Label of Love: Poison City Records

poison city

As the Label of Love series continues to take over the Shadow Electric Bandroom, chats with the brilliant Poison City Records, who comprised the most recent segment of the celebration:

First of all, would you like to introduce your label?

Poison City is an independent record label, distribution and skateboard/ record store based in Melbourne. Our current label family includes The Smith Street Band, Batpiss, Clowns, Deep Heat, Screamfeeder, The Bennies, Pale Heads, The Meanies, Wil Wagner, Mere Women, Luca Brasi, Flour, Harmony, Jen Buxton, Apart From This, Paper Arms, Hoodlum Shouts, Freak Wave, Lincoln Le Fevre, The Gifthorse, Fear Like Us, Postblue and Infinite Void – hope I haven’t missed anyone!

How did you get started out with this adventure? Why did you decide to start an independent record label?

As a nerdy 13 year old I was given a mixtape of Metallica/ Black Flag/ Public Enemy by the only true metal-head at my high school and from that day onwards I’ve been obsessed with underground/ DIY music. Later on in my teenage years I discovered labels like Dischord, Au Go Go, SST and No Idea and was totally inspired that they were essentially run by 1-2 people with a DIY attitude. From then I’ve always had the fanciful idea that I could do something like that too one day – call it blind ambition! I started Poison City as a weekend hobby back in the early 00’s, initially just to release some music for a couple of bands I was playing in at the time. Eventually I released music for a few friend’s bands and then started doing a small distro as well – importing overseas labels like No Idea and Taang for Australian stores. Around 2007 I threw in my regular job and decided to try doing Poison City as a full time gig by also opening up a skateboard & record retail store in Fitzroy. I half expected it to last a few years and was prepared to go back to a ‘regular job’ if it didn’t work out……but thankfully, here we are!

Why does your label bear this name, is there a tale behind the choice?

It was the old trick of making 2 lists of words that I liked and trying different combinations until something jumped out at me. I used to think about whether it was a good name or not – but 10 years down the track it’s stuck and I think it works okay.

What was the first creation that your label released?

It was an album by Fast Times (a fun punk-hardcore kinda band that I did with some mates many moons ago).

Is there a project you’re involved in at the moment that particularly excites you?

Hard to nominate one in particular – we have so much stuff going on at the moment – I still get excited by it all! We’ve just released the Pale Heads album (somewhat of an all-star configuration of the Melbourne underground rock scene). The new Batpiss album totally rules and comes out this week. The Smith Street Band continue to do great things in all parts of the world – heading back to Europe AGAIN very soon and playing Reading/ Leeds Festival which blows my mind. Clowns, Luca Brasi and The Bennies are both touring a lot and both have more overseas plans for later in the year. We’ve starting working with Flour who happen to be one of my favourite local bands in recent times. Oh, and there’s a new Deep Heat record on the way which we’re super excited about – Sarah, Aaron and I are all super fans of DH!

What are you looking for, or what grabs you, when you decide to work alongside/support an artist/band?

It still comes back to good, interesting song writing for me. The music has to grab me in a way that tells me a band or artist has something unique to offer. Once I see a band or hear something from them that jumps out at me, my next train of thought is always about the people in the band; it’s critical for me to work with friendly, genuinely creative and motivated people. Much of the growth of Poison City has simply been due to the drive, spirit and helpful nature of the musician’s we’re lucky enough to work alongside everyday.

What’s your preferred method of release (CD, vinyl, cassette, digital, zine, other) and why?

I think the Vinyl w/ Digital download is the perfect format. It gives you that option to play/ own/ collect the ‘authentic’ format of the album – with the convenience of having the tracks digitally for the occasions where you don’t have access to a record player.

Could you tell us about some of the more challenging or unexpected aspects of starting and running a label, from your experience?

It’s probably the same as any other small business – paperwork, bills and rent! Just keeping up with everything on a daily basis is a challenge – in any given day I’ll be jumping between working in the store, managing our label + distribution, planning tours or our Weekender Fest, designing artwork, dealing with hundreds of emails or liaising with the pressing plants we use in Europe and the US. But still, wouldn’t have it any other way! I love my job and feel very lucky to be doing this full time.

What is it that you love/enjoy the most about managing your own independent label?

Mostly the freedom you get from working for yourself. It’s not always smooth sailing, but at least your in charge of your own creative visions and goals. Meeting new people and making friends in all corners of the world from our connections to music and bands has been really cool. Also, getting to hear great demos, recordings and final masters before anyone else is a nice little perk! I still get so excited taking home a test pressing for the first time.

Is there any advice that you’d give to somebody hoping to go down a similar path?

Don’t have any sort of financial expectations! Keep it as a hobby for as long as possible – it’s a fickle world we operate in! Work with genuinely nice, creative and motivated people. Give back to the music community that supports you by helping local bands, putting on shows and events. Be positive!

Who played at your upcoming ‘Label of Love’ gig and what can you tell us about them?

We were stoked to bring together two icons from Australian underground-rock, local legends The Meanies and Brisbane indie-rock sweethearts Screamfeeder – who haven’t shared a bill together for probably ten years or more. Both bands are still active and have new music on the way late 2016. We paired them up with two of our newer dysfunctional family members – Pale Heads and Flour.

Wanna keep in the loop with this awesome record label? They’ve got a bunch of exciting releases and tours coming up, including the ace Weekender festival, which you can follow on their Facebook and website.

There are still a few Label of Love gigs to go yet folk! Tickets to all of the below are on sale now. Stay tuned for more independent goodness!

Saturday 18th July – HopeStreet Records
Sunday 19th July – Butters Sessions
Saturday 25th July – Lost and Lonesome Recording Co
Saturday 1st August – Bedroom Suck Records

Chloe Mayne


Interview by Chloe Mayne.