RETTSOUNDS - DE STIJL
Clint Simonson has been doing great services for lovers of the sonically arcane since he started his De Stijl label sometime in the late 90s. His first release was a 7" of some improv hardcore racket band called Kandalini Nivag Retsevi, and since then he’s kept an even keel in releasing unbelievable gusts of singular intent from both the past as well as the present. Since his label is more or less dud-free, I thought it would be cool to talk to Clint and find out how he’s kept it up for almost 15 years. I caught up with him via textual messaging while he was down in SXSW shmoozing with the big boys and dancing for nickles.
Vice: So how’s SXSW going? Are you rubbing elbows with any greats?
Clint Simonson: Tom Lax (Siltbreeze Records proprietor) bought me a beer in a can yesterday "cuz it stays colder". That was very nice, as was finally meeting John Whitson (Holy Mountain Records proprietor) in the meat, and watching Times New Viking and others. I'm keeping my eyes peeled for that handsome bastard Laurent from El - G, while hanging with good friends Deaner from the Unnatural Helpers and Clifford Allen who does this Ni Kantu blog, very good old friends. Clifford has one of the more intense Jazz collections I've ever seen so I'm tempted to stay inside and spin the Catfish discography. Tres Warren (Psychic Ills, Messages) was supposed to come down but he's in the midst of some unfortunate family things. This fucking town man... I don't know. I'm sure it would be a fine place if it weren't so hot and there wasn't such shitty, different blasts of music pummeling in five different places each city block.
So what was the initial intention for the label? Just to put out the Kandalini Nivag Retsevi 7" for a lark?
Yeah, more or less. it was a prank. Those were surreptitious recordings pressed up and presented to the band like viola! They had no clue and the response was sorta of a mixture of "Is this a joke?", "Does this mean we are actually OK as a band?" and "Can I get one of those for my sister?" That cover was ripped from the Weird Noise compilation single on Fuck Off and Nivag Retsevi was the guitarist in Tongue Avulsion. I don't remember how Kandalini got thrown in there.
When would you say the label started to "grow legs"? When did you decide you wanted to do more than put out 7"s of your friends goofing around? Was there a certain release where you thought, "Damn, this shit’s getting large!"?
I don't feel like it's getting large, we've only broken 3000 once, but a certain awareness and expectation was applied to De Stijl when I did the Citizens for Interplanetary Activity CIA Change LP. That was a VERY cool record that agreed with 500 people and I would imagine that most have been coming back since. That was fall of 2000, right before my kid was born. The Michael Yonkers Microminiature Love record didn't exactly slow things down, and neither have any subsequent records.
I think it’s pretty great that this label pays the rent. When did you realize you could pull this off? Or did it get to a point where you simply couldn’t devote time to both your job as a printing press operator and the label? I didn't have a choice. I lost my job two years ago and have been working 80 hour weeks since to scrape by. I have a little printing press again, actually. My bro Zak Sally bought one a few years back, and as I've helped him get it off the ground I have a sort of joint access/ownership. All the recent 7" jackets for the label I've printed myself. Your guess is as good as mine as to how long De Stijl is going to sustain me, but punching clocks is for the fucking proles man and I don't wanna go back. I'd rather live at a sub-prole income, drink wine for lunch and be surrounded by records.
Now that you sort of run the label for a living do you feel any pressure for things to sell? Like do you think "Goddamn! I gotta get me an Australian Cold Wave band on DeStijl or I won’t be able to eat!"?
I’ve been very fortunate. Aside from a couple of CDs, every De Stijl record has sold pretty well, so any of those considerations haven't taken the form of "Will this sell?" but rather "In what format will this sell?" The really difficult piece, and the one I fail at continually, is figuring the pressing size. I don't want things to sell out yet I don't want to sit on 1000 records that won't move, so keeping that shelf manageable is rough and the demand seems to always outsize the supply. So the last few years we've been aiming a little higher and shooting big and that's working out. This is retarded, of course; a more biz saavy person would've figured this out years ago, but I'm just getting there now. Fuck, if I'd kept the Michael Yonkers Microminiature Love LPs on the shelf, I probably could've quit work long ago.
Are people still buying vinyl in 2011? Why do you think they are?
Yeah, people are still buying vinyl. I think even singles are on the rise again, which have lagged hard in the last ten to fifteen years. I think I read somewhere that Merriweather Post Pavilion by Animal Collective charted Billboard at the time it was a vinyl only release. I think that’s kinda nuts. I also heard the number of Fleet Foxes LPs that were being made, and it’s a number that would make you shit yourself, I swear to God. I’d like to think it was for the right reasons, that people are coming around to God’s given format, but it’s probably because it’s being marketed to them.
You’ve done a number of awesome re-issues by people who I would suspect are totally batshit crazy. When you track down someone in Virgin Insanity or Parasites of the Western World or out there dudes like Mark Tucker or Michael Yonkers, are they perfectly normal or do you have to treat them with kid gloves?
Parasites of the Western World and Tucker are very solid guys. Michael Yonkers is as tough as a goddamn nail. Most all these guys are very nice, very normal people. I continue to find that when you get face to face and just talk, most people are pretty reasonable. Crazy expectations and demands are usually the result of inflated ego and this bitterness that might result from brushed aside greatness. Cluelessness usually results in exorbitant detail being paid to some minute, moot point, and that can be a common pain in the ass that slows things down.
Is there a dream record you’d like to re-issue that's just not in the cards because it would be impossible to track the person down?
I suppose there was a moment ten years or so ago, before the Les Rallizes Denudes bootlegs appeared, that contact with Mizutani Takashi resulting in LPs with De Stijl logos was something of a dream. You know that Revue Pour Le Verbo Plasticisme LP ? I dug into that years ago and got nowhere. Somebody could boot it but it's got that foil sort of stock, just like the Zweistein record, so it'd cost a fortune. I tried that Karel Appel Musique Barbare record, Catherine Riberio and Patrice Moulet... I've tried all this shit.
OK, let’s pull this in before we alienate everyone who isn’t a total record nerd. You recently put out some stuff by Hype Williams that seems to be getting a lot of, um, hype. How did you find out about them? What about them appealed to you? Are they really mysterious dopers or is that all an act to make them seem cooler than they are?
They sent me some MP3s, which I never listen to, so I don’t know why I listened to theirs, but they were amazing. They were called The Paradise Sisters at the time and were represented by the Ceylon Gallery in London. I asked a few London art star types about them and nobody knew anything. I can’t remember the time line, but for some reason I couldn’t get the record out at the right moment, but then they morphed into Hype Williams. The thing that has drawn me to their sounds are that I’ve heard each step. And I feel they are as perverse and retarded as the first couple Royal Trux records.
Where does the future lie for De Stijl?
The future of De Stijl in 2011 is releases by Ed Askew, Circuit Des Yeux, Hertta Lussu Assa, Jerusalem & The Starbuckets, Stare Case, Messages, Barbara Manning, Charlie Nothing, Wet Hair and C.S. Yeh. The only re-issues are these two Charlie Nothing singles that are utterly fucking insane. Both copies I have here have been taped, addressed, and mailed sans box. It’s amazing that any of these artifacts have survived. They are beyond rarefied. Except at my house where I have doubles.
What’s the Barbara Manning record all about?
I’m just putting out a single of hers from a few years back. I've always felt Barbara has the right vibes, and I think she felt she was carrying label plague with what she called her "failures" at Matador. Her presence was too satisfying to let slip away, so I rang her up and asked if she’d do a record.
And now for the ultimate question… Easy Action or Love It To Death?
Well, do you mean original Straight pressings of Love it to Death or the Warner Brothers press?
I’m just talking sonically, ya nerd! Which one do you dig more?
I think I might go with Love it to Death. David Briggs or no Briggs.
RETTSOUND’S “BEST SHIT OF DE STIJL” MIX
[audio: http://vicerecords.com/download/01 In the Blink of an Eye.mp3, http://vicerecords.com/download/01 Mo.mp3, http://vicerecords.com/download/01 Swiss Cheese Back.mp3, http://vicerecords.com/download/Echo Lady.mp3, http://vicerecords.com/download/02 Afternoon Non-Happenings No. 2.mp3, http://vicerecords.com/download/02 I Sing Just For You.mp3, http://vicerecords.com/download/16 Shake the Hippie (Album).mp3, http://vicerecords.com/download/01 Lick 'n Leap.mp3, http://vicerecords.com/download/05 we had a love (but it died).mp3, http://vicerecords.com/download/Bass and Ukelin.mp3, http://vicerecords.com/download/03 Touch The Sky.mp3, http://vicerecords.com/download/07 The Wind Combs Her Hair (Album).mp3, http://vicerecords.com/download/08 Why, Why Don't You Love Me Back.mp3, http://vicerecords.com/download/01 Sandbox-Upon-Storm.mp3, 3311.mp3, http://vicerecords.com/download/10 Home.mp3]
1 - C.S. Yeh – “In The Blink Of An Eye”
2 - Parasites of the Western World – “Mo”
3 - Fuckin’ Flyin’ A-Heads – “Swiss Cheese Back”
4 - Wet Hair – “Echo Lady”
5 - Phantom Payn Days – “Afternoon Non Happenings”
6 - Pens – “I Sing Just For You”
7 - 39 Clocks – “Shake The Hippie”
8 - Samara Lubelski – “Lick ‘N’ Leap”
9 - Roots of Madness – “We Had A Love (But it Died)”
10 - Messages – “Bass and Ukelin”
11 - Virgin Insanity – “Touch the Sky”
12 - Jakob Olausson – “The Wind Combs Her Hair”
13 - Barbara Manning – “Why, Why Don’t You Love Me Back?”
14 - Mark Tucker – “Sandbox Upon Storm”
15 - Circuit Des Yeux – “3311”
16 - King Darves – “Home”