Joe Carducci on the Glory Days of SST Records
Photo by Naomi Petersen
For most of the 80s, Joe Carducci ran A&R, headed up production, and co-owned SST Records, an obscure independent label that put out records by little-known pop bands like Black Flag, Minutemen, Hüsker Dü, and the Descendents. Founded in 1979 by Greg Ginn in Long Beach, California, the label moved operations to LA a few years later when Joe came on board to make the city better for music than it ever had been (and arguably has been since).
VICE: Did you get into punk while living in Hollywood or were you already involved?
Joe Carducci: I did. I had been moving from hard rock into prog rock— Eno and Neu!—so I wasn’t particularly looking for punk, but I was missing good hard rock as old faves burned out or sold out to radio. I was hearing the radio ads for the Ramones’ Leave Home plus the “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker” 45 that KROQ was playing a lot, and that got me into it.
I only ever saw “punk-looking” kids at a midnight showing of A Clockwork Orange at the Nuart. Never saw them walking around the boulevard or in record shops, though I did meet Wild Man Fischer at Platterpus Records on East Sunset Boulevard.
Do you have any theories as to why punk hit LA the way it did in the late 70s?
I think that seems truer than it was. The [LA] glam circle was very Brit-focused from 1974, at least, and they picked up on Brit punk then too. But Rodney Bingenheimer and Kim Fowley of that circle were also into New York stuff and LA continuities. The Runaways had more influence in LA and in London than is remembered. You can say that Hollywood deserves what it gets in this regard, but for myself, if SST hadn’t moved back to the South Bay from West Hollywood in spring 1982, I would’ve gone back to Chicago without ever understanding the scale of the city and the range of work that goes on there. The Los Angeles Free Music Society circle of art bands and weirdos were on a Beefheart-Zappa template, and also putting out records on their own terms. Hardly anybody knew of these bands then, but outsiders did resent that the LA scene got a real movie, The Decline of Western Civilization, and they resented the Runaways, the Dickies, and the Go-Gos. But mostly it was the city itself people resented—the idea that Southern California could even have punk rock.
But you left Hollywood early on, before SST. What didn’t you like about it?
I found the day-to-day dreariness of Hollywood and the unchanging weather to be depressing. I’m the only person who doesn’t like that climate. I saw blood stains on the sidewalk in Venice, and when I read about the shotgun killing in the next day’s papers I decided to move up to Portland, which is where I really got into the record business and punk rock. I arrived there in September 1977.
And you returned solely to help with SST, or were there other reasons?
After four years in Portland and Berkeley, I was anxious to get back to LA. It was clear by then that if you were going to be in the music game, LA was where you needed to be. I’d improved as a writer and knew a bit better what I wanted to do. I thought if I could move down there and work for someone I knew from Systematic record distribution, I would be able to scope out film from music. That never happened, but I liked what was going on with Black Flag and the LA scene. And I was glad to have Greg and Chuck Dukowski value what I’d been doing at Systematic enough to take me up on my offer to come down and run their office. Henry Rollins had just joined the band, and they expected to tour more often, and longer. I found that LA, for all its practical business-of-art focus, delivered in a way that the rest of the country’s more pretentious cultural centers did not.
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