In our newest edition of Meet & Greet, we spoke with Paul Dechichio, who runs Tor Johnson Records. After reading the interview, make sure to pick something up over at the label’s webstore. Pressings by the label include material from Now Denial, Third Death and Weak Teeth, among many others.
Tell us about the beginnings of Tor Johnson. What initially led to the start of the label?
At the time that TJR came to fruition, I had been booking shows steadily for 4 years. I had just moved to Providence from suburban Boston for college a year prior. My band at the time had just broken up and I felt that I wanted to do more for the scene. I wanted to continue to book shows but do something else too, the idea then snowballed from there.
Of course, the name Tor Johnson is in reference to the professional wrestler and actor who worked on movies like “Plan 9 From Outer Space” and “Bride Of The Monster.” What was the process of naming your label after the strange character?
When I had finally decided to start a label, I was stuck on the name for a while. One morning before work, my roommate and I were watching Mystery Science Theater 3000. They were showing “The Unearthly,” which is one of the few movies Tor Johnson was in that’s NOT related to Ed Wood. He has one line in the entire movie and we were cracking up about how much they talked about Tor. So, my roommate suggested Tor Johnson Records and it just stuck.
During Tor Johnson’s early years, what were some of the labels which you looked up to and looked to emulate?
There were a bunch of labels I think I learned a lot from. Al from Contrast Records taught me a lot when we were first getting off the ground: pressing plants, distributors, how to do the nuts and bolts. Ben from Armageddon; Mitch from Trash Art; and Brian from Corleone all turned into our local support system. In terms of bigger labels, there are always those core ones you look up to: No Idea, Doghouse, Ebullition, Dischord, Six Two Five, Equal Vision, Bridge 9, etc.
Your first release was Rebirth Of A Hardcore Pride and was a 7″ pressing. What do you remember about the release?
Well, the whole idea of this release came about during a show I booked that all three bands were playing at. There were so many small but important details and that was so much fun. Firstly, talking with the guys at Revelation was just so humbling. Obviously, you need to get permission/pay for the rights to use the Gorilla Biscuits songs. The people at Rev were so amazing about this idea while offering to take some for distro and help out. Secondly, the packaging had hand-drawn cover art, which was done by my landlord at the time, Christine. I actually did some posing for her to model the gorillas after. Then we did 88 clear records because 1988 was a very important year for hardcore. I feel like this release really started a snowball effect of doing special things like that for each of the releases.
Since that first 7″, you’ve now been going strong for 10 years. What do you attribute that longevity to, especially considering both the rough economy and various other labels being forced to shut down?
It’s tough and we’ve definitely had slow years with only one new release. I think the main reason for our longevity is that this is not my job, because Tor Johnson Records doesn’t pay for my personal bills. I have a full time job to take care of myself. My only real goal for TJR is that it pays for itself (obviously this goal has its exceptions). Because of that, I will never really need to “close” TJR unless there comes a time in my personal life that I can’t personally allot enough time to getting releases into the hands of the public. My opinion is that it’s pointless to run a label if you can’t get your stuff out to the masses.
What would be your advice to a young label? For example, I see that often times, you choose to do split releases with fellow, small labels?
Profitability should not be your main focus; expect to lose money. Split releases are a good way to get out there and get used to the inner workings of putting out a record. With doing split releases, it’s very important to be clear with all the labels’ distro options. Deciding who gets what distro & where is very important. You want to make sure that the release is mutually beneficial and that you do not step on each other’s toes. It’s also important to accept that there are the things you can’t do on your own successfully. I’ll never be a graphic designer, so I hire my friends who are very talented at it. The worst thing someone running a label can do is believe they can successfully do everything from design the record, master it, record it, etc. DIY is not exclusively doing it yourself; be reasonable. It should be about keeping everything in sourced.
What do you consider to be some of the important releases you’ve put out in these 10 years, either in regard to expanding the label’s name or just those which are personally important to you?
This is a tough one because each release is important to me and touches me in one way or the other. I would say one of the most important releases for the label was A Fine Boat, That Coffin’s “Morse Zeichen” on CD. That release was the first from a band not only from outside of New England, but outside of the United States. It was also the first time a band that is already established with successful releases had approached us to do a release. So in my opinion it was a really humbling experience.
Something else I’ve picked up on is that you always make sure to produce a variety of different colored vinyl, along with hand-made packaging. Do you find yourself taking pride in the artistic aspects of the vinyl packaging?
Oh, most certainly I do. You have to be proud of the whole packaging but it’s also important to portray what the artists want with the release. It’s important for us to step it up, be it silk-screened or etched B-Sides, letter pressed or silk-screened packaging, or exclusive vinyl colors for the bands to have at shows. All of these aspects are important to us.
Are there any releases you’ve done that stand out, from an artistic point of view?
That would be the Third Death/All Those Opposed/Hulk Out -3-Way Split LP, hands down. That record was just ridiculous and completely Providence. 18 songs are on the A-Side and an etching of a pizza with skulls & bones as toppings are on the B-side. Hand letter-pressed cover art printed & designed here in Providence. Insert covered in photos from shows that were here. This is one of my favorite releases, not only for the packaging, but also for the music. The songs were mastered as one complete track so it’s 100% analog and it’s never been digitally available. Definitely one of the most intense releases we’ve put out packaging wise, as well.
Working our way up to the present, you have plenty to talk about, beginning with a 10th anniversary 7″ now on sale. What can you tell us about the release?
The 10-year anniversary release was something special that we decided to do for everyone who has supported us over the years. In the beginning of the year, we started planning the show & convincing long broken up bands to do reunions for the event. At the same time we asked if any of the bands had any unreleased songs to contribute. As we started to get stuff in we decided to put out a record. Originally, it was going to be an LP but as the date got closer we only had enough to do a 7″. So we put everything else on a download code. Everything about this release was about keeping it in the family. Jarrod from Now Denial mastered all the songs & did all the coding for the download. The cover art was designed by Scoots who put out the Third Death 7″ before the LP we did. Everything was in sourced, so it’s been a very personal release that way.
You also just finished up a charity event, in which 40% of sales went directly to Girls Rock! Rhode Island. What is the organization all about and what made you want to hold the donation drive for them?
The Girls Rock! RI is a project that means a lot to all of us. We are lucky in Providence that we have a strong presence of women involved in the music scene. Bands like Whore Paint, Loon, Assembly Of Light Choir, Tenants, Gertrude Atherton, the Dirt Palace art collective, and many more. Most of the people involved with Girls Rock have been friends for years and this program is just amazing. It teaches young girls & women about empowerment by teaching them how to play music and form bands. This is taking the 7Seconds song, “Not Just Boys Fun,” and truly pushing it to the next level. The work they are doing with this program is nothing short of inspirational.
You have a new full length from Furnace coming out soon. When can we expect some news regarding the release?
Last time I talked to them about half of it was recorded. I’m not sure where it stands at the moment as the band is on a break due to personal reasons. At this point, all questions regarding the project should probably be directed to the band. Right now, we at TJR are moving on to other releases but we’ll be prepared to put out the Furnace record if and when that time comes.
Do you have anything else you’d like to tease in regard to the label’s future?
This is always the fun part, right? Well, we do have a shit load of stuff in the works for 2013. We’re in the final edits for the DVD release of the 10-Year Anniversary Show that we had in May. We’re excited to announce that the next release we are working on putting out is a full vinyl discography of the band Moment. They were an extremely influential Boston band from the late ’90s/early ’00s. Nothing else is really set in stone for the new year but we expect new stuff with Weak Teeth, Choke Up, and more.
And we can’t let you go without some details regarding your personal record collection. How did you initially get into the record-collecting world? I assume it was prior to the start of your label?
I love everything about records. I don’t remember how it all started, but I remember it snowballed pretty quickly. I liked going digging in local stores a lot, mail order from Asian Man & Victory back in the day, and going to shows to grab records. I also owned a local record store in Providence from ’04-’06.
What does your collection look like nowadays?
My collection has fluctuated a lot over the years. Right now, I’m at about 300ish LPs, 100 7″s, and about 25 or so other sizes. Mostly it’s HC/Punk/Metal/Indie stuff. I collect SST, Taang, No Idea, Dischord stuff. Things like that. I also love delta blues and Coltrane/Parker era jazz. I recently decided to make my list public (too many people were asking for it), so check it out: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0An7-198mic60dHhkOGV6M3VKWkkxWTZkaHVueDYyT3c&authkey=CI3K57sD.
What are some of your prized possessions?
Tough one for sure but most of these are for purely sentimental reasons and not because of value. My #1 prized possession is my first press of The Specials’ self-titled LP. This was one of the first records I ever bought as a kid and it’s still in my collection. Most of the records I bought at that time frame have been sold or given away. My other great ones are my Dropdead/Crossed Out 5″, or my promotional copy of Robert Johnson’s “King Of The Delta Blues.”
What are some of those “white whales” which you’re still in search of?
There’s always stuff I’m keeping an eye out for but one thing I decided years ago is that I want to come across stuff naturally. Especially for my “white whales”, I want to find them digging at stores. I enjoy the thrill of the chase so I’m always on the lookout for The Anniversary’s “Designing A Nervous Breakdown.” I kick myself everyday for not grabbing it when I had the chance! I would also love to find an affordable copy of the Godspeed/Fly Pan-Am split or the Godspeed demo tape, as I need those two items to complete my G!YBE collection. Otherwise original SST, Dischord, Taang, No Idea stuff; any original Delta Blues I can get my hands on: Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, etc.
Where do you see the collecting aspect of this hobby going in the future?
It’s tough to say. I’m afraid everything will continue to move away from brick & mortar stores and go completely digital. I love digging in a store, finding something awesome that you never expected to find, and checking something out from how awesome the packaging is. You can’t get that online. Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to most new stuff webstores are great, especially If you are looking for one record. Nothing will ever beat going to a store with no expectations and walking out with a huge bag full of awesome things, though. Please everyone remember to support you local store, go for a dig!
A big thanks to Paul for participating! If you’d like to be featured in Meet & Greet, let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.