STS 006 - Kill Shaman Records


This time in our Spotlight is a kaleidoscopic label named Kill Shaman Records. Based in the USA they started their musical voyage in 2003, thus gradually reaching outermost regions of the world. Their catalog includes more than 50 records by such skilled musicians as Expo '70, Movie Star Junkies, Crash Normal, Factums and many others. Bryan Levine was keen to answer few questions regarding his (and his partner’s Paul Kneejie) imprint and to compile an exclusive mix from their label’s archives.

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Introduce us to the concept and specifics of Kill Shaman.

Kill Shaman is run by me (Bryan Levine) and Paul Kneejie. Paul is in LA, where I used to live, and I am in Oakland, California. The label started, as most tend to do, out of our desire to release things for our own bands. That was in 2003. As that expanded, we ended up documenting a lot of what was going on in the Downtown LA scene at The Smell in the early-mid 2000's because that is where we hung out. Those were our first 10 or so releases. After I moved to the Bay Area in 2006, we sort of moved away from the local music scene and started to search for new and different music from all over the world. Our goal has always been to release records that we would be happy to own and listen to. Because of that, our aesthetic tends to vary quite a bit and we don't really focus on one genre or style.

What influenced your decisions to get involved in label management?

Probably just poor judgement. Running a label is not exactly glamorous. We started running the label, because we wanted to release the music we were making ourselves. That quickly morphed into doing the same for friends and bands we played with. It was very much in reaction to what was going on around us at the time. It's quite the typical answer, unfortunately.

How do you attract and develop new audiences?

The naive answer is that the music we release can stand on its own enough to attract and retain a loyal fan base of record-buying shamanites. In reality, this is something that we've neglected to do well over the years and are starting to reassess. We used to do our own PR, book shows, send out press releases, etc. Now that we're a bit older and work a lot more, we simply don't have the time we used to for this kind of stuff and are getting some help to make sure that we continue to get the label and all of our releases out in front of people. It turns out that having someone to devote a significant portion of their time solely to those functions makes a huge difference. I think you'll see that in some of our upcoming releases.

How important do you think it is for an artist to have a high public profile? What are the essential rules of good networking?

I don't think it's important that an artist has a public profile, but we do want to make sure that the people we work with have a desire to progress in some way. That can be as simple as making sure you play shows, doing interviews if you can, or just taking your music to the next level. Make a new album and make it way more awesome than your last. If you focus on making good music, good stuff will happen if you're lucky. If you're not lucky, who cares. At least you made some good music that people enjoy.

Essentials to good networking: be nice, remember people's names and faces, do what you say you will, and release good stuff. People will respect that because it's respectable. In short, don't be an asshole and don't rip people off.

How do you manage the shifts between your professional roles? For instance dealing with financial and creative issues at the same time? What challenges it creates?

Since there are two of us, we can afford to distribute the work. I do all of the financials, orders, distribution, manufacturing, website, and other boring crap. Paul does a lot of the PR, mail-outs, radio station stuff, and different boring crap. We tend to share on the creative aspects. We both pick bands we'd like to work with and propose them to the other before making a decision. That's also partially why our releases are so scatterbrained, which can be the challenging part. We have different tastes sometimes.

Do you discuss with artists about the release concept before it is recorded or do you just accept full recorded albums and then decide whether it fits your concept or not? Tell us more about the final decision process.

We may go in any of those directions. It depends on the band. Sometimes we'll pursue someone to give us some archival or re-issue material that we love, or they'll have 10 albums worth of material that needs to be whittled down to a single release. In these scenarios, we work with the band to curate the release a bit and come to a consensus on what it will be in the end. At other times, we will receive a complete album from someone, whose band we love and trust to make a good record. This has never failed us, in fact, and is the more common scenario. We make most of the decision up front before even working with the band. Do we like their music? Do they seem like nice people? Will they make something we would listen to? Will they put in effort behind the release? That's usually how our thought process goes.

We found those words in your website “They have released a ton of most radical records (see releases). They have played in sweet bands and booked many a show. Unfortunately, there is no reward. Now they work part time at the local Dairy Queen.” Is this some kind of sarcasm or unpleasant reality?

This is actually something we wrote in 2003 when we were younger and more cynical than we are now, if that's possible. We're both full time "professionals" and don't peddle soft serve as we might lead you to believe.

In your view, what role does media play in the music scene?

They seem to be a necessary evil for bands and labels. A lot of them recycle the same one-sheets and press releases that get sent to them as long as the record comes from a reputable PR firm or a larger label. I know a lot of places won't even open a press kit unless the sending address is from a select few firms they can "trust". At the same time, there are lots of great blogs, zines, and communities that help spread the word about a lot of the music we do. We just try to get the word out any way we can.

What is your all time favourite records? Why are they so special to you?

That's a hard question to answer. Both Paul and I are record hoarders. Since I can't answer for him, I think I'll just share my favorite records that have been released on Kill Shaman. Cheveu's "1000" is probably one of the most unique things we've heard. It's an awesome combination of blues riffs, 80's hip hop, and noise. Some of my other favorites are the Branko! 7" (weird african-inspired surf-rock), the reissue of The Moles' "Untune the Sky" (a perfect Kiwi pop album with Beatles eccentricities), The Dreams "Morbido" (reggae dub/noise/drugged out post-punk), and The Feeling of Love's "OK Judge Revival" (an homage to the VU with it's own mesmerizing twist). I still listen to Sharp End's "S/T" album a lot. The long-out-of-print Rodent Plague 7" (Erin of A-Frames solo project) was another favorite. Creepy, gothic surf music.

If you would need to relate your labels releases to some kind of art, what it would be? Which movement of art in your opinion is the closest to your label sound? Elaborate on this.

I'm not sure we could relate to a specific artist or movement. I prefer to think that we're more like art collectors, pulling random things that suit our tastes from all over the place. There are certainly common threads (modern France, the Seattle bands with overlapping members), but then there are completely unexpected pieces (The Moles, Smalts, Net Shaker, AXIS:SOVA, Flight, Submissions, etc.).

What other record labels do you admire?

Sweet Rot is a great label that we both admire a lot. They have really impeccable taste. Born Bad in France has a lot of great stuff and we've shared a few releases (Cheveu, The Feeling of Love, Crash Normal). Les Disques Steak, SDZ, S-S Records, AVANT!, Enfant Terrible, Skrot Up!, Almost Ready, Wantage, Psychic Handshake, X-Mist, Blind Prophet; there are really just too many to name. We try and keep with all of them as much as we can.

What records are you currently producing? Does Kill Shaman has a clear future vision?

We're currently working on two releases. The first is from a new band with Jason of Nerve City and Steven from Flight. They haven't confirmed a name yet, but they have about 10 songs of amazing and beautifully-crafted tracks. I expect that will come out towards the end of this year. We'll talk more about it once it solidifies a bit more and they pick a name. Second, we have a compilation LP from Novy Svet. It's called "Doce" and celebrates their 12th release, 12 years as a band (1998-2010), and is 12 tracks. It spans their entire career and has mixes of amazingly haunting Eastern European folk and electronic music. I think you'll see a lot more releases coming from us in the future. We've slowed down a lot this year and last, but we're going to come back stronger and re-focus our attentions on the label. We'll probably do a lot more reissues and compilations from bands long gone (since those are the most fun to make), but we'll also be releasing music from some active artists that we really enjoy. This year marked the 10 year anniversary of Kill Shaman and we have every intention of celebrating many more.

Show Playlist
1. Cheveu - My First Song [1000, 2011]
2. Agent Side Grinder - Remnants of My Sight [Debut, 2010]
3. Net Shaker - Kut City Now [I'm So Cold, 2013]
4. Axis Sova - Subtle Beer Bong Chicks [Weight of a Color, 2012]
5. Expo '70 - Missing Sun [Animism, 2007]
6. Factums - Scene 2 [Spells and Charms, 2008]
7. Smalts - Al zijn de rozen niet aaneen geregen [Bronze Age Nursery Rhyme, 2013]
8. The Moles - Europe By Car [Untune the Sky, 2010]
9. Night Control - Trouble [Death Control, 2009]
10. The Dreams - Milk by Myself [Morbido, 2011]
11. Movie Star Junkies - Loneliness Like Clouds Above [In a Night Like This, 2010]
12. Branko - Coche de Carreras [BRANKO!, 2011]
13. Crash Normal - Ice Forest [Your Body Got a Land, 2012]
14. The Feeling of Love - Going Back to the Nineties [OK Judge Revival, 2010]
15. Nerve City - CCrawLL [I Fucked Death, 2009]
16. Sharp Ends - Live Action [S/T, 2010]
17. The Dictaphone - Temporary Muse [S/T, 2010]
18. The Pink Noise - Wild Love [Graffiti Youth, 2009]
19. Love Tan - Nothing Belongs to You [Miscellaneous Night Feelings, 2009]
20. Yves Son Ace - Going Back to Cali (alt mix) [Unsung, 2012]

More about Kill Shaman: Website - Facebook - Twitter - Soundcloud

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An interdisciplinary journal, offering eclectic mixes and smart interviews with original artists and label owners as well as contemporary art reviews.

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