When this year’s Sonar Festival proudly featured a nice video selection of experimental electronic music label Audio Dregs, we knew we had to investigate further. Although based in Portland, this label has a tight connection with Japan, releasing artists like Mumbleboy or Lullatone. How come? PingMag had a chat with co-founder Eric Mast a.k.a. E*Rock, the sympathetic musician, designer, clip director and multi-talented artist. Thanks to Ian Lynam for connecting us!
Written by Nana A.T. Rebhan
Album cover for Strategy’s “Music For Lamping” on Audio Dregs. Artwork by Trisha Schlobohm, design by Tim Schaar.
First, congrats! Your label is already more than ten years old. How did it start?
I started when I was young to make tapes in small numbers of friends’ music, and it grew from there. I’m not a very commercially motivated person, so I never wanted the label to become too much of a job where it wasn’t fun anymore. The beginning of the modern Audio Dregs label started when I asked my brother if I could release a 7″ of his early electronic pieces and we kind of took it from there, doing more real CDs and vinyl. My car had broken down at the same time that my rock band was breaking up, so I realized, living in Portland that I could live without it and so I used the money that would have been spent on repairs, gas and insurance and put out records and rode a bike instead. It was better for my health, better for the environment, taught me new things and also better for everyone else involved!
Great decision! And your brother is still part of it?
His band is pretty much a full time job for him now. He’s always doing design, making videos, writing new songs, doing remixes and producing other bands and touring half the year… But I still send him designs I’m working on to get his feedback, but he’s more of a silent partner.
Now we are curious: Why does a Portland-based label have so many Japanese artists on its roster?
I’m not sure how that happened really; we’ve made some nice friends there somehow, some people I met through Mumbleboy and some I met through Lullatone. But also my old friend Ian Lynam [ours too!] has lived here for a few years. I feel like people in Japan are a little more open to music that’s both melodic and experimental. Whereas in the US, people often need things to be part of a genre for them to understand it. So Japan has always embraced the music since the early days of the label.
Nice to hear! How would you characterise the Japanese electronic scene?
I have a pretty limited scope of the Japanese scene; mostly through people I’ve worked with or most of whom I know I was introduced to through Lullatone. However, there are several artists that I like the way they create music in a really spacious way: Miroque did really cool stuff, and Yuichiro Fujimoto also runs a good label of gentle, organic experimental music. Also the magazine and label Afterhours is really cool. They mainly focus on music outside of Japan but are also pro-active and helped me a lot and set up some shows the first time I went over there. OK Fred and Map also are good underground music magazines in a similar vein that I’ve been in contact with at some point.
Ah. You mentioned earlier to us that Audio Dregs isn’t just a label, it’s more. Like what?
I like it to be more of a creative community. Lots of the musicians released their first music here and I’ve wanted it to help them develop, and showcase ideas and creative output. We used to have picture galleries with artists’ visual art as well, in the days before Flickr; as well as videos, animation and a print magazine. I would like it to inspire people to do their own thing, as well as helping the artists directly involved.
Still from a Flash video by E*Rock with awesome music by Yacht. Watch it here.
As jack-of-all-trades, you are having so much creative output at the same time…
It’s probably too much. Maybe its not possible! It might be better to focus, but its impossible for me to focus. It’s just not my style to do only one thing — although the more videos I make, the less music I can make. I just finished a short tour with Ratatat and I are in LA working on some art collaborations with Trudi. I’m also working on some new rock videos by Portland bands 31Knots and Shaky Hands, I have a couple art shows in the works, and some album covers for other people outside of the label. I’m also doing some illustration for Yeti magazine and trying to finish two new zines of drawings… then I can finish up an album of my own music. I’ve been too distracted and haven’t released an album in maybe seven years.
Wow, you are busy, indeed! Overall, how do you get inspired for your vast visual work…?
Most of it comes from listening to the music. Even if I’m drawing or painting for myself, I’m often motivated by music. But the label was also a good experience for design. Designing for it has let me experiment and grow as a designer. I’ve always been interested in design and studied it in school, but I tend to design more like a painter and have my own set of rules that I apply to it because of that. The label has been a really good outlet for developing new ideas, also in trying to keep a somewhat consistent style to the covers.
And how do you work when doing a video?
It’s always different — but I always start with the audio, usually follow my first instincts on hearing it and what it reminds me of. I used to do everything in Flash, which is great for animation that’s synced with an audio track because you can see the waveform and react to each frame. In maybe 1998, my friend Mumbleboy introduced me to the program when I was doing sound for his animations and I learned a lot of tricks and techniques from him. Nowadays, though I’m shooting with film and mixing animation with more live footage using After Effects and Final Cut and a few other in any new video.
So, what’s your favourite clip and why?
Probably the Gameboy Homeboy video that Ben Jones and I made for Beck. We worked really hard and fast and there were a lot of new techniques and styles for us, but also the energy level was really good. I like to collaborate a lot and this was the perfect example because it pushed us both way further than we had ever really gone on our own. We had talked about working together for years, so this felt like a real victory and was also the start of our Wyld File crew.
Lastly, what are your plans for the label in the future?
Ideally, I’d love to have someone to help me run the label and promote it so that I had more time for music and video. That’s always hard to balance.