Interview: Thomas Nassiff & Zack Zarrillo (Bad Timing Records)

Interviews / Special Features / July 15, 2013

As industry insiders, band members and even Modern Vinyl sent out a series of mysterious tweets this past weekend — anchored by lyrics from Acceptance’s full length album, Phantoms, featuring pictures of a test pressing and tagged with the phrase BTR001 — the Twittersphere was quick to pick up on the marketing campaign’s stealthy aim. After all, Phantoms has quickly become a much-desired release within the vinyl community, this want seemingly growing as we’ve gotten further and further away from the album’s original release in 2005. Well, to put it simply, the wait is over.

Bad Timing Records — a newly launched label run by Thomas Nassiff and Zack Zarrillo — has announced the long-awaited vinyl pressing of Phantoms as their first release. The pressing will go up for pre-order on Tuesday, July 16th, at 2 p.m., with three different vinyl variants available: half clear and half royal blue vinyl (limited to 200); dark blue with white and grey marble vinyl (limited to 300); and royal blue vinyl (limited to 500). Individual copies will be priced at $19, while three-packs will run $55.

Bad Timing Records

We recently spoke with Thomas (label manager at Paper + Plastick, web content manager at Fuse TV) and Zack (head honcho over at Property of Zack) regarding the project. Check out the conversation to find out how the project came together and in order to get the details on the sound quality, vinyl packaging and production process behind the pressing.

Thomas, you’ve worked within the label world for a few years now, playing a major role in Paper + Plastick’s daily operations. What were some of the main principles you took from your time at P+P?

Thomas: Without any doubt, Vinnie [Fiorello] taught me everything I know about how to put out records. Every single part of the process was made easier because of my experience at Paper + Plastick. Putting out records is definitely not the hardest thing in the world, but that being said, I never would have been interested in starting this project if it weren’t for Vinnie and what he has taught me over the past two years. I think the most valuable thing was being familiar with the timeline of how a release should work, when we should announce it, how to publicize it, etc. One thing I wanted to do was wait until the records were completed and being shipped to us to announce a preorder. I wanted photos of the product – basically wanted people to see it actually exists already – and I didn’t want to risk a delay on our first release.

Zack, you’ve been on the content and journalistic side of the music industry for quite a few years. What prompted you to make the jump into actually creating a musical product?

Zack: Pun completely aside, it was just good timing. If you asked me three days before Thomas approached me if I had interest in being part of a label in any sort of way, I would have said no. I remember sitting down with my friend Eric Osman, who runs Lame-O Records (Modern Baseball, The Hundred Acre Woods), and talking to him about how things were going at his label and how he picked it up out of nowhere, and suddenly I had a sparked interest. I don’t like engaging in ventures that I don’t believe I can handle fully, but I saw that Eric was managing his load correctly and in a way I thought I could be decent at. Eric and I talked about me maybe being involved in some minor way, then I spoke to Thomas a few days later…and boom. The timing just clicked.

Is this something you guys had spoke about teaming up on for quite some time? If so, what prompted you guys to finally make it a reality?

Thomas: I’ve been itching to start my own project for about a year or so. I was waiting for the right band to come around with a record that I really loved, but wouldn’t fit right on P+P. There were a few bands that I almost asked about working together. But in January, I ended up thinking of the name Bad Timing Records (like too many things, it’s related to a girl) and considering the idea that doing an old record for the first time on vinyl would be an awesome release for BTR-001. Acceptance was my first choice when I thought of that but it got delayed when I moved to New York for my new job at Fuse. When I finally started to look into it, I decided I wanted to have a partner and Zack was the first person I wanted to ask. He is already someone that I trust and we’ve worked together before – he manages Light Years, whose record P+P just put out – so it was a logical partnership.

Zack: The idea of having or being involved with a label has interested me since I was 18, but like I said before, I had no desire to get one going out of fear I would fail. As soon as Thomas approached me, I was just stoked. I remember just sending him a stream of IMs on Messages just saying something along the lines of, “No, you don’t have to hit up anyone else. I’m in, I’m in, I’m in, I’m in.” I’ve been that stoked about it ever since.

I think what’s nice about your collective knowledge is that it’s based in the current trends and principles of today’s unique music industry. What have you seen within the vinyl portion of this world that you’ve attempted to incorporate into your label practices?

Thomas: The three labels I’ve always looked at as the leaders are probably the three obvious ones – Run For Cover, Topshelf and No Sleep. All three of them have it down to a science now that they’ve been at it for 6/7/8/however many years. I think Paper + Plastick has its own niche, as well — putting out really good music with packaging that kinda makes you say, “I’ve actually never seen anything like this before and I need it.” I’ve never collected vinyl in a world where those labels didn’t exist, so naturally that’s where I’m drawing ideas from with this project.

Zack: Thomas really knows what he’s doing in terms of setting everything up just from his experience with Paper + Plastick, which is so nice because 1) it helps me learn, but 2) it means we can get those details out of the way and focus on the bigger picture. PropertyOfZack has had major features on labels, vinyl sales, etc over the past few years simply because I love how different operations in the music industry work. I’ve learned a lot of good and bad practices at marketing, publicity, etc just from watching other labels succeed and fail in their own methods. Some labels do things right and it was important to me that we follow those practices. Simple things can make a world of difference.

Furthermore, were there any labels you either went to or looked to for advice when beginning to take on this first, daunting project?

Thomas: Some parts were pretty overwhelming at first, especially talking about the legal stuff and the first baby steps of the project. I turned to Vinnie for advice on a few issues at first until we got the hang of it enough to figure things out on our own. Zack and I were really good, I think, at splitting up the harder work amongst ourselves.

Zack: I talked to Eric at Lame-O Records, Lisa at Kind Of Like Records, and Joe at American Dream Records a lot through the initial process of figuring out the label and project for our first release. There are so many tiny details you don’t think of when starting something new.

“Phantoms” is one of those albums that’s slowly picked up fans throughout the years. From what I remember, it wasn’t a huge hit when it initially arrived (“Different” did chart as a single), but the fanbase has consistently grown. When did you guys initially discover the record?

Thomas: In 9th or 10th grade I think, I heard the song “Take Cover” in a friend’s car one day. I loved that song, but I wasn’t at a point back then where I was inspired to check out the whole album. When I started writing for a few years back, there was some chatter about it in the forums and I finally listened to the whole thing. It was a “where the fuck have I been” sort of thing. What a great record.

What about the album do you think has contributed to this longevity?

Thomas: Maybe this is a weird answer, but I think there’s a certain mystical thinking about the album since it was Acceptance’s only LP. It’s so good and you kind of wonder, what if they had kept releasing records? I think parts of this album show a band that was ahead of its time in terms of pop-rock.

Zack: I think it’s sort of a classic story: Fans see potential in band with EP; band signs to a major label; album leaks six months early/band gets fucked over; band and album tank. There were those core fans who were devastated and angry, and those fans who kept talking about the band for years spurred others (like me) to check out the album, and those people fell in love too.

This has to be a record that independent labels have tried to pressed previously. What was your initial approach to Sony like and how did you find the process of working with a major label to be?

Thomas: Honestly, I don’t know why it hasn’t been pressed. I’m sure that we weren’t the first people to ask Sony about it. But at the time we asked, which was quite a few months ago, no one else was in talks with them about it so we jumped on it. My roommate, Steve, who used to work at Sony actually, was able to get us in touch with the right person. We got very lucky because we had a wonderful contact person there. Her name is Traci and she is probably the best emailer of our lifetime. It feels like everything lined up for this to be our first release and I can’t think of another record I’d rather put the “001” stamp on. I’ll listen to this for years.

Zack: The few people I’ve told about this project and business have all asked, “What’s it like working with a major label?” All I could say is that it’s been awesome. Traci, our contact there for this release, is hands down one of the best people I’ve ever worked with in any business.

In the end, how long was the process of securing the license and furthermore, what type of roadblocks did you face?

Thomas: Like I said, our Sony contact person was great. She walked us through the parts where we had no experience in and was very patient with us. She was just a total pro with the whole thing. Probably the biggest roadblock was getting the art done – at first, Sony required us to use the original album art with no changes made. But the only art they had in their archives was CD version and it was too small to use for a 12” jacket. My friend, Mitchell Wojcik, is a photographer and he has a very fancy scanner thing, so I bought a copy of the CD for $2 on eBay (no, seriously) and he made scans of the entire lyric booklet that we were able to blow up to acceptable 12” size. Then my best friend, Matt Delisle, who does graphics and other things for Paper + Plastick, was able to do the layout and we got Sony to let us change a few things. The entire original CD booklet is represented somehow between the insert sleeve and cover of our LP, which I’m very happy about. But figuring out that this was the right option took a long while and the entire art process was the most time-consuming part of the release.

Did you ever think of beginning with a smaller release, as to build up a reputation for the label, or were you confident in your abilities to take on a project many would be so passionate about?

Thomas: I wanted to kick things off with a big release. Something that people would be super happy about and that would reach a lot of people. I felt like with our experience, we could start with a release that would require a pressing of 1,000 units and feel comfortable with being able to sell it and manage the whole thing and do the mailorder ourselves. We don’t want to get typecast as a label that will only do reissues and first-time pressings of old records, though. We will do more of these in the near future because they’re fun to do, but we want this to become our own thing and have our own releases as well.

Zack: Thomas came to me already wanting to do this release as the first one and I thought it was a great idea. As soon as it became clear that we could pull things off and handle our individual loads correctly, it clicked. This is an album people love and care about, and we care about it too.

I assume we’ll be receiving the full tracklisting, but in terms of the mastering and production processes, what steps did you go through to ensure proper sound quality?

Thomas: There were a few steps for this one. We got our friend, Jesse Cannon, who is a huge fan of this record, to master it for vinyl after we got the WAVs from Sony. Then we got a reference acetate made by a mastering company, and after that was approved, they sent the master lacquer to the plant for us. I feel like going through a separate mastering company really helped us ensure that this record sounds as good as it could possibly sound. It costs more to do it this way, but fuck it, might as well get it to sound as close to perfect as possible. Zack says there are some vocal and guitar details that he’s never heard listening to the digital version before, so that’s when I felt like we made the right call doing that.

What type of packaging have you guys prepared for the release?

Thomas: Since there were licensing and royalty costs with this release, we couldn’t get too crazy with the packaging. We wanted to keep the price at $20 or under. But we did three vinyl variants – half clear/half blue, which I think is cool, and then a light blue and a dark blue, sort of to go along with the cover art. Instead of doing a separate insert and a white dust sleeve where your record is housed, we did an insert sleeve. I hate white dust sleeves.

Nowadays, the selling and shipping practices of a label (a young one especially) drastically alters what the public perception of said label will be for some time. Were you always set on just selling the records when you actually had them in hand? Or were there ever any thoughts of say an extended pre-order or a Kickstarter?

Zack: Kickstarters for vinyl make me nervous. That’s something that I wouldn’t have been able to stomach doing for our label. Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve learned a lot about the good and bad from other labels in our extended scene, and pre-orders for a record that aren’t in hand can always be dangerous, especially for reissues. Thomas and I decided we did not want to put Phantoms on sale until we had copies from the finished pressing in our hand that we could take pictures of and Instagram to show how excited we were. No filter.

Thomas: After reading that “no filter” bit, I completely regret letting Zack answer this question.

In regard to shipping, what practices will you be employing to guarantee safe delivery. For example, will you be shipping the records outside the sleeve; packaging any extra protection with the record; or offering different shipping options?

Thomas: We’re shipping domestic orders via media mail with tracking numbers, but the record will be shipped in the insert sleeve outside the jacket. We’ll throw in an extra piece of cardboard to fill out the mailer. Hopefully that will get everyone their records safe and sound. But as a safety net, we’ll put aside a few versions of each record in case we sell out and have to make any replacements for warped records or anything like that.

With any interview, we always like to give people a chance to talk about their own record collections. Could you give us a quick rundown on how you initially got into the hobby and what your current collection looks like?

Thomas: I guess I got into it because my dad had a small collection of really old rock records from years and years ago. When I noticed that this was like…a whole thing that young people did, I listened to his records and started buying old LPs at a used record store in Gainesville. Getting my own turntable is what set me over and made LPs the main way I purchased music. I think I have about 350 records right now…and I can’t tell you when I’ll stop collecting.

Zack: So, I sort of like blink-182 a lot? I used to (and still do) buy a bunch of blink memorabilia and goodies on eBay, etc. Before the Mightier Than Sword and Hot Topic pressings, there were always scattered (and expensive) copies of Buddha, Cheshire Cat, and Take Off Your Pants And Jacket on eBay, so I bought them. That’s kind of how my interest and love for vinyl started. I now have a few hundred records from most of the bands I love, and it’s the way I typically choose to support artists I love.

Thanks to Thomas and Zack for participating in the interview. And more importantly, thanks on behalf of all the Acceptance fans out there (including myself). You can follow Bad Timing Records on Twitter.

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Christopher Lantinen
Chris Lantinen is the owner and editor-in-chief of Modern Vinyl. Along with his modest collection of sad sounding records, he collects his share of soundtracks and previously adored indie up-and-comers. Chris is currently a professor of journalism and public relations at Edinboro University in the Erie, Pennsylvania area.

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