Inside the Vinyl Record Industry

A Q&A with Rob Jones by Nobo McManus

NAME: Jealous Butcher Records
AGE: 19 years
LOCATION: Portland, Oregon
BANDS: The Decemberists
Laura Veirs
The Valiant Arms
Jeff London
Made For TV Movie

Coming in the form of the stylish, no-frills record company Jealous Butcher, Rob Jones has been dedicating himself to the music he loves for close to twenty years, straight out of Portland, Oregon. The label has put out some incredible records, each one painstakingly worked over by RJ himself, from the jacket to the audio itself. And what’s even better is he truly loves everything he puts out, which is what makes Jealous Butcher Records a musician’s record company. I’ll let Rob do all the talking now.

Record Pressing: So how long have you been in the record industry?

Rob Jones: Um… I’m in the record industry? Wow. That’s awesome! Technically I began dubbing tapes in my friend Nicks grandmothers upstairs office in 1992, so that puts me at 19+ years. Did I say “Wow”? Wow.

RP: When did Jealous Butcher get started, what made all this happen?

RJ: The label was started by myself and my friend Gabe in 1992. 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[ilation]. 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 cousin’s 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.

RP: Run us through an average day of work being a record label owner, what’s it look like?

RJ: I got to work. I spend all day working my day job. I answer a few personal emails during my breaks, some of those are related to the record label. I come home, I hang out with my family, after my daughter goes to bed I may put together mail order packages, or boxes to ship to [distribution], or sit in bed with my wife and watch episodes of Castle and Lie To Me. Sometimes I’ll work on layout for JBR releases or friends’ records. Sometimes I’ll build vinyl record cabinets and wish I had fewer boxes of records in my garage and/or basement. I day dream about the perfect record, and each one gets closer to it.

RP: How does producing vinyl, as well as mediums like digital downloads or CDs affect your company?

RJ: It costs a lot of money! Also, the fact that I make these things and try to sell them is what makes me a record label, right?

RP: In your opinion what are some of the things that vinyl can capture about an artist that other forms of media cant?

RJ: It’s big. It carries weight and takes up space. It means something and is not easily disposed of or ignored. It sounds great and makes for a pleasant and ritualistic listening experience. It looks nice (as long as someone actually cares about the art layout end of things). One thing to note, I’ll take one record with 15-20 min [length] per side at a slightly lower DB (decibel) to two records at 10 min per side at a higher DB. People are too caught up in “fidelity”, it’s really irritating. I mean, how much fun is it to put on a full length, listen to 2 songs, then have to get up and flip the record over? At that point it’s a trophy and the majority of folks who buy it are only going to listen to your free digital download anyway. Seriously, these are things people who are making records need think about.

I know you play guitar as well as produce, what are some of the bands you yourself have been a part of?

RJ: Beltline, Captain Vs. Crew, The Valiant Arms. All fun, and to that extent a success, but we have not made any sort of ripple in the national music scene whatsoever.

There must be tons of raw talent up there in Portland. Who are some of the artists/bands that you’ve seen grow and have helped blow up over the years?

RJ: I don’t know that I would say that JBR has helped anyone “blow up”. We’ve put out some awesome records by some very talented folks, but those records have relied pretty much entirely on the talent and efforts of the artists to succeed (or not). As a label, once the record is out, with the exception of working with distribution to get records out, we’re pretty hands off. I’d rather put money into making something beautiful and awesome than into intangibles like publicity and ad campaigns. This is likely to my detriment to some extent, but that process is such a crap shoot, a dark science, and our funds and margins are so tight that we just rely on what little following we have and the willingness of the artist to get out and pursue their careers to sell our records. That said, it’s been really fun to watch our friends succeed. Hutch & Kathy (The Thermals), The Decemberists, Laura Veirs, Laura Gibson, and M. Ward being the most recognizable names.

It’s great to see a record label that really loves the musicians they put out like Jealous Butcher does. Who are some of the artists you’re working with currently that are really killing it?

RJ: Well, we don’t really have folks on our label per say, we’re more of a project label, so we’ll do vinyl for a release/artist that already has a primary label, or come up with a special project that we’re excited about and ask people to be part of it, or work on a series of reissues in some format or another. The folks that are currently doing well whom we’ve worked with in the past in one way or another would be The Thermals, The Decemberists, Laura Veirs, Laura Gibson, and M. Ward. We’re super excited about how Laura Gibson’s new record is going, not sure what she’s doing with it, but we hear it’s amazing, and she’s very excited about it, which is a great place to be. Laura Veirs had a great year in 2010 and we got to help a little bit with that record (July Flame) though it was self released by her label Raven Marching Band.

RP: Good stuff! Now that it’s been a little over three months since the release of From The Land of Ice and Snow, a compilation of fifty incredible Led Zeppelin covers, are you satisfied with the responses so far?

RJ: Moderately. I’d like to know if there are other reviews out there that google searches aren’t telling me about. There was a ton of excitement about it in the press prior to its release, but only a handful of reviews have come across my desk, and physical sales are roughly what I expected. NPR was very kind to us on this project, they really took a liking to it. I’m curious where digital sales will land as this is one of the first releases I’ve done in a long while that we’ve actually had the digital rights to, so there’s that as well. This is one of those dark science situations where we worked with a press agent and I think my expectations on what that meant and reality had a bit of a collision.

RP: What were some of your favorite moments during the making of this epic double disc that took over six years to compile?

RJ: Recording the bands, or being present for that process. Getting tracks from folks whom I didn’t expect to get tracks from and having them turn out amazing. Last minute follow through from folks. The surprising directions that songs took. Working with Mike Jones (CD Forge) & Shannon Baird (S. Baird Design) on getting everything put together. The release show was, hands down, one of the funnest nights I’ve ever had, so many amazing performers and such intense love for the project.

RP: So what’s next for Jealous Butcher?

RJ: Well… we’re doing some digital releases for some old school Portland bands, Calamity Jane & The New Bad Things. They were 2 of my favorite bands growing up and their catalogs have not been available for some time, and never online, so we’re working on that, and it’s fun to revisit those records and work with those bands. We’ve got a few other reissue ideas percolating, which I’d rather not jinx by talking about, not trying to be too mysterious, just cautious. We’ve repressed all the Decemberists titles, a few of which had been out of print for a bit, so there’s that. We’ll be repressing M. Ward’s first record this year as well. Basically spending the year trying to make smart decisions and work harder on fewer projects.

RP: Alright, one last question. I’m sure you’ve collected a ridiculous amount of records over the years, but do you remember your very first?

RJ: Assuming you are referring specifically to vinyl, and to records that I bought myself, that would be a tie between two 7″s – Prince “U Got The Look” and The Bangles “Hazy Shade of Winter” b/w Joan Jett & The Blackhearts “She’s Lost You”. I still have both those 7″s and I will say that, no offense to Prince, The Bangles 7″ has stuck with me through thick and thin over the years, I hear that song and I still get goosebumps.