Christmas Q&A - Answers!

20 + 1 Questions V.2.
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higherlimits
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Christmas Q&A - Answers!

Post by higherlimits »

It is a great pleasure to present the latest White Swirl exclusive Q&A with Third Man Records' resident Pinball Wizard, Mr. Ben Blackwell. Ben has been very gracious in answering our questions, again, and has even offered up a handsome prize to the winner of our Best Question contest as chosen by Ben himself.

The winner of the best question is... WANDERINGSTRANGER for the question: "What is your favorite soda pop?"

A simple question, yes, but it's all about asking what the interviewee wants to answer. As announced earlier Ben will be providing a ICLAB tri as well as a bundle of other goodies as handpicked by Ben.

The full Q&A will follow below as well as a thread devoted to discussion of each question. We all very much hope you enjoy this opportunity.

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1) How has Sub Pop, Love Buzz #534, Nirvana and Kurt Cobain influenced your life?

Sub Pop has been a record label that has opened my eyes to many bands/records that, had they not had that attractive black and white logo, I would've probably never paid any attention to. Especially the Fastbacks, Eric's Trip and Beat Happening…all bands that I completely adore. Also, it has made me very conscious of releasing records with sequential catalog numbers as they are easier to track/collect that way.

Copy #534 of Nirvana's "Love Buzz" single hasn't specifically influenced my life. If anything, my purchase of it signalled that at the age of 18 I was ready and willing to become a record collector who shells out money to get what he wants. I paid $500 for that record and at the time people seriously could not believe it. To many people, it seemed exorbitant. Ten years later that same single will cost you $1500 on a good day. Were I a flipping sort of guy, I'd say that 300% profit ain't too bad. Plus, it was a single that I never though I would ever be able to own. Like the sheer possibility of it all was so removed from I was told "You might want to hold off on telling people how much you paid for that" as if it was somehow embarrassing. my existence that it was merely a pipe dream to ever physically posses it. My purchase of it (from Chris Brokaw of the Sub Pop bands Codeine and Come) proved to me that in regards to record collecting, if you hang around long enough, sooner or later everything will cross your path.

Kurt Cobain is still a mystery to me. On some things, like the fidelity and aggressiveness of "In Utero" as a follow-up to "Nevermind" or the irony and subversive manner of Nirvana, I can only revel in his foresight. Other things like heroin addiction and suicide patently turn me off. When combined it seems the character that emerges is intriguing because he is flawed. I don't know if I could easily appreciate someone who fit my exact ideal or completely mirrored my beliefs. Some things perfectly right are usually wrong. At the same time, so much of my mind/thoughts/theory/philosophy is the way it is because I've let it be formed and shaped by my appreciation of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana.


2) Since TMR opened, what has been your biggest challenge?

I think I came into the entire operation a tad bit cocky. I mean, with 40-plus releases I'd sold almost 1000 records through Cass' six-year history, so I could act like I invented the biz, right? When it came time to ship a couple of thousand "Horehound" Lp's to Europe, I realized that I didn't know shit. So I've had to tone down my brashness and have a bit of humility. At the same time, I'm honestly excited about how much I get to learn working at Third Man. The vinyl record pressing world is small and even though I've been at it for a relatively short period of time, I feel like I've made a lot of contacts in that culture and it's exciting.

3) Best Christmas gift?

This year my best Christmas gift was a brand-new, educational-grade, 4'x4' roll-down map of the city of Detroit, divided by zip code with each and every street and intersection discernible. Can you tell I'm home sick? My gift to myself was an original Orbit magazine t-shirt and because I knew exactly what I wanted I think I was pretty successful.

4) Do you find yourself trying to do put out releases from bands in your area? Is this a conscious thing, something to help promote and expand the musical community of your area, or is it simply a logistics thing?

In the beginning I didn't want Cass to be pegged as a "local label" because I felt the term had a negative connotation. So while I did local releases, I wanted to be broad in my geographical scope. As time as has gone by, I've realized that local labels are vital and necessary in music history, perhaps even moreso than a labels of any other ilk. I wish that I'd paid more attention to that aspect in the past, but my worldly tastes and karmic debt to French garage bands presents Cass as otherwise. So now I kinda straddle the line, but with this longing for Detroit I find myself edging more and more towards releasing bands from there.

5) What do you think is the big difference between the two music labels you are involved in (TMR and Cass)?

I don't think there's too much difference between Cass and Third Man. I think both labels were started out of an extreme dedication and appreciation to music. Both labels are strongly dedicated to vinyl (and specifically 7"s) and both tend to have interesting ideas that cater towards/confuse/frustrate record collectors. I'd say the major difference is number of units moved.

6) How would you imagine your life to be had the White Stripes never existed?

When I was in 8th grade, just before I got fanatical into music, I really wanted to be a sportscaster on ESPN. I watched Sportscenter fanatically and thought that Craig Kilborn and company were the end-all, be-all. They were funny, sarcastic, ironic and subversive. I wanted to be like that and thought a sportscaster would be the only legit, real world outlet for that. Had the White Stripes never existed, I would have either been a sporstcaster or an upholsterer. Or maybe a teacher.

7) When are the Thread Counts coming back?

First off, the band had two names…at first we were the Science Farm and later we changed the name to the Thread Counts. Either way, about once a week Swank bugs me and says "Come on, let's do the Science Farm in Nashville." Not that I feel like I have any free time of late, but I do miss "playing" guitar. But I would also miss having Muldoon on drums. There's a bunch of recordings of us together and I would love to put out just something one of these days, but I don't see us coming back anytime soon.

8) Can you compare and contrast the scarcity and mystery surrounding two elusive 7s that you have owned: The Keggs "To Find Out" and The White Stripes Hand Painted "Lafayette Blues"?

The Keggs: inept garage band from Westland, Michigan record two outta tune blasts at Be A Star Studios in a shady neighborhood in Detroit in the summer of '67. They come back two weeks later to pick up their records and find that the studio burned down in the riots. Yolanda Owens (listed as "producer" on the record but really she just lent the name of her label, Orbit, to the 7") had made a safety master and was still able to press the record. According to liner notes for the "Back From the Grave" compilation only 75 copies were made, but research indicates that 100 were made with the missing 25 supplied by Yolanda Owens to local radio DJ's for promotion. "Discovered" by compiler Tim Warren in 1984 (I believe in Los Angeles) he treks to Detroit and spends 2 days parked in front of the house of a former band member in hopes of turning up more copies. He gets two more copies, one of which is sold at the Paris Record show in 1986 to an Italian collector who I buy my copy off of in 2005. Total number of copies known to still exist is somewhere around 12. I paid $2561 for my copy in 2005 and a barely playable, cracked copy sold for $373 in 2009. This is, by far, the pinnacle of Detroit garage music.

The White Stripes: it's been said a thousand times before…the sleeves for the Stripes' second 7" were delayed so Jack White and Dave Buick hand-paint 15 sleeves for the record release show. They sell for $6 each. One person bought two copies. After the White Stripes get big Tom Potter puts his copy on eBay with a starting price of $999. It goes unsold. It is eventually sold privately for $800. A few more copies show up on eBay in the following years, each rising considerably in price. A few copies sell for high four-figures in 2008 and in 2009 a copy sells privately for $15,000. And the one I own is by far the prettiest.

9) Does TMR leave any room for a future for Cass Records? Anything up your sleeve?

I luckily didn't have to sign an exclusivity contract with Third Man, so that frees up Cass to release all kinds of unpopular records that no one will pay attention to. As of a few days ago I've announced the release of three new records on my website. Go check it out over at http://www.cassrecords.com and be forewarned…there will be a reason for the somewhat unnecessary Dirtbombs 12" single. Just trust me.

10) Which song do you think is the best song The White Stripes ever covered? Why?

Back in 2000 the White Stripes did Bob Dylan's "I Threw It All Away" as an encore in Kansas. It was completely off-the-cuff and of the moment. They were playing on a floor. I have very fond memories of that cover.

11) Are you working on a White Stripes book? Is there any chance TMR may go into the publishing business?

I wrote a proposal for the 33 1/3rd series by Continuum for "White Blood Cells" and made it to the final round of selection before ultimately being rejected. I put out some feelers after that, talked with some editors and passed along my proposal but left it at that. My proposal was extremely specific to the 33 1/3rd format so to pitch it to a guy at Random House was a stretch. I would still love to write a White Stripes book (or books) but I don't know if right now is the right time or what the proper format or approach would even be. But the idea of Third Man Books sounds exciting.

12) A year ago in an interview you said that Detroit could go one of two ways, it could start to pick up and begin to get better or become worse, in the past year a lot of things have changed with the economy and in politics and I wanted to ask how you felt about Detroit now a year later?

The economy and government are so mercurial that for anything to truly have an impact in the city it almost needs to exist outside of that world, or at least have limited dealings with them. I keep coming back to the Burton Theatre in the Cass Corridor. A group of enterprising individuals have set up a first run, art-house theater in an abandoned Detroit public school. First things first, this will never be a bank-busting business. If properly done it will be somewhat successful, cover its costs, hopefully keep the operators bills paid…clearly no one involved will be rolling in a Bentley. But I'm sure the owners understand that, there are no delusions and a clear knowledge of the business model. They're doing what they're doing because they love it. Overall, Detroiters need to know their surroundings and their possibilities, but to be realistic about it. I love and urge the plan to transform huge swaths of empty city property into farmland. In short, Detroit is in a unique situation and in turn needs unique solutions. In my opinion, the future of Detroit is one of perpetually being on the precipice…it will never completely succeed and will never completely fail. It will just always seem like either outcome is right around the corner. Now can we just get the new hockey arena in Fox Town already?

13) Every month I go to a record convention where I see the most miserable human beings (if you can still call them that) in the world. Their perpetual search for rare sides has made them bitter and cold. Still in my youth, I absolutely love the hunt. How can I keep from slowly turning into them?

A word to the wise: Records are not life…they are merely one facet of it. Have many interests and passions and enjoy them all. Live a life of diversity.

14) How do you keep the archive up to date?

Lots of trolling eBay, secret emails to collectors, phone taps, surveillance operations…you know, the usual. There's no specific definition to my archive or its express purpose or intent. Having been around since the start of the band, my most valuable asset in all of this is my memory. A lot of "this" is all just in my head, not written down or even tangible in any sense. I stopped counting how many Stripes shows I'd been to somewhere around 160. I still buy or trade for weird one-offs from time to time like one-off, mispressed vinyl or test pressings, but once I think I've seen or have it all something new and unknown to me appears. I feel it will remain this way for quite some time.

15) What event or series of events in Detroit's history has influenced you the most?

The easy answer here would be to say the riots of 1967. People place a lot of prominence on that single week in July. But for me, born in 1982, it's hard to really know…I can't compare before and after. Personally, the fact that employees of the city of Detroit had to live within the city limits seems to have had the most influence on me. Because my father taught in Detroit public schools during the school year and the department of Parks and Recreation in the summer (still does, in fact). Because of that we lived on the East side, Mack and Cadieux area, where lots of firefighters and police officers lived. For Detroit, it was a decidedly white neighborhood while still privileged to all of the sub-par city services and petty crimes. Living there, the kids I went to school with, guys that were on the same soccer teams as me, the families that we went on vacation with…they were all white families where the fathers were employed by the city of Detroit. It was all very homogenous. Had this residency restriction not be in place I doubt my parents would have ever lived in Detroit. If I grew up in the suburbs my experiences and life would've been drastically different. Probably wouldn't be so vehement about my civic pride and could very well not even be in the music business.

16) What's your most memorable TWS moment off stage?

2007 Icky Thump Canadian tour, either Whitehorse, Yellowknife or Iqaluit. While on the charter plane, about to take off, most people half-alseep, Jack, wide-awake, devilish grin on his face bellows "WOOOOO-HOOOOO!" at the top of his lungs.

17) What is your favorite soda pop?
Faygo Rock and Rye. Brewed in Detroit with recipes derived from cake frosting, Rock and Rye is the most distinct and unique soda I've been privileged to taste. In Nashville, it is scarce. I miss Faygo. And ICP.

18) If you're on the road for months is there a routine as in like something you always do when you're in a different country/city? Something you enjoy doing to kill time?

My routine usually follows these lines: Wake up as close to check-out time as possible. Shower. Write a post card to my girlfriend. Hop in the van. Get breakfast. Sleep in the van while listening to my iPod. Try to read a book. Once in the next town I try to find the prominent record store/vintage clothing store/used book store and spend my hard-earned dough there. To the club for sound check. Try to eat at some kind of place that would be featured on "Diners, Dives and Drive-Ins". Sit around the club bored out of my fucking mind. Rock the shit out of the crowd, make them lose their collective mind. Towel off the sweat. Oversee the packing of our van with Tetris-like mastery. Check-in to the hotel at some ungodly hour. Kill time surfing the Internet. Realize that the complimentary breakfast will start in about an hour. Stay up, eat free breakfast (ideally with pour-your-own waffles) and then go to sleep.

19) Reading your recent posts about Archer on your blog and your ever constant interaction with United, do you feel that maybe you'd be better suited to working in the plants themselves instead of at the label end of things?

I have thought about this possibility for quite some time. When I was younger, I always had these little maxims I'd say to myself "If I just had a lathe…" or "If I just had my own record press…" the idea behind it being there would be one more step in the record manufacturing process that I could have direct oversight of. If you want something done right then you have to do it yourself, you know? Having since spent a lot of time talking with the people at Archer and United, seeing their operations and what exactly goes into it all and even being given the remote possibility of obtaining a record press, my thought immediately turned. I realized I know absolutely nothing about the machinery, boilers, steam power, groove-fill, plating or any other of the thousand or so factors that need to be paid attention to with precise detail to make a halfway decent record. While all of that stuff fascinates me to no end, I would have A LOT to learn before I understood the process enough to do it myself. So at this point in my life, I am perfectly comfortable being strictly on the label side of record pressing and not the pressing plant side.

20) If you had a time machine and could go back in time to see any live show what would it be?

I could no way limit this to one show, so here's a small selection of things.
1) the Monks (anywhere in Germany) 1966
2) MC5 at Democratic National Convention Protests, Chicago, 1968
3) The Stooges @ Ungano's 1970
4) The Last Poets with ESG (I vaguely remember hearing that this happened in the 70's)
5) The Gories at any of the myriad of house parties they played

21)Who comes up with/selects the phrases in the TMR run-out grooves...is there a method to the madness? It's the first thing I look for when I get a new TMR 7"/12," as most of them are freaking hilarious. I'm particularly interested in the author of the LSH 7" from Vault package #2..."Rescued from eBay"; gotta love it!

It's usually either Jack or myself. If he's not around I try to maintain his stringently hilarious standards. But sometimes we like to keep it mysterious too. Coming up with run-out groove etchings is definitely one of the highlights of my job.
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Scheckywhite
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Re: Christmas Q&A - Answers!

Post by Scheckywhite »

Brilliant stuff, some great questions there!
Love the questions about Detroit. Seems like Ben really misses the place-
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WanderingStranger
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Re: Christmas Q&A - Answers!

Post by WanderingStranger »

Thank you, Ben!
That is surprsing! :o Makes me very very happy. My 1st tri-color. yay! (and my favorite Dead Weather song no less)

It was a simple question, but I like simple.
I did ask another that was much more hard to answer, if I remember right, it would have been much like choosing your favorite star in the sky. It was a bit vague, I think.

Everyone came up with great questions! Thank you all for having these Q&As.
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PugFaceRex
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Re: Christmas Q&A - Answers!

Post by PugFaceRex »

Whoa, man, congrats!
WanderingStranger wrote:Thank you, Ben!
That is surprsing! :o Makes me very very happy. My 1st tri-color. yay! (and my favorite Dead Weather song no less)

It was a simple question, but I like simple.
I did ask another that was much more hard to answer, if I remember right, it would have been much like choosing your favorite star in the sky. It was a bit vague, I think.

Everyone came up with great questions! Thank you all for having these Q&As.
<BluefordT> jey pals i am,we is,fuckeres rerred up
<BluefordT> jhdb
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<Quizze> i didnt like pug asking jack if he would eat himself as a hot dog.... off color
barrowc
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Re: Christmas Q&A - Answers!

Post by barrowc »

Good stuff - thanks :)
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7th_son
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Re: Christmas Q&A - Answers!

Post by 7th_son »

Solid read. Thanks Ben and thanks to Ian for organizing it as well!
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JohnC
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Re: Christmas Q&A - Answers!

Post by JohnC »

Congrats to WanderingStranger . That interview was a great read !
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