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Of Dischord Records

By Tyler Vile


If there had to be just one band that made me believe in the D.I.Y. ethic, it would be Minor Threat. Before that rock music seemed like this world where only mythical beings from New York, California, and England could make anything worth listening to. The Clash, The Ramones, and even Operation Ivy had this sort of mystique to them. I thought: "Wow, these were guys an hour and a half away from where I live doing this twenty something years ago. It's way easier for me now, I could do this if I really wanted." I never subscribed to Straight Edge ideas, but at thirteen forming a band was easy because the Teen Idles did it. I had the pleasure of talking to Dischord records co-owner about his own label Adult Swim, his band Fast Piece of Furniture, music in general, and more. Hope you enjoy! 


Hey Jeff, thanks for agreeing to do this interview. Please tell us a bit about yourself and your life now in Ohio. Who or what persuaded you to move from DC? 

Jeff Nelson: Well, I guess there are two things I've been involved with that your readers may have heard of. I played drums in the band Minor Threat in the early '80s, I'm co-owner of Dischord Records with my friend Ian MacKaye, and I am the owner of Adult Swim Records and Pedestrian Press. I've been a graphic designer for years, and also love doing carpentry. I collect way too many things, including Jeep Wagoneers. My obsession with Wagoneers and old Jeep stuff and a long-time love of Victorian architecture led me to move to Toledo, Ohio, five years ago (Toledo is home of Jeep, and there are a lot of nice, cheap Victorian houses here).
I have a great many friends and connections in DC, and obviously Dischord Records is still there, but I guess I really felt the need to try something new. 

Punk Globe: I read on your label's site that you hadn't drummed in twelve years before starting your band
Fast Piece of Furniture. Why did you take such a long hiatus?

Jeff Nelson: When I moved to Toledo, I hadn't played my drums in twelve years. I played in lots of bands from the late '70s to the early '90s, and I guess I tired of the effort involved (especially for the drummer, with so much equipment to lug around) and the slim chances of one's band becoming popular. Touring can be fun if you're getting excited crowds of people, but it's the same amount of work and not nearly as much fun when your band is unknown, and there are four or five people in the audience. 

Over the years I turned down many requests to play drums with friends' bands, and was just fine with being "retired." Upon purchasing my house in Toledo, however, the second person I met in town would change all that. His name was Tony Lowe, and he gave me a demo CD of his band, The Ugly Lovemakers. We get a lot of Demos sent to Dischord, and yet I was really impressed with this one. I hated the band name, but could not stop listening to the four songs on the demo. I liked Tony's singing and guitar playing so much that I came out of retirement, and ended up joining Tony's band. We basically became best friends before he moved to California for some job training. We worked very well together musically, and had similar ideas of how we wanted our band to be presented (such as name, image, etc.). We put out a CD in May 2007, a split label release between Dischord and Adult Swim, and coming in the Summer or Fall of 2009 we'll be doing a deluxe vinyl version of our record with DC Jam Records. 

Punk Globe: How would you describe your current band's sound? 

Jeff Nelson: Well, I think it's become increasingly hard to describe bands' sounds, as there are more genres and sub-genres every year. Fast Piece of Furniture has a wide range of songs. I'd say that one can hear echoes of AC/DC, John Mellencamp, Tom Verlaine and Television, John Lennon, The Kinks, etc. Certainly rock-based, but all over the place. 

Punk Globe: Do you plan to tour with Fast Piece of Furniture? 

Jeff Nelson: With Tony living in California right now, that's pretty incredibly unlikely. 

Punk Globe: What do you think about music now and all of genre crossing that bands are doing especially in the underground music scenes? Do you think there will ever come a day when music will stop trying to define itself?

Jeff Nelson: Who knows. I think there will likely always be a tendency among people, especially younger people, to feel more comfortable with whichever genres are socially acceptable within their circle of friends. I suppose the tendency to describe and compare and categorize will never go away, although as I said, for me it becomes more and more exhausting and pointless. 


Do you get recognized as "the drummer from Minor Threat" at gigs? 

Jeff Nelson:
Not really.
Ian gets recognized
a lot more than I do. 

Punk Globe:How did Adult Swim come to be? 

Jeff Nelson: I formed Adult Swim in 1989 (twelve years before Cartoon Network's show of the same name), to put out music that I thought was great but that my partner Ian didn't think was quite suitable for Dischord. One-off studio projects, bands from out-of-town (Dischord only puts out DC-area bands), or music that wasn't "serious" enough, or within certain musical parameters. 

Punk Globe: Is Adult Swim Records sort of a pet project for you as there is only your band and one other on the label? 

Jeff Nelson: I discovered years ago how hard it is for a band to get noticed, or for a label to try to raise a band's profile successfully. There are SO many bands out there, and SO many labels, and SO many music magazines one could advertise in, and now there is SO much music out there on the Internet, that I found that it took far deeper pockets than I have to really push a band successfully. I put out stuff I really liked, music that I really thought ought to be heard, but never had enough money or energy to do things to the level I would liked to have done them to. The big old house I bought also sucks up a lot of money, and the novelty of having a side-label sort of wore off years ago. Adult Swim Records has put out very few records in the last five years, and I have no idea if I'll do more or not. (Please, don't send me any demos! I don't have any money to put out anything right now even if I loved it) 

Punk Globe: Is it difficult to stay afloat as an independent record label owner in this economy? 

Jeff Nelson: There is SO much competition out there, not just in this country but around the World, that I'd say the chances of someone making a living by running a record label has gone from slim to none. There are always exceptions, of course, and I know that there are all sorts of opportunities out there (many of them Internet-related) that I am blissfully unaware of, but with the change of preferred format (from vinyl/CD to digital downloads) and the attendant bankruptcy of many distributors, I think it is harder than ever to run a record label. The loss of so many distributors, and the closing of so many Mom and Pop record stores has really made selling physical records a very difficult proposition. 

Punk Globe: Are you still working with Dischord? 

Jeff Nelson: Yup, I?m still co-owner, and still do a variety of tasks. Some more interesting than others. Certain things we decided were too hard to do long-distance, but there's all sorts of stuff that one can do no matter where you live. 

Punk Globe: The first time I heard Minor Threat, it was on a CD copy of "Complete Discography" that my sister's friend burned for me. So I'd like to know, what's your stance on file sharing and burning CDs? 

Jeff Nelson: I'm of two minds on the sharing of music via file sharing and burned CDs. In some respects I think that it's really hurting bands and record labels, of all sizes. The move away from physical records/CDs has really changed how bands make their money. I can see both sides of the issue: on one hand, I do think that downloading music without paying for it or burning copies of CDs for friends is piracy; and theft, and it results in a lot less revenue for the artists whose music is being enjoyed. On the other hand, recorded music is only about 100 years old, and musicians alive now are extremely lucky to be enjoying residual payments on music they wrote or played. Free sharing of music is also extremely important in the spreading of ideas. I don't really think there is much that can be done about the whole thing, now that so many people (especially younger ones) are now used to getting music for free. 


Punk Globe:
When people like Ian Mackaye and Henry Rollins tell the Teen Idles/
beginning of Dischord story, it always sounds like you guys, as a bunch of kids around my age, started a scene out of nothing. Is that entirely true? What about Bad Brains, was there an audience for them before you started going to shows? 

Jeff Nelson: DC had a rock scene, and a bluegrass scene, and a folk scene, and a small New Wave/Punk scene when we first got into punk music. The
Bad Brains were a tiny bit older, and along with a couple other bands, they started playing New Wave and Punk stuff perhaps one or one-and-a-half years before we did. I would say we were definitely influenced by some of the bands around town, but more so by early New Wave/Punk records we bought or heard on the one good college radio station. We certainly looked up to the
Bad Brains, and they were definitely responsible in large part for our band at the time (The Teen Idles) speeding up all our songs. 

Punk Globe: I'll run into an old school punk from the other side of the Beltway at a Baltimore show every now and then. They'll say "Ian was a jerk to my friend," or "Guy from Fugazi's a real quiet type." What's a story some random punk might have about you? 

Jeff Nelson: I don't know. I think you'd have to find some random punk and ask him! 

Punk Globe: Did you ever think that your music would mean so much to a bunch of kids twenty odd years later? 

Jeff Nelson: No. It's very flattering and weird, that music (primarily Minor Threat) we made years ago is still considered relevant and of interest to people now.
I do think we were a good band, but there was no shortage of other bands that worked just as hard,
so I feel very fortunate to be among the early punk/hardcore bands that somehow percolated up to the top of "old school" bands people still harken back to. 

Punk Globe: Are there any of your bands that you wish had more of an audience like Three or Skewbald? 

Jeff Nelson: I think Three (the band I was in from 1986-1988, with three members of Gray Matter) could have been a really good band if we hadn't broken up. I'm not terribly happy with our LP, as I think many of the songs are played too fast (primarily my fault) and the production is rather shrill. I like the demos of unfinished songs that we tacked onto the CD version. My next band, The High-Back Chairs, was a very pop-oriented band, very different from most of the other bands I?d been in. I believed pretty strongly in
the band back then, but when I listen to most of it
now I find it a bit busy and sappy at points. 

Punk Globe: The Egg Hunt single is a really interesting piece, how did you guys wind up in the UK and were there intentions of turning Egg Hunt into a performing band? 

Jeff Nelson: Ian and I went over to London in 1986 for a business meeting with our friend John Loder, who ran Southern Studios. We'd been working with him for three years at that point, and would continue to work with him until his untimely death a couple years ago. We all thought it'd be fun to record some stuff while over there, we liked the results so much that we decided to put them out as a 7." We'd played one of the songs ("Me and You") together in the basement several times, and the other song ("We All Fall Down") was brand new. We later made an attempt to see if we could turn
Egg Hunt into an actual band, and played once or twice with Geoff Turner and Steve Niles from Gray Matter, who had broken up recently. It didn't really work out, so Egg Hunt ended up being the last joint musical project between Ian and myself. I really liked playing with Geoff and Steve and we really got along well, though, so we ended up forming a band, eventually named Three. 


Punk Globe:
My best friend bought me the new pressing of First Two 7"s on a 12" not too long ago. Dischord and other labels have been re-
releasing albums on vinyl, do you think that the resurgence of vinyl LPs is a fad, or here to stay?

Jeff Nelson: I guess I tend to think that vinyl will be around as long as I'm alive, but I think it will always be a niche market. It's just too much work, getting up to flip over a record, compared to CDs or an iPod full of songs. 

Punk Globe: Do you think that rebellion is something one can mature out of, or do you and your friends maintain a "punk" attitude? 

Jeff Nelson: I would say that much of the rebellion I felt and was part of was age-related, and was something I grew out of (no longer desiring attention garnered through aggression, for instance). But I am still interested in counter-cultural stuff, and think that my upbringing (liberal parents, early life spent abroad) combined with my years in the punk community continues to have a good effect on me, in not always accepting things at face value and not always conforming to the majority of society. 

Punk Globe: If you were a teenager today and had to do The Teen Idles, Dischord, and Minor Threat all over again from the bottom up, would you? 

Jeff Nelson: Absolutely! Although it'd be quite a different experience to do it all now, as the music world, the music business, the cultural scene, and methods of communication have changed radically in the last twenty-eight years. Context is everything. 

Punk Globe: Jeff thank you so much for doing this interview and for showing me and other kids throughout the years that teenagers can make an impact on music without being rock gods. On behalf of Punk Globe we wish you well. Any final comments? 

Jeff Nelson: Thanks for wanting to interview me. I guess I'd just say if you want to play music, or be part of the creative arts, or if you want to help promote others' work that you think is great, then just start doing it! There's no better way to learn than by doing.