AN INTERVIEW WITH POISON MOON RECORDS
Houston’s own Poison Moon is an independent record label that focuses on the good stuff. Poison Moon is a label that, with only four releases out as of this moment, embodies all that is the Houston music scene. There’s not a genre focus, and that’s what makes Poison Moon what they are. Poison Moon, born in 2016, promotes the importance of physical means of active music listening. Vinyl and tapes are a meaningful component of being a fan or a listener. Even though all music listeners of today live in a digital age, there is still the vitality that physical means of music gives. The folks from Poison Moon completely understand that. In fact, they promote it...
TELL US ABOUT THE BIRTH OF THE LABEL! HOW WHY WHEN WHERE DID IT START? WHAT WAS YOUR GOAL WHEN STARTING IT?
KIRKE: Poison Moon is me and Mandy. We started the label in the fall of 2016 to release the debut 7” single of Mandy’s solo project, Pearl Crush. Mandy has been writing songs and playing music for the last ten years but had never released a record with any of her previous bands. She had self-produced, recorded, and mixed these two incredible songs and I thought it would be really cool if Pearl Crush had a 7” ready for her first show, which was in November of 2016.
Poison Moon started because we had decided to release this 7” and we needed a label name to put on the back of the record. But pretty quickly we decided we could use it as a means to release our music and eventually the music our friends are making.
When I started getting really into music as a teenager, I was into a lot of DIY punk and hardcore which always had this message of “anyone can do this!” The attitude was: start a band, write some songs, record them and put out a record. Don’t wait for anyone to make it happen for you. Just make earnest music and take control of the process of getting that music out to people into your own hands. Even years and years later, it’s still very much the same ethos that drives me to put out records today.
WHAT IS THE MUSIC SCENE LIKE IN HOUSTON? HOW DO YOU THINK RUNNING A LABEL CONTRIBUTES TO IT? HOW ARE YOU PERSONALLY CONTRIBUTING TO IT?
The scene is Houston is musically diverse but also fractured at the same time. Any weekend of the year you could go to a pop or rock show, see some hardcore bands, check out some avant-garde jazz or go to a rap party. But for being such a huge city, each scene seems pretty small and separated; everyone is off kind of doing their own thing. On the one hand, you could interpret that as there being a lack of support or community here, and there is some truth to that. But it also means there is just this wide array of shows happening with lots of records coming out and hopefully we are contributing a unique part to that whole.
Mandy is a founding member of a local booking collective called DAMN GXRL, that also started last year with a goal making performance spaces in Houston safer and more inclusive for women, folks of color, queer, trans, and non-binary people. They have hosted workshops on how to book your own event, organized some really amazing shows, including a recent benefit for Hurricane Harvey relief, and are working on a zine as well. Again, DAMN GXRL is a just a small group of dedicated people, but they are really doing the good work of making the Houston scene a better place.
TELL US ABOUT SOME OF THE ARTISTS YOU WORK WITH. IS THERE A CERTAIN STYLE/SOUND YOU PREFER WHEN LOOKING FOR ARTISTS?
The three releases we’ve done so far are bands we are personally involved in. First was the 7” of Mandy’s solo pop project Pearl Crush, which blends dream pop with R&B and synth influences. It’s really an outlet for her to explore songwriting and different approaches to production. Next was a cassette by punk trio Bask that I play guitar and sing in. We are definitely very influenced by a lot of bands from the 1990s that we grew up listening to, and we record everything on an old cassette 4-track recorder, keeping it warm and gritty and lo-fi. Most recently, we did a 12-song cassette of my solo effort K. Campbell called Pure Pop For Jaded Punks, which was kind of an experiment in blending the precision and brevity of classic pop songwriting with the raw spirit of punk.
While all our releases so far fall into the broader pop-rock-punk realm, Poison Moon is not a genre label. It’s an outlet for us to release whatever we like. Mandy and I both listen to all kinds of music and if one of us decided to try something new then we would absolutely release it as long as we believed in it and felt like other folks could connect with it.
Pearl Crush is doing a 12” EP due out the beginning of 2018 and I think it has some of the best songs Mandy has written. The new record has really gone in a whole new direction for Pearl Crush too, being composed and recorded almost entirely on a computer with very few guitars or live instrumentation. It’s not about a particular style or sound for us. We just like good songs and earnest music.
WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE OF PHYSICALITY IN MUSIC TO YOU? DO DIGITAL STREAMING SERVICES TAKE AWAY PART OF THE MUSIC LISTENING EXPERIENCE? WHY CASSETTES AND VINYL? DO YOU PREFER ANALOG OVER DIGITAL?
I have a lot of thoughts on this and honestly I’m a little conflicted. I think physical releases are important because a big part of the label for me is that I want to document our creative output, and I think physical, analog formats are simply going to last much longer than purely digital ones. I think there will still be copies of the Pearl Crush 7” floating around 100 years from now, but will those songs still be streaming on Bandcamp? Honestly, probably not.
Part of it might simply be because of my personal history with music, though. The first music I ever bought as a kid were CDs that I saved up my allowance to get and it was an exciting thing to come home from Best Buy and lay on my bed listening to my boombox and flipping through the pages of the lyric insert. Or as a teenage punk, ordering records from a mail-order catalog or through an ad in the back of a zine. The fact that I had to send off a small wad of cash through the mail, and wait a couple weeks for my record to show up just made the music special. It was something you didn’t take for granted. Even now, flipping through the LP bins at a record store just feels better to me than scrolling through iTunes.
While cassettes are cheap to produce, vinyl is a little more involved and can get very expensive, very quickly. Digital technology, on the other hand, has made it easier and more accessible than ever for people to make music and it’s hard to say that’s a bad thing. You can record an incredible sounding record on your laptop. And in the way that punk taught me about DIY and taking control of your art, I think it’s great to see that lots of bands aren’t waiting around for some label to sign them, they just upload their songs and anyone can find them, listen, and share.
I think that there really is the possibility to truly democratize music creation and distribution because of digital streaming technology. But it can go the other way too. It seems like even obscure, independent DIY bands are clamoring to get their music on Spotify, because everyone wants the convenience of listening to everything in one place. I just worry that it will be very easy for digital streaming to end up consolidating power and profit in music making instead of decentralizing it. Small bands and labels are making pennies off of their music getting streamed on these platforms and have to fight for space against major label-backed playlists that are formulated for corporate ad sales. That’s not really the kind of model I want to be involved in, and there is something about vinyl and cassettes that feels in opposition to all of that.
HOW EXACTLY DO YOU RUN YOUR LABEL? WHAT IS THE DISTRIBUTION PROCESS LIKE AND WORKING WITH ARTISTS?
All that being said, we do have our releases on most of the big digital streaming services…but mostly, we have tried to reach out to rad independent music blogs and print magazines to see if they will review our stuff and get people interested enough to buy something from us through our website. More regionally, just getting record shops here in Houston and throughout Texas to stock our releases seems to be a good way to get our music directly in peoples hands. Mandy and I both work full time day jobs, so making music and putting out records is really a labor of love. We aren’t making any money off of this, that’s for sure. Whatever we do make just goes straight back into the next release. For us, it’s just been crucial to press small runs of our releases and just work on a scale that’s feasible and realistic and that keeps it fun. My advice is that it’s ok to start small and keep it simple.
WHAT’S NEXT?? ANYTHING ELSE YOU WANT OUR READERS TO KNOW?
Next up is that amazing Pearl Crush 12” EP I mentioned. Also, a cassette tape from Clare, a Houston jangle-pop band that Mandy plays guitar in, and another tape from Bask. A project with a Houston experimental sound artist in the works too. Much more to come in 2018 for sure!
intro by AUDREY KEELIN