Dirtnap Records Inteview with Ken Cheppaikode [Label Profile]

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The intent of our Label Profile feature is to simply highlight a record label that we feel aligns with our own belief here at The Fire Note that music is an experience.

Today we profile Dirtnap Records. A huge thanks to Ken Cheppaikode of Dirtnap for taking the time to answer our questions. If you like what you hear below make sure to go over to the Dirtnap site HERE and give them your support!

TFN: Who are you? Where are you?

Cheppaikode: Hi! My name’s Ken Cheppaikode. I run Dirtnap Records (label) and Green Noise Records (store), here in Portland, OR.

You’ll have to bear with me; I’m a little bit hungover from seeing The Spits last night, so forgive me if this winds up making even less sense than I normally do.

TFN: When and how did the label start? Where does the name come from?

Cheppaikode: The label started in Seattle at the very end of the 90s. Our first release actually came out in the first days of January 2000, so it’s quite possible that we were the first new punk label of the 00’s! I like to think so, anyways!

dirtnaplogowhite300In 1998 I was doing an internet radio show called (surprisingly enough) Dirtnap Radio, playing obscure and not-so-obscure punk from all over the world. In a blatant conflict of interest, I started buying up copies of records that I would play often and explicitly try to sell them to listeners of the show. That never took off, since 1. I did it pretty half-assed, and 2. I had absolutely NO idea what I was doing as far as “e-commerce” or anything. I couldn’t figure out how to take credit cards (this was before Paypal), so I just had people mail me money orders!

After a year or so, the show actually managed to build up a surprisingly dedicated audience. Listeners in bands started to send records, tapes, MP3s etc., in hopes of being played on the show, or at least to see what I thought of them. (Not to sound jaded, but at the time I was SO honored that anyone would take the time to send me their music in hopes of feedback, and now I really wish people would STOP doing that.)

dirtnap-dontcares-spit-assIn May of ’99, I got sent some mp3s from a band from Sweden called The Dontcares. Liked ’em a lot, and got to corresponding with the band. They were asking me if I knew of any record labels in the USA who might be into putting out their 7″. I remember that was on a Friday. I thought about it alot over the weekend, and on Monday I wrote ’em back and said that if they wouldn’t mind being the guinea pigs for this label I had been thinking about starting, I’d be willing to give it a shot.

dirtnap-metros-gotta-goVery shortly thereafter, this (awesome) band from Detroit called The Metros wrote in thanking me for playing their record on my show, and sent me a tape in the mail with some unreleased songs. I remember thinking they were this huge band because they had an LP out on Rip Off! I was pretty naive back in those days…..Anyways, I flipped out over the songs on the tape, one thing led to another, and before you know if I was working on our 2nd release before the first one was even out. At this point I said to myself “well shit, I guess I got a record label”!

Since that time we’ve released over 125 records from literally some of my favorite artists of all time, moved the label from Seattle to Portland, OR, took over a record store (Green Noise Records) down here, and made every possible mistake a record label can while trying to learn from said mistakes and continually move forward. It’s now 2013, and the label is busier than ever, so I guess we must be doing something right!

TFN: How big is your current active roster?

Cheppaikode: It’s hard to quantify. Our roster is pretty fluid; bands are always coming, going, breaking-up (while sometimes neglecting to inform me!) etc. I’ll give it a shot, though. I apologize in advance, though, cause I KNOW I am going to be forgetting someone! Hey, it’s hard to keep this shit straight after 125 releases!

As far as I know, the following bands are currently at least semi-active, and have either released stuff on Dirtnap in the recent past, or are planning to release stuff on Dirtnap in the immediate future:

dirtnapsxsw2Autistic Youth
Bad Sports
Guantanamo Baywatch
The Estranged
High Tension Wires
Jeff Burke from The Marked Men’s new band that doesn’t have a name yet
Legendary Wings
Low Culture
Marked Men
Mean Jeans
Mind Spiders
Missing Monuments
The Novice
Something Fierce
Sonic Avenues
Steve Adamyk Band
Voicemail (no one has heard this band yet, but they rule!)
White Wires

TFN: What does Dirtnap look for in a band? Is there a “Dirtnap” sound?

Cheppaikode: The short answer is that I’m looking for bands that I am excited and passionate about. The bands don’t have to be my BFF’s or anything, but I do try to ensure prior to signing up bands that I’m not going to be dealing with a bunch of douchebags. So there you have it: If you want to be on Dirtnap, play good music, and don’t be a douchebag! It really is as simple as that!

dirtnap-legendary-wingsAs far as the sound goes, this is where things get a little more complicated. I definitely think there is in fact a sound (I was quite gratified to read a review of the Legendary Wings LP in MRR recently where the reviewer called it “classic Dirtnap-punk”!), but I don’t have a concrete definition of it. It’s colorful, high energy, usually fast. It’s catchy, but I don’t consider it pop-punk. It’s sometimes influenced by 70s punk, but I don’t consider it retro. It’s rooted in the grand tradition of rock and roll, but I don’t consider it garage rock. So yeah, I don’t know exactly what it is, but I know it when I hear it! Really, I just think of it as punk rock, with no need to delve too much further into hair-splitting sub-genre!

Much effort has been made to give Dirtnap a specific identity, to make it a little more than the sum of our individual releases. If you’ll allow me to get pretentious for a minute, I am definitely looking to paint a bigger musical picture with the label than afforded by any one individual release. So when I am looking at bands, I am most definitely looking to see how/if their identity fits into that bigger picture.

dirtnap-goodnight-loving-supperclubOccasionally how a band fits into this bigger picture might not be immediately apparent to anyone but myself (for example, it’s been mentioned a bunch of times that the Goodnight Loving release we did a few years ago didn’t really fit into the Dirtnap aesthetic. It did to me, though, in ways it’s hard to articulate.) And occasionally I’ll break with that aesthetic and release something totally different just for fun. Cause what’s the use of having guidelines if you can’t disregard them on occasion?

TFN: Top 3 Dirtnap releases?

Cheppaikode: Over the years, the label has gone through 2 distinct eras: 2000-2004 in Seattle, where we were explicitly focused on primarily releasing local NW stuff, and 2005-2013 in Portland, where we’ve relaxed the geographic focus and release bands from all over.

exploding-hearts-guitar-romanticThe defining band of the first era of the label has to be the Exploding Hearts. Not going to delve too deeply into the backstory here, but suffice to say that for a lot of people, Guitar Romantic (the first and only Hearts album) is the 1 record associated most with the label. It really is one of my favorite punk albums of all time, even though I haven’t listened to it in years.

dirtnap-marked-men-on-outsideI would have to say the other defining band of the label’s history has to be the Marked Men. If the Exploding Hearts epitomize the “old” Dirtnap, Marked Men define the current model. We’ve released close to 20 records that have some association with the band, and have several more on the way. They also symbolize shifting of the label’s roster from mostly Seattle/Portland/Vancouver BC, to our heavily Texas-centric current lineup. Really, I could pick any one of the 4 proper Marked Men album’s we’ve released, but I’d have to go with On The Outside, their first release for Dirtnap and 2nd overall.

I’m actually fairly forward-thinking. Don’t spend a ton of time dwelling on my past, musical or otherwise. Therefore the 3rd pick almost has to be from an upcoming release. So I am going to pick the next Bad Sports album. It’s kind of ridiculous to include this. I only got reference Mp3s a couple of days ago. The record hasn’t been mastered or sequenced yet. There’s no cover art. I don’t know when it’s coming out. But still, it’s literally ALL I’ve been listening to the past few days, and I’m just astonished how good it is. I think this record is really going to turn some heads, whenever it winds up being released ……..

TFN: How does vinyl fit into Dirtnap’s overall strategy?

Cheppaikode: I wouldn’t dream of not releasing anything on vinyl in this day and age. One positive development the last year or so is that we’re getting even less dependent of releasing stuff on CD.

Things have been going in that direction for awhile now, but we’ve finally gotten to the point where I am comfortable dispensing with the CD altogether on most releases. Saves me a ton of cash, and everyone hates CD’s anyways! Looking forward to 2013, we only have 1 release that I plan on putting out on LP/CD/digital, as opposed to just LP/digital.

TFN: What is in the pipeline for 2013?

Cheppaikode: A LOT! Every year I say I am going to slow down the release schedule to re-coup some of the money I have tied up in label stock, but it never really happens. Having too much fun and feeling too inspired.

dirtnap-low-culture-screensSo far this month we’ve done the Low Culture LP (Chris from Shang-A-Lang, Joe from the Marked Men, pretty much sounds exactly like a cross between the 2 bands); a Mean Jeans/Big Eyes split 7”, and rolled out some new shirts and hoodies.

February will bring us the 3rd album (coincidentally entitled Third) from Ottawa’s Steve Adamyk Band, and it’s hands down his best one yet.

dirtnap-steve-thirdWe’re doing a 7” by local rock n’rollers Youthbitch in March. Been awhile (years, in fact) since we’ve done a single by an up and coming young local band, so I am pretty excited about that.

New Orleans’ The Missing Monuments have signed to Dirtnap. Have been talking with legendary frontman King Louie Bankston for several years about doing something on our humble label, and I’m glad to announce that it’s finally come to fruition. Being mastered in Australia by Mikey Young (Eddy Current Suppression Ring) as we speak.

There’s also the previously mentioned Bad Sports record, which is going to blow some people’s minds.

After much delay, we are wrapping up the cover art on the The Novice 7” and are getting ready to send the masters off to the pressing plant. The Novice is Jeff Burke from The Marked Men’s band in Japan. Sadly, this will be their first and last release, as Jeff has recently moved back to the US for good. Normally, we would not be too psyched about releasing a single from a band that is already more-or-less broken up, but we’ll take whatever we can get from Jeff!

Speaking of which, Jeff is hard at work recording material with his new, as yet unnamed band. We hope to have an LP out by them in the summer.

That should cover the next few months! We also have Voicemail, Mind Spiders, Mean Jeans, Something Fierce, The Estranged, and Autistic Youth making noise about recording new stuff, so it does not look like things are slowing down anytime soon!

TFN: Name an album (classic or new) that gets plenty of airplay at the office?

dirtnap-splits Cheppaikode: Have you heard The Splits, from Finland? Best new band I’ve heard in awhile….

Also been listening to new-ish stuff from Tyvek, Sugar Stems, Tenement, Treasure Fleet, Moon Duo, Ty Segall, OBN III’s, White Lung, Neon Piss and lots (lots!) more!

TFN: What do you think of the current state of music?

Cheppaikode: I think the state of music is pretty great at the moment. Having been hanging around the punk rock scene for well-nigh 30 years now. (and having been obsessed with music more-or-less my entire life) I’ve definitely gone through periods of being more/less psyched on current music, but I’m happy to say that I’m feeling the former right now. Keeping up with new music has ALWAYS been much more gratifying to me than living in the musical past.

As far as how Dirtnap fits in to the larger world, I’m not really sure. The fact that the label has been relatively successful over the years has afforded me the luxury and autonomy of not having to worry about the “music business”, I feel like we exist outside that to a very large degree. We definitely utilize some of the tools that the more mainstream music world affords us (iTunes, for example), but overall I feel like we are not really a part of the “music industry”. Or if we are, we are definitely on the outer, outer periphery, which is not a bad place to be. The music business can go to hell in a handbasket, for all I’m concerned! Just keep those iTunes checks coming, please…………..

dirtnaplogoblack copy

Christopher Anthony

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2 thoughts on “Dirtnap Records Inteview with Ken Cheppaikode [Label Profile]”

  1. good interview. i used to get any and every last thing the label ever put out, and while i kind of lost interest with age, its great to see they’re still doing well and putting out classic records. This guy is one of the best a&r’s for punk rock music (even though he’d probably hate to hear me call him an A&R). Who just signs the Briefs, Exploding Hearts, Mean Jeans, Marked Men, Something Fierce and countless others?? A GENIUS. i just wish he’d sign Jumper!

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