- Johnny Sampson
- (artist's impression)
What was the seminal album Drag City released that made you think, "OK, that was a big deal"?
I remember getting a cassette of the finished Royal Trux Twin Infinitives double record, then driving around with Dan Osborn (my partner in Drag City), playing it in his tape deck. It was a heavy and intimidating listen, after which I remember thinking, "OK, that was a big deal." Before that we had just pressed a couple seven-inch singles, so a double album was a big undertaking. We made 2,000 copies. A record generally weighs a half pound, and these were double albums. So when the semi rolled up on Erie to drop off the (do the math, kids) 2,000-pound shipment on the stoop of my third-floor walk-up, I had my work cut out for me. Dan O. had a real job, thus was unavailable for this momentous, uh, moment.
For the first couple hours of carrying these records up two flights of stairs, I was in a panic, terrified that someone might snatch one of the 50-pound boxes while I was in transit; by hour three, I was secretly hoping someone had; by hour five, I had finally gotten them all up into my apartment, and I definitely remember thinking, "OK, that was a big deal." I had very high expectations for this record that I was sure was going to literally change the world. A couple years later, after we had only sold about 1,000 of them, I was forced (for space and morale reasons) to take a large piece of plywood and set it across the remaining unsold records, and when I sat at The Most Expensive Desk I've Ever Owned and mused over committing virtually all of our limited resources on a record that few seemed to care for, I do recall sighing, "OK, that was a big deal." But after 20 years passed and we sold all but the plywood of that desk, plus yet another pressing of the vinyl and a few thousand CDs (and even cassettes), and after all the people that have come into my (and Drag City's) life specifically because of that record, I definitely started thinking, "Fuck! That was a big fucking deal!"
What was Drag City's initial process of tracking down bands and how did that process snowball?
We listened to as much as was available, and bought as much to hear as we were able to afford. Then, if we liked something so much we wanted to be a part of it, we wrote a letter to the band (snail mail!) and waited for a reply, if any. By the mid-90s, we were doing this with a fax machine; by the end of the decade, e-mail had become a major player. With the rise of cell phones about ten years ago, we started calling people; then around 2008 we switched to texting. And now, in present-day 2012, we finally summoned up the courage to actually speak to people, face to face. What a(n insular) ride it's been!
What's a favorite underappreciated album released by a local label (not counting your label)?
It's not an album, but the Coercion seven-inch EP by Repulse Kava from 1987 on (Chicago's very own Peter Margasak's) Butt Rag Records was a pretty exciting and solid record to me, especially at that time, when the young, freaky, and up-and-coming in Chicago music seemed to be in an in-between period. Seeing them live around then was even better, confounding in the best way, and a brief ray of aural (orange) sunshine in a city that I think we can all agree has been historically and desperately struggling, for decades, culturally, to keep its inner Cleveland at bay!