VCO Recordings actually got its start almost a decade ago as a vehicle for Zombi’s Steve Moore and Anthony Paterra to release a CD of theirs before heading out on tour back in 2003. And then it faded into the ether for another eight years or so, resurrecting itself in 2011 to put out a cassette of recordings from Paterra’s solo moniker, Majeure. From there VCO has blossomed, releasing some of my favorite tapes in 2012 with plans for much, much more. The care with which they decide what to release is obvious – there’s a cohesive thread that runs through the label’s catalog, even as it expands to releasing things other than Paterra and Moore’s various projects. Add in a distinct (and, frankly, awesome), minimalist design style and it’s easy to see why VCO stands out amongst the current influx of tape-based labels. Paterra took a little time out from standing in line at the post office to talk about VCO’s past, present, & future with us.
Who started the label and why?
Years ago, in 2002, Steve Moore and I were about to embark on our first tour as Zombi with Providence, RI’s Daughters. A few weeks before we left, we realized we had no merchandise to sell. What rookies! We got it together, recorded some songs, and compiled the Twilight Sentinel EP, released on CD. Wanting to be as pro as possible, we decided we needed a label name, and VCO was born. This past year, I had some songs lying around, and I really wanted to release them, but had grown tired of soliciting labels – I really don’t like the whole process! Steve hates the process more than I do, so we decided to resurrect VCO as a cassette label for our own releases, and to release music from others we enjoyed.
What keeps you inspired to continue doing the label?
When I fulfill orders and see the same names pop up over and over, it makes me realize people really enjoy what we’re doing. That’s enough for me.
Are you all planning to continue just doing tapes or are you going to expand to other formats eventually?
For now, cassettes only. If we accrue enough money, it would be nice to do some vinyl, but things are at a manageable level now. No need to rush into anything.
What’s the appeal of tapes for you?
Steve and I were both BMG tape club kids. I always had cassettes as a kid, it was the first format I bought music on. Vinyl was around, but cassettes were king prior to CD’s and I loved ‘em. Nostalgia aside, I love the sound quality and the freedom afforded with longer running times. Production cost is really low too. I also love sending packages. Addressing a cassette mailer, then hitting it with my trusty VCO stamper makes me happy. USPS has some really sweet “Birds of Prey” 85 cent stamps now too.
Tell me a little bit about the visual aesthetic of the label and your thoughts on having a cohesive look to all the releases. I love the layout style you all are using.
We basically aped a layout design that Polygram was using in the 80′s. Our designer Matt Cherry (of Maserati) has done a great job keeping things consistent and clean. I really wanted to see a towering column of cassettes, all with the same spine – big bold white lettering with a black background – just like when I was kid shopping at a record store. Our plan now is to change the design every ten releases using a classic design layout.
What’s the hardest thing about running a label these days?
For me it’s just waiting in line at the damn post office. Especially because we do a lot of sales in Europe. Having to fill out the customs forms in triplicate, and then rolling up to the counter with 20 cassettes to ship certainly backs up a line. I get a lot of mean looks from people. Ultimately though, it has been pretty easy, just time consuming, as I handle all of the production, order fulfillment, and shipping. Steve takes care of scouting music and mastering, and handles all of the Soundcloud and Bandcamp uploads. He has a kid so I figured I could take care of the heavy stuff.
What kinds of things make you decide whether or not you want to release a particular album or work with a certain artist?
I feel now there are many people making similar music using similar instruments, with similar aesthetics. I think it can be tough to pick out what stands out from the others, especially since we are focused on synthesizer based music. So far every release we’ve done has been with people we know – people we’ve met from playing shows or touring. Bands like Andy & Zeus and Long Distance Poison have played shows with Steve in NYC, and when we first started he wanted to have them involved. There is an aesthetic and sound that Steve and I gravitate towards, and we both know when we hear something if it we want to release it.
What’s your demo policy?
For now we aren’t accepting anything. This first year has been a bit hectic so far – I’ve had a tough time keeping up. It’s our own fault for keeping a pace of basically a release per month, sometimes two. I found it tough to balance my own work with the work of the label, so in the future we are going to space out the releases more. If things pan out we are set for another 5 or so releases, which puts us into 2013. We certainly listen to everything that comes our way, but for now we are taking the route of contacting people that we want to work with. It just makes it easier.
What do you have planned for the future?
July 10th will see a release from Jonas Reinhardt & Abyss of Fathomless Light. Really cool stuff, completely different from anything I’ve heard Jonas do. We’re doing 100 copies again, but these will be packaged differently, and I’m really excited to see the finished product. It will be much more a physical release than your standard Norelco case. After that we’ve been sitting on a release from Günter Schickert, a wonderful album he recorded in 1996 called “HaHeHiHo”. Günter is known for his work in the 70′s, specifically the albums Samtvogel and Uberfallig, and for some work he did with Klaus Schulze. I met him last year while on tour with Maserati in Europe. He’s an amazing human being – a wise old Krautrockian sage. Very happy to release one of his lesser known albums – it is unlike anything else we’ve released. Steve has a new solo album coming out this fall that is slated for a CD release due to a runtime of 74 minutes, so we are thinking of giving it a go. Possibly releases from Unicity and Panabrite. I’m doing some solo touring in the fall, so I may put a tour only cassette release together.
What’s your favorite record you’ve heard in the past year?
I really love Tales of Power by Andy & Zeus. If I don’t stop listening to it soon the tape will wear out. The album we just released by Abul Mogard is quite beautiful as well. In fact, everything VCO has put out is in constant rotation on my deck. Really enjoyed Steve Hauschildt’s Tragedy & Geometry. I’ve also been collecting the Environments series on vinyl. Nothing like falling asleep to a Psychologically Ultimate Seashore. And also the B-side of Passport’s Infinity Machine. It blew me away. The drums are so compressed and thick, I just love it.
Any closing advice?
Running a cassette label certainly has its challenges, but as with anything, you just need to stay on it and be consistent. It’s a great feeling to send something to someone and know you are making their life better for the hour they spend listening to the music.