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10.08.08

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Phaedra

DON'T THINK ABOUT BREASTS: Even though this band's name is Breasts, they record for Static Cult label.

Whateverpalooza

Tape smells good to San Jose's low-tech StatIc Cult Label

By Jessica Fromm


ENTERING the Static Cult Label's top-secret Willow Glen recording studio is like walking into every basement that you got stoned in in high school. Filthy oriental rugs cover the linoleum floor of the balmy duel practice space and studio. Magazine cutouts of Iggy Pop and Stooges, the Ramones and Jimi Hendrix are arranged in a collage above the doorway. Orange and red mood lights covered by dusty '70s lampshades hang from the ceiling, setting a groovy atmosphere. As a variety of eclectic characters mill in and out, the space smells noticeably like dust, sweat and warm beer.

But when you see the equipment, you realize you're in a musician's analog toy room. Giant two and four reel tape machines from the '60s and '70s line the far wall of the recording area. Retro microphones, headphones, instruments and a dozen massive speakers and amps abound. In the next room sit a pair of enormous vintage recording devices that look like they'd be more at home on the deck of the original Enterprise: illuminated dials, blinking lights, switches and buttons. This is the sort of equipment The White Album was recorded on.

"It would be a totally state of the art recording facility—if it was 1978," says Static Cult Label co-owner Clay Parton. "It seems like everyone is a producer or something, everyone has Garage Band. It's the age of the amateur," he says. "But, tape smells good."

Suspended precariously low over the setup is a contraption that looks like a 4-foot-wide upside-down glass salad bowl. Parton says it's a weird speaker that came from Disneyland. The novelty is that "you're not supposed to hear the music unless you're standing directly below it." Parton then recalls one of the four-reeler tape machines belonged to KQED back in the day. He traded some guy for it, but can't recall what for.

Masses of tangled black and red wires snake from the recording area into a small mixing room. This is where Parton mans the helm. Perhaps inspirationally, a gorgeously tawdry painting of a well-endowed naked lady hangs on the wall. Sitting on a stool in front of the mixing console holding a lukewarm can of Modelo to his chest, Parton is in his element.

In a world obsessed with high tech, San Jose's Static Cult Label is decidedly and purposefully low tech. Label owners Clay Parton and Troy Kooper have been throwing thousands of dollars into their small independent record label, committed to keeping an old-school musical philosophy in the music they produce and press.

But the Static Cult Label isn't trying to be a successful record company in the traditional sense. They approach music as a passion and an art, not a business venture.

"We're just about the music. We're not about packaged tours, or whateverpalooza. I think it's just tacky. I just don't understand people who can watch American Idol. For me, I can't even understand it at all," says Parton. "Music is free, and it should be free at this point."

Most indie musicians are content to compose and record via GarageBand, and the only way to make a buck as a record label is in touring and licensing group's music. The Static Cult Label takes a different approach: most of the bands that they release don't play shows, don't tour, and some aren't even together anymore.

"Bands are impossible to please. You get like a real band and they always want to be bigger ... they want to have more money, they want to have more fans," says Parton.

Wheeling, dealing, blazing self-promoters the Static Cult Label is not. Parton is adamant that the little money made by the label goes right back into the hands of the musicians they represent. They pride themselves on being "a tiny record label with no distribution, no press attention, no money and no love for the man."

"With the label, it's kind of like a smaller family of people who are making music to always be creating something. They're not seeking only popularity and stuff like that, they're doing it just for the art," says Parton.

Static Cult Label's artists cover a wide sonic range, from dirty punk to space drone to Chicago's Fotosputnik, described by Parton as neon kids who play "German sounding driving music." Still, the bands all manage to sound at home in the analog environment that is the backbone of Parton and Kooper's musical philosophy.

Parton releases some of his own work on the label. His moody solo project is named Eiafuawn, and Breasts is his spacey psych band, supplemented by a collective of local musicians that includes Kooper.

Ironically, even in the Static Cult Label's purist analog world, two computer monitors rigged for recording and playback are perched on top of Parton's mixing board.

"For a long time I didn't like the whole computer world for the recording. I didn't think that computers and recording should go together at all," says Parton.

Costs made him change his mind. The art of retro recording is not for those worried about pinching pennies or dealing with temperamental equipment.

"I can record a thousand hours of anything and it doesn't cost a cent [on the computer]. But tape is, like, 200 bucks for 30 minutes," says Parton.

"The label will always loose money, so it's sort of not a business model to anybody ... but it's still successful, when everyone is satisfied with a release."

"I can record a thousand hours of anything and it doesn't cost a cent [on the computer]. But tape is, like, 200 bucks for 30 minutes," says Parton.

"The label will always loose money, so it's sort of not a business model to anybody ... but it's still successful, when everyone is satisfied with a release."


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