As Josh Vanek describes it, growing up TV-less in Montana had its weird advantages. Years before he’d be the founder and mastermind of Wantage USA Records, he and his brothers conceived of the name as a handle for their devil’s brew of reanimated electric guitars. Years later, Wantage is the name on the spines of records by Montana hardcore dudes Ass-End Offend and the grind and punch of Cali duo The Pope, and has put out records from Japanther and the Fucking Champs. Who needs TV anyway? — Thomas Rooker White
Who runs the label?
I do, with a bunch of help from my lady friend Nicole, and with occasional help from the bands. They help out by tipping us to good new music, spreading the word about records, stuffing envelopes, etc.
Where is the label located? Describe your digs…
We are located physically in my house in Missoula, Montana. It’s near a middle school and a high school, in a residential area. We have three cottonwoods in
From a non-physical standpoint, I see the label potentially occupying folks’ head-space reserved for describing “organizations that support non-commercial,
underground, DIY music and culture.” Hopefully that’s not presumptuous, but that’s what we aspire to do.
How did the label get its start? Its name?
Wantage (sounds like “advantage” but with a W and not and “adv”..) got its start in the summer 1993. I finished my first year of college (in Missoula), and went home (to Yakima, Washington) to work for the summer. I had some extra money from my summer job (merchandising for a frozen food company), and my brother Matt’s band was playing out a bunch at the time. Matt’s three years younger than me, so he was I
think a sophomore in high school.
Anyhow, he was in a band called Clever, and they were good, if a little derivative
of stuff like Husker Du. But they were high schoolers playing original punk tunes, and they inspired me to get involved. I put out their cassette (50 copies) as our first release that year; it was a split with another awesome band called Squelch. We sold most of the cassettes, and I mailed a few of them around, like I presumed you were supposed to, as a label, and lo and behold a few people liked it and wrote about it.
After that I was kind of hooked to this whole “share your scene with other people” thing. The next summer, we put out a 12″ comp, and it sort of started gathering steam.
The name “Wantage” means fake vintage. We, my brothers and I, coined it when we were kids. We envisioned it as sort of a sleazy sounding company that made guitars
that looked like Fenders, but played/sounded like shit. I would put together these sort of frankenstein guitars from stuff we’d get at yard sales and Goodwill, and I’d write “Wantage USA” on their headstocks. It was a kind of fantasy thing, where we were sort of making our own entertainment. We grew up without TV.
Anyhow, we used to plug these things in and play loudly/fuzzily through stereo speakers. If you’ve ever done that, you know there’s just a shitty “blat” sort of mid-rangey, muffled tone happening. It sounds nothing like an actual guitar amp. This was before we got real amps and distortion pedals…
How many releases do you issue a year, on
Three or four, roughly.
True or false: Digital downloads are okay, but 7″‘s are cooler…
True, but it’s almost a moot point. Digital culture’s not going to up and stop any time soon, and downloading is convenient, totally easy any time of the day or night, and often times free. I think those factors alone add a whole layer to the debate, and
records never will be have any of easiness and freedom as part of their attraction.
They’re clunky, heavy, and expensive, but sound great, and provide an actual physical space to put down both audio and visual art. Records represent (generally)
more collective effort and work then a one-off song up on some social networking site.
If digital music is turning the mainstream music industry on its ear, all the better. These are the people that use payola to pollute our airwaves with total dreck, aim their output consistently at the low end of the middle, and are responsible for atrocities like Nickelback.
That all said, rather than worrying too much about how crappy our mainstream music choices are, we should do more to vigorously support people who take the time to document good music by putting out records. Not to mention other art forms, and ways of sticking your neck out and saying “I believe in this.”
Favorite label besides your own…
Hard to limit it to one. Load, Killertree, Kill Shaman, Prank, X-Mist in Germany, Tornis in Latvia, CDB records, Sublime Frequencies, Tapes Records, S-S Records…
Favorite record ever…
Jeez. Another one! I have enough time figuring this out for the year. I think Guilt, Regret, Embarrassment by the Treepeople opened my eyes to punk rock. Henry the Human Fly by Richard Thompson features some of my all-time favorite songs. Ride the Sky by Lightning Bolt is a mind-blaster. The Jesus Lizard’s Liar is consistently incredible. I tend to over-listen to records and burn out on them, but as far as consistently excellent, I think Karp’s Action Chemistry which captures their best output is probably as close to a favorite currently, and has been for lots of years.
Favorite movie ever…
Anything by Andy Smetanka. He’s a Missoulian, and mostly does stop animation films for awesome bands like Volumen and Le Force. It’s beautiful stuff, and really a graceful lost art that he’s fully invested himself in mastering.
Vegetarian or carnivore?
Carnivore, though definitely an omnivorous one. I love fresh, local food whether it’s animal or vegetable, and go out of my way to shop at the farmer’s market.
Your guiltiest pleasure. The thing no one would believe you watch, read, or listen to…
I watched “Beverly Hills: 90210” semi-religiously while in college. Now I read the Economist, and listen to NPR in the morning before going to work. These are more dorky than guilty. Sometimes I sing Jimmy Eat World’s one hit in the shower.
[tags]Wantage USA Records, Josh Vanek, Treepeople, NPR, Missoula, Karp[/tags]