Industrial Experimental Label now Dufunkt.
Here's a interview with Gary Levermore of Third Mind Recordsby Jon Bains from ( http://obsolete.com/convulsion/interviews/convulse/2.11.html )
As the first in a series of articles on the record industry, we have an interview with Gary Levermore, founder of Third Mind Records home of Front Line Assembly and many more. As record labels go 3M is a mid-sized independent and below is chronicled some of the trials and tribulations of getting to that status.
Although we would like these articles to be educational, we are not even going to attempt to spell out exactly how to start your own label and make it successful, but hopefully you might learn a thing or two to help you out.Prehistory: How did you get into the music in the first place?
I can more or less date it back to a music lesson at school when our music teacher who (well I suppose I was only 11 years old or something at the time), was never a person that I thought was forward looking, but as a class we were all played this album by the German Group Kraftwerk and the record was called Autobahn and I thought it was fantastic. So I guess my interest stems from there, but obviously it wasn't till a few years later that a lot of bands started coming along and pocket money started increasing so you could buy an LP now and again. But I was the same as most other people when punk-rock happened ,I was 12,13,14. I think for me I liked the more interesting bands coming from that basis, but I was still into the same bands as lots of other people, like the Pistols, The Stranglers whatever. Then another couple of years go by and there's quite a lot of interesting things happening and those things called synthesisers, and there's this band called Ultravox and this other band called the Human League and it just went from there and those bands got a lot of publicity, you see who they were influenced by and you delve back further. But I think it was really when I heard bands like Throbbing Gristle and the Cabs that's when I got my first really serious interest in music.
Basically the way it started was that more or less straight after I left school which was the summer of `81 I started a fanzine, that only ran for a couple of issues but it established quite a lot of contacts. Just after the second issue of the fanzine came out around February 83, I put out a series of cassette compilations called Rising From the Red Sand which had lots of, if you like, the second wave of industrial bands on them. For example In the Nursery, The Legendary Pink Dots, Portion Control, Test Dept. etc. Those compilations sold quite well and more or less provided the fund base to actually put out 3 or 4 albums. With a little help from the Enterprise Allowance Scheme at the time, I thought well I could actually have a go at this and see what happens. So I actually went straight into it full time. It just went from there. Obviously it was a really slow development for a number of years. I guess it's been full time since the beginning of `84 and it was running for more or less a year before that but I had another job at the same time. So it's the best part of ten years.Mute, 4AD and Factory were certainly an influence, but not as much as Industrial Records, Throbbing Gristle's label. They were quite a key influence I think, but Industrial folded in the summer of `81 to all intents and purposes. So those other labels were more of an influence on me but obviously as the years go on they're more contemporaries than anything else. I mean I've been around for almost as long as those labels which is quite weird.
How, What and Why?
It was really just a case of trial and error. I think I was very fortunate that the first releases sold really well, they were the Rising From the Red Sand cassettes and I think they made me think `God, this is simple' and it's anything but. There were a few contacts which became closer for example bands such as Attrition, there was my own band Bushido who were actually the biggest band on the label until Front Line Assembly came along and there were a few one-off projects and compilations. In those early years I was only putting out 7 or 8 records a year. It's not bad but obviously things have moved on quite a bit since then. It was such a slow process but at the same time, as a one-man operation on shoe-string budgets it was possible to keep it going. More or less no overheads, bands recording for very, very low sums of money . Having established some kind of base I was fortunate enough to have Bill Leeb get in touch soon after he started Front Line Assembly and actually sending me two finished masters which became Corrosion and Disorder. At the same time I think Heavenly Bodies were quite a key band, even though it only lasted for one album, because that's when I think the real quality in terms of our presentation became apparent. I date it to around that point. That's really when things started getting serious.
How did you support yourself?
I've always supported myself. I've had periods where things haven't gone quite so well, but I spent 2 or 3 years doing music journalism under a pseudonym as well, that paid the rent. A lot was knowing your limitations and it really was only in the last four years that I`ve been able to pay out reasonable studio budgets for bands and that's always been with the help of whichever company I'm linked with at the time. First it was Play It Again Sam, now it's slightly different because I'm with Roadrunner and it's got a lot more serious again. That's like a full 50-50 partnership.
and what of Play it again Sam . . .?
I'd been working very closely with PIAS for a few years and certain things changed in the relationship. I think they're a really good company, but there was just a few things that happened that I wasn't so happy with. It's all business machinations or whatever, but there were a few policy differences. So many people have differences of opinions and this was quite a serious one. So I looked around for another deal and Roadrunner just happened. I've got more of a free reign now than ever before. Which sounds a bit silly seeing that it's always been my own company, but there's always been financial constraints. There's been many occasions over the years when I've seen a band that I wanted to work with go somewhere else and have a bit of success.
It took a band like FLA to really present a focus to the label. Before that everyone knew about this label that started from industrial leanings, and released a few slightly more quirky records that generally had this kind of focus which just went off at tangents. Obviously a lot of people know the name of the label is stolen from the Bryon Gysen and William Burroughs book. But again largely down to financial constraints I didn't have a band that could compete with all the other bands that came up and got signed around the time I started Third Mind ( I'm talking about your Neubautens, Test Depts, Swans etc). I had tapes from Bill Leeb in early spring `87 but didn't release anything until February `88, so It was a nine month gap before actually putting something out. That was actually because I was changing my distribution from Rough Trade to PIAS.
A few poignant comments:
1. New Bands are the life-blood of the industry. If there weren't new bands there wouldn't be an industry. That's the same whether you're talking about major commercial bands or small subversive or jangly pop guitar bands, it has to work like that. But there just aren't many bands out there I want to sign. There are two or three bands that are new that I'm interested in at the moment but you don't tend to find in this country that there are a lot of - I'm not trying to pigeonhole the label here - but if there were a lot of bands coming through that were keyboard-based bands playing live I'd go and see them. There aren't that many.
2. There were labels that I used to collect. I guess what it is they get to a certain size, and they think `we've got to keep the cash-flow happening here, we've got x-number of months to feed the company organisation' and they pump the product out and what a waste of effort. I mean if you print this there'll be people that read it who are going to say `well he's a fine one to talk, he released a bunch of crap' but I do genuinely believe in the records that come out on Third Mind. Sure in retrospect some aren't so good but . . .
3. If you're not enthusiastic there's no point doing it. Again that going with the whole thing that I feel that since I was 15,16 years old my whole way of life has been based around what I do now, which I think is great; but I'm really fortunate to have been able to do that. Having said that I've had to fight fucking hard as well, on quite a number of occasions to keep everything together.
4. I still trust my own ears a lot more than I trust anyone elses. I've been my own boss now for more or less a decade and I'm kind of used to that I wouldn't really want that to change. I was talking to someone a few weeks ago who's also involved in this genre and they were saying `aren't we lucky that the area we work in became popular' and that thought has never entered my mind at all. Ever. To me, it's just there and whether it's popular or not is another matter. And I still wouldn't say it's popular, certainly not when you see all the rave stuff coming through and getting in the charts and the media covering all that stuff and by-passing the likes of Third Mind, PIAS, Waxtrax, Nettwerk whatever. We all tend to get bypassed, it's almost like we're the establishment.
Did you know. . .?
3rd Mind Records as a record label started two years before Waxtrax and Nettwerk. As far as the media's concerned they're establishment and Third Mind is underground. But the reality is that when I turned down Skinny Puppy's first cassette it came out on this new label Nettwerk Records a year later.
(I regret it) a bit, but I think they'd agree with my comments when I wrote back at the time were `I'm sorry this is too much like Portion Control'. In retrospect sure I regret it, and Skinny Puppy have made some fucking great records. Different things happen to different people.
In recent news: as you may have read in Melody Maker, there was a fire in the Road Runner / Third Mind offices recently, it was serious, but nowhere near as serious as the press made out. Gary didn't lose any FLA master or anything.