Click the label link above for more details on the label. Alternatively, a quick bio for Erik can be had via the Spastic Colon site:
Hopefully it is obvious but all indented responses are from Erik and the rest is moron's fault.
I wanted to start with some Pinch A Loaf stuff for background.
From what I have come across, you popped your label cherry self-releasing your own Spastic Colon material under the Pinch A Loaf moniker back in the mid 90s. If Spastic Colon had never happened, do you think there would be a Ground Fault around today? How important do you feel it is for someone running a label to have been involved in the creation side at some point?
Yes. It all started back in 1995. The first release was solo material by myself. It was a cassette called "36 Grit". I made 50 copies and put them in a spray painted box with a piece of 36 grit sandpaper. The first Spastic Colon cassette came out next. It was packaged in a custom, handmade (with my hands) wooden slipcase.
Iím sure I would have started a label at some point. I was really into the scene as a consumer but the businessman in me was itching to come out. I would have eventually asked one of the local LA artists to give me material to release. Spastic Colon simply helped to make the label activity happen sooner rather than later.
I came across a short interview with you from the CAUTION zine apparently dated from somewhere between 1998 and 2000 (they claim 2000 but I think it must have occurred earlier) where you mention that you are on your 18th Pinch A Loaf release. Reading up on your site's FAQ I see that you ended Pinch A Loaf after doing 19 releases (though the release numbers go a bit higher than that, at least to 20 from what I see via some snooping at archive.org). You still sounded somewhat enthusiastic about Pinch-A-Loaf in CAUTION - what changed personally for you between those two releases that led to you ditch the mail art approach and move on to creating Ground Fault instead? Here's a link to the interview for reference:
I had just finished the 18th release at the time of that interview. I was still very enthusiastic about running the label but fatigue was definitely setting in. While working on PAL-20 I decided that I need to stop with the handmade packaging. I only did 41 copies. It was suppose to be an edition of 60 but I ran out of steam. I should finish up the rest some day. They might be of some value now.
The complete Pinch A Loaf discography is as follows:
36 Grit "36 Grit" C60 of solo material by Erik Hoffman Ltd. 50 copies Painted cardboard box (PAL-1)
Spastic Colon "Premature Release" C60 Ltd. 160 copies (PAL-2) Handmade wood slipcase (PAL-2)
Nihil "Heavy Electronics - Vol. I" C74 Ltd. 143 copies. Tarpaper and screen. (PAL-3)
V/A "The Accelerating World" CD Ltd. 550. Black box with stack of inserts bundled in twine. (PAL-4)
Spastic Colon/Clancey Pearson split 7" UNRELEASED (PAL-5)
Spastic Colon "Fecal Incontinence" C60 Ltd. 99 in small cotton bag with handmade booklet. (PAL-6)
Richard Ramirez/Black Leather Jesus "Catholic/Celibate" split 2XC60 Ltd 147 in porn ad papermache box dipped in roofing tar. Split color cassette shells. (PAL-7)
MSBR "Electrovegetarianism" 7" Ltd. 299 in a build it yourself kit. Record mounted on a spring with a painted wooden base. (PAL-8)
Fin "The Nus" 7" Ltd. 303.in a ribbed Lexan jacket with die-cut insert and fastened with special screws. (PAL-9)
Smell & Quim "Non-Stop Robotic Fornication" 7" Ltd. 303 handmade color sleeve. (PAL-10)
Kazumoto Endo "Evergreen" 7" Ltd. 300 very boring paper sleeve as requested by artist. (PAL-11)
Aube "Saturation Transfer" 7" Ltd. 500 picture disc (PAL-12)
V/A "Adventures in Modern Electronics" Ltd. 500 in banded pocket sleeve. (PAL-13)
Haters 7" "Hello Hater" Ltd. 400 in standard sleeve (PAL-14)
Masonna "Sonic Devil"12" EP Ltd. 404 one sided clear 12" with painted B-side in anti static bag. (PAL-15)
Bastard Noise/Spastic Colon "split" CD Ltd. 1000 with custom letterpress cardstock package (PAL-16CD)
Bastard Noise/Spastic Colon "split" LP Ltd. 300 marble blue vinyl with letterpress cardstock jacket (PAL-16LP)
Aube/Kapotte Muziek/Hands To/Spastic Colon "elements" CD UNRELEASED (PAL-17)
a.m.k. "Needle Hit the Groove" Interactive 12" and compilation flexi disc set. Ltd. 400 Die-cut jacket with cut up flexi (source material for a-side) glued on b-side. Uncut compilation flexi is included. (PAL-18)
Das Sythetische Mischgewebe "Some Conceptual Obligations, the Usual Rough and Rumble and the Conspiration of Silence" CD Ltd. 1000 in plastic case with foldout poster. (PAL-19)
MSBR/Dave Wright CS Ltd 41 rusted metal package. (PAL-20)
You also noted in the above interview that your motto at the time was "The stranger the better." Has this changed for you since then? How would you personally define strange? Have you ever been submitted anything that was too strange even for you?
In the context of that interview, Ďstrangeí meant either outlandish packaging or bizarre sounds. I wanted to get as far from the plastic jewel case as possible. I have never gotten any demo submission that was too strange. There are some records that Iíve come across that are very strange. Some of the stuff from Milovan Srdenovic and the Smell & Quim crew I would definitely consider strange. I still love strange music and especially strange packaging.
With Pinch-A-Loaf presentation was as important if not more than the audio content. With Ground Fault (in my opinion at least) you have turned around 180 degrees to that - it is almost like there is a "Ground Fault" uniform that each artist is slipped into. Minimalist disc artwork and layout which does vary but within extremely finite parameters, distinctive categories applied to each release (I, II or III) and a bulk bin marketing method (3 discs for $20) to encourage people to test the waters. Is part of your intent to remove any celebrity (such as is possible within the very small noise scene) to focus instead on quality of the sounds or is it just something that evolved or do you have some other motivation entirely for your approach?
Yes. As I mentioned earlier, fatigue from making all the handmade packaging was setting in. If I didnít have a "real" job and had plenty of time I could have continued but with the mail order catalog growing and the replication business starting to take hold it was becoming obvious that I would never be able to continue assembling the packages. The problem was that I was, in no way, ready to quit putting out music. I had made so many contacts with so many great artists that I had to rethink how I was going to continue. I wasnít much of a fan of the jewel case but I realized that it would simplify my life to have fully packaged CDs from the factory. Being a fan of the Pure series from RRRecords I decided that it would be great to simplify the packaging by retaining some consistency between release. The Pure style took that idea to the extreme. I wanted it to be simple, clean and easily identifiable. Knowing that moving to a jewel case package was a 180 degree turn from the Pinch A Loaf ideals, I realized that it was time to start a new label. Pinch A Loaf ended as soon as I decided to start up Ground Fault.
I submitted the idea to my good friend Randy Yau who is a graphic designer. We sent some ideas back and forth and the current design was born. I came up with the Series I, II, III idea after some discussion with Eric Lanzillotta from Anomalous Records. He explained how customers build loyalty to a label and come to expect a certain type of music from that label. So, releasing Government Alpha and then Eric La Casa might tend to cause the fan of one style or the other to be reluctant to trust everything that the label releases. Unfortunately, I was a big fan of all of the styles in this genre. I loved everything from the harshest Japanese noise to the quietest sounds of GŁnter or Lopez. Breaking Ground Fault into different categories made sense at the time.
The intent of Ground Fault was to make available the music of artists that I respected and admired to a wider audience. The very low price and professionally packaged look was meant to catch the interest of record stores and distributors. (Unfortunately, after 34 releases, this still hasnít happened.) The 3 for $20 pricing was in hopes that people would take a chance on artists that they havenít heard without investing too much money. Removing the Ďcelebrityí was never my intent, however, adding new names to the Ďcelebrityí roster was.
How much time per week would you say that you spend on Ground Fault related activities?
I constantly work on Ground Fault throughout the day. If you add up all the time answering emails and running to the post office on company time as well as the large blocks of hours spent at home after work, I guess I spend about 40 hours a week on Ground Fault.
Stuffing envelopes can get pretty mundane after a while but do you still manage to get enjoyment from any of the menial crap that goes along with running a label and mailorder? I know that personally I still kind of enjoy wrapping up the odd parcel in brown paper (my vegetarian meat fetish maybe) so was curious what your take was. . . What do you find most annoying about the day to day stuff? Any special treats buried in there . . .fun at the post office, the taste of glue, poorly scrawled and mangled English order requests (or ahem, interviews), shrug?
Running the label has become a job. When a hobby becomes a job, a lot of the fun goes out the window. I do get some interesting incentives with some demo submissions. I really like the Baskin Robbins Ice Cream gift certificates that someone sent. Whoever you were, I apologize for never getting back to you and thanking you. Hint to artists submitting demos: including naked pictures of your girlfriends might get my attention. I never get the time to listen to demos anymore. I get them daily and I simply donít have the opportunity to sit down and listen to them. So, let me take the opportunity to say this "Please do not send me any demos. If you do, donít expect a reply."
I love a challenge. I guess I enjoy the postal challenges that come along with mailing so many items overseas. I feel that I have mastered the packing of bulk CDs overseas without getting damaged by the brutes at the post office. Iím a huge fan of the USPS Flat Rate packages. They have saved me a ton of money.
I think the most annoying thing is not having the time to do everything I want with the label. I spend as much time as I can doing the things that absolutely must get done. The little time that I have left in the week I like to spend enjoying myself. You can usually find me at the bar or on a golf course.
Some of the e-mails from Japanese and French customers can be very entertaining. I completely respect the attempt to write to me in English even though it sometimes makes no sense. Hell, you donít see me replying in Japanese.
Most (if not all) DIY distros get built up via trading one's own releases which has a side effect of being a good way to culture your own music collection. First, would you consider yourself a collector? If so, what is the size of your collection, what do you consider the top 3 "prizes" in it? Have you used / do you still use Ground Fault as a vehicle to fuel a collector habit via trading or is it a one way (Erik to the world) thing?
Trading Ground Fault titles is one of the top priorities. I learned pretty quickly that distribution is the WORST part of running a label. It is very hard getting a distributor interested and even harder getting them to pay you. After finally getting some distribution via Dutch East India I was snapped back to reality when they didnít pay, didnít return my merchandise and went out of business. Legal attempts at collection didnít work and endless phone calls and emails didnít work. A good ass kicking might help. If I ever run into any of those mother fuckers from DEI they better watch their backs.
Anyway, back to the questionÖThe only distribution method that has worked for me is trading as much as possible. Iíve created a really good network of labels that trade which has, in essence created my own distribution to individual, locally focused scenes. The large amount of trading leads to a large amount of merchandise ending up on my plate. I always skim a copy of everything to add to my own personal collection. After 10 years, my collection has grown to be extremely large. The main thing that Iím interested in collecting is the special package releases. Labels generally donít trade for limited special package versions, and I donít blame them. They sometimes cut loose with one copy for trade which goes to my collection. The top prizes in my collection were not obtained by trading. They are from coughing up the hard earned cash, money. One of the three prizes would be an item obtained very recently. I managed to get a copy of the Nobuo Yamada/The New Blockaders "Prickle/Crevice" LP metal box edition anti-record from PsychForm Records. Another prize would be Azoikum "Ropemaster - Dedicated to Gerard John Schaefer" LP wooden box edition on Blade Records and the last prize (well, itís not just one item) would be the entire MSBR records catalog which contains some of the best packaging ever.
I still use the trade method to obtain as many handmade objects as possible. I will be trading for years to come until all stock of Ground Fault is gone.
Releasing pressed CDs gets pretty expensive. Is Ground Fault self-sufficient at this point or are you essentially acting as a working man patron of the arts to keep it alive and functioning?
Iíve been doing this for so long now that I have managed to get amazing pricing with my vendors. Because of this, it doesnít cost that much for me to release my own stuff. My printing and CD manufacturing vendors are great. Ground Fault is definitely self-sufficient. It has been pretty much from the beginning. I managed to build a large enough customer base with Pinch A Loaf that carried over to Ground Fault. I donít think I have lost money on any release yet.
Mixing business with pleasure is always a bit tenuous - would you want Ground Fault to be your full time gig or are you happier as it stands?
I think about making Ground Fault my full time job at least once a week. I love my "real" job and I donít really want to leave it. Iíve been there for 14 years and the benefits are great. I would be a fool to walk away. But I often think about what I could really do with Ground Fault as a full time gig. With the manufacturing business taking off like it has lately, I could certainly survive on Ground Fault alone.
In your site's FAQ you described on a general level how you choose which projects to release but I was still curious about the process. Do you have a jet engine like control room with floor to ceiling spectrum analyzers, million dollar speakers etc. for checking stuff out or do you listen to what you get strictly via a chain of lo-fi voicemail boxes over cell phone? Jokes aside, what is your process for listening to new material - do you have a decent monitoring setup? Do you compare releases side by side or is it more of a random, where you happen to be at the time sort of thang?
I generally listen to submissions in various places, on various stereos and under various circumstances. I will play it in the car, at home on a computer at work, while Iím working at home or focusing with headphones. People listen differently. If it sounds good everywhere it usually have good production quality.
How much weighting does friendship or popularity get versus sound? Do you regret any of your releases at all or are you proud of each and every one?
In hindsight, there are a couple titles that I should not have released. But that is looking from a sales standpoint more than by judging the content. There are a couple that arenít as good as I would have liked. But when I mention this to people they tell me "no way, that is one of my favorites" So, itís strange how peopleís tastes vary.
All of the releases I have heard so far had slick production values with respect to the audio (decent levels, clear sound). You don't seem to handle mastering in house (from the liner notes) so do you ever have troubles keeping up consistency on this front?
I do not handle the mastering. I get fully mastered submissions from the artists. Most of the people I have dealt with are very serious about what they do. All seem to know or know someone that knows how to record properly. The advancements in home recording and music production make it rather easy nowadays.
Have you had any releases get away from you (i.e. someone else snatched them up) or which the artist simply never came through?
Toy Bizarre sent me a master and most of the artwork a couple years ago. He wanted to do a bit more work on the CD and told me to hold off on it. Shortly after, he completely dropped out of the scene. He just seemed to vanish. I didnít hear from him until just recently. I got an email out of the blue asking if I was still interested in releasing some Toy Bizarre material. Strange. So, being a man of my word, I told him that I would. At the time of this interview, however, it seems that I have lost contact with him again.
There have been a couple demos that I got from people that were later released on other labels. After listening to them when they were released I thought, "Damn, that is really good. Why didnít I release that?" The Gal release on Intransitive comes to mind.
Do you find the people sending you stuff (friend or otherwise) overly demanding or do they respect the fact you are releasing their shit with your money and time?
I think everyone has been thankful and respectful of the fact that Iím fronting money and time to release their material. I havenít really had problems with people being overly demanding.
Do you get a lot of pressure to release music by certain acts or friends? If so, how do you deal with that. If not, have you yourself put pressure on anyone to provide you with material?
I generally do not get a lot of pressure. There is one person that will remain nameless that used to bug me a lot. Iím not one to pressure anyone for anything. I generally let things happen naturally.
Does the live show affect your decision to release someone's material - i.e. have you found that your opinion of something you have been sent has changed after seeing the act perform live? If so, any examples?
No. I donít think that the live act has persuaded me to release someoneís material. However, if the artist is known to frequently play live I am persuaded. Sales history clearly shows that the artists that frequently play live sell more copies. Live shows are the best type of promotion. When it comes down to it, this is a business and I need to look after my investment. All you punk-rock-minded kids might bitch and moan but when you start working hard to build something and you dedicate a huge amount of your life to it, financial payback is a nice reward.
You note in the fact that people send you stuff all the time unsolicited. Do you get a lot of non-noise material sent to you? How high would you say the stack is usually (or do you toss unsolicited stuff right away)?
Lately, I wouldnít even know what is on the discs that they send. I havenít had time to listen to anything submitted to me in the past two years or so. I get so many great titles from artists that I know are great that I would much rather spend what little time I have listening to them. Back when I did have time to listen to demos there were quite a few non-noise submissions. I would get metal, electronica, techno, glitch, goth and pure shit. I could never understand why someone would send a demo to me if the music is not even remotely related to what I do. The most basic of research will show what kind of music I release. Why someone would waste their time and effort sending me a demo like that is beyond me.
Besides the submissions for possible release, I get tons of stuff for potential "distribution". I canít stress enough that Ground Fault IS NOT a distributor. I work very hard at distributing my own titles through my trade network. Iím not at all interested in distributing other peopleís titles. I may, possibly work a trade with them but that is done on a case-by-case basis.
I donít think I have ever thrown away a demo. I have crates full of them. I donít know why I keep them.
To my knowledge, all Ground Fault releases have been on CD (though some bundled with limited CDRs). Is it just more expedient for you to go this route or do you have any other considerations that keep you CD only? What is your opinion on alternative formats like vinyl and tape?
I love vinyl. I will eventually get back into working with vinyl. Iím planning a vinyl project now with Rudolf Eb.er for release in 2006. All Ground Fault releases were on CD. Bonus 3" CDrs came with the first 50 copies on six of the Ground Fault titles: Sickness, Vertonen, Joel Stern & Michael Northam, Murmer, Guilty Connector and Phroq. Those are the only CDr releases I have done. With the exception of possible bonus material on upcoming Ground Fault releases, I donít plan on doing any other CDrs.
How long does it normally take you to go from beginning to end putting together a release? Do you hand over the artwork duties to Randy Yau after the audio is ready or do you have a closet full of "to be released" CD covers awaiting accompanying audio?
I usually get all the information about the release, artwork for the center panels and the master from the artist before I then send it to Randy to do the layout. Randy is a very busy guy. Depending on his schedule, it can take him from 2 weeks to 4 months to get the thing done for me. That is definitely the longest part of the process. I donít complain about Randy because he does great work and I understand that he is very busy. We have a good working relationship and friendship and complaining about it wonít do any good. After I get the artwork it takes 10 days for it to work its way through the Ground Fault Manufacturing Machine.
I was curious what the situation was with Errant Bodies and Auscultare Research and how they relate to Ground Fault. Are these co-releases and if so, what part does Ground Fault specifically play in these efforts (money, time, quality control, belly dancing, whatever)?
Ground Faultís role in the Errant Bodies and Auscultare Research releases is purely financial. With Auscultare I split the cost down the middle and we split up the stock in half. Iím officially credited as the "distributor" but as I had said before, Ground Fault is not a distributor. With Errant Bodies, I manufacture the CDs and Brandon gives me a certain number of the finished books. I sell them to recoup my expenses.
Personally, I like your I, II, III categorization approach since it is a little easier to gauge what you are getting that way versus the flowery prose wank off reviewers (me included) tend to toss around sometimes. What kind of feedback have you gotten on this approach? I noticed that there was at least once release which you changed your mind about later as far as the category goes. Does this happen often? Do you find it hard to choose between adjacent categories or could you stand there all day listening to a conveyor belt of releases proclaiming "I". . ."III". . ."I". . ."II". . .?
The categorization has been a love/hate thing for me. At first, I thought it was a good idea. The intent was exactly what you got out of it; an easier way to gauge what you are getting". I still think that is the case, however, I have found that a handful of them have been very hard to accurately categorize. This music has such a wide range of styles that it is just about impossible to put a good tag on each one. Not only can styles vary greatly from album to album or artist to artist but you can have everything from micro-sonic sounds to brutal harsh noise all on one track. This makes it very difficult. I usually put those in the Series II category. The idea was to give a VERY GENERAL idea of what to expect. I have received lots of criticism about the categorization. Many have completely disagreed with some titles that I have plugged into a certain series. You canít please everyone.
The Nels Cline/Devin Sarno CD was put into series I. After getting it back from the plant and giving it another listen I couldnít, for the life of me, understand why I made it a series I. It clearly belongs in series II.
Do you see Ground Fault as an open ended endeavor, continuing until you are either broke and on the street or is there a finite point you are trying to reach and then you will move on to something else?
Ground Fault was definitely a finite thing for me when I started it. It is ending soon. There are two more titles to release and the series will end. It was meant to be a collectable series. Something isnít truly collectible until it comes to an end. It is time for me to move on.
You have been involved with the noise and experimental scene for a while now. Have you noticed any changes over the years? Do you feel as committed to this style of music as you were when you started, less so, more so. . .?
Blockquote>Iíve been involved in the scene for about 12 years now. Iím definitely still very committed to the scene, maybe more so now that when I first started. I have met and spent time with so many great people. There is a lot of talented individuals out there. Most are extremely nice and open-minded as well. The only major change that I have noticed is the flood of CDr releases that are coming out the past 5 years. With the CD burner becoming a standard item in any PC and music recording software becoming so easy to use you are finding a lot small labels popping up. Most are gone after putting out a few "releases" with their own material. Some go nuts and put out upwards of 100 titles (all very limited) in a year or two. I find that the people starting labels which very serious about making it successful get out of the CDr phase really quick. They switch to manufactured CDs and find that they can make their investment back with little trouble. There have been some really great labels popping up lately: Hospital, SNSE, Blossoming Noise, Trunculent, Chondritic, just to name a few. All seem to be building great momentum and are putting out good quality stuff.
Any other thoughts you would like to throw out? (upcoming releases, shout outs, curses, whatever)
Iíd like to take the opportunity to mention that a really big part of what Ground Fault does lately is manufacturing other peopleís jobs. More than half of my time goes into the manufacturing business. I deal with many, many record labels all around the world. I have managed to get very good pricing from my vendors and can offer very competitive pricing to others. (1000 bulk CDs for $470, for example) Check the website for more information. http://www.groundfaultrecordings.com
Just released from Ground Fault is "Collapse" by Swiss artist Phroq. Francisco Meirino (aka Phroq) is a very talented young artist who has yet to get the exposure and credit he deserves.
Coming up next is "Vitoj" from Michael Gendreau. It is an Auscultare Research/Ground Fault release and is due out in July, 2005. Michael is half of what was known as Crawling With Tarts. He has really built a name as a solo artist. His previous release on 23five is truly amazing. "Vitoj" should prove to be one of the best releases in 2005.
Thank you for taking the time to interview me.