Interview

Interview from Circumstancial Evidence fanzine,
conducted through the mail by Richard Vogt

 WHEN DID TOYTOWN START? Late 1988 in the lounge room at my old St Kilda flat.
DO YOU REMEMBER THE MOMENT AT WHICH YOU DECIDED YOU WERE ACTUALLY GOING TO GO AHEAD WITH IT? Not really. It had a gestation period of many months as I pieced together the first compilation, Display Ideas For Supermarkets. Putting compilations together takes ages, especially when you are involving overseas bands as you have to rely on the postal service and swift responses, so I had a lot of time to get the first catalogue together.
DID IT START OUT AS JUST RELEASING STUFF BY FRIENDS? The first catalogue was my first band, The Wash Daddies, Michael Nichols’ band, The Hanshalf Trio, plus some of the Distant Violins compilations I was distributing. There was also the Display Ideas For Supermarkets compilation I have already spoken about. In the beginning I knew very few of the bands that were on the compilation, I just wrote to them as I liked their music.   With most of the subsequent compilations I have only known a lot of the contributors through letters and sometimes phone calls. There are people from Melbourne who have contributed to comps that I have never met. I learned on my feet with the first one. I didn’t think that many bands would have been interested in being on it but I still wrote to them and ended up with bands like Beat Happening and Mecca Normal giving me exclusive tracks for the tape. The Cannanes were also on that comp (and on most of the ones since).   I met some great people like the bandSouthern Latvian Barbeque who was a girl I was working with at the time. She had this music she had recorded with her ex-husband and she gave it to me for the compilation. The two tracks turned out to be one of the highlights of the tape.
NOW YOU HAVE MANAGED TO SNARE STUFF FROM O/S. WHEN DID THAT COME ABOUT? It’s not recent, I had overseas contributors to the compilations from day one. In 1991 I started releasing cassette LPs from USA bands. I think without exception all of these bands wrote to me asking whether I would put out their music onTOYTOWN. I love to hear from bands who want to release something, although obviously I can’t guarantee them that I will release it. I wish more people would send me stuff actually (open invitation!!). (Please note: as Toytown is no longer a going concern I no longer require submissions)
WHAT MAKES YOU DECIDED WHICH O/S STUFF YOU ARE GOING TO PUT ON YOUR CATALOGUE? WHY DISTRIBUTE THAT STUFF AND NOT OTHER THINGS? It comes entirely down to whether I like it or not, it’s as simple as that. I only release the music I feel is special in someway, music that justifies it’s own existance. I have rejected some music that has been sent to me, but it was mostly doomy gloomy stuff or music that I felt had been done many times before. To put this in perspective though I must add that very few submissions have been rejected, most of what I am sent seems to fit with the label in one way or another, leading to the next question…
WHAT IS ‘THE TOYTOWN SOUND’? There is no sound that can be characterised as with some labels. The music I release completely reflects my taste which is very broad. I have releases cassette LPs of sweet guitar music, sampled cut up soundtracks, front room bands, electronic cocktail sounds and lots more. By and large the recordings are not done in studios, but the sound quality is usually surprisingly good. Perhaps this could categorise the sound as bedroom recordings, but that’s just the form, the content varies enormously. I always look for individuality with the music I put out. It has to be going somewhere.
HOW MANY RELEASES HAVE YOU DONE? 34, although not all are still avaialable and not all are music, my release sheet also includes several non music items, such as fanzines and even the wonderous Art Pak. I don’t keep things on the catalogue forever, many have only been produced in small amounts and once the items sell out, that’s it.
ARE THINGS GOING ACCORDING TO PLAN? IS THIS HOW YOU IMAGINED IT TO BE WHEN YOU STARTED IT? Well according to plan I should be a multi-national conglomerate by now, oh hang on maybe that wasn’t MY plan. There is no plan, I have always run the label as a hobby and I have no intentions of changing that. I am however currently in the midst of removing the bulk of the distribution section of the catalogue. This will enable me to focus on the label. I would prefer to leave distribution to the guys who do it best and I would much rather expend my energies on releasing more product (especially some more non-music items). For what it’s worth, that’s the plan right now.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE FOR TOYTOWN IN 1996? Apart from the above, I am working on some 7″ singles at the moment, I would like to make a move onto vinyl for some releases. I feel quite proud thatTOYTOWN is, in 1996, just making the move to vinyl when the rest of the world is rejecting that format for CDs. I have nothing against CDs at all, and I can’t understand people who treat them like they are the antichrist , I just can’t afford to release them. Monetary concerns are what prompted the cassette basis of the label in the first place. It was the way to get the music out quickly and cheaply. Doing what you can is better than doing nothing at all. I’m very into the DIY way of business. At the moment the vinyl releases are confined to cover art I have done fro them, pasted to my notice board. Doing the cover art is almost as good as actully releasing the product I find. Well, it’s a lot cheaper(!)
WHAT KEEPS YOU GOING ALL THESE YEARS? It’s really not that difficult. I like having this hobby (for that is what it is). I like getting letters from all over the world, I’ve had contact with so many cool people that I may never had known if not for the label. I like to make stuff to contribute to the great wonderous world of pop culture, even if it is in a small way. It’s good to have this forum for personal expression. I like the fact that I can do anything I want with this label. Everyone should have a label, even if they just sell mail-order toast or something.
ARE THERE GOOD THINGS ABOUT CARING SO MUCH FOR YOUR LABEL? HAS IT MADE YOU BETTER OF DOES IT FRUSTRATE YOU OR DRIVE YOU MAD? I have changed in many ways since I started the label, personally I mean. I think the label has grown with me in many ways. When I started I had a lot more spare time than I do now so it was easier to devote myself a lot more to it, these days I have far less free time as I am holding down a full time job and I have many other interests including my band, Stinky Fire Engine, and the washing has to be done etc… So things move more slowly than they used to. I don’t have as many new releases and the catalogues come out whenever I have time. I could do a lot more if I had more time and energy to devote to it. I am not feeling frustrated with it at the moment, you’ve caught me at a good time actually as I’m rather inspired for a whole new swag of stuff to release. Right now I’m enjoying it immensely.
SOME ADJECTIVES FOR TOYTOWN? Fun. Ecelctic. Individual.
WHO DO YOU THINK WOULD BE A GOOD MASCOT? There’s a little drawing I use from time to time that has a bunch of creatures that I have always associated TOYTOWN with but I don’t know why. The crown motif has been the main mascot of sorts. It must have a subliminal message too as when I used it and people write about the label they call TOYTOWN ‘the king of tape labels’ and things like that. So if you want good press make sure you pick your logo well!
WHAT ARE SOME THINGS YOU HOPE TO ACHIEVE FROM TOYTOWN THIS YEAR? Pretty much as above, I want to release some singles and I want to concentrate on getting more Stinky Fire Engine product out. Also it is imperitive that I cut back the distribution so I can concentrate on the label more.
DO YOU GET MUCH O/S INTEREST? Lately more so than from Australia, the bulk of my orders are from the USA, France, Japan and the UK. I often wonder how people hear of it, but the indie network is very thick indeed, you send a few tapes out and all of a sudden the letter box is full.
GIVEN THE CHOICE IS TOYTOWN THE KIND OF LABEL TO SKIMP ON QUALITY SO THAT PEOPLE CAN GET TAPES AT A LOWER PRICE, OR WOULD IT GO THAT STEP FURTHER FOR THE QUALITY AT THE EXPENSE OF A FEW BUCKS? It’s very important to me that the covers are good and that the whole package is special. Most of them are in full colour. I use good quality tapes and I copy all the tapes in real time. When you put out tapes you can do a very good job of duplication and packaging for a low price. It’s all in the ideas, inventive ideas and good design is all it takes. The TOYTOWN prices are very cheap, at roughly $7:00 a tape noone has ever complained about them. Quality at a low cost has always been important.
WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION? K and Distant Violins. I got the whole, I can do that!, inspiration from seeing the compilation cassettes that both labels had released. Both were extremely supportive of TOYTOWN.
HAS LABELS LIKE SHRIMPER ENCOURAGED YOU OVER THE YEARS OR ARE YOU INDIFFERENT TO WHAT OTHER PEOPLE DO WITH THEIR LABELS? I don’t know a lot about Shrimper, I have one tape. I like what they do with the ultra cheap packaging, it’s not the way I like to do things, but it works for them. I thought about this question a bit and although I am always interested in what the other labels are doing in a way I am indifferent to it as I don’t base what I do withTOYTOWN upon what the other labels do. I don’t think anyone does that do they? I like TOYTOWN existing in it’s own little cosmos. I think if any labels have influenced me as I go along (apart from the early influences I have already talked about) it would be labels such as el records, Les Disques Du Crepusculeand The Compact Organisation (Note from 1999, I’d like to add Siesta to this list too). Apart from the content I am also very interested in packaging and these labels were/are masters at it. Teenbeat is another brilliant label.
HOW OFTEN WOULD YOU DO TOYTOWN RELATED BUSINESS PER WEEK? IS IT SOMETHING YOU WORK AT SPORADICALLY OR IS IT NEARLY ALWAYS ON YOUR MIND? I do something pertaining to the label everyday, I’m always thinking of ideas for new things to do. I also spend a lot of time working on Stinky Fire Engine music and stuff.
TOYTOWN MOTTO? The one I like to use is: What’s the point of a revolution if you can’t dance to it? Meaning – what’s the point of doing this if it isn’t fun. It’s the Happy Mutant ideal. I think that sums it up.
WHAT IS THE POINT OF WHAT YOU’RE DOING? IS IT THE SAME REASON AS WHY IT ALL BEGAN? Originally I started all of this to put out my music and the music I was interested in. Ultimately the reason I continue with it is exactly the same one. Plus I enjoy it.
DOES IT DISHEARTEN YOU TO SEE CORPORATE ROCK TRY TO TAP THE UNDERGROUND? DOES IT ENCOURAGE YOU THAT THERE IS SO MUCH THERE? DOES IT SICKEN YOU? I would rather hear an interesting indie band on a major label than Mariah Carey, so if that’s the price of corporate rock tapping into the underground, so be it. The way I see it is that it’s up to the bands if they sign with a major or not, nobody holds a gun to their head forcing them to sign. I am generally less interested in a lot of the indie top 40 crossover music (the JJJ “indie” play list). I am more into the bands that get left off the playlists (ie: The Magnetic Fields, Stereolab, The Spinanes, The Cat’s Miaow, Cibo Matto, The Cannanes etc…). I don’t think about this whole thing very much, I’m much more interested in the DIY (as apart from indie) ethic and I guess I’m not as passionate about this majors takeover thing as others are. I just do my own thing.
DO YOU EVER THINK TOYTOWN WILL BE HIP IN THE SAME WAY THAT K WAS OVERSEAS OR THAT FELLAHEEN IS HERE? WHY/WHY NOT? I read something on the internet about Fellaheen being a tailor made hip label or something like that. I have no idea about this I’m afraid, I don’t know much about Fellaheen except that the fab Julie from Check Out Chick works for them (now there’s a label!). TOYTOWN‘s just this thing, I never think of TOYTOWN in terms of hipness, I don’t believe that applies at all. If people like what the label is about then great but it’s not a club or anything. I think the hipster tag only really guarantees advanced sales.
DOES YOUR PERSONALITY FIT WHAT TOYTOWN IS? DO YOU INVEST 100% OF WHO YOU ARE INTO WHAT YOU’RE DOING OR HAVE YOU LEARNT TO DIVORCE YOURSELF FROM IT? My personality IS TOYTOWN. The label is based entirely on my likes. In most cases I believe this is the way that most small labels are run, or at least the labels that care about what they put out to the world. I think about it a lot, every day. I like to think up lots of new ideas for fun things to do with the label. At the moment I’m concocting a fan club service for a ficticious easy-listening chanteuse (she needs a profile, especially after the plane accident and getting killed off of the daytime soap she was appearing on). Where was I? Oh yeah, whether this idea gets off the ground or not remains to be seen. I think for every hundred ideas I have about two actually happen.I don’t ever feel the need to divorce myself from the label, because basically to a large extent it is me and also it represents a whole bunch of things. Obviously music has been the primary focus but I have also released fanzines and things like the Art Pak and the hand made t-shirts etc… I am working on some new non-music products for the future. The joy of being an independent is that you can do what you like.However to answer your initial question I can’t give 100% of myself to anything, there’s too much good TV to watch.