Series Two Records is clearly a labor of love for Christopher B. I first found out about Series Two from friend of the blog, Shelby Miller, the creative force behind Shifted Sound. According to the site: “Series Two Records works with releasing some of the best Swedish indie pop and shoegaze bands as well as music from USA, UK, Germany, China, Costa Rica, Australia, Norway, Japan and Russia.” There’s no need to go into Christopher’s bio, as his philosophy truly speaks for itself. Without further fanfare, on with the interview.
Tim O’Shea: How does one decide at the age of 17 to form a CD-R label, as you did with Series Two Records–as opposed to trying to work for an established music company or effort of some sort?
Christopher B: Well it was really spontaneous the idea of me starting the label. I started out doing an interview blog where I interviewed bands for giggles really. In that blog I did some of the interviews in full and in some of the interviews I asked friends to help me out with on things like questions and such. There I interviewed members of bands such as Desaprecidos, The Chameleons, Chris Lee, Elefant, Calla, Serena Maneesh, Oh! Custer, Earlimart, Ivy and a few others.
And with the blog I had built credibility and people started sending me CD’s and I was exposed to this underground of really good and under appreciated music and I decided to do CDR releases. At this point in time I’m not overly interested in working with other music companies either as an employee or as a collaborator on releases and such. I’m very interested in hearing offers and such because at some point I might change my mind and have a renewed interest in having a possible career in music.
In the recent weeks I’ve had offers from a large digital download company and a major label. Both offers I politely turned down. I have a lot of friends and bands always telling me that I should apply myself more and make myself available for service to other labels with my knowledge and experience with working with bands, promoting them, helping arrange shows, etc. I know that I’d be very good in such a field but would I do it for sure I guess it would be an interesting prospect.
Right now I work really hard towards earning a paycheck at a day job and continuing my college education.
O’Shea: How much legal legwork or contracts need to be signed when you’re arranging releases involving 98 different bands, as you did for one project?
Christopher B: To start the label in the state of Nebraska it was a lot of work. I had to see a lawyer with the Nebraska State Bar Association (not that kind of bar you may be thinking of) and with that lawyer I talked about the way the label was all set up and what I wanted to do with it and consulted the lawyer for advice about situations that had occurred and situations that might come up in the immediate future and such. In music though right now especially when doing CDR releases it’s best to have good relationships formed with all of the artists that you work with rather than contracts because even if an artist signs a contract on completely fair terms if they then decide to not honor that contract it’s really hard to hold them liable especially if said artist is in a different country so it’s just overall safer working out verbal agreements with these bands and to maintain a healthy relationship with them. There’s been times where I’ve made personal phone calls with a lot of these artists or tried to arrange for meetings with them and such. It’s really difficult doing a lot of the things through computer but I think that’s where a lot of labels are going these days anyways so I don’t feel too bad about that. I give all the bands their fair share of time and most often times I send them very lengthy replies to all concerns they may have and often times I think I answer their questions with too much words and sometimes they get a little upset with me but I like being honest and write out lengthy responses. It’s always a big turn off to me and a turn off to some people that when they write a person their reply from the person they asked the question to might only be one or two lines and I try to give everyone at least a paragraph and sometimes 15 paragraphs. In regards to the large compilations that is a heck of a lot of work. I don’t really know how I did it. I spent over 1000 hours working on each compilation series so far and I always get back to the bands that have concerns and I try to go out of my way and message the bands and try to be really social and involved with them because they are all very important to me. The credibility of myself, the label and the artists helped put the compilations together. Also the friendships with the bands and the trust were major factors as well. I’ve helped consult a few labels already that had approached me asking how I did the compilations and I helped them at least gather some good ideas to compliment their own compilations.
O’Shea: How is it that, based out of Nebraska, your musical interest from a personal and business standpoint, focused on Swedish indie pop and shoegazing music. And could you define both genres?
Christopher B: I started getting into Swedish bands probably as early as 2002. And I never intended to have it seem like I was sequestered towards working with only artists from Sweden, etc. I think though that since the beginning of the label because I worked with a lot of Swedish artists (a lot of the Swedish artists on the label are friends with one another to an extent) because it was some really good music and it was really easy to work with the people since a lot of the bands were connected to the same scenes. And there was a lot of trust there.
I think it undoubtedly hurt me for a short period of time because whenever I’d approach an artist from outside of Sweden they were disinterested in working with me for quite some time because my track record of releases consisted primarily of Swedish artists. But in the month of May that changed when I released the Japan indie pop artist by the name of Flannel. You could say that earlier I released albums from artists not based in Sweden but the artists Tafra and The Odd Fiddler even though they are currently based in London some didn’t know that they weren’t too far removed from when they lived in Sweden and were a part of the scene there.
I’m trying really hard now though with a diverse selection of locations for the artists and diverse styles of music to an extent. Series Two has been an outlet for bands I’ve liked since I released the Oh! Custer album in July of 2007. To me the location doesn’t matter. If I can enjoy the music and relate to it and I can have the chance to release it I most often times usually will.
On August 26th I released four full length albums from The Big Picture (China/Sweden), Anthony Rochester (Australia), Desmond Reed (Massachusetts USA), and Le Man Avec Les Lunettes (Italy). And I think that shows a little bit of the growing diversity in location and music style with the label from now and in the future will be releases from various bands such as Malkovic (Russia), The Elated Sob Story (California), The Mother Z’s (Illinois), Sweet Sweet Concorde (Sweden), Electric Needle Room (Nebraska), The Month Of June (New York), Charlie Big Time (UK), Alta Costura (Costa Rica), The Petter Luring Story (Germany), Television Keeps Us Apart (Sweden), Wichita Address (Missouri), Silent Man (Sweden) and also there are so many more others that I can name. So you know firsthand right now that the rest of 2008 and all of 2009 will be a very busy year.
Defining the genres is sort of hard for me to be honest because I’m terrible at defining genres. I am much better with sorting closely related bands together than using the term genre. A lot of people would define Shoegaze by the band name My Bloody Valentine. There is a lot more to the genre than that though. I think today’s shoegaze could be defined by bands such as Hideka, Mahogany, Oh! Custer, The Pristines, and a whole lot of other great bands obviously. I think that My Bloody Valentine is bringing life back to the shoegaze genre with their recent reunion. We need more good shoegaze bands.
In regards to indie pop everyone always has a varied way of describing that genre. I don’t like to see how people sequester that genre. Indie pop should be all indie artists that make pop music whether it’s major label influence or diy influenced or sarah records influenced or whatever. The kind of indie pop that you’d hear me most likely listening to is the kind that I relate to which can be reflected in the bands that I release full lengths from and the artists that I invite to be on the compilations.
O’Shea: Can you point to certain U.S. based bands that are currently influenced by either Swedish indie pop or shoegaze?
Christopher B: There are simply so many great US based bands that are currently influenced by Swedish indie pop or shoegaze in some way. In the last few years a certain artist named Jens Lekman was brought to U.S. soil and his music has become quite popular state side and has brought influence to a great amount of artists in USA. I so badly want to mention some names here but I fear most of the names I could share would just be bands people haven’t heard much about.
I think though with my label and such it’s making the indie pop bands from Sweden to get noticed a little more here and I hope that some of the bands I’m releasing end up influencing some of the great bands of today and some of the great bands of tomorrow as well. I’ve also heard encouraging comments from several USA labels and USA artists. I remembered one time I messaged the Faint and one of their members said something really nice back. And I’ve sent records in the past to my friend Dereck Higgins (current member of Son Ambulance) and he’s said some nice stuff about some of the artists I released and has really taken a likening to fellow Series Two artist named Springfactory.
In regards to the Swedish shoegaze artists having influence on American artists I’ve had some personal experience with that. For example I received some nice words from American shoegaze artists Auburn Lull and Mahogany regarding the artists that I release which has been very encouraging.
O’Shea: How did you build such a reputation with musicians at an age where the average person is typically not running his or her own business? Were there some musicians that hesitated working with you upon finding out your age?
Christopher B: That is possibly attributed because I don’t copy what other labels do and I take the initiative to accommodate to the artists that I release in the best ways possible. I guess it all started with an interviews blog that began when I was 15 years old and from then I sort of built up credibility and in working with more artists with Series Two Records it’s helped put together contacts for people all around in music which has helped with the success of the hard work that I have put forward into Series Two Records.
Most musicians that I’ve worked with haven’t really questioned my age as a factor in their involvement in working with me and such. There was a big label head in Chicago that said I was a “Miracle Boy” or something like that. And there were many bands and supporters that were just really shocked at what I’ve been able to accomplish with Series Two Records and such. I’m always coming up with new ideas for the label that others haven’t thought of and have always been working towards finding new ways for the artists that I work with to help make their music heard more and to help them get shows and more opportunities for in the future and such.
Recently an artist from my July compilation series said that they were very happy in working with me on further releases because he liked the fact that my label is much more accommodating than others and he liked that aspect of my own efforts. In this day and age a lot of labels put forward very little to help their artists. Most of them rip off their artists, make them pay all the production and promo costs, or sit on their bums all day and get drunk, etc. etc.
At Series Two Records I’m working around the clock when I don’t have anything else to do and often times my work day at Series Two Records usually begins around noon and doesn’t even end until 3 or 4 AM on most days.
O’Shea: How much of a logistical nightmare is it to book a gig for band in China, when you’re based in the United States?
Christopher B: I think God helped me with that one… I actually added a fellow to my MSN messenger from the IndiePages board and he was a label owner from Beijing China and I got to talking with him and told him about an artist that I worked with was also currently based in China while he was there studying. I gave him the myspace link to The Big Picture and he got to hearing Mikael’s songwriting and he really liked it and said he was doing a showcase and asked me if he’d be available to play and I got into contact with The Big Picture and then he ended up getting a show in Beijing during July.
Too bad though the show wasn’t scheduled in June because Peter from Suburban Kids With Biblical Names and Lina who is also apart of The Big Picture live band were in China on a vacation to visit their friend Mikael (The Big Picture). If the show would have been in June then Peter and Lina would have joined him on stage which would be a cool site to see if that ever happened. The Big Picture also has another show in Beijing scheduled for early September.
O’Shea: Have you had any labels try to hire you away and/or purchase Series Two from you?
Christopher B: Since I’ve taken on a lot more releases and have put a good foot in the door at some college radio stations in USA and Canada and have promoted extensively for the artists that I’ve worked for now it’s very common that I get such offers but a lot of times there is a lot of small print to these offers and in the end a lot of people that sell out usually lose and I have had a lot of friends and idols that have sold out at some point and they ended up losing money and getting dropped from their labels, etc.
And with the current state of music sales in USA being so low for artists from abroad (especially artists that don’t do a ton of shows each year and especially artists that aren’t from cities that are largely populated, etc. etc.) I don’t think it’s worth the chance at selling out.
For those that don’t know almost ALL bonuses and up front money offered by labels usually has to be paid back and most often times with INTEREST and a lot of these labels that irresponsibly loan out this money and know that artist will not possibly break even could also make them a non reputable lender or something that resembles a Loan Shark. So I keep everything here DIY such as doing a lot of the stuff here my self but I have had little helpers offer suggestions and have helped me on little projects and such and that’s meant a lot as well. I’d mention their names in here but I’d probably forget some and make people feel bad but if you’ve helped me your name deserves to be here and you know it : )
O’Shea: Do you think college radio views podcasting as an ally or a competitor?
Christopher B: This is a good question since I work with most College Radio stations (the one’s that aren’t so darn biased towards only certain labels) in the USA and Canada. There are certain College Radio stations that get the physical copies from me while the others I’ve serviced them with mp3’s from each of the releases. I don’t know how College Radio views this exactly the issue between them vs. Podcasts but here at Series Two Records I treat them both the same. Neither of them are higher priority than the other to me.
I don’t know why College Radio would be too upset with Podcasts. A lot of College Radio stations are very independent and are free format while others are turning into shills for major record labels and select larger independent labels. So if any of the College Radio stations would see podcasters as a competitor it would most definitely be those that back sled from free formats and all volunteer only staff (for the most part). And I wouldn’t be worried about those particular stations.
I’m sure it impacts the success of the smaller stations but they always have the same outlet as they’ve always had and if they want to keep attention brought towards what they are doing they really should create better programming or better ways of keeping their station afloat. It’s really hard in these times with internet though for a college station that has relatively low frequency to be able to get heard and such. I know that most college students for the most part tune into their own college radio station usually over any of the other stations on the dial.
O’Shea: Do you ever buy music in a traditional brick and mortar CD store or Wal-Mart–or do you purchase all your music online?
Christopher B: My own wallet has been really empty since the summer of 2007 but when I did buy music a lot of it I purchased online versus buying it at the store since Series Two Records is based in a really small town we don’t have a lot of record shops nearby that are worthwhile especially when you want to find something other than the top 40 junk you hear on radio all the time.
There are very few good stores these days in which you can buy decent records. Omaha for example has one called the Antiquarium and it’s located in the Old Market. It has to be one of the coolest record stores in the world. A lot of the bands that go on tour in Nebraska shop there and most of the local scene artists shop there and stock their release there. It’s the same shop that Conor Oberst went to when he was just in his teens and he would sell his own self released tapes there and such. And now I can say that I stock Series Two Records releases in that store and I’m pretty proud of that.
The other major chain store in Omaha really pisses me off. They laid off so many great workers that were more knowledgeable in music than their current staff (which consists of people still stuck into music that was released in the 80’s and 90’s) that doesn’t know anything about the new music of today.
What attracted me to buy online is the prices would be really low but it doesn’t feel the same as a record store because online it’s a shop without walls basically and I never really liked that. Best Buy and Wal-Mart and Itunes pretty much ruined the landscape of being able to sell music for lesser known artists trying to get heard. Those places really upset me and I avoid them completely.
I’ve found a lot of shops worthwhile that people should go to I think. If you have the money to buy records and if I had the money I’d be buying a lot of them through my friend Werner. He has a shop over in Berlin Germany called Vollwert Records. The cool thing about his shop is if you are into good indie pop music and good tiny music labels you would be able anything you’d want. He pretty much keeps on hand at least one copy of about any record I’d ever want to order (or need haha).
The way that my friend Werner does his shop is the way that other shop owners should do. There are a lot of online shops that have records in their catalog that they don’t even have in stock and often times you get a notice back from the other shops saying that they are out of stock and cannot be found or whatever. When you order from Vollwert Records what he has in his shop catalog he sends it to you quick and you don’t get those bad notices saying they don’t have the record or whatever.
O’Shea: You are currently in college, what is your major and do you plan to continue with Series Two after you finish college?
Christopher B: Currently I am working towards a Bachelors degree in Psychology. Currently I have 56 percent of the college credits needed for the degree so in a few years I’ll hopefully have my degree. I’d like to get a job with the degree and help people.
Series Two will always exist and will always be known and I don’t have to worry about that as much. I’ll likely be winding things down in a few years so I can go off and do what I’ve always wanted in this world which was to help others and start a family and many other important things.
It will help people to know that I’ve been working really hard on plenty of releases and I don’t plan to slow down anytime in the immediate future. A lot of full lengths in the works as well as a lot of compilations from artists that deserved to be heard and discovered.
O’Shea: Where do you hope to be with Series Two, and your career in general in two to three years?
Christopher B: I’d like to do something that will make me happy and hopefully make others proud of me. I experience both of those now but I want to have more happiness and to do more through some physical interactions to help others and such. Hopefully I’ll have my degree by then and hopefully have a good living situation and a good and steady job.
It’s too early to tell but I have no reason to doubt that by the time Series Two Records has completely winded down I will have made over 100 releases likely. Right now I take it one step at a time. People have been saying all this stuff about me being this prolific guy or whatever and I’d get a kick out of it if I lived up to those words. I’m not really obligated to but I have the talent and also I have a lot of guts bringing up these tiny indie pop bands and such to get them heard by others for the first time and I’m not really afraid of doing it either.
O’Shea: What’s been your biggest new music discovery for 2008?
Christopher B: There is so many I could mention here. If you leave me with one I’d say my good friend Anders of Sweet Sweet Concorde. I’ll be releasing his album in a few months on Series Two Records and it will be quite amazing. His music can be heard here.
Also in addition for my musical discoveries I’d like to add The Month Of June
Also if you look at all the bands I’ve released on Series Two Records and have also looked at all the bands I’ve released on the compilations you will then see any of the other bands I’d like to add to this list of big musical discoveries from this year.
[Editors' note: Just to mix it up, Christopher solicited questions from Series Two fans, the following is a result of his quest] Question from Marcello in Italy: What are your all time favorite bands?
Christopher B: This is a really tough question. To start with my interest in music has mostly been concentrated largely on what has been going on in the 21 years that I have lived on this earth. Some of my all time favorite bands would include Sondre Lerche, Kings Of Convenience, Beck, Broken Social Scene, The Chameleons, Ryan Adams, Ant, Coldplay, The Embassy, Engineers, Desaparecidos, Nick Drake, Junior Boys, Joy Division, The Smiths, Mahogany, Jaga Jazzist, Keane, Matthew Jay, Ivy, The Libertines, Nicolas Makelberge, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, M83, Mew, Radiohead, Radio Dept, Radio 4, The Rapture (early), The Pleased, Postal Service, Phoenix, Erlend Oye, The Honeydrips, Mixtapes and Cellmates, Most Valuable Players, My Bloody Valentine, The National Bank, The Natural History, New Roman Times, Sonic Youth, Secret Machines, Elliott Smith, Josh Rouse, The Sound, Pete Yorn, Vhs or Beta (early), The Verve, Erik de Vahl, Testbild!, Suburban Kids With Biblical Names, The Strokes (early), The Stills (early), and all of the artists I release on full lengths and compilations on Series Two. I’d list them all here but if you are curious to see the label roster and the compilation track lists go to see the Series Two Records label site.
I personally would like to thank everyone that supports Series Two Records and everyone that supports the bands I release and to anyone in general that supports good DIY projects from bands and labels the world around. Keep it real and keep the good stuff alive.