Label Spotlight: Kill Rock Stars

posted July 22, 2009

by Corinne

Kill Rock Stars

Please introduce yourself.

My name is Maggie Vail. I have worked at Kill Rock Stars for over 15 years. I was the first full time employee and have held many jobs here. My current title is Vice President. I am in charge of marketing and also work on signing bands/developing them.

When and why was the label started?

The label was started by Slim Moon in 1991. He was interested in documenting spoken word as well as the local scene that was occurring in Olympia at that time.

What kind(s) of music does the label put out?

All kinds of music. We have released everything from punk to hardcore to post punk to noise to folk to spoken work to alt country to americana to hip hop.

What was the first release and how was it financed?

from slim's blog:

I moved to Seattle for much of 1990 because my bandmate in Earth was moving there. While I was there I recorded some of my spoken word pieces on a 4 track that I had bought with money from my computer programming job. I decided that I wanted to start a record label to put out 7" singles of "spoken word as a performance art." I called Calvin Johnson, the only person I knew who had put out records before, and asked him how to do it. He readily told me over the phone on the spot, and I wrote it all down. Late in 1990 I quit Earth and moved back to Olympia and got serious about putting out the first 7" and starting a record label. I had bought some watercolor paints and made a painting on the back of a Pontiac Brothers poster, a bunch of sweeping lines of color, a few splashes and a few words, the most prominent being "kill rock stars". When I applied for a business license I felt pressed to come up with a name. I almost called it "Pound Dog Records" to go along with a drawing of a hungry dog that I liked, but then I realized that the drawing had been drawn by Dylan Carlson, who I was on the outs with, so I went with a different idea. That "kill rock stars" poster/painting was on my wall and it seemed like a good idea so I named the label after the painting. 
 I told my mom's husband at Christmas 1990 back in Montana that I dreamed to someday live off of putting out records as a fulltime occupation, but of course I never dared tell any of my punk rock friends this dream, it seemed too crazy, especially considering that I was only putting out 7"s and only putting out spoken word, not music. I really wanted to put out my own piece "Mean" but I also knew I wanted to put out other artists' pieces too, so I decided to ask my friend Kathleen, a photographer and spoken word artist who was involved in a cooperative gallery called Reko Muse, to contribute the piece for the A Side. Kathleen came over to the mother-in-law apartment that I shared with Greg Babior on the east side of Olympia on Capitol Blvd near the Frog Pond grocery, and we spent a few hours recording a bunch of her stuff. I still have the cassettes of the whole recording session. I sent two cassettes to John Golden at K Disc and he cut the 7". Kathleen's side was over 10 minutes long, which was unheard of for a 7", but we got away with it just by not knowing the "rules" and John Golden made the magic happen. I thought it was cool that the first piece on the first record was called "Rock Star" since the label was gonna be called Kill Rock Stars. I got the business license in January and we got the 7"s back from Bill Smith Custom Records in February 1991. I remember sitting in front of the Smithfield Cafe, my regular hangout, holding my first 7" in my hand and telling the barista who was working at the time that now all my dreams had come true. Kathleen took some pictures of herself and some pictures of me and designed a cover/photonegative. We bought 7 inch wide giant rolls of photo paper and snuck into the Evergreen State college photo lab late at night and processed 500 7x14 prints, and folded them and stuffed them with the 7"s into bags that we bought from Bags Unlimited, so that the record had fancy full color covers printed on photopaper, but cost us very little money to print. We had a record release part at the Rebar in Seattle where Kathleen and I both read, and then another record release party in the Phoenix House basement on the east side of Olympia on Phoenix Street, but Kathleen didn't show up so I was the only performer, which was kind of weird. My brother in law Bob Basinich might still have video footage of the Rebar record release party, but the video footage of the Phoenix house party was lost when someone stole it out of the backseat of the videographer's car. In addition to getting a business license, I had gotten a "private mailbox" (because there was a long waiting list for PO boxes at the downtown Olympia post office at that time) for the new record label. Kathleen had laid out an advertisement for the 7" in one of her fanzines before the record was even out, and Joe Lally of Fugazi was the first person to place an order by mail. I was always proud that my first sale was to Joe Lally. I sent a box of 50 of the 7"s to Sub Pop, who had a regional distribution service going on at that time, but they shut down the distribution within a few weeks and laid off some employees and sent back my box of records, with 3 missing (which Jonathan Poneman paid me for years later at SXSW when I brought up the subject of the three missing unpaid-for 7"s - I'm pretty sure I never cashed his $6 check, but I appreciated the gesture). I bought my first Apple Macintosh computer in honor of the new label, and created a spreadsheet to keep track of expenses and income and eventual royalties to be owed that became the template for KRS royalty calculation for many years. The model was to be a 50-50 deal between the label and the artist or artists. I wrote an insert for the 7" that was a disjointed manifesto of sorts, and photocopied it on pink paper and inserted it. I found out later that Kathleen didn't like what I had written and I learned a valuable lesson about making sure in advance that an artist is ok with all the materials going into their release. This 7" had two later versions with different covers - the next pressing of 1000 had a pink and black version of the original cover, and all the pressings after that had a new black and white cover that was redesigned by Kathleen because she didn't like how the original looked when converted to just two colors. At this time i really hated traditional poetry readings and the poetry scene and I was looking for a new term to describe this youthful, intense spoken word that I wanted to document with my new label. My friend Al Larsen suggested the term "wordcore" and I decided to do a series under this name. I honestly can't remember if I was already using the term Wordcore and intending it to be a series when the first one came out, but I do know that the original cover for KRS-101 did not mention Wordcore, this term was only added to the cover later.

What is the most recent release?

a reissue of Bikini Kill's "New Radio" 7"

the last new release was Portland Cello Project "The Thao and Justin Power Sessions"

What has been your most successful release?

Elliott Smith's "either/or"

How have things changed since 2006 when Slim Moon left KRS?

We release less records now, which I enjoy. 48 in 2006 versus 12 in 2007. This way I feel like we can do a better job focusing on each release and band.

Are the challenges of being a “queer-positive, feminist, and artist-friendly” label the same today as when the label started?

Hmm, yeah I guess I see them as being fairly similar. Mainstream press and even mainstream-blog press is still shockingly sexist.

It's honestly never been hard to be artist friendly though.

What do you see as the future of record labels?

I don't know to be honest.

How has your label adapted to changes in society, business, etc?

Digital downloads with lps, streaming promos, less ads, less waste, encouraging more touring. Mostly though we try to focus on working with rad bands and rad people.

Any words of wisdom for those brave souls interested in running their own label?

PAY your bands. and develop a thick skin. Don't let people's anonymous comments or flippant blogs hurt your feelings. This also comes in handy when bands leave for another label.