Yesterday I had the pleasure of sitting down with VHS Or Beta’s Craig Pfunder and Mark Palgy on a cold Manhattan afternoon. The boys have taken on a new venture by not only uprooting themselves from Kentucky to Brooklyn, but by starting their own label, Chromosome Records. If they didn’t seem busy enough the band also has a new musical project that is prepared to take the music world by storm.
GSL: You’re initially from Kentucky. How did you end up in Brooklyn of all places?
(Craig looks at Mark)
Craig: You’re the one who got here first man! I guess like anyone does, I mean unless you are already from New York. Mark and I have been working out of Kentucky for over a decade. We’re in our thirties. It makes more sense for us to be living somewhere like Louisville when we’re touring so much. It’s super cheap there, and super comfy and easy. Now that we’re not touring as much, we’re able to really appreciate living in somewhere like Brooklyn. Mark took the opportunity to get out. It’s the first place Mark ever lived besides Louisville. He was eager to get out and see what else is out there. Then I came shortly after.
Is there a big music scene in Louisville?
Craig: There actually is. I couldn’t say that you’ve heard of all the acts, or even a quarter of them, but Louisville has always been rich in music. The obvious bands are there but at the time I left there seemed to be a lot of bands playing out…excitement about those bands.
You were signed to Astralwerks for quite a while. What made you decide to leave the label?
Craig: Part of that was out of our hands. When Astralwerks parent company got brought out and restructured they changed the format of that label. We were let go of our contract and we decided that what better time than now to take advantage of the idea of bands like us, with little extra work can have ownership of our masters, control over what we want. So we saw it as a blessing to kind of jump into that because we used to release our own records. It’s exciting we’ve kind of come full circle with that aspect.
Did you consider going to another label instead of starting your own?
Craig: There are always labels I think we’ve felt a kinship towards. I think we really appreciate the asthetic of DFA and labels like that. Interestingly enough, DFA was tied to Astrelwerks. If the right thing came along, maybe. Right now it seems pretty cool doing our own thing though.
How different was it to self release an album 10, 12 years ago compared with today?
Mark: Much easier now. You can get online and do it.
Craig: We were going through, just the idea of having to figure it out, hard copy stuff back then was just insane. When you’re doing a PR push and you’re paying for that it’s like nowadays its way more email oriented. Back then you were really trying and putting money into print ads and point of sales stuff. Print magazines were way harder to get into back then so the campaign push was a lot harder. Now it’s like blogs! PR companies are pushing towards blogs, more independent companies. The price has come down considerably for a PR push but it’s just a completely different climate. It’s almost like 2012 happened in the music industry and now the North and South Pole are completely different. It’s a weird thing.
Are you accepting new artists on your label or is it solely going to be VHS or Beta?
Mark: I think we have interests in artists but not in the traditional label roles, like coddling them and giving record deals and advances. Dance labels, there’s no real genuine royalty like come and do a track on our label and then go do something with somebody else, you know? I think if something amazing comes along that we want to have on our label for a while, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, but for now it’s a dance label.
Craig: The process is going to be us trying to find talent that is as excited as we are about the process. Like Mark said, we’re not trying to take kids out to dinner and be like “Yea we got all this money for you and here’s some big advance. ” It would be more likely that we find artists that are eager to get their music out there and heard and we provide an avenue for them to do that. Low cost, with the option of them making money and hopefully are tastes will be credible enough to where the label will have credibility of it’s own. That’s another really exciting thing for us. Hopefully someday kids will be sending us their demo tapes, like ‘Hey!’…tapes? Yea right! Their demo Mp3 or link to their music and that would be the idea of talent searching for us. Right now we’re searching for the talent, but hopefully we can build it into something cool like Kitsune or something where they have such a depth of artists they work with but they’re not purely Kitsune artists. Most of them aren’t.
Was starting a label something you always wanted to do?
Mark: It’s something we’ve done before. I can’t say I’ve always wanted to do it but now that I see how it can be done and it can be lucrative it seems like the right time to do it.
You’ve come up with releasing one song a month online. How did you come up with the idea for that?
Craig: It’s not necessarily one every month. Maybe every other. It’s more of something where, I think the circumstance happened because we weren’t writing songs that were soundly completely like one another. We were in this process of feeling like our tastes were at different places. It was away for us to kind of step into the role of a producer instead of maybe a band. Like when Mark and I are getting in there in the studio and passing things back and fourth, it’s been more collaborative than it’s ever been, the process has been. I think whenever that change happens you kind of have to change other things too. This was a way for us to get out some of these songs that we worked on, but not have to wait for the entire record concept to be finished. Right now we can get the songs out, the second one is almost done and will be out soon. Then the third and fourth will be worked on and so fourth. It’s like periodicals in the literary world. You have things that are instant or quarterly and it’s like ideas are being heard more recently to their session, they’re not being heard a year after the session or writing of the song, and maybe the artist doesn’t feel connected to the song at the point that the audience finally gets to hear them. We could literally write a track tonight and decide maybe that could be the next single and you would hear it in a couple of months. It’s like I think for the artist to have that period of time to get that song out that’s kind of exciting.
Are you writing songs as you go along or are there any songs that have been written prior?
Craig: This is all pretty new stuff. It’s not much like backburner stuff where we were like “Well this didn’t make the last record, lets put this in.” It’s so new that I’m tracking vocals today after this interview!
After the whole thing is done, do you plan on releasing the songs on a physical cd?
Mark: We’re going to compile the release. I don’t know about a cd but we’re definitely going to compile probably put a some new songs that aren’t necessarily going to be the singles.
Craig: That’s back to the point of why we’re in Brooklyn. Part of it is I wanted to get up here and have the process be faster than the internet. Go to work on music so it can go faster.
How do you think this will change the way your fans listen to your music?
Craig: Well we haven’t completely abandoned the idea of a record, it’s not like we’re doing this forever. We’ve been a band for a really long time and it looked interesting. As far as the audiences are accepting it on Facebook, people are cool. Like yesterday I posted something like “I can’t wait to drop the next single,” and people genuinely wrote back like “We can’t either,” and “When is it going to drop?” There’s an excitement that builds around that kind of stuff. When you think of everything else in the world that is released in episodes, it’s kind of an interesting concept to how music could possibly be released in that fashion.
Are all the members of VHS Or Beta involved with the working of the labels, or is it just you two?
Craig: Well the original members are me, Mark, and our drummer Mark (Guidry). We work with two guys when we play live, but they live spread out. As far as the band, yes, the three of us are running the record label.
Your songs have been remixed by great artists like LA Riots. How did your songs become involved in those?
Mark: Remixes are such a great thing to have. Whether it works out great is how it’s approached.
Craig: It’s a medium that keeps energy going in the dance world. It reinvigorates everything it does. It allows artists to work with one another, it allows original works to be interpreted by other artists which is a pretty special thing. We’ve been fortunate enough to be a band that has attracted the attention of people like the Juan McLean and Babydaddy from Scissor Sisters. We’ve had a ton of great people work on our stuff. The idea also with our new single is that we’ll be including really awesome remixes.
How important do you think it is for a band to reinvent the way they write music and the way they release their albums?
Craig: What’s weird is that it used to be that the label would have to figure out how to market the record for you. Your job was to wake up, go to the piano or guitar, record a song, get together your bandmates flush that song out. Then the label would help you find a producer and then you record that song and they pay for it. Now it’s like yeah you’re right. We as musicians and as people who are putting our own music out we do have to think about it. A part of it that we weren’t really prepared for our whole life, but with the internet it has become easier. I don’t think anyone is staying on top of it and nothing is completely working, there’s no guy out there that has all of it figured out and making trillions and billions of dollars in music. The problem is that people don’t want to pay for music anymore and they don’t feel they shouldn’t have to so nothing has changed that. But if you find something then maybe you figured something out that no one else has. Our main job is to write music that we care about and keep it relevant to the times I guess. We’ll do our best to be a record label, but it’s our first job is to write music.
Do you worry about the new songs leaking ahead of time?
Craig: We’re pretty careful with who we send demos to. If there was a leak and there was an excitement about the leaking than that would be a healthy problem. I mean, don’t they say if your record leaks and no one cares about it, then you have a problem right? We don’t really send out our music before it’s time to many people. It’s a really tight group of people.
How has your music evolved over the years, even to the way you come together to collaborate?
Craig: Things have just changed. I mean we were literally four guys in a room making noise until something felt right and then we’d record it. That process we were so young. We were just laughing about this the other day with the mix engineer. We were talking about how when you’re young your egos are so charged and you think you know everything and everyone’s opinionated so much and it takes so long for everything. In a lot of ways now that we’re older, it’s a lot easier to accept other people’s ideas and to find merit in their ideas. I think the biggest difference is on the new music we’re writing from different perspectives. Like Mark and I are writing more from a synthesizer perspective more than a guitar perspective. Pretty much are previous efforts revolved around some sort of guitar part. That’s not going to last forever but right now it’s really exciting for us. Guitar is our first instrument. That’s the main thing, samples. We used to feel like we had to play every single note for it to be authentic and now we’re excited about pushing play, enjoying what you’re hearing.
What advice would you give to upcoming bands about signing or not signing to a label?
Craig: Don’t do it.
Mark: Don’t do it!
Craig: Unless you can get an exuberant amount of money up front and they retain ownership of your masters and they don’t touch your publishing or merch….
Mark: That will never happen.
Craig: I don’t think the era of the label is dead I just think it would have to be pretty darn impressive for me to sign another contract. If anything get a manager and a lawyer you really trust. The chemistry of what’s going on right now, I can’t even say I’ve seen a record deal but I can’t imagine it’s pretty. I can’t imagine them being like we really want to work with you and sign this 42 page contract. You owe them your first born. Record labels are just kind of banks in a weird way. People have figured it out that they can get by without them.