Brian John Mitchell has been heading Silber Records and his Remora outfit for close to a decade now. Stark naked and devastatingly honest, both his label and his own recordings are driven by Mitchell’s urge to express music as unfiltered as possible, and he’s doing it with remarkable success, artistically if not economically.
This spring has seen a series of exciting new releases coming from Silber, as well as several Remora recordings being planned. We caught up with Brian John Mitchell to get an update.
About Silber. Why did you decide to set it up in the first place, and how has it evolved over these close to ten years now?
I started Silber because there were some bands I was a fan of whose records weren’t really getting as many sales or as much attention as I thought they deserved. Nor were these people able to make a living off their music and I thought this was a real shame. When I really first started in the fall of 1994, Silber didn’t exist under that name. There was just the printed music zine I called QRD, but even at its first start I planned it as a vehicle to start a label and to attract the bands I was interested in.
The first release was done under the name Silber Records but says on it “compiled by QRD.” That first release is a compilation called Allevation and it actually has a lot of good bands on it though, being from 1996, it is a little dated. I learned a lot from it that made me want to stop doing the label. I learned that putting out a good product at a low price doesn’t generate sales, I learned that good reviews don’t generate sales, I learned that a lot of stores and distributors are thieves and liars and need to be shut down for their business practices — some of these actually since have been.
When I did the record the internet hadn’t really exploded yet, so I wasn’t able to tap into that market. It made me really feel like a failure because I’d dropped out of college so I could get the money to finance it and no one bought it. I didn’t have the heart or money to pour into doing more releases and so I just did some limited run cassettes by bands I was in for a couple years.
But what happened that was strange was people were starting to really get into some of the tapes, especially Remora’s Amerse and Ambient Drones for One Guitar. And at the same time I was really getting into some of the cassette-only releases I’d heard by Jon DeRosa (of Aarktica, then recording as Fade) and Scotty Irving (Clang Quartet) and Tore Boe (founder of Origami Republika).
In 1999 my car died and I started working 80-hour weeks so I could buy a new one, and I got used to working this much and started seeing how much my income was doing. And I decided to just keep doing it until I saved up $10,000 and use this to start the label back up for real this time, with the knowledge I’d gained from the past three years. So I put out the label sampler Demain and Aarktica and Clang Quartet’s first albums and a comp titled Zann within something like three months of each other. And basically things kind of worked and have been going ever since.
Things haven’t been too financially successful, but Silber is really highly thought of by a lot of people, and it seems that pretty much every release does a little better than the last, sales-wise. I think people really respect us and people want to keep working with us even after getting chances to be picked up by a bigger indie.
Few independent labels have been around for as long as Silber have, without compromising their original ideas. Looking back, you must be pretty excited about what you’ve accomplished over the years?
I don’t know if I’d really say “excited.” But I think I can say that with the exception of a few little problems I personally have with being really weird about my own performances on some Remora records, that everything we’ve done is something to be proud to have the Silber logo on.
How important has the Do It Yourself/indie ethos been to Silber? Your web site references Dischord • was that a strong influence on you, from a “corporate” viewpoint, as well as musically and/or politically?
I think not being DIY is one of the main reason labels go under. I know of so many labels that go weird expensive routes to get their discs manufactured someplace that will place them in better distribution or that pay a lot of money to hire out a press and radio team for a release. If I did this I wouldn’t be able to eat because it doubles the cost of a release and I doubt that it doubles the sales. Plus I don’t trust anyone else to work for me. I sometimes get my girlfriend to help me stuff envelopes and I complain to her about how she’s folding the press kits. So in a way I’m DIY out of some type of lack of faith in others.
But I do think that a lot of what I want to accomplish with Silber is paralleled with Dischord. I think Dischord really has a sense of community both between the people on the label and to the fans, and I want to have that too. I handwrite notes in almost every order I fill, and I want to always be able to do that. I want the fans to feel special and part of something, because to me they are special and part of something. In a way, it’s like Silber musicians and fans are part of a secret society. I want it to get bigger and expand. I want the word “Silber” to become something bigger than me and outlast me and the label. Also it’s worth mentioning that it’s very important that I pay the bands even though I can’t get them what I feel I should.
Although many of your artists operate in the drone/slo-core territory, there are some pretty huge musical differences between the artists as well • there’s a huge gap between what you’re doing, say, what Clang Quartet’s doing and what If Thousands are up to. How do you classify Silber musically, and how do you pick your artists?
Well, you’re right. A lot of people don’t know what to think of Clang Quartet and the people that love Clang Quartet might not know what to think of If Thousands or Remora. Silber’s artists actually aren’t just picked by what they’re doing musically, but by having a certain mindset as well. I think everybody on Silber is very open-minded to the idea of the blurs between sound and music. Even though Rivulets seem very much in a singer-songwriter tradition there is a lot of experimentation.
Also we have a moral code that people need to follow as far as trying to live a lifestyle with a lot of honesty and keeping that in their music as well. Also there’s a real sense of community. Everyone knows and is a friend of everyone else and everyone on the label is a fan of each other. Before I deal with someone new I send their demo to a few other members of the label to get their thoughts on it and usually the people I deal with are friends of someone already on the label.
The slo-core scene seems pretty small, despite the number of artists and constellations that the genre embraces. Is it a case of everyone knowing everyone else? What are Silber’s and your place in this scene/movement?
Well, there are probably six or seven circles within the slowcore movement and all of them interact a bit. I’m not sure that Silber really fits into the slowcore style so neatly, but I guess no one really fits neatly into any single category. I use terms like aggressive ambient and post-angst, but they’re really arbitrary words.
How do you combine Remora with heading Silber? You’d think one of those would be enough work for most people.
I really don’t have enough time to do either one properly. I still have a day job and that takes 40 hours a week and then I probably do 30 hours on Silber and that really doesn’t leave too much time for doing Remora and just living my life. I basically only can really do Remora when I take a leave of absence from my job and it suffers a lot for it.
About Remora — despite your other obligations, you’re rather prolific, aren’t you? Is it important to get things out as soon as possible after you’ve recorded them?
I wouldn’t really say Remora is prolific. It kind of works that every two years I just get going and record four hours of material and release it over the next couple of years. I’ve begun to abort a lot more material and I think that makes my output seem better. But I write all the time and basically only record once every few months, and it means I forget all the stuff that isn’t top notch.
I’m sure many listeners will say your music is a difficult first acquaintance. Do you get a lot of weird remarks from people that don’t understand what you’re doing? And have you ever been tempted to soften the sound and make it more acceptable to a general public, in order to communicate with more people?
A lot of people when they first hear my music say, “Oh, why didn’t you just tell me it was drug music?” Or they just call it cacophony or say it isn’t melody based. I really don’t have much of an ability to become more commercial. When I try to write pop songs people seem even more confused than if I present them with some kind of ambient song structure.
The Alcohol EPs obviously was a very naked, crude affair, and conceptually it must have been a tough album to make.
I can’t really speak for Jon [DeRosa, Pale Horse and Rider] or Nathan [Amundson, Rivulets] on their portions of that record, but mine was really hard to do and I really almost didn’t put it out because it was so personal.
Your music is pretty dark by anyone’s standards. Is your songwriting a way of dealing with this darkness, or rather a way of dwelling on it?
I have no interest in glamorizing pain, especially mine. I do the stuff that comes out and I hope it makes people feel less alone.
Of the new albums on Silber, some are more serene or “calm” than your own output has been. Is that a sound you’re more attracted to these days, and do you see Remora moving in that direction?
Well, Remora is weird in that it’s constantly being pulled in three directions between no wave and ambient and singer-songwriter. So I’ve always been pulled between these things or at least for the last seven years or so. I want to maybe try to have something where Remora is schizophrenic from album to album rather than within an album.
On the web site, you talk about releasing “a string of EPs for limited-run European labels” this year. Any details on this yet?
Well, I’m not 100% sure what will happen, but here’s my current slate for what I’m working on: an EP of ambient loops with samples from movies on top, a vocal EP of lost love songs in some weird Beach Boys style, a collaboration with the Rivulets of stuff built around cheap keyboard melodies. And then the proper album. Also, work on an EP by Small Life Form (an ambient noise project that uses computer stuff) and a Vlor record. And I might tour some more this fall. And then I’m working on this storyline for Zombie Kisses and I guess I always will be.
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