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Thursday, April 19

Interview with Mark Robinson (TeenBeat Records, Unrest, Cotton Candy)

We had a little chat with TeenBeat head honcho, Mark Robinson concerning his band Unrest's 7" box set reissue of their classic album "Perfect Teeth," cassette tapes, running an indie label & of course, Record Store Day! Check it out and make sure you pick up the "Perfect Teeth" 7" box on RSD at saki! We'll have the Unrest coffee mug "reissues" too!

You’ve been performing as a musician and running an independent label since the early 80’s. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the music industry in that time, specifically with the culture of independent shops?

The world seemed a lot smaller back then, less people and yet there were a lot more record stores. There's definitely been a lot of great new shops opening in the past few years which is great to see.

Your label, TeenBeat is releasing a limited 7” box set of your band, Unrest’s classic album Perfect Teeth for Record Store Day 2012. This is the first RSD release for TeenBeat, right? Why did you decide to do something this year, and why did you choose Perfect Teeth?

All the credit for our participation goes to Adam Reach who works at our distributor CTD in Chicago. I don't think it would have occurred to me. It just happened that the release date happened to be near Record Store Day.

What are your thoughts on Record Store Day as an event to celebrate & promote independent record stores? A lot of people feel it’s just a big cash grab for major labels & people who flip the super-limited releases online...

Seems like a great idea. A lot of people don't know record stores even exist anymore, so anything to promote that is a good thing.

Hopefully people realize that the point of RSD is to promote awareness of independent stores, so they'll keep coming back year-round and not just that one day for the special, limited stuff. Will it upset you if you see someone flipping an Unrest box online after RSD, or do you think that's fair because they bought it and can do what they like with it...?

I'm not too concerned about folks re-selling stuff online. That kind of thing has been around since time began.

This year marks the 5th annual RSD celebration. Have you picked up any of the RSD releases at your local shop in the past? Are there any releases you’re particularly excited about this year, besides your own, of course?

I always visit Weirdo Records in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Record Store Day, which is near where I live. It's always a festive atmosphere and the owner, Angela, usually gives out free candy. I usually just shop for whatever she's got (which is all great stuff) and not for specific RSD releases.

TeenBeat has always been one of the more interesting indie labels out there. You’ve assigned a catalog number to just about everything you’ve produced, including coffee mugs, combs, mouse pads & t-shirts. You’ve even reissued some of those items. What’s the idea behind the catalog numbers and why are you reissuing coffee mugs? Was it popular demand or just a personal decision?

I suppose I got the idea of numbering non-music releases from Factory Records who numbered just about everything. If you read their discography, it's like reading a biography of the label. Same with Teen-Beat, our list of numbers is our story. Our new website, launched last year, is all based on catalogue number.

And how about the coffee mugs & all that? Was there a lot of demand to bring them back, or did you just want to do it for your own reasons?

It just seemed like a fun thing to do. Just like it was when the album first came out. The company that manufactured the original mugs was still in business so we just had them made. We didn't, however, re-release the Unrest "Perfect Hairdo" combs or the toothbrushes. One day at a time.

You released a lot of your earlier stuff on cassette tape. Tapes have made a big comeback among indie bands & labels in the past few years. You probably released tapes out of necessity. Do you think today’s bands are doing it to be retro & cool, or do you think it’s still a practical and viable option for some people?

The recent cassette craze reminds me of the very short-lived 8-track tape indie label craze that happened around 1990 or so. The cassette is instant nostalgia. I like them and they're still an option for me since I still have four or five cassette players. I still have a giant collection of about 1,000 tapes of all sorts of stuff.

I was in elementary school in the 90's. I didn't know there was a retro 8-track craze! That's both awesome & terrible. But it Sounds like you just want to consume music in any form you can get it. That's a good thing! But most people are more fickle & trendy. So, do you think the current cassette craze will eventually die off, or will it always be a way for smaller bands & labels to get their stuff out there to fans?

Sure, of course it will die out. Just like the CD and, gulp, vinyl will probably too eventually. I definitely have an incredibly strong attachment to records and packaging, but when it comes down to it, it's music, not plastic and cardboard.

You assembled most of the Perfect Teeth 7” box sets yourself. Is the whole DIY spirit important to you, or has it always just been a matter of necessity for you as an indie label owner?

I really enjoy being a part of most of the aspects of making a record, potentially from the recording, design, manufacture, promotion, and assembly. It's just a lot of fun. The whole "DIY" thing for me is a combination of: 1. I have to do it myself because I want to and who else will and 2. If you want it done right you have to do it yourself. Having said that, back in the 1990s when we were putting out more records we had a whole bunch of great interns that helped make everything happen. I'm still friends with quite a few of them.

Have any of those interns gone on to do anything of not themselves, as artists or with their own labels?

I haven't kept up with all of them, but a lot of them are doing pretty interesting stuff. Not necessarily as musicians or label owners. I suppose the most notable musician who interned was Andy Cabic of Vetiver.

Nice, we love Vetiver! Your love of labels like Factory & Dischord are well documented. Who has been the greatest influence on you as a label owner & as an artist?

Since you mentioned those two labels, I suppose I would say Tony Wilson, or Ian MacKaye and Jeff Nelson. Certainly more so the latter since Ian and Jeff started Dischord in Arlington, Virginia, my home town. It was inspiring seeing someone young start it from scratch, sell records for reasonable prices, and concentrate on releasing records by their friends in D.C. Jeff's design for Dischord was nice and clean and consistent. Our logo and initial ads were both heavily inspired.

I get the impression from some of your album & song titles, as well as the logo you’ve used for your band, Unrest, that you’re also a big soccer fan. Did you ever play yourself, or are you just a fan? Do you have a favorite team?

Ha, good question. I did play soccer on the playground at recess back in elementary school. As a designer I was always drawn to the multiple line numerals on the backs of soccer jerseys. Favorite team I'd have to say the Washington Diplomats also known as the "Dips".

As a solo artist & member of Unrest, Flin-Flon, Air Miami, Grenadine, & more recently, Cotton Candy, you’ve played a wide variety of musical styles. Do you feel the need to constantly evolve as an artist, or has it just been a matter of playing with different people at different times & different styles of music coming from each of those situations?

I think I do really feel like I need to constantly do something differently in music, but that stems from not wanting to get bored doing the same thing over and over.

With this Unrest RSD release, it seems like a lot of people are excited to see something new from your most popular project. Are there any plans to reunite & tour, or even make new music as Unrest in some form?

That's nice to hear. No plans right now, but you never know. We did do an album together under the name Maybe It's Reno in 2008, the only difference being that Bridget wrote and sang all of the songs.

"Make Out Club" video on MTV back in the 120 Minutes days. You'll want to buy the box set for this song alone...

Mark assembling the Unrest box sets in the CTD warehouse

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