Interview: Chris Mason of Dirt Cult Records

Dirt Cult RecordsAs many of you know, I spent about a year in Las Cruces, NM for my paying gig.  I left last June and just recently returned to my state of birth.  My time out there was mostly spent on working at  said paying gig, thrifting for fun finds, and more or less being a hermit.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my time out there, but I just did not do a whole heck of a lot for the most part.  Home is where the heart is right?

About a month before I packed up and moved back to my beloved Ohio, I ordered the brand spanking new Rumspringer album from the Dirt Cult Records website, and label owner Chris Mason sent me an email suggesting that I just stop over and pick it up as he lived close to me.

I decided to head on over to the Dirt Cult headquarters to pick up my purchase later that day, and he wasn’t kidding – I lived literally a mile away from him.

We hung out for a few hours that evening and he introduced me to a good portion of the Dirt Cult catalog including the band he was in.  I have heard of some of the bands before (including his own band), but never really checked any of them out entirely, sans Rumspringer of course.  Chris was great company and was quick to share with me a bunch off his label’s roster.   I loved what I heard and am just stoked I had the opportunity to kick it with him that night.

Before I said adios to Las Cruces, I was able to check out Chris’s band play a July 4th party and even hang out again while helping pack up some records.

Running a record label has always been something I have wanted to do.  I know there is cost and time involved in it and hopefully one day I can make that happen.  For now, I just will live vicariously through others.

Even though I am out of the desert and back in Ohio, America, I still keep in touch with Chris as he is just a solid human being.  Recently, I had the great idea of interviewing Chris for the site.  He was all about it.  Check out the fun interview we did via trading emails and such recently:

Dirt Cult Records

BHP: Can you give me a little history about how Dirt Cult Records got its start?

CM: I always thought that running a label sounded like a lot of fun, so in 2006 after my band at the time, Shang-A-Lang, had recorded our first 7″, I figured it made sense to start a label and put that record out rather than “shop around” for someone to do it. I also figured that if I completely fucked up somehow that at least I’d be fucking up one of my own band’s records.

Why Dirt Cult? Is there some specific meaning behind that name?

I had some friends, Ronnie and Adam, who ran a zine in the early 2000’s called Dirt Culture. Those same dudes also opened up a record store here in Las Cruces called The Dirt that was really the catalyst for the creation of a DIY scene here. It’s where we all cut our teeth booking bands and playing shows. I also helped Ronnie (or he helped us I guess) release a split 7″ between my band The Answer Lies and another local band called 10 Seconds To Liftoff on “Dirt Culture Records,” but the zine kinda went on hold because Ronnie took a job in California. So when I needed a name for the label I thought I’d use Dirt Cult as an homage (or maybe blatant rip off) to the zine. It’s the reason that the first Shang-A-Lang 7″ is DC-002. I always kind of considered The Answer Lies/10 Seconds to Liftoff split our first release, even though it was released a couple years earlier.

Chris MasonWhen did you first start appreciating vinyl?

When I was a toddler I’ve been told I used to throw my dad’s vinyl collection around his room like frisbees. When I got a bit older (around 5 or 6), I was obsessed with that medley on side B of Abbey Road. I would play it over and over again. I think I was as excited about the mechanics of it all as I was about the music. Of course, as a child of the 80’s and 90’s CDs were pretty much what I listened to, and I didn’t rediscover vinyl until I started going to punk shows that had DIY distros in the mid-90s. I loved flipping through records and buying shit that looked cool, hoping it was good. Unfortunately, around that time, I was still buying primarily CDs for convenience’s sake, which is a shame because I missed out on a ton of cool records that now I just have shitty scratched up CD versions of. I kept buying a mixture of vinyl and CDs up until sometime in the early 2000’s. Around then, I decided that I wasn’t a huge fan of CDs as they always ended up scratched up on the baseboard of my car, gave most of them away, and bought my music on vinyl pretty much exclusively.

That pretty much sums up my relationship with vinyl too.  Well said.  So did you start with records or cassettes early on with Dirt Cult?

Dirt Cult’s first five releases were 7″s. Our sixth was a tape comp featuring a bunch of my favorite bands. That’s probably a pretty accurate representation of how things progressed: 75% vinyl, 25% cassettes.

Were there specific bands early on that you knew you wanted to work with?

I don’t really know if I set out to work with anyone early on. Though I’m sure I had a “short list” of bands I would have liked to ask, I’m not sure how many of those bands actually ended up releasing records with Dirt Cult and how many releases just kind of fell into my lap.

About how many albums have you released on your label to date?

By the end of the year I should be at right around 70.

You’ve already had some great releases this year, especially Rumspringer & New Swears. Care to hint about any upcoming releases?

Sure. I’ve currently got five records at the plant; a new Canadian Rifle 12″, a new Unwelcome Guests LP, Sweatshop Boys LP, VVHILE 7″, and a Free Machines 7″. I’ve also got some tapes of the new Muhammadali out this week for their upcoming tour. That LP will be sent to the plant soon, but I’m betting it will be a 2014 release. I’ve already got a list of 2014 releases lined up as well and it’s going to be an epic year for me.

Nice.  Looking forward to hearing some of those.  This is probably not a fair question, but do you have any favorite Dirt Cult releases?

I’m always most excited about whatever I just released, which is a great sign I suppose. But I try not to play favorites.

Typically, how long does it take for you and a band to get from talking about releasing a record to actually having it in hand?

It just all depends upon my release schedule and the band’s organization. Lately, I’ve really tried to avoid sending anything to the plant until I have the music and all the art. It just saves me from headaches later. So some releases happen quicker than others. It does take about four months to get a record pressed these days, so the timeline has definitely gotten longer. Gone are the days when you could have a record out in a month.

Chris MasonDirt Cult is more or less a one man operation right?

Yeah. I pretty much do everything. Though every once in a while I bribe my friends with beer to come over and stuff records.

Did you ever think your label would last this long? Ever feel like giving up?

I never really had a game plan going into this, so I’ve never given it much thought. I suppose there has never been a reason for me to stop putting out records because I enjoy it. I never really had hopes of being a “successful” label, so I’m sure I’d be doing it even if it wasn’t going well. So giving up? Naw. Slowing down? EVERY FUCKING DAY!

Let’s hope things speed up again.  How gratifying is it to be able to say you run your own record label? I know I am jealous of what you have.

I certainly love that I’m always busy and creating stuff, and I’m also pretty proud of what the label has been able to accomplish in the past few years. But it’s certainly not as glamorous of a job as people might think. I spend a lot of time repairing art files, uploading music to servers, assembling records, and playing with packaging tape. I also think it took me six years of making constant mistakes to finally get to a place where I’m doing a few things right.

Dirt Cult isn’t even your full time gig right? Where do you find the time?

I’ve always been a person that doesn’t really like downtime. After a few nights of staring at the TV, I start panicking and thinking I’m throwing my entire life away. So I spend most of my free time either working on Dirt Cult stuff or working on band stuff. I’ve also got a fairly flexible work schedule that allows for trips to the post office and other odd jobs throughout the day.

Speaking of band stuff, care to tell me about the band you currently play in?

I am in a band called Low Culture. We’re just under two years old and have released records on Dirt Cult, Dirtnap, Dead Broke, Rad Girlfriend, Drunken Sailor, and Cut the Cord that… and have toured the Northeast and Canada with Iron Chic, Europe, and have done a ton of regional trips.

Europe huh?  How was that?

It was amazing. Really makes me question if I’ll even do an extensive US tour again. Bands are just treated so much better over there…breakfast, diner, as much beer as you can drink, and sleeping arrangements always planned out well in advance.

Any plans for an upcoming US tour with Low Culture?

We’ve got plans to play Awesome Fest 7 in San Diego at the end of the month as well as the Dirtnap showcase in Portland and Seattle in mid-September, but otherwise we don’t really have anything lined up. I’d like to make it to the Midwest sometime in 2014 if we can.

If someone asked you what Low Culture sounded like, what would you tell them?

I don’t know, I think I always have different ideas about what my own music sounds like than other people. I’ll bring a song to the table thinking it sounds like Elvis Costello and someone will say it sounds like Shotwell. Maybe “garage pop?”

When is the next Low Culture release expected to drop?

We pretty much have it written. We just have to record it. So I’m expecting it’ll be out in 2014 sometime.

Can’t wait.  You helped create Trainyard right? Can you tell me about that little DIY operation?

Trainyard is a DIY practice/show space in Las Cruces that has been around for several years now. For years, after the Dirt went under, shows in Las Cruces primarily occurred in houses. Unfortunately, we don’t have basements so shows would take over people’s entire houses. It became increasingly difficult to convince people to open up their houses to a raging party once a week, so we set out to find a stable venue. There have, of course, been pros and cons. It’s great to have access to a space where we can do whatever we want, but since there isn’t really an alternate venue in town, it can feel somewhat stale at times. People don’t want to spend most of their nights hanging out in a shitty warehouse with weird wood paneling, and I can’t say I blame them.

Do you feel you have helped ramp up the music scene in Las Cruces, NM?

Yeah, when I moved here there wasn’t all that much going on outside of a shitty bar scene crowded with Tool wannabes and cover bands, but there was a small group of us who set out to make our own fun and build our own scene. That’s one of the cool things about living in this town. People complain all the time about how there is nothing to do, but it’s really not that hard to build whatever the fuck you want to.

So from one music lover to another, what bands are currently on your radar?

This list is always way too long. Let’s see, some bands whose records are currently piled up by my record player are Nona, No Sir I Won’t, Needles//Pins, Dark Rides, Nato Coles and the Blue Diamond Band, Nervosas, and Chandeli’ers.

If there was one band out there that you wish you could release an album under your label, who would it be?

Superchunk

What do you like more? Being in a band or being that guy who slings records for bands?

That’s a tough question. They can both be rewarding and frustrating, but honestly, I being in a band is more “fun.” I just love creating music and traveling and playing shows and everything that comes with it.

Chris Mason


Some Dirt Cult releases you really should check out:

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