Image: Jones (left) with Pellet Gun's Eric Jensen in NYC, 2008. Taken by Scott Garred. To mark the release of Jealous Butcher Records' new Led Zeppelin compilation, From the Land of the Ice and Snow, we conducted an interview with label founder Rob Jones. Jones has been an instrumental player in the Portland music scene, releasing material from artists like M. Ward, Kind of Like Spitting, Hutch and Kathy and the Decemberists on his label as well as remaining an active show-goer, producer and musician. We spoke via clunky ol' email.
A bzillion bands (pretty much a cross-section of the Portland pop/rock music scene) play the release show for From the Land of the Ice and Snow
tomorrow, Saturday night, at Doug Fir. 9 pm. $10. 21+.
Two tracks from the new comp:
Lana Rebel, "Black Dog"
Weinland, "Hey Hey What Can I Do"
WW: Can you explain how you got involved in the Portland music scene and how you got your start as a record label owner?
Rob Jones: I first got involved in the PDX music scene while I was still living in Eugene. I did a radio show on KWVA called "The Local Show," as the name implies I played local music from Eugene, PDX and the Pac Nor West. There were Eugene bands like Adickdid, Kpants and Oswald 5-O that would go up to PDX to play, and a bunch of the early/mid '90s PDX bands, Hazel, Crackerbash, Pond, New Bad Things, that would come down to Eugene and play and I'd work up the nerve to talk to them and have them come into the studio to do an interview or play a few songs. I also had a 8-track recording studio in the garage, and when Ben (Kind of Like Spitting) moved to PDX he would bring bands back down to Eugene to record. Through all that I got to know a few people up here (Chad Crouch, Jeff London, Eric Mast) and when it was time to leave Eugene a group of us moved up and got a house and started a band. From there I just started making flyers, and going to shows, playing with more folks, putting out more records and becoming friends with a diverse group of determined musical people.
The label was started by myself and my friend Gabe. We recorded our friends bands on his 4-track and once we'd amassed a collection of songs we wanted to put out a tape comp. We put out a lot of great (to us anyway) lo-fi tape comps and after a while Gabe went off to school, and I didn't, so I just kept putting more stuff out, did some 7"'s and an LP, and kept at it. The name came from a road trip to the first Lollapalooza where 8 of us were trapped in a van for 7 hours with my nephews Speak & Spell, by the time we got out of the van we'd figured out how to make it say "Jealous Butcher," Gabe and I thought it would make a good name for a record label.
Jealous Butcher has a long history of working with important local artists before they blow up. How are you always at the right place in the right time?
I can see into the future? There are so many talented and driven musical personalities here in Portland that it's really hard not to know someone who ends up doing something of note if you're at all present in the music community. I've been really lucky with some of the records I've made, but really I've always just put out music that I liked by people that I liked and that's really it. I stopped trying to guess at what would be big or have any set expectations a long time back as it just made me hate putting out records, so when big things happen to a record it's a really pleasant surprise rather than something I expected. One thing to note is that I feel like all the records I've put out are done by equally talented and exceptional people, unfortunately not all of them have done as well as others, so there's that.
Ice and Snow cover image, Carson Ellis.
When did the idea to do a Led Zep comp first come to you, and why Led Zeppelin, of all the bands you could have gone with?
I've always like to put together mixed tapes, and once I started recording bands, comps. It may sound goofy but it's fun to bring a bunch of friends together to make something to share that has a little bit of everything on it. The Zep idea poked it's head up one night when John, Matt and I were working on art for one of Matt's records, and he mentioned that he'd learned a bunch of Zeppelin songs when he was learning to play guitar, and I thought, "it'd be cool to hear Matt play a Zeppelin song." I filed that thought away and then a few months later I saw Amy Annelle play a version of the song "Friends" at Laurelthirst and it was stunning and that idea poked back up. That night I decided I was going to try and make a comp of the people who's music I loved to listen to play some of these songs, I figured it would be a CDR thing, make 50 copies for friends, that kind of thing, so I wrote up an email and sent it out. Then, in fits and starts, over the next 6 years it turned into what it is now. My only stated goal when it started was that it was going to have to be something I could listen to from start to finish and enjoy, and I can be pretty frickin' picky. I hate comps that have no flow or are put together simply because the bands themselves, or bands they are covering are famous, that's just dumb. I didn't want to make a comp that I thought sucked just for the sake of doing it.
As for the "why Led Zeppelin?," I love their music, I think it's bombastic and awesome and technically stunning and fun and it rocks. They took some of the most traditional musical ideas and gave them just enough of a twist to make them endlessly interesting no matter how close you get, it's like a fractal pattern or like a mobius strip—so simple at first glance, but the more you look at it the more interesting it is. Plus, I am so very impressed by a group of fellows who can become so famous, so larger than life and still manage to actually continue to contribute to and interact with the musical world around them in a very real manner, it's just crazy and it makes me happy.
And just so it's out there, I totally get how ridiculous this is—how potentially trite and cliched and easy to write off the idea of a compilation of Led Zeppelin covers is. I mean, seriously...
How would you describe the process of corralling 50 artists to put this thing together?
Very, very time consuming, at times frustrating and over all super fun. It started with an idea, which turned into an email, which meet with some replies, artists claimed songs, recordings were made and received, more emails were sent, Tuesday turned 2, some verbal exchanges were had, Carson's artwork showed up, holy crap!, microphones were placed in front of kick drums and guitar amps, Holly can sing like Robert Plant, mixing happened, and then more mixing happened, and then we needed to remix a few things, ah finally, that's it, boredom and despair set in, more songs were received, Tucker & Laura moved to Portland, fires were stoked, some songs were cut, Tuesday started kindergarten, I edited the heck out of Kaia's guitar and vocal overdubs on the train to Seattle, the Long Winters recorded half their song, CD's of mixes were handed out to "the committee", songs were chosen, more despair, will this ever be "right"??!!?! Shannon really likes Led Zeppelin, so does Mike, maybe this is actually going to work, Chris swooped in and saved the day, mastering dates were scheduled, mastering dates were rescheduled, more songs showed up, they were good, hard decisions had to be made about what went where, friendships were tested, pictures were taken, information was requested, Tuesday turned 7, recording dates where scheduled, still waiting on a few tracks, Joan is awesome, The Long Winters turned in their track, oh yeah, now I need compile all this into something listenable...
What does the project represent for you, now that it is complete?
Wow...it affirms my faith that, with some massive help from some wonderful people (Shannon Baird, Mike Jones, Chris Stout), I can accomplish something this big and that it will turn out pretty radical. That we could gather this many pals into one place to take a listen to each other and bask in our mutual love of making music is pretty cool and says a great deal about the support and sense of community that is felt by so many of us here in the Northwest.
You're giving some of the profits to First Octave—what drew you to that particular organization?
Matt was actually the one that suggested donating some of the proceeds to a charity, I wanted that charity to have something to do with our local community. I have an amazing 7 1/2 year old daughter who's ensconced in the PPS system and I like music and feel that it's an important part of the educational experience. It seemed like something that involved keeping music in schools made the most sense. I talked to Mike Jones about it as he has been involved in the Portland music and business community for many years and he told us about First Octave. They help out so many schools with music and arts grants of all shapes and sizes that it seemed like the perfect fit for what we were looking for. We gave them a call and they were into it.
Are you as excited about the Portland music scene now as you were when you first arrived here?
I am differently excited about the Portland music scene than I was when I first arrived here. The great thing about the Portland music scene is that it's so vast, there are so many different people from different walks of life adding their thoughts and feelings into the mix, it's always changing and self supportive enough that once you get into it you pretty much stay in because, though the drive is there, success not really the most important thing, and it is so broadly defined anyhow, maybe it's selling a few records, maybe it's getting 20 people to come see you play, maybe it's just recording your songs and showing them to your friend, maybe it's touring the world and playing in huge venues, and then coming home and grabbing a cup of coffee at Extracto and being one of those 20 people at your friends show. It's collaborative and it's kinda familyish, which is to say that sometimes it can be incestuous and dysfunctional, but really, it's mostly a good time. So, yes, still very excited, just not as singularly focused on it as was when I first arrived in PDX.
What's next for Jealous Butcher?
Working on some digital reissues for the New Bad Things and perhaps Calamity Jane, a few potentially exciting vinyl reissue projects that are not quite set. Mostly just taking a breath or two and letting the dust settle before taking off again.