For over five years, Death By Audio has been pretty much the best and weirdest DIY venue in Brooklyn, if not all of New York. They've been the gateway venue in NYC for every noisy band of weirdos on their great climb to the top of Mount Pitchfork, and because they run such a rad space and maintain a spotless resumé as the Most Righteous Dudes, those bands come back, even if they're also headlining much bigger shows on the same tour. It's this long lineage of being a consistently incredible spot that Death By Audio's new collaboration with Famous Class Records springs from, and pays tribute to.
Yesterday, the boys at DBA announced Live at Death By Audio 2012, a collection of the best and loudest performances at the venue, presented in chronological order in a flexibook. If you don't know what a flexibook is, it's basically a big book that you can throw on your record player and then sounds come out. They're weird and they work like this.
The list of homies collected is long and strong—JEFF The Brotherhood, Black Pus, Grooms, Thee Oh Sees, Future Islands, and Metz are among the highlights. It's a list as unique as DBA's recent collaborations with Ty Segall and John Dwyer on their limited-edition pedals.
The other day, I talked with Matt Conboy and Edan Wilber, who live and work at DBA, and Cyrus Lubin of Famous Class about the flexibook, weird merch, making albums, and the importance of not being a jerk.
Noisey: Can you guys tell me about this project, and when you got the idea?
Cyrus: We've been working on this for six months, easily, and we had the seed of an idea at the JEFF The Brotherhood show.
Matt: In February of 2012.
Cyrus: We were just listening to the JEFF The Brotherhood recording in [Matt's] room and it just sounded so awesome.
Edan: Yeah, you mixed some of it for me to play on [The Death By Audio show on East Village Radio] and it sounded really dope. I played three songs on the radio show I have, and we had never had the idea to play live recordings on the show before, but I was like, "Dude, that was such a good show. Let me play some of the songs."
Cyrus: And Matt helps me with LAMC seven-inch stuff, so we're always talking about dumb ideas. And then, at some point, someone did something similar to the LAMC seven-inches and it made me think there should be something other than a split seven-inch that Famous Class does.
The space has been mic'ed up for a long time, in various states of use, right?
Matt: As part of this, I went through a bunch of old recordings and I think the oldest recordings I have are from 2007…but they definitely don't sound that great. The best way to put it is I started recording bands in 2007, but I started to put a little more effort into it in 2011, 2010... 2012 was the first year that I slightly upgraded our setup and we could do close mics and room mics, so the whole year was done with a higher level of professionalism.
Cyrus: [The album] is all chronological from 2012…a document of the last year.
Matt: Yeah, it's 11 bands, the first one is in February and the last is A Place To Bury Strangers in December 2012, all recorded live at Death By Audio.
You mentioned the Less Artists More Condos split seven-inch series, and Death By Audio just did pedal collaborations with Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees. Do you just have a shortlist of crazy ideas your friends are down to do?
Cyrus: We just hang out a lot.
Edan: I don't know if you read, but we're a cottage industry.
When did this turn from, like, a regular CD compilation to a flexidisc book with all these crazy extras. It's a book of playable records.
Cyrus: Yeah, and it's art too. Every other page is art. It's a playable spiral-bound book.
Edan: Like a notebook.
Cyrus: There's probably a Berenstain Bears book that does this. We're not the first people who have done this, but we're maybe the fourth people to do this.
Edan: Pirate's Press is the whole reason we could do it. John [from Thee Oh Sees] did his last two records as flexidisc.
Were people stoked to contribute? Were there people you wanted that couldn't do this?
Cyrus: I would say that 90 percent of our first emails came back as a yes.
Matt: But then it took three months to get that last 10 percent.
Cyrus: There was a lot of parts to it. "Hey, do you like this idea. Hey, do you like this mix? Hey, do you like the changes to this mix? Hey, is your label okay with this?"
Death By Audio is an important first stop in New York for bands that can go on to major labels and way bigger shows, and bands often come back and play DBA even if they're playing Webster Hall. What draws people back to working with you guys on shows and working on stuff like this?
Matt: I'd say relationships, and I'd say a HUGE part is what Edan does. Edan doesn't book bands that he doesn't like, and I think it's pretty clear in the world that we live in that there are a lot of people that want to take credit for other peoples' successes and capitalize on those successes. And Edan has made his career for the past five years or more of doing the opposite—just like, "I think what you're doing is great and I don't care if only ten people get it, or 1000 people get it, or a million people get it."
I think if you start with that kind of relationship with somebody, it's so genuine that you'd have to be a jerk to not continue the relationship. Even if those bands never play at Death By Audio again, they're still going to be our friends because of what Edan's done.
What's the weirdest merch you've seen at DBA?
Edan: Oh man…Shellshag?
Matt: Yeah, those action figures. Edan: The new awesome thing to do is whatever you want to sell, with a download code…Shellshag is molding these little plastic figures and popping them out and painting them.
...of the band?
Edan: Yeah! Of the two members of the band.
Matt: Like a Ninja Turtle, but the band.
Edan: They pop them in the bag with the cardboard thing on the top stapled, with a download code on the back. I got a weird old-timey key with a download code. Loud Objects sells "noise toys", and that's really cool; it's just a circuit board with a switch on it that you plug into headphones.
Cyrus: Wasn't someone selling stuffed animals at the Black Pus show?
Edan: There are just so many tapes now. It's awesome, because tapes have been on the rise for a while, and it's usually just for noise people, but now it's for bands on their first tour or don't have their album together yet, so they record a tape on the fly, and those are always really special because there's 30 of them, 50 of them. They have them on that one tour, and then maybe their record does well, and you have the LP, but then you also have the tape that's got the hand-numbering on the back, the terribly Xeroxed art. I think it's great that people are doing that over a CD-R.
The fact that you see that probably influences what you choose to make.
Cyrus: There was an argument a while ago where I REALLY wanted to do a VHS, and everyone convinced me that it was the stupidest thing in the world. Which, maybe it is stupid.
Edan: I've got a couple VHS from the past couple years. It's still pretty weird. I'm the only person in our whole place that has a VHS player.
Matt: There are 18 people and 10 rooms in our place today, and couldn't find one person that had a CD/DVD drive in their computer. 12 computers!
I mean, it's harder to get people to buy an album. You both have more traditional releases through FC and Death By Audio records.
Edan: That's why it's taken so long for anything to happen with the live recordings, just because we're doing so much other stuff. We had talked about doing something like this, and just no one had the time.