Mike Dixon doesn't cater to just your average nerd. He may be a high-school accounting and introductory computer teacher in nearby Olympia, Wash., but the bespectacled 29-year-old spends just as much time selling limited-edition vinyl to record geeks as he does teaching adolescents the ways of grosses and algorithms.
The founder of bedroom label PIAPTK—(very) short for People In a Position to Know—Dixon moved to Washington from West Texas in an effort to escape its “flat and dusty and dry and ugly and treeless” terrain. And though he ran a CD-based label briefly in college and has booked shows at “VFW halls and random places” since high school, until two years ago, he was “just some dude in Olympia that wanted to put out a record series.” Now, he's on the cusp of releasing his 30th record, a 7-inch by Dallas-based fuzz-pop band the Crash That Took Me. And he's got an impressive array of talents on PIAPTK's roster: Centro-matic frontman Will Johnson, Georgia power-pop outfit Casper & the Cookies, one-man blip-pop band Casiotone for the Painfully Alone and area heavy-hitters like Graves, Nate Ashley and Portland grim-rockers Southerly. “Generally, I just work with my friends. I have so many friends that are ridiculously talented. It's not hard for me to find things I wanna release,” Dixon explains.
But it's more than the music—often one-off, one-of-a-kind projects—that makes PIAPTK special. It's an appreciation for something “a little different.” Take Fleetwood's Hack: the frontmen for Graves (Greg Olin) and Norfolk & Western (Adam Selzer) covering '50s-'60s Olympia doo-wop band the Fleetwoods (tunes like “Go Away Little Girl” and “To Know Her”). And Dixon, who says his label is “funded completely by me—and Visa,” painstakingly crafts handmade packaging for most for most of PIAPTK's releases, be it silkscreening 490 covers for Casper & the Cookies' Optimist's Club
LP himself, issuing records in burlap sacks (Will Johnson's two-song 8-inch, released on clear, square-shaped vinyl), or recruiting band members (CATC's Kay Stanton) to hand-knit covers that double as stocking caps. “I feel like people…respond to something that was obviously put together by someone who cares,” says Dixon—and he takes that caring to another level altogether with the vinyl itself.
While most records start with a master from which copies are stamped out with a metal plate (a mold made from the master), some of PIAPTK's releases are what Dixon calls “lathe cut.” Lance Hahn, frontman for seminal '90s punk band J Church, once referred Dixon to a New Zealander named Peter King, whose Luddite lore includes owning four record lathes (two he bought from the BBC and two he made from washing machine parts) and never using the Internet, at all. According to Dixon—who'll be tagging along on Southerly's summer tour as “comic relief/roadie”—King “cuts each one on a lathe, and then he's done.” Essentially, every copy is an original.
These smaller runs (anywhere from 20 to 100 copies) are a bit more expensive (about $20 compared with $4-$10 for PIAPTK's 300-run non-lathe-cut records) thanks to “the totally weak U.S. dollar,” but Dixon just can't get enough of their fantastic sound and unique qualities—vinyl in clear, psychedelic swirl, tan and mint green; shapes from triangular and hexagonal to square and heart-shaped. Though he hopes to eventually offer PIAPTK's music via iTunes for those who don't collect records (“I'm not a total elitist”), Dixon, recalling his day job, says it's all about worth: “It's getting to the point where music itself has no value, so you have to make the thing worth having, whatever format it's on.”
Visit peopleinapositiontoknow.com to check out a full discography and new releases by Casiotone and Golden Boots.