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Digitalis Industries

If you take an insouciant sojourn over to www.digitalisindustries.com you’ll find the hub of an ever-expanding army known as Digitalis Industries. The brainchild of a husband and wife team known as Brad and Eden Rose, it contains four divisions: Digitalis Recordings (CD releases), Foxglove (CDR releases), Digitalis Publications (printed matter) and Foxy Digitalis (an online webzine). This army has been existence for barely two years (though the fanzine has its origins as printed matter in the mid-90s), yet has unleashed a slew of incredible releases by some of the world’s most exciting and interesting artists, as well as their own musical and written work. Though generalizations would probably stick the majority of these releases in the “outsider” camp, this does no justice to the sheer breadth and depth of music and writing that the Roses have revealed unto fans of music across the globe.

For a brief musical introduction, consider the latest releases by the likes of Leicester-based Pickled Egg legends Volcano the Bear, New Zealand madman CJA, various projects of the San Francisco-based Jewelled Antler collective, Stoke/Leeds skree/drone pioneers Ashtray Navigations and tons and tons of the strangest and most bewitching music from Finland. Running both a CDR and CD label and selling your wares for ridiculously cheap prices sounds like the best idea anyone’s had when it comes to DIY labels, and then having an incredible and positive webzine that discusses and promotes all aspects of the music surrounding Digitalis just adds the cherry on top. Seriously, www.foxydigitalis.com is a fantastic read and I thoroughly recommend you check it out. Then drop by the online shops at either record label, and make sure you go and have a look at the latest offering by Digitalis Publications, a lovingly bound collection of prose, words and pictures by various Digitalis-related artists that promises much in the way of pleasure.

With all this wonder in mind, diskant managed to persuade Brad Rose to take a brief pause from his endless flurry of activity and have a chat with us about everything he does. The technique we used? We asked if he’d be interested. The response we got? “I’d love to!” Read on and be inspired.

At what age did you start making and recording and/or writing about music? What got you hooked into it initially?

I started playing guitar when I was 10, but mostly was just playing various songs I figured out on my own (first song I ever learned was “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” by Poison – a band that will always hold a special place in my heart). My first experience writing my own music came a few years later when I started getting into punk rock. I was 11 years old when Nirvana first “broke” and that’s what did it for me. That led to a full-fledged interest in punk rock, which led to my first band, which led to my first original songs. It was mostly just sloppy, three-chord punk stuff, but it was a start. I just loved the freedom of it. Like every teenager, I had all sorts of pent up issues and screaming bad lyrics over loud music was a great way to deal with that.

At which point did Digitalis get started, and was it always intended as a multitasking endeavour?

Well, Digitalis was started in 2003, officially. I’d been kind of toying with the idea/building up to it for a few years before that. In the mid/late ’90s, I ran a mostly-cassette label called Cactus Gum and once that was over, I always assumed I’d try my hand at it again. It wasn’t ever intended as a multitasking thing, no – it happened out of financial necessity. I didn’t have the money to continue putting out larger releases regularly, so I started Foxglove and thus gave away any amount of free time I ever hoped to have.

And what’s with foxy digitalis?

Foxy Digitalis also originated in the mid-’90s as a print zine. We did four issues back then. Over the years as I became more interested in internet-driven media, and grew sick and tired of the mediocre coverage (and extremely limited scope) that many of the other internet music sites offer, I figured the whole thing seemed like a good idea. At first, we (my wife and I) didn’t have a clue what we were doing, but eventually found our footing and settled in to the current coverage we provide. We’ve been doing weekly updates now for about 6 weeks and I have to say, things are going better than I ever thought.

What kind of a role has the internet played regarding Digitalis?

Oh, it wouldn’t exist without it. No way, no how. We’re pretty isolated in Tulsa and really, with the kind of music I’m into and that we release, it would be impossible to exist or get things out to the masses without the easy-access communication that the internet provides. I actually wrote a 20+ page paper on how the internet has affected “experimental” music for a class last term, but I won’t get into the boring specifics and just leave it at that.

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

There are definitely certain individuals and labels I feel a particular kinship to, yes. Foremost would be my friend and cohort, Keith Wood. He and I have become close friends through the label and I feel a strong connection with the Hush Arbors stuff. The other main one would be the MusicYourMindWillLoveYou imprint and especially the music of its creator, Michael Donnelly. He’s the most amazing visual artist and musician I’ve ever known, hands down. I also feel a personal affinity toward 267 Lattajjaa in Finland and Pseudoarcana in New Zealand – those two are definitely inspirations to me in many ways. And lastly, Ed Hardy at Eclipse Records and Nemo at Time-Lag are just magnificent human beings and also run the two best labels on the planet in my book!

With so much activity taking place in different arms of Digitalis, and with your prolific release schedule, do you get time to do anything not related to all these musical endeavours? Do you even have time for a job?

Oh sure. My wife, Eden, does about 40-50% of the work involved with Digitalis, so having two people doing it makes it a lot easier. I have a part-time job and do Digitalis part-time. Eight months out of the year I am also a part-time student. The thing is, in Tulsa there’s not much to do so it leaves a lot of time to do musically-related activities. People would be surprised at how much I sit around reading and watching TV/movies, though. I just happen to be ultra-productive in short spurts.

Has there ever been a point or period of time when you felt like calling it a day, that everything was too much trouble?

Yeah, a few times. It usually has more to do with the frustration that has come from dealing with some specific people. Luckily, I learned my lesson.

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?

It’s a combination of both. I’ve received a couple of great demos that I’ve ended up putting out, and I’ve also approached a number of bands. I find bands in various ways and places… we get a lot of stuff because of Foxy Digitalis which has led to some things. And I’m just a huge fan of music, so I’m constantly looking around for new stuff and always am interested in recommendations from friends.

Speaking of which, I know you’ll have many hot musical tips for us at the moment, so please fire away and let us know what’s essential in the world of Brad Rose right now!

Oh boy, that’s hard. Foremost, the Kindling imprint out of Australia, run by the lovely Leighton Craig, can do no wrong. Seriously, that guy is the most talented artist that nobody knows about. I could listen to his various projects 24-7. And I’m still convinced that Michael Donnelly’s MusicYourMindWillLoveYou empire is about the greatest thing in the world. Emerald Cloud Cobra from Montreal is doing some really spectacular, Indian-influenced stuff. Hm, the latest Pumice CD-R on Audiobot, “Worldwide Skull,” is quickly becoming my favorite album of 2005. There’s this simple, underwhelming beauty to it that is just pure fucking magic! And I just discovered the One Minute Trolley Dash label out of South Africa which I’m really loving. I could probably ramble on about stuff for ten more pages, so I’ll leave it at that.

When it comes to CDs and CDRs who decides on the artwork and/or design for your releases? Do you have a major say in the matter, or do you let the bands decide?

It’s ultimately up to the band/artist, but I definitely offer my input. With the Foxglove imprint, we’ve sort of developed an aesthetic using imported handmade paper that I try to stick to whenever possible – but some people have other ideas they want to pursue and I’m open to just about anything. The only thing is that if it’s labor-intensive, I tend to shy away from it – I just don’t have the time to spend a few minutes on each CD cover. It should also be noted that my wife, Eden, does a ton of the design work for Foxglove and Digitalis. Her skills far exceed anything I could offer, so it’s lucky we’re married!

Who do you use to make and print your records? Would you recommend them to others? And do you burn all of your CDRs yourself?

I burn all my CDRs myself – I’ve got a 1-to-5 burning tower. It’s the best investment I’ve ever made. All our CDs are done through Surefire Distribution now – they use some plant in Maine. They seem to do a good job, but in all honesty, the good folks at Surefire handle that side of it so I’m not the person to ask. They seem reliable though, and it’s a small, local company (well, local to some small town in Maine, anyway), which I am always in favor of supporting. I’m fairly clueless when it comes to the manufacturing process which is why it’s good that I have experts taking care if all that for me! Heh.

What’s your opinion on the importance of press and media coverage? Do you have any particular policies on how to get it, or allocate a certain number of each release to be used as promo material?

You know, this is a good question. When I first started, I thought it was paramount and finding places to cover the kind of things I was interested in was next to impossible. Of course Foxy Digitalis covered that kind of stuff, but I’ve had a very strict policy of not running reviews of any Digitalis or Foxglove releases on the site (though people keep trying to convince me to do otherwise). So I would send out a small amount of promos each month to no avail. I eventually gave up and haven’t really looked back since. I honestly don’t think it’s that important – word of mouth is by far the most fruitful kind of “press” one could ask for. Nowadays, I send out a few promos to people I know on a more personal level that write for various media outlets, and sometimes reviews will come from that – but those are usually for very specific sites and magazines. Here’s the thing, a review of the latest Keijo album on some website like Tiny Mix Tapes or something isn’t going to matter much in terms of sales exposure. Why? Because people who read Tiny Mix Tapes don’t care about artists like Keijo. That’s not saying anything about their readers or the fans of Keijo, but let’s be honest – the two are generally not one-in-the-same. I just tend to let things happen as they will. If you’re putting out great stuff, people are going to find out about it. It’s the harmony of the spheres and all that bullshit.

What does the future hold for Digitalis? Can it grow any bigger? Do you have any Grand World Domination plans for the label, or is it a case of natural evolvement?

World Domination is, of course, the ultimate goal. I actually thought about running for City Council in Tulsa this year, but decided I didn’t have time. Though I guess that’s a far cry from world domination. Anyhow, future plans… god, there’s a lot. Next up for Digitalis are CDs by The Stumps, Keijo, Christina Carter & Gown, James Blackshaw, The Weird Weeds and Stuart Busby. Plus, the essential cog in the armor, the 3 CD compilation “Gold Leaf Branches.” It’s insane. Another big one is Kyrgyz, which is an amazing quartet consisting of Tom Carter, Loren Chasse, Christine Boepple, and Robert Horton. Later this year and next year will see new CDs and CD reissues from the likes of Timothy, Revelator, Dead Raven Choir, seht, Brothers of the Occult Sisterhood, Hevoset and The Ancient Order of Loyal Shepherds. I’m busy, to say the least.

Have you found anything in your experience which you would pass on as salient advice to the prospective zine writer, l abel mogul or free-thinking musician?

Two things: ClichĂ© as it is, patience is indeed a virtue. Learn it, live it, love it. Things tend to happen fairly slow in this business and it’s important to always keep that in mind. Most everyone I know involved in this kind of stuff has about a million other things going on outside of music, so trust in that things will get done in a relatively-timely manner, but you are not the only person in the world. And finally, everyone should just relax and lighten up. I learned to stop taking myself too seriously. Getting all upset over one person’s negative opinion of your music or thinking you are somehow owed something by anybody is a waste of time for everyone involved. In the grand scheme of things, any of us are lucky if there are 10,000 people on the entire planet who know that we exist. Big fucking deal. Use that time you are spending worrying about yourself to do something really productive like overthrowing the government or buying a homeless person a sandwich.

Finally, what would be your dream release – which band/artist, which format, and how would it be packaged? Would it even be musical?

Oof, that’s tough. There’s so many. Actually, something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and really want to see happen would be a 5 or 6 CD boxed set of all the stuff Loren Mazzacane Connors and Kath Bloom did together back in the early ’80s. That stuff is criminally underappreciated (and virtually unknown), but is some of the most simple, beautiful music ever created. That would be an amazing project. A big Keijo boxed set of all his CD-R releases would be another one.

Digitalis Industries website