put out our record.

Obviously, if you read the introductory pages of this blog, search us on the internet, or look just about anywhere else for Dromedary Records, you’ll see that we ultimately shut the label down.  And as you’re reading (if you’re reading), you’ll see that this story began as a funny collection of anecdotes, and got more and more serious as I slowly come unglued.

But there was an actual event that happened that triggered the end of Dromedary Mach I.  It happened in June of 1996, and this is it.

I got an email.

Simple as that, it was an email from a person who was in a relatively well-known indie band on a well-known indie label.

The email was a very nice, introductory email.  Basically, it said that he had read a lot about us and was impressed by the amount of press we received.  It also said that he owned Flying Suit, and he thought it was a great record.  He was just writing because we had a mutual friend, and he thought he’d reach out and introduce himself.

I thought that was a pretty cool gesture, but by the summer of 1996 it wasn’t really anything out of the ordinary – that kind of introduction happened all the time.  I sent and received that kind of email every week.

Of course, I responded.  I respond to all my emails, and in this case, I really liked the band – so responding was easy.

After a few back and forth emails, he suggested that maybe we might have an opportunity to work on a record together.

That was pretty exciting to me, and so I got his phone number and called him.  After the small talk, he came right out and said it.

“I was thinking maybe you might like to put out our record.”

“Well,” I said, “I would love to.  But we’ve got a pretty heavy release schedule and we’re not really doing seven-inches anymore.  What we are doing is working on a split singles club that pairs up two bands.  The two bands do their own song, and then cover the other band’s song.”

It wasn’t easy to explain what Baker’s Dozen was supposed to be in any sort of a concise way.

“I wasn’t thinking of a seven-inch,” he said.  “I was thinking of a full-length.”

I stopped for a second.  “A full-length?”

“Yeah.  We’ve got a CD’s worth of material that we could record pretty quickly.”

“Aren’t you under contract to another label?” I asked.

“Yeah, but we want to get out of it.”

“Why?” I asked.

“They’re not doing anything for us.  I open up a magazine, and I don’t see any interviews, I don’t see any reviews, nothing.  It makes me crazy.”

“Well, why the hell would you come to me?” I asked, incredulously.

“Because every time I open a zine, your label is in there.”

Slowly, I was beginning to seethe.  And it wasn’t necessarily this guy’s fault.  He just wanted to put out a record.  But he was completely, completely off base.  And he couldn’t have hit me with this at a more terrible time.

We got great press.  Indeed, we did.  For a tiny indie, I had spent a lot of time refining my list of zines, and I read zines like a madman.  I had a pretty good feel for where we could get reviews, and tailored the promo mailing of each record to those pubs that were most likely to review us.  I was friendly with the editors, and helped them any way I could.  I spent my last dollars on ads, and made sure that the zine editors knew that those dollars were my last ones.  It worked fairly well with the indie zines.  We helped each other out, and frankly it was no big deal to get a one-inch review in a 150-page zine.

I could not, however, get my records played on the radio.

Or get my records picked up by distributors.

Or get my records placed in record stores.

Or negotiate credit with my manufacturers, or get my pricing down any lower.

I was unbelievably hamstrung by the technical and expense limitations of producing CDs, the logistical limitations of being unable to find a distributor who would do more than take a handful of copies on consignment and let them sit in a warehouse, and the subsequent inability to get our records into even the most local record stores.  Meanwhile, my friends who ran indies were putting out records and talking about how they couldn’t seem to get over that plateau of being able to sell two or three thousand records.

Three thousand records was the most I’d ever sold, and I’d only achieved that with one record.

And yet here I was, grappling with the decision of whether or not to quit my job with a brand-new baby at home, and work full-time at Dromedary, in hopes of being able to do a better job with our records, while making a living two dollars at a time.  Here I was, trying so desperately to find some way that I could afford to put out Jenifer Convertible and Footstone at the same time.  Here I was in Year Four, no better off than I was on Day One.

Except now I had a kid.  And a house.  And two car payments.  And I had developed this insane addiction to putting out records, to being the guy who said “Here.  Let me play you this band.”

That’s what it was.  An addiction.

And here, on the other end of my phone, is a guy who, in my opinion at the time, has everything.  He’s got a label with major distribution, that can put his record in every fucking store in the country.  He’s got a label that can put him on MTV, that can set him up on a nationwide tour, and afford to do a full-blown radio, press, and retail campaign.

Yet he’s jealous because he can’t get a decent review in Insight or Popwatch.

“Are you crazy?” I asked.

“Why?” he asked me right back.

And then I proceeded to completely lose my shit, trying to explain to him all the reasons why he was out of his fucking mind.

Out of his fucking mind for signing a record deal in the first place, but then for chasing me down and trying to do an end around his existing label, in an effort to get Dromedary Fucking Records to put out his next CD.  As if we could do anything that his existing label couldn’t.  As if we could do anything, period.

He was taken aback by my outburst, and frankly, so was I.  I told him that I was not interested in putting out his record, and that if he was unhappy with the way his label handled his band, he should sit down with the guys who ran the company and explain this.  He should talk about how press coverage was a priority that he didn’t want overlooked, and that he wanted the label to hire someone to do press promotion for their next record.

And then he should get off his ass and go tour, and be thankful that his fucking record was in stores.

And at the same time I was telling him all this, I was enraged because I knew how much a record by this band would mean to Dromedary, how it would elevate our profile, and how we’d actually be able to get better distribution because of it.

I can get into a pissy mood sometimes, but I’m generally not an angry guy.  Most of the time, I’m a pretty happy guy, actually.  I hung up the phone from this particular conversation, though, and slammed the phone down on the desk.

Then I picked up a stapler and hurled it across the office.  It smashed against the wall, knocking down a couple of record albums that were hanging.

And then I sat there in complete silence, staring.

Eventually I pulled a really old Tangerine Dream record out of its jacket, turned off all the lights in the basement, and listened until the record side ended.  And then it spun there on the turntable, click, click, click.

What’s funny is this: all these years later, and I cannot, for the life of me, remember who I had this conversation with.  That’s why I’m not mentioning a name.  There are three or four bands swirling in my head, and it could have been any one of them.  I would never attribute this discussion to someone without absolute certainty of who it was, and I do not have absolute certainty of who it was.

The conversation left me with a bad taste in my mouth that I had for years afterward.  Literally.  And yet I cannot specifically recall who the person was on the other end of the phone.  I recounted this conversation probably ten different times in the week after I had it, and dozens of times since.  In interviews I’ve given, I discussed this conversation.  In dozens of “Why did you close Dromedary?” discussions, I’ve made mention of this conversation.  But I do not remember who received the lecture from me that day.

~ by Al on November 8, 2009.

3 Responses to “put out our record.”

  1. Maybe he was right. If his label had gotten him some more press, you’d be able to remember him now.

    But seriously, I appreciate reading through all of your entries just to get to this point. A moment of reckoning like this never stops reverberating (Faulkner was on to something with “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”)

    It can only go up from here, right? I suggest listening to some Mountain Goats now.

  2. I want so bad to believe that it was Gene Simmons, but it probably wasn’t.

  3. I’m about 80% sure who it was, but I don’t want to attribute that story to someone it wasn’t. The problem was that at this point we were probably talking to 7 or 8 different bands that were fairly well-known indie bands, about the Baker’s Dozen thing. So I had a lot of conversations in a short period of time, and they’re sort of blending together after 15 years. There was a ton of stuff that happened in that June/July period, and my notes and files suck because I was totally disorganized and frazzled.

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