In late 2006, I specifically remember telling my girlfriend (now wife) that I wanted to start a vinyl-only label while we were driving into San Francisco one night on the way to her apartment. As is normally the case, she thought I was crazy but was eventually (quite) supportive.
The genesis for starting Gold Robot can essentially be distilled down to Graham Hill (aka Roman Ruins). We were living in this old warehouse alongside the train tracks in Berkeley; it had been chopped up into a number of apartments on the top floor while the bottom floors were art studios. Graham convinced our landlord to let him build a practice space and recording studio in one of those spaces, which happened to be 10 feet from my bed. Over the course of a number of months, I would listen to him create his solo material and hold band practices with The Parish while I was studying. I absolutely fell in love with his solo material and really wanted to have it on vinyl, so I started the label to release those recordings. So, in early 2007, Gold Robot was launched with a concert and art show at Space Gallery in San Francisco to coincide with the release of the Releasing Me / Your House 7” by Roman Ruins. The collaboration with Roman Ruins has since spawned another 7” (titled PASTOR/AL, which was the result of an art/music collaboration between the two of us) and his debut LP Homebuilding.
The label is currently run out of my house in Oakland, which luckily has a nice basement space. I handle everything myself – packing up mail orders, managing the website, or barely hacking it in the PR game. My wife is a brilliant pair of second ears on a test pressing, and my two kids tolerate the obsession (though they’re young and may grow to love it). The name Gold Robot basically combines two things that interest me: the concept of a naturally occurring element being valuable and the fact that robots are always “the future”.
Quite different than most people who start labels, I had zero experience in the music business so there was a very steep learning curve in the beginning. I mostly put out music made by my friends and by bands that I saw live and approached after their show (which is how Panther 7”, the second GRR release, came to be). Probably the biggest break came in 2008 with the release of the Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy 7”. I had written Will a letter which included some poems by my cousin John Harmon, who is just amazingly talented. Some 6 months later, I got an email from Will that included him playing guitar and singing two of the poems. I even got to provide the artwork for the front cover of the record. That release really helped validate the label to the general public, and we’ve been chugging away ever since. There are 35 physical releases to-date. We also have some digital-only releases that are often back-catalog releases by our artists or fun remix projects.
Over the years, I think we have gotten pretty good at what we do mostly by trial and error. Like a lot of other small labels, Gold Robot solely exists to support the artists and hopefully produce some little artifact that gets cherished. Slowly, we’ve gotten bigger and the momentum has allowed us to take more chances. It’s hard to constantly be on the precipice of disaster (an empty bank account), but it’s also exhilarating. The economics of the music business is super interesting, and it has changed rapidly over the years. We’re still trying to find the right recipe, as are most labels (at least according to my friends in the business).
Most of the records on Gold Robot are collaborations between the artists and myself. While I try and give them each as long of a leash as possible in terms of the sound and visual aspects of the album, it’s nice to have some experience they can lean on. In the end, the record is their baby and I’m just helping push it along. It’s eventually my goal to my able to contribute more (commissioned videos, more studio time, and so on) to the project outside of production and supervision.
The most rewarding thing, by far, of running Gold Robot is getting to work with a ton of talented people – from the musicians to the artists who create the artwork for the records. When possible, I try and obtain the original art for our releases. Just to name a few, I own the painting by Kerri Lee Johnson which was on the first Roman Ruins 7”, the collage by Ian Umlauf who designed the 7” for The Parish, and the drawing by Casey Jex Smith which was on the Meanest Man Contest 7”.
I think I have mostly been lucky to work with really talented, supportive, and engaged musicians – whether they are old friends or new ones like Ted Feighan (aka Monster Rally). Apart from working with Ted to release Monster Rally’s music, the whole relationship has become a rewarding collaboration. Ned Oldham, who I was introduced to through a mutual friend, is just a fantastic individual. The guys in Meanest Man Contest (Eric Steuer and Noah Blumberg) have become good friends. I’ve been working with Conveyor lately, and those are some of the most talented and down-to-earth guys around. Todd Webb (aka Seamonster) is the nicest dude (and a talented cartoonist). Dim Peaks and Young Hunting, two bands that recently released debut albums on the label, have been inspiring to work with over the last year. Dan Casey (Yalls) conveniently lives a couple miles from my house, and his music is beyond super. The guys behind Primary Structures, Lady Genius, and Volunteer Pioneer are all top notch people.
2013 has had some breakthrough moments including licensing representation and finally getting proper physical distribution, which just gives our artists more opportunities to get heard. We also participated in SXSW for the first time, working with our friends at Father/Daughter Records and Small Plates Records to put on a (successful and fun) showcase. Our last record of the year will be released on December 10, it’s a new Conveyor 7” and the first in a super-limited/minimalist series titled GOLD.
We have some fun stuff lined up for 2014 including our second showcase at SXSW and some other weird projects that are still in the early planning stages. Ted Feighan and I are also hatching an esoteric project that I think might see the light of day. There’s also some other secret projects, which are really weird and interesting, that I hope come to fruition. The first releases of the new year will most likely be a Yalls full-length LP and a new 12” by Roman Ruins (which brings us full circle).