Passion For Pop
Born from a Perth fanzine, Chapter Music has since become home to a diverse roster of acts — from Minimum Chips to Crayon Fields, Primitive Calculators to Sleepy Township. Ahead of the label’s 18th birthday, RENÉ SCHAEFER talks to its founder Guy Blackman.
What was your motivation for starting Chapter Music 18 years ago? Does this motivation still hold true today?
I guess 18 years ago Chapter was a fanzine called Chapter 24, and I was motivated by the example of my high school buddy Gayle, who had put out two issues of a Spacemen 3 fanzine called Hypnotized. That and my darker past which involved going to science fiction conventions in Perth from the age of 13, where I saw fanzines for the first time! In 1992, when I put out the first Chapter cassette Bright Lights Small City, it was meant to accompany the fourth issue of Chapter 24, but the compilation took over and the zine never came out. I was inspired by tape-heavy labels like K Records, Shrimper, Melbourne’s Toytown, plus local inspirations like Julian Williams’ From The Same Mother label, which is still going now in Melbourne. Plus no-one could afford to put out CDs in Perth in the early 90s, cassettes were the standard format.
I guess the motivation was also to do something that other people weren’t, to let people know about underexposed music, and to feel a bit cool in the process – and all those things still hold true 18 years later.
You have put out quite a variety of music, from pure pop to more abrasive experimental sounds, as well as re-releases of out-of-print Australian post-punk classics and a smattering of overseas artists. What unites these releases?
All I look for is music that provokes an emotional response. I’ve never been fussy about styles or sounds, the main thing for me is the song, or that the singer has something to say that’s important to them. I’m old fashioned that way, but I think that’s the thread that connects everything on Chapter, and it’s a pretty strong one.
“I am like an old mule, I just keep plodding along doing the same things over and over again.”
Chapter Music releases are distributed in Europe and the US. Why do you think it is important for Australian independent music to be heard overseas?
Maybe because it’s been a one-way street for so long and it’s frustrating to hear bands from overseas getting hugely hyped when there are bands here doing something just as special. Australia has such an amazing independent music history but such an apologetic attitude towards its own achievements that very few people overseas ever find out about it. But that said, I do OK with the reissues I put out and the releases by US or Japanese artists, but the hardest Chapter records for me to sell overseas are always by new Australian bands.
The two Can’t Stop It compilations unearthed some long lost Australian post-punk gems. You’ve also played a part in resurrecting two bands from that era, Essendon Airport and Primitive Calculators. What attracted you to these bands and this period in Australian music?
When I turned up in Melbourne from Perth in the mid 1990s I started finding all these second-hand singles and albums for a dollar, by bands I’d never heard of, and it only took a little while for me to realise that Australia had an almost forgotten post-punk scene that was just as vibrant and innovative as any in the world. I was already a big fan of Rough Trade bands from the late ’70s, and New York equivalents like Bush Tetras and James Chance, so when I heard Primitive Calculators, Essendon Airport, Voigt/465, Tch Tch Tch etc, I was totally blown away, and amazed that no-one really seemed to care. I guess it was just a cyclical thing, by the time I got Can’t Stop It! #1 together in 2001, people had begun to reassess that whole period and suddenly post-punk was cool again.
Are there any plans to re-press some of Chapter Music’s early vinyl releases?
They’re all still in boxes in my garage! Well actually most of the early singles are sold out, but there’s still a whole bunch you can mail-order from the Chapter website. And they’ll all be on sale at the Chapter 18th birthday. Maybe for Chapter’s 20th birthday I’ll press up 150 copies of a boxset edition of the early singles, and sell them for $1000 each.
Your old band, Sleepy Township, is reforming for Chapter Music’s 18th birthday gig at The Tote. Is this a one-off, or can we expect further shows?
That’s an entirely hypothetical question at the moment, cause we haven’t even had our first rehearsal yet. Who knows whether we’ll fall back in love with each other again, or start fighting the moment we walk into the rehearsal room. Everyone who was in Sleepy Township has a lot of other projects going on these days, Mia and Chrissy have New Estate, I’ve got the label and my solo stuff, and Alison is basically taking over the world with Beaches and Panel Of Judges right now, so it might be hard to find the time. But it’s a lot of work to go to for just a half-hour show at the Chapter birthday party, so maybe we’ll try to sneak in a few other shows. Plus Sleepy Township was always a hell of a lot of fun.
Of all the records on Chapter Music, do you have any favourites?
Lots of favourites, around 70 in fact. To be honest, the Small World Experience album Side Projects is one of the best things I’ve ever put out, and I’m currently head over heels in love with Frida Hyvönen’s new album Silence Is Wild. I’m very proud that I was involved with the first Sea Scouts record, and Pikelet and Crayon Fields are my musical BFFs. But they are all my children, and I love each one of them equally.
What does the future hold for Chapter Music?
I feel like I’ve lost touch with my old vinyl fetishist days, and want to cut back on crappy plastic CDs that people just don’t buy anymore anyways, and start putting out more vinyl again, maybe with digital download vouchers included so people can get their iPod fix. It’s a weird time and sales are definitely on the decline, but it’s also a great time for people to start doing things as a DIY community again, which hasn’t really existed in Australia or the world as a concept for the last 10 years. But I am like an old mule, I just keep plodding along doing the same things over and over again, so I doubt I’ll stop putting out records even if I never sell another copy. I guess I decided running a label was all I really wanted to do when I was 17 — and it still does it for me.
CHAPTER MUSIC’S 18TH BIRTHDAY
Sunday, January 4
The Tote Hotel, Collingwood, VIC
Crayon Fields + Pikelet + Hit The Jackpot + Minimum Chips + Panel Of Judges + Sleepy Township + Karl Smith + Lakes + Clare Moore + Henry Wagons