Sometimes it can be easy to feel like the corporate giants are repeatedly flooding the market with expensive repackages of classic albums, hugely expensive box sets and the like. Truth is, while we all have our “classic albums”, music fans still need something completely new to discover and thankfully, we now live in a world where there’s more music than ever before at our disposal. So much, in fact, that much of it is in danger of being overlooked. There are literally thousands of underground bands and hundreds of DIY labels and you often have to put in some hard yards to find them, but we live in very exciting musical times. On the eve of the their first anniversary, a few faces from King Pizza Records – one of the US’s most no-nonsense DIY labels –met with Real Gone to give us the skinny…and, man, they had an impressive amount of enthusiasm!
RG: For the benefit of the world at large, introduce yourselves!
GH: “I’m Greg Hanson, founder of King Pizza Records and drummer of The Mad Doctors. I adore everyone here and anyone who has helped create this awesome, special monster. I love rock n roll, B-movies, weirdo stuff, and kickin’ around Brooklyn.”
PW: “I’m Pete Wilderotter from Greasy Hearts and I dig rock ‘n’ roll because nothing else makes much sense to me!”
TB: “I’m Tyler Bower, one part of two in ¡Vamanos!… Music is my bible and I’m stoked to be making music and to be affiliated with King Pizza. I’m being interviewed?”
RG: Yes. Yes, you are.
TB: “This is crazy!”
BW: “I’m Bettina Warshaw, drummer in the Rizzos and the “how can I help” girl at King Pizza. I’m passionate about the whole scene, sandwiches and Andrew WK. No, really…if anyone has a hook-up to Andrew WK, my birthday is coming up!”
RG: Greg… Take us back to the beginning. Had you always wanted your own label?
GH: No…it was never my intention. It started from necessity. The more I thought about it and talked to people and the more things started to fall into place, the more fun it became. I always sort of viewed the label side of things as kind of sterile, but the more it happened, the more I realized I could just do what I want…and have fun with it. I love it!”
RG: When was King Pizza launched?
GH: We “officially” started up when I made the Facebook page in December 2013. I had been kicking around the idea because my band, The Mad Doctors, were in the midst of mixing our record Snake Oil Superscience and, after sending out to fifty or so labels, hadn’t gotten much past “We like the stuff but can’t put it out” kind of responses. I was working a good job that paid well, so I figured I’d just start my own label to put out our record. …And if I was going to do that, I might as well put out my friends’ stuff that I think is rad but not getting a lot of attention. I looked at my buddy Travis’ label Doctor Gone Records and thought how cool it was that they took a chance on [The Mad Doctors], releasing our first tape, and how cool it would be if I could do that for other people. So I picked a name, made a Facebook page, ’cuz I knew that’d be a good impetus to get shit rolling, and started talking to bands.”
BW: “I saw Greg post that he had started a label and remember being like “I have to help him with this.” We’d gone to the same college but didn’t know each other until I started going to The Mad Doctors’ shows through mutual friends. Once the label started, I pestered him until he let me help! Well, really, I saw where my skills aligned with the label’s social media needs and from there, we’ve worked out a very “here’s what I think you need, how can I help?” sort of dynamic… and it’s a ton of fun.”
RG: With the rise in popularity of vinyl, why did King Pizza go with cassettes as a primary format?
GH: “Because they’re so cheap! You can get a bunch of ’em for really cheap, and despite what some people think, they sound good and they’re way more unique than a CD. Vinyl is amazing and I want to do more, but it’s just so super cost- and time-prohibitive. I’m working with a lot of new bands -bands that have been playing for 2 years or less – and a lot of people want is a physical copy to sell at shows and have as a keepsake. The immediacy of getting cassettes is important and the novelty of a kickass tape collection is great. There’s tons of great music coming out on tape right now. We’re preceded by the Burger [Records] Revolution, which has almost single-handedly brought cassettes back into rock n roll.”
RG: Is there a sense of strong competition or friendly rivalry between you and the other cassette labels at all?
GH: “No. On the contrary, I feel an intrinsic bond with the other DIY labels. Since starting KP, I have had a lot of people ask me if I have any advice for someone trying to start doing the same thing and that’s great. My feeling is that there is too much sick music out there and not enough labels to release it all, especially because punk rock, garage and psych artists are often really prolific. I love making friends with other micro labels because that only helps everyone. A network, a community…people sharing ideas is always great. No one is stealing the cassette sales from anyone else…that’s not really how it works! [laughs]”.
RG: The first King Pizza release was an EP by Greasy Hearts…Was that always the plan?
GH: “Yeah, kinda…Greasy Hearts is like a supergroup of sorts. Pete and Patrick have been in a bunch of bands together over the years. Their last band The Bad Cousins was cool but only played a few shows -one of which The Mad Doctors played – before things sort of fizzled out for them. Joey is in The Jeanies, which started as The Enthusiasts and they’ve been playing around Brooklyn for years. Gabe started Robot Death Kites and has been in tons of bands in the New Jersey and Brooklyn scenes, so when Pete and Joey told me they had started a band by happenstance, I was really excited. They had recorded their first EP before they even played a show and when they started, they came out swinging! They have been a real force, playing a bunch, writing constantly, with a really fun and upbeat show by young but super seasoned musicians. They’ll take over the world and it’ll be rockin’!”
PW: “[laughs] He’s only sayin’ that because if we get to take over the world, he gets to join in too!”
GH: “You’re out of your mind, Pete! The Greasy Hearts is an amazing band…and we’ll build each other up to the point where we’re both world tyrants locked in battle! [laughs]”
PW:”Seriously, though, we’re always aiming to get bigger. Considering none of us have toured the world or opened for The Rolling Stones I’d say that is enough motivation to keep growing.”
GH:”Things really started happening for KP in March or April around the Greasy Hearts release, once we had a good little crew of bands. People were recording and we started putting on shows and stuff.”
RG: Shows and stuff…so as well as focusing on DIY recordings, people will have plenty of opportunities to see King Pizza bands live?
GH: “For sure! KP bands, generally speaking, play pretty often. The label often puts together around four shows a month but there’s a KP band playing a show somewhere almost every day. The KP shows are usually two or more bands plus maybe some friends from out of town.”
TB: “Overall, our gigs are going great. Some have bigger turnouts than others, but ¡Vamanos! give it our all and have fun regardless.”
GH: “Those dudes will play to the back of the room even if I’m the only one there. They don’t give a shit…and it’s great! I think that’s how we all are, ’cuz we’re all playing high energy rock n roll. There’s no sleeping on stage for these bands – it just doesn’t work. And ¡Vamanos!, in particular, is amazing at having a blast if there are two or fifty two people in the room.”
RG: So, the ¡Vamanos! live shows always go well from a band point of view?
TB: “Yeah…but you know, it’s funny, whether I’m playing or not, I’m always going to see live music, a ton of which have KP bands on the bills. So it’s kind of hard to delineate which shows I was physically playing at or not! I just support live music and it feels like I’m a part of it whether I’m up on stage or in the crowd. I guess that’s the whole idea of KP right there.”
GH: “Live shows are always cool. Back in June we held “Pizzafest”, a crazy 3-day showcase of the KP bands and some of our out-of-town friends. It was a triple tape release weekend and we put out our first three releases – Greasy Hearts, Otto Mann and ¡Vamanos! -and we had more than twenty insano bands, with tons of pizza ‘n’ partying at our homestead Don Pedro and on Megan [of The Rizzos]’s roof!”
RG: With that kind of closeness, it seems more like a community thing than a record label.
GH: Absolutely! When I started, the idea wasn’t to start a traditional label, I wanted to create something bigger. I wanted to form a scene where I felt like there was one lacking, y’know? It’s easy to feel like you’re competing with other bands and artists and I wanted to feel like there was a family, where people have your back, no matter what.”
TB: “Community spirit is where King Pizza’s strength is. I met a good amount of the KP family before the label was actually a thing, and knew a few even before ¡Vamanos! were active. Right around the time I met Greg – which had included sharing a few bills with him, two of which he’d booked – he was already mulling on the idea of starting a label. No more than a month after our first meeting, he gave us the rundown of what KP was all about, and we joined. The thing is, being a band in NYC, it’s easy to feel isolated considering the high volume of bands…possible to feel that all your hard work is going nowhere. Being part of a community makes us feel grounded and part of something larger.”
PW: “.I used to go to shows and not know anyone. Now I go and know half the audience. That is all Greg’s doing. He created not only a label but a community, and that matters…especially in Brooklyn.”
BW: “It’s so much fun to go to a show, or go to Don Pedro – where King Pizza hosts a bunch of shows- and know that you’ll bump into someone you know and want to spend time with. It’s like Greg built his own Cheers.”
PW: “It’s great…the spirit behind it means every time we play a show at least a handful of people come out and see us based on King Pizza affiliation alone. Support like that allows you to loosen up before playing, knowing you have people there that are gonna go nuts for you. It really gives a feeling of never playing away games.”
TB: “…It’s also taught me to give bands outside of King Pizza full attention and respect when sharing or seeing them on a bill.”
BW: “I started playing music again fairly recently and was lucky to come into the scene that Greg built, which is an amazing, collaborative group of friends and artists. When we started The Rizzos, we drew from the KP family to find the right line-up, and then automatically had a ton of support with the new project. It’s incredible!”
GH: “Brooklyn has tons of amazing bands each circling their own orbit, so to speak. They’re doing something cool, very independently. They see bands at the shows they play with ’em and they lead individual lives. Well, I wanted more than that! I wanted every show to be a party where you know everyone and people are there for each other like a safety net. The focus of the label has always been to create a community and release cool records…records from bands no one else is paying attention. In that, there becomes this team spirit – a feeling that we’re all in this together, trying to make awesome things. Thankfully, the other bands are really into that because they picked up my lead and ran with it! You can put a lot of people in the same room and tell them to talk but it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. The bands really latched on and developed these great relationships…and it’s awesome!”
BW: Some of my personal best moments have been playing for fellow King Pizza bands that I really respect and being super nervous only to have them come up to us after and be like “I really dug this and that” because not only are you talking to a friend but also a musician you respect. …And then we have beers!”
RG: With three releases on the same weekend, things certainly started with a bang. The ¡Vamanos! cassette, in particular, captures the lo-fi spirit and energy of the label very well.
GH: “The Vamanos record is one that stands out because it’s so friggin’ nasty! When I heard their stuff – even before they had started playing out live – I was blown away by how disgusting they sounded. My kinda shit!”
TB: “The reaction to our EP was very positive. Granted, only a very, very small percentage of the population has actually heard it, but I’ll take what I can get!”
RG: After a few garage rock/blues releases, you then threw a curve-ball with a spit release from Jon Arbuckle and Half Moon. Was that not a big risk so early on?
GH: “The Jon Arbuckle/Half Moon split is a bit out of the ordinary, but that’s one of the reasons I love it so much. Half Moon is one of the stalwart KP freaks – it’s Justin Ferraro who leads Long Kill and is a member of The Rizzos. Half Moon is his solo stuff that he recorded by himself and I think it’s just wonderful. Ever since I heard it, I wanted to put it out. Jon Arbuckle is our buddy Liam who just has a magnificent presence and great songs he recorded with Seth Applebaum [King Pizza’s in house producer] in our apartment. It was so visceral and primitive and I knew the pairing of the two would be awesome”.
RG: Visceral only just about covers it. Arbuckle sounds like a man having a breakdown. It’s really disarming!
GH: “The Jon Arbuckle tape was recorded all live and he just really went for it. It sounds pretty insane. It’s hard to find someone more impassioned than Liam and it really translates.”
RG: Greasy Hearts were the first band to get a second release out on KP.
PW: “Yeah. I think we recorded the first demo on like a $50 budget in a small room over the course of 5 hours and did the vocals and mixing in my basement. Right after that was done, we realized we had other songs lying around and wanted to record those. I think it’s an ego thing for us…to keep putting material out until enough people give a shit!”
GH: “Fair statement! That’s kind of where we’re at as a label, too. We are having an awesome time playing music and recording stuff we think is great and getting our friends to come out and party with us. And we will keep doing just that until everyone knows about us”.
PW: “We like to think that each release gets better and pushes us toward new ways to expand our sound. It’s kinda boring to play the same songs over and over again and even more boring for us to have the first batch of songs we ever wrote as the only material that represents us. That’s why we rushed to get a second release out; we wanted to show how many aspects of rock ‘n’ roll we can cover over this short period of time that we’ve been a band. …And we are lucky enough to have King Pizza support the double whammy. Seth wanted to get his hands all over our greasy selves and record the second release.”
RG: It’s much better than your first…a definite step forward.
PW: “Thanks! I think the second release shows us off more. The first one was cool, but we had only been a band for a few months and didn’t know exactly which way we were going sound-wise. We all listen to different kinds of music and rarely even listen to the same bands. I think the only artists we agree on are The Stones, King Khan, The Oblivions…I think that’s it. I gravitate toward more gritty rock ‘n’ roll and punk stuff and Joey likes a nice garage and pop mix. Gabe loves and studies all that old New Orleans jazz stuff. Pat plays flamenco and listens to nothing past 1969. So now I think we realized it’s good none of listen to the same stuff…makes for a more interesting sound.”
RG: Since you have plans to constantly grow as a band, What’s the plan for your third release?
PW: “That’s gonna a split with label mates Sun Voyager…three songs each. I would describe it as Chuck Berry and The Stooges.”
RG: Tyler…Since Greasy Hearts are close to having their third release, how close are ¡Vamanos! to delivering a second dose of noise?
TB: “In terms of recordings you can expect a lot from ¡Vamanos! in 2015. We are sitting on a ton of new material, most of which we’re keeping under wraps. Since June, I’ve been helping my good friend and very talented engineer, Danny Rose build a very intensive recording studio. He’s the guy who recorded our first release. As soon as the studio is completed in the early part of next year, we’re going to hit the studio hard as well as tour. Until then, were going to keep playing shows in New York and also start to venture into surrounding cities.”
RG: So, what does the current King Pizza stable look like right now?
GH: “We currently have about two dozen or so bands we are working within the family. Most are based in Brooklyn or the tri-state area but we are also working with people from Philly and Michigan as well. Stuff ranging from garage to punk to lo-fi folk and psych and lots of great stuff in between.”
RG: Any bands you’re particularly excited to be working with?
BW: “The Rizzos! [laughs]… I’m kidding! …Well, half kidding, ‘cuz that’s my band and I can’t wait until we have an official release on King Pizza!”
GH: “To be honest, I’m really excited about it all because if I’m not really excited about it, I have no interest in putting it out! We have some killer new material coming soon. We’ve got releases from Dicktations, The Jeanies, the Greasy Hearts/Sun Voyager split and an EP from Big Huge.”
BW: “I just got my hands on The Dicktations tape and it’s awesome! I have such a soft spot for The Jeanies and their release should be out soon and I can’t wait to dance to it. I’ve been listening to the teaser they put on bandcamp it every morning while I get dressed and it’s the best way to get amped for work! I mean, doesn’t everyone want to listen to Joey Farber croon at all times?! That probably sounds way creepier than I mean it to [laughs]…but I love that band. …And Sun Voyager – I’ve heard bits and pieces of their recordings and it’s going to be really awesome.”
RG: What do you see in the label’s future?
BW: “I just hope that we keep this community thriving and keep it positive. Good people, good friends, playing rad shows and having a lot of fun in a supportive space. I want to hear my friends make awesome music and see them get new fans and how they grow, and want to do anything possible to support that. And another Pizza Fest would be amazing.”
GH: “We are going to take over the damn world! We have such a sick line-up and great people we have no choice but to take over!”
[L-R: Pete Wilderotter, Greg Hanson, Tyler Bower, Bettina Warshaw. Photo by Seth Applebaum.]