This is my first proper interview, so I’m pretty psyched. I’m used to being the interviewer in these situations, so this is a new one on me.

GM: You've recently acquired Tridroid Records, what made you wake up on day and think, this is the perfect time to own a record company?

CK: A few years ago, I knew I was getting a lay-off and severance package at my Adult Job, so I was trying to figure out what to do with myself. On a long car trip with my wife, I had a revelation - a friend of mine had a label and I’d offer to work with him.

Our business partnership didn’t end up lasting, but I learned some of the ropes and realized that I was a pretty good businessperson. I wanted to start my own tape label, but didn’t want to add to the glut of labels/releases unless I had a really good angle.

So I bided my time, adult life marched on, and one day I saw a post on Facebook that the owner of Tridroid was looking for someone to take over. It couldn’t have been a better situation - I wouldn’t be adding to the glut because this one already existed!

I showed the post to my wife and she said flat-out, “That’s perfect for you! Go for it!” and her confidence in me really drove me to send an email in response that basically said, “I’d kill it at running Tridroid and here’s why….”

GM: In my younger days, I wanted to a be a rock star and travel the world playing music. In my older days, I wanted to be Lester Bangs. Something about the years spent writing and not having to travel did that for me.

Almost Famous was very good at helping me realize that. Did you have a moment that made you realize you had this dream?

CK: I can’t remember the exact moment I decided I want to be involved in the music industry, but there were definitely some contributing factors. In college, I was Metal Director for my college station WQFS and I remember talking to promoters a lot and going to shows.

One of those promoters was Jen from Metal Blade Records. I just remember how cool it was to be talking about how killer the new King Diamond album was with another woman - and she was industry!

I think that was when I realized that I wanted to be involved in business and knew I could because hey, she was making it happen. My dream back then was to start a distro - not even a label, necessarily, just something to get more underground music out into the world.

I wonder if ‘Jen from Metal Blade’, wherever she is, has any idea what an influence she had!

It’s so funny you mention Lester Bangs - I read Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung around this same time and decided I could be a music writer. I’d conducted some interviews for the radio station and wrote reviews for the new metal releases coming in, so why not?

I wrote down a few ‘treatises’ on modern music (which I thankfully have not seen since, I’m sure they were disgustingly pretentious) just as practice. Soon after, I reached out to Marty at Worm Gear zine and he (shockingly) hired me as a reviewer.

I was young and pissed off a lot of people with some negative reviews, but it was great experience. Since then, Marty has been an invaluable resource - he’s given me advice and resources and even printed my shirts and hoodies. What a mensch!

GM: I saw that, like me, you have an obsession issue. When it comes to anything I love, I can't be casual about it. Ask my wife, better yet, don''ll dig up things she doesn't wanna think about...How do you friends and family deal with that kind of thing?

CK: Thankfully, I have the best partner for life in my wife - she actually thinks it’s cool that I know so much about random things.

I was just telling her about how 1987 was a turning point in extreme metal and what albums came out that year. I don’t know if sometimes she just kind of humors me, but I can’t imagine any other non-metalhead listening to me ramble on about it so much of the time.

GM: I'm a dinosaur because I'm still a strong proponent of physical media. I have only purchased about 15 digital albums in the past, well, I've been on iTunes for 3 years.

In the days since my vinyl awakening, May '15, I've purchased well over 100 vinyls. How do you feel about physical media and digital media?

CK: Oh, I joke that I’m a music curmudgeon all the time. I can’t remember having ever purchased a digital album, though back in the day I was way into filesharing on Soulseek.

As with anything, I couldn’t be casual about ‘collecting’ the rarest demos and stuff no one was even supposed to hear. One thing I was especially proud of finding were the Autumnal Winds demos back in ‘05 or so.

My buddy Tanner told me later that he’d only sent those to three people and he couldn’t believe I’d heard them. Weird thing to be proud of but hey, that’s me.

So with that said, I’m definitely not against digital media at all - the rise of it introduced me to a lot of underground metal I wouldn’t have had access to as a teenager in East Tennessee. But whenever I really liked something, I wanted to have a physical copy as well.

The way I got into tapes was actually very pragmatic - I commuted on the train to work in NYC every day and never really had an mp3 player.  Cd players skipped too much, so I dug out an old walkman and a few tapes I’d gotten over the years. The walkman fit right into my jacket pocket and didn’t skip.

From there, I started collecting tapes AND walkmans, because again, I’m a slightly obsessive person. I have walkmans from as early as 1979 and as late as 2012 and so many tapes I’ve entirely run out of shelf space for them.

And then there’s my cd, record, and zine collections. Basically, I think all formats have a place on the broad spectrum of music, but I’m interested in producing the kind of thing that I enjoy seeing and listening to.

GM: Talk to me about cassettes. I'm told that you're switching Tridroid Records to all cassettes all the time.

CK: For now, I’m focusing on mostly cassette releases because I absolutely love the format and because it’s a low-overhead way to build a little capital and hopefully grow.

I do have a cd release coming in 2017 that I’m really excited about - a band called Horse Drawn from Ohio. They sent me a demo track and I thought it killed.

They wanted a cd and I said cool, man. I’m not against other formats, I just want to limit releases that require large investments in order to stay solvent, at least at first.

GM: With the vinyl resurgence, many smaller labels and artists are having a hard time getting their records cut on time. With cassette tapes, it seems like that would be even harder because there are less companies that can make them.

Are you having supply problems?

CK: The awesome thing about cassettes is that the equipment to produce them isn’t completely antiquated and difficult to fix like the machines that press vinyl records. The issue with pressing vinyl is that because of the resurgence, major labels are having their vinyl output coming out of the same places the underground labels have been using for years - the same pressing plants that have been there for decades, using the same equipment and running their plants at capacity.

There’s only so much output that can be produced, so underground labels unfortunately take a back seat to the big guys. Interestingly, there a a couple of places popping up here in Brooklyn that can press records with a good turnaround, but I think labels don’t know of them yet.

Equipment to produce cassettes is in its essence built for DIY. Tapes were the great equalizer - the first time an artist could record themselves without a studio AND the first time a listener could experience music without the sound being shared with others (with the invention of walkmans).

The very format lends itself to duplication and equipment can be tweaked, improvised, and repaired much more easily than what’s used to produce records. Tape duplication also requires a lot less time because, like I said, they’re basically built for that very purpose.

The company I use for Tridroid is Cryptic Carousel, who does the best-looking and sounding work, in my opinion. I think he’s been getting a lot more projects since more people are interested in the format, but it’s still around 1/8 of the time it would take to get a record pressed.

GM: I learned recently, on accident, that the largest manufacturer of cassettes is here in Missouri, about three hours west of me in Springfield, MO. National Audio Company is making over 10 Million tapes per year. Have you ever worked with them?

CK: Oh yeah, all tapeheads know NAC! They’ve got everything. They do a great job at what they do and I’m sure a large chunk of my tape collection was produced there.

For supplies, though, I use NRS ( - they were 5 blocks from my old apartment here in Brooklyn and it was great just walking in and getting Norelco boxes whenever I needed ‘em. I have nothing against using NAC for duplication, either, I just like having the more ‘personalized’ experience with Cryptic Carousel.

He’s a tape nerd like me and built his own setup. For fun, he mods walkmans and makes contact mics. That’s my kinda dude.

GM: How do you choose which bands to sign?

CK: It’s been different for each artist, really. Some of them I approached about releases (for example, Uprising and Heavy Temple) because I’m a huge fan.

Some of them were suggested to me by my PR guy (sometimes it is all about who you know!) and some of them submitted tracks to me and I liked them. The surest way to get me to hear you, though, is to already have a bit of a following and some press - that way, I know you’re serious and can can accomplish some self-promotion.

Of course, the label is here to promote artists, but starting from the ground up is daunting with so many releases that the press is constantly inundated with. It’s really hard to get a foothold. If the artist has some structure to build upon, it’s much more attractive for a label owner.

Also, having a reputation for being positive to work with is important to me. It’s my job as the label owner to do as much as I can for the artist, but I also have a lot of releases coming up so being organized and reliable is crucial.

GM:  Alive-Natural Sound does blues/retro rock. Static Tension does all sorts of metal. Kaotoxin has all sorts of underground Euro metal. Joyful Noise puts out all make an manner of music and none of it has anything to do with the rest of it.

Tridroid Records does ________ ?

CK: Heavy Underground Sounds

GM: Is there any thing else you'd like us to know?

CK: Thanks for the excellent questions! \m/

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