Locals Only is an occasional feature wherein we focus on a label which specializes in regional reissues. The music of a specific town or area means the world to those who live there, but frequently doesn’t make it to the public at large. These labels are trying to bring unheard albums to a wider audience, and for that, we salute them.
Florida’s Smog Veil Records has been around for nearly 30 years. The label, founded in 1991, describes the music it releases as “ridiculous, bombastic, and otherwise under appreciated rock and roll from Northeastern Ohio” (we’ll get to the Florida connection in a second). They also state that they’re for the “post-young,” which is especially apt for its series of records under the “Platters du Cuyahoga” imprint. This imprint highlights “Cleveland’s long running and rich history of challenging and often bombastic music,” and is more than just a reissue label. Many of the recordings put out under its aegis have been unissued until now, and in some cases, they’ve been found after being thought lost for decades.
Cleveland’s history has spawned many notable acts — the James Gang, Pere Ubu, and a host of others — and Platters du Cuyahoga digs deep into the roots of the bands whose roots sustained entire genres. We spoke by phone with Smog Veil’s Frank Mauceri about the imprint, and the trials and travails of finding lost art.
Modern Vinyl: So what’s your connection to Cleveland?
Frank Mauceri: Well, I grew up there, so I lived there pretty much my entire life, right up until 1998, when I moved away.
MV: Growing up in Cleveland, were you aware of the city’s vibrant musical history, or was that something you dug into as you got older?
FM: Oh, no — I was aware of it, straight from the start. There were a couple interesting articles published along the way that were very informative and helpful in keeping the history alive. One was written by Charlotte Pressler…published in the Negative Print fanzine in the ’80s, and that really kept the history alive, so I was aware of it. Also, I started going to gigs in 1981 or ’82, so I was there, and I was part of it at that time.
MV: From just things I’ve read over the years, it’s always seemed as if Cleveland has two sides to its musical history: the avant-garde punk, and the blues. One’s kind of about preserving history, while the other’s about knocking it down.
FM: Well, you see, Cleveland has a history of music being performed in nightclubs. In the city of Cleveland, that was a very popular form of entertainment, going way, way back, so the type of music that got performed in clubs in the ’70s and ’80s maybe wasn’t as important as the fact that it was happening, because it was a continuation of what was happening previously.
But the fact that there’s this sort of dichotomy that existed between these two types of music? I don’t think that’s unique, but I do find it to be an interesting observation.
MV: I have no idea how one goes about finding the unreleased gold which has been put out by Smog Veil as part of the Platters du Cuyahoga series. How do you start out – are there just legends?
FM: There’s definitely legends. There’s sort of mythical recordings which might be lost — might not have even existed in the first place — but we do, basically, old-fashioned detective work with modern techniques applied to it. So, we hunt down people — look for people — every possible way that we can. There’s a network of people — friendships that we’ve developed over the years — that we always start with, because it seems like all those people have attics full of old reel-to-reels and cassettes.
So, that’s where we start, but of course, every one of those people has told us about five other people and it just expands out from there. But, like I said, there’s just a bunch of detective work involved in going through online social media and databases trying to find people, and if that doesn’t work, asking people to ask friends of friends if they know where people might be. For the most part, we’re pretty successful at finding people, although there are exceptions.
A lot of these people are, overall, pretty happy to be found out, especially if they’re not making music anymore, for whatever reason. A lot of them are just thrilled that somebody is taking an interest in a recording they made 30 or 40 years ago. So, it’s a really satisfying job.
MV: What was the music that you discovered that made you think this could be a series?
FM: It wasn’t part of a series, but the most popular reissue that we did was the Rocket from the Tombs retrospective (The Day the Earth Met Rocket from the Tombs) 15 years ago. That really got me more interested in digging a little further, especially in the era from say 1967 until 1977, which I thought was really underrepresented, especially in reissues and retrospectives. If there’s any one record, that certainly was the one that got me thinking that there needed to be deeper research and understanding into what happened.
MV: That’s certainly how I first heard of Smog Veil, because that was really big news, especially in the circles in which I ran.
FM: Oh, absolutely. It was the first definitive retrospective, and also the first authorized retrospective, after a number of unauthorized bootlegs. It was a lot of fun to work on that release, and as I said, it was quite popular, and we sold a lot of it.
MV: Given the age and relative obscurity of the records you’re releasing – as well as the fact that, in many cases, this was music which was never released – what are the challenges? For example, didn’t that Schwartz-Fox Blues Crusade music come off of a cassette tape?
FM: The only copy we were able to find, I believe, was a cassette copy. It might’ve been an old DAT copy, but it was essentially a cassette. There are a few challenges in this. Number one is finding the people so that you can license the work, and then finding a master that’s of acceptable fidelity.
The second challenge is, of course, promoting the release, because some of these artists haven’t recorded or performed in a long time and so, as with any sort of new band — and at that point, it sort of becomes a new band — there needs to be some kind of educating, or some campaign undertaken to let people know about the record.
That’s always a challenge, because independent music is a very crowded field. There’s thousands upon thousands of releases every year, across all genres, so to sort of step above that fray takes a lot of work.
MV: Part of that work also has to be the remastering. These releases have all sounded fresh and crisp — there’s no wobble or tape hiss to be found at all. How did you choose the folks you worked with to restore the music?
FM: Well, thank you for that. We worked with Paul Hamann at Suma Recording in Cleveland, who does all our mastering. Suma is well-known in the Cleveland community, and is well-known around the world, because they have recorded a number of releases there, such as the James Gang and Pere Ubu, and so Paul understands that period and understands the recording techniques of that period. He has a way of just taking masters that might have some issues and crafting that into something that’s as close to perfect as we can get it.
Smog Veil Records just announced the next installment of Platters du Cuyahoga Series 2, which is the 1975 album, Terminal Drive, by Allen Ravenstine. Ravenstine was the co-founder of Pere Ubu, and played on many of their seminal songs, such as “30 Seconds Over Tokyo,” “The Modern Dance,” and “Dub Housing.” Terminal Drive has never been issued completely. The only music to have seen official release was a partial excerpt called “Home Life” on the 1996 Pere Ubu box set, Datapanik In The Year Zero. It’s due out on September 8, and can be pre-ordered on single-sided red vinyl from Smog Veil.