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Catsup Plate Records

New York’s Catsup Plate Records is a mixed bag in the truest sense of the term. For the last decade, main man Rob Carmichael has been releasing records and CDs by current experimental heavyweights Black Dice and Animal Collective, the one-man-indie-glam-folk outfit known as Destroyer, Charlie “Psych Dixie” McCalister, and a whole host of other seemingly random characters that don’t even seem to exist outside of C-Plate’s small but inviting corner of the world. Rob was recently nice enough to fill us in on what we’ve been missing out on all these years.

Could you start by telling us a little about how you got started, and how long you’ve been running?

I started the label in 1994, at the height of the home recording boom. I had been listening to a lot of stuff on Shrimper Records, Traumatone, Union Pole, etc. and decided that I could do the same thing. So I started dubbing tapes, sending them out for review and things just went on from there. The first Catsup Plate 7″ was in 1996, the first LP (Charlie McAlister’s “Mississippi Luau”) came out the next year.

Is there an interesting story behind the label name that you’d like to share?

Well, to be honest I’m not entirely crazy about the name, but I can’t really change it now. It’s an old college inside joke that would be a long time in telling and still wouldn’t make all that much sense.

Who has inspired you in terms of style/ambition/enthusiasm?

Jeez…all sorts of folks: Shrimper is the primary reason I’m here today. They had a great balance between mysterious label cranking out strange, but good music while still being friendly and approachable. Other than that,
folks/bands/labels/designers/things that figure into the Catsup Plate aesthetic might include: mail art, Charles Schultz, Sun City Girls, Factory Records, Thingmakers, Tibor Kalman, Tony Zito, Van Dyke Parks, SIWA, NNCK,
American Tapes, Joseph Muller-Brockman, Pavement, Eldest Son, Caroliner, Sonic Enemy, early Kranky packaging, K, Susan Archie, Halana, … I could go on for a while.

Oppositely, is there anything you saw others doing that you distinctly wanted to avoid?

Putting out crap, I guess. And just seeming like every other label out there. I want Catsup Plate to be putting out high quality stuff, both musically and packaging-wise. Back in the home recording heyday, the ease of recording and dubbing copies of a tape meant that a lot of people got into the game and very few of them did any sort of self-editing or applied any real aesthetic weeding-out process to their projects. So there was a glut of half-baked music, packaging, and ideas. So I absolutely want to avoid that.

What kind of a role has the internet played regarding your label? Somepeople these days operate exclusively via the ‘net, whilst others are still very much mail order based. What’s your stance?

Back when I started out the label in the pre-Internet (or, rather, pre-popularity of the Internet) everything was mailorder-based with people sending crazy hand written notes and wadded cash to buy stuff. I sort of
miss that. On the other hand, having a website means that that many more people can get their hands on music they might not otherwise hear about, so I certainly can’t fault that side of things. Balance is the key, I suppose.

Do you feel an affiliation with other labels out there? Is there any kind of community or so-called ‘scene’ – be it local or not – that you feel linked to?

Well, there are definitely labels and artists out there that I love and respect, though calling it scene doesn’t seem all that accurate or applicable. It’s too diverse and disparate to really congeal around a few styles or ideas. But I love the music coming from labels like Jewelled Antler, Fusetron, American Tapes, Hanson, Thin Wrist, Chocolate Monk, Time
Lag, Lal Lal Lal and a million others.

How much of your time are you able to devote to the label? How do you find juggling a day job etc with your label commitments?

Well Catsup Plate is not set up to be a day-job sort of label-I really wouldn’t want to have to get up in the morning and sell a certain number of records in order to make rent, feed the cat, etc. I want to be free to put out something that may not ever sell-or at least not very well-and not have to worry about it. I try and make sure each record makes its money back and many do, some even breaking a small profit, but that just goes back into the label. So yeah, the day job is important.

Has there ever been a time when you felt like calling it a day, that the label was too much trouble?

Sure, there’s always times when stuff goes wrong, you feel like nobody cares, etc. But that’ll happen with any project you really love. I’ve never had anything out-of-the-ordinary happen that made me question whether I
ought to continue with the label, though there have certainly been times when I wondered if I really ought to sink X-amount of money into a LP that m ay or may not sell any copies at all.

Where have you found bands you’ve released stuff by so far? Do you get demos etc sent to you? Do you ask the bands or do they ask you?

I usually don’t put out demos for one reason or another, but I get a lot more than I’d have ever imagined I would. Usually I either know people in the band, see them play, or buy something else they’ve done. I usually have
6 or 7 projects lined up in one form or another, so even if I get a good demo from someone I usually can’t put it out. I’d rather put my time and money and effort behind a few select things rather than vomiting out all
sorts of stuff onto the unsuspecting public.

Speaking of which, do you have any hot musical tips for us at the moment?

White Magic, who’ll have a record out soon on Drag City, is blowing my mind these days. As is most all the Jewelled Antler stuff. And the Sublime Frequencies stuff. And there’s this awesome and/or terribly named band
called Dr. Dog from Philly that’s pretty great as well.

Who decides the artwork for your releases? Do you have a major say in the matter, or do you let the bands decide?

It’s usually a mutual decision. I try and do handmade packaging on most stuff I put out, so there’s always a meeting to decide how my ideas and the band’s ideas can mesh. Ultimately I’ll veto something that’s terrible, but I
hope the bands will do the same. There’s nothing worse than a badly packaged record. Nothing. Except maybe a badly packaged record full of bad music.

Got any advice for the prospective new label mogul?

Not really, I’m just feeling my way around most of the time. I guess I’d say to only get involved with putting out stuff you really, really like. It’s too much work otherwise. Plus at the end of the day at least you have a record you like even if nobody ever buys a copy-that seems like a joke, but it’s happened to me before.

Finally, what would be your dream release – which band, which format, and how would it be packaged?

It’d be a limited edition silkscreened LP (maybe 500 copies?) version of Willie Nelson’s “The Redheaded Stranger” with 10″ x 10″ hand painted watercolors signed and numbered by Willie himself. Or maybe a reissue of Paste’s “Cherry Red Radio” as a lathe-cut LP in an edition of 25 copies with crappy magic marker decorated fold-over photocopy sleeves.
Find out more at www.catsupplate.com