Motor City Is Burning
Detroit is currently running one hell of a R&R temperature providing a home & inspiration for a whole new wave of Motor City rockers. The home of Motown, The MC5, The Stooges & Techno, Detroit has the kind of reputation that history is written on. Attention has been encouraged by the extraordinary UK reaction to The White Stripes, The Dirtbombs, The Von Bondies, The Sympathetic Sounds Of Detroit comp & a whole host of wonderful back to basics merchants, many of whom have found help with Detroit's Italy Records.
Italy began as a label back in 1997 to document the city's underground rock & noise scene. Run by Dave Buick of The Dirtbombs & Ben Blackwell, Italy pride themselves on releasing the most interesting & coolest music around. Their catalogue has provided some of the most exciting 7" R&R sides to see the light of day since.....(insert cool period for R&R 7"'s here).
Italy Records - Discography;
IR-01 - Rocket 455 - "Ain't Right Girl"
IR-02 - The Dirtys - "It Ain't Easy"
IR-03 - The White Stripes - "Let's Shake Hands"
IR-04 - The Hentchmen (feat Jack White) - "Some Other Guy"
IR-05 - The Fells - "Close Your Eyes"
IR-06 - The White Stripes - "Lafayette Blues"
IR-07 - The Soledad Brothers - "Sugar & Spice"
IR-08 - The Hentchmen (feat Jack White) - "Hentch-Forth"
IR-09 - The Greenhornes - "Stayed Up Last Night"
IR-10 - Clone Defects - "Scissors Chop"
IR-11 - Clone Defects - "Lizard Boy EP"
IR-12 - Whirlwind Heat - "Valletta EP"
Jean Encoule risked appalling cyber airline food, weapons grade sarcasm & an alcohol ban to bring you these words from Italy Records E-Liason officer, Mr Ben Blackwell.
trakMARX - Detroit is home to one of the most exciting R&R scenes on offer right now. This phenomenon has obviously been building for sometime now - how & when did this incarnation kick off?
Italy - I'd like to think that The Gories, or maybe the break-up of, is the root of all Detroit rock and roll happening right now. From that, you got Rocket
455, Demolition Doll Rods and The Dirtbombs. The Hentchmen kinda came in there too, they're celebrating their 10 year anniversary this october, but I'd say it all started between '92 and '94. Then again, I was only 10 at the time, so I may be totally off.
trakMARX - Detroit has produced many great R&R bands in the past, most notably The MC5 & The Stooges. Is their legacy still apparent today?
Italy - Different people think different about The Stooges and the MC5. I feel
some sort of connection with them, I'll drive to the abandoned Grande Ballroom every now and then just to gaze at it. I'll go on binges spending $70+ on their rare european picture sleeves, but I'm probably an exception. The idea that they walked down these same streets, hell for Italy Records, The MC5 lived less than a mile away from where the Italy HQ is. It's the same way with Motown stuff or John Lee Hooker as well. Hell, Son House was a janitor at Wayne State University (college in the center of Detroit, I'm currently a student) when he died a few years back. It just
seems that there's something about the city that lends itself to creativity. Maybe it's the desolation or the isolation of it all, but I'm proud that I live here in Detroit.
trakMARX - Is the current wave of gtr driven R&R in anyway a reaction against the city's recent techno dominated past?
Italy - There's always been guitar bands in Detroit, and for about 20 years now
there's been techno too. Now it just seems that the rock and roll is getting
the same amount of attention that the techno has been. I think it's just a
matter of what kids like...it's not that we dislike techno, it's just that
we wanna be in rock bands. If the techno guys are successful, more power to
trakMARX - Sympathy Records has been influential in focusing attention on Detroit - does Italy share it's staunchly independant outlook?
Italy - I don't think that Italy has a staunch independant outlook. I mean, we
like to have our records sell for cheap, and there's only two of us doing
all the work, if that means we're some hardcore indie purists, I dunno, it's
just never crossed our minds.
trakMARX - We understand Dave runs Italy out of his front room - is this a situation you envisage having to change if things continue to build?
Italy - One of Dave's roommates just moved out, so we may be upgrading to a
trakMARX - With the exception of The Hentchmen mini LP, is Italy primarily a 7" 45's label?
Italy - The mini-LP is the only 12" we've done, but if the right band came
around, I'm sure we'd do it again. The plus of doing a 12" is that we can get it
pressed right here in Detroit at this pressing plant called Archer who only
does 12''s. That way, we save on shipping costs cause our 45's are pressed
trakMARX - Has Detroit been surprised with the World reaction to The White Stripes & The Sympathetic Sounds comp?
Italy - I can only speak from a Dirtbombs perspective, but I know that when we
played "I'm Through With White Girls" (our song on the Sympathy comp) live
in Europe, it always went over great and I could see people mouthing the words.
That could be cause it's on the comp, or it could be because it's an awesome
song. Either way, we're happy.
trakMARX - Explanations for the growth of the current Detroit scene have included boredom & access to vehicles - what other factors play a part?
Italy - I think the Detroit scene has grown because the people here really like
good music. No one starts off with aspirations of signing to a major label
or making tons of money, you start playing in a band to make music, to have
fun, it's all very honest. If success comes along, that's all well and good, but
we won't die if we're not superstars.
trakMARX - In the UK, John Peel recently broadcast a Detroit special - did you catch it?
Italy - I haven't listened to the John Peel segment yet, but I hear it speaks
very highly of Italy Records. Dave did a great job of sweetening up the
interviewers, giving them promo Italy Records stuff...original pressings of
the "Lafayette Blues" single. He's a smart boy that Davey is.
trakMARX - This Motor City scene appears to envolve artists of all ages - is the mix of youth & experience a factor?
Italy - "Youth and Experience" is actually the name of a song on the new Hideout
Records comp on Norton Records (home of the Sonics early gear & a superb garage punk label - labels Ed)...but as for the question, I'd say that most of the scene is between the 23-29 age range. Sure, all the dirtbombs are in their 30's, I'm 19, but when it comes down to it, I'm usually the youngest guy at all the shows. I hope that my youth brings some sort of energy or vigour to the scene. Damn, that sounds like a stupid high school term paper, anyway...
trakMARX - We noted a certain ambivalence towards The Net expressed by The Clone Defects on the back of their debut 7" - are they a minority amongst the Italy roster or is this acommon thread?
Italy - When you're broke, you don't have time for a computer. Those guys are
broke punks, hence their ambivalence towards technology. If it wasn't for me
taking on the job, Italy Records wouldn't have a email liason (ie, me) or
probably a website. I know Whirlwind Heat and The White Stripes have official
websites, The Greenhornes too, but I think those are the only bands. Most of
the other acts probably just don't care about it or aren't even together
trakMARX - The States seems to be producing some of it's most exciting gtr based music since the garage punk explosion of 64/65 - does this represent a return to a more provincial outlook as a reaction against consumer pop shite?
Italy - There's always gonna be pop shit in America and there will always be
good rock and roll. I don't think r'n'r is a reaction to bad music, but more of
an inspiration from hearing good music. The plus of that is that kids don't
hear The Pretty Things and say; "Aw, this is shit, I'm gonna go start a major
label pop band."
trakMARX - We noted the inclusion of the excellent recent Electric Eels comp on yer front page playlist - are you fans of the mid 70's Cleveland scene & are you looking forward to the upcoming Mirrors comp?
Italy - Dave's really into that all Cleveland stuff, and I'm into the Eels a lot.
I haven't heard too much of the other stuff, but Dave has all of it. I'm sure
he's all geeked up about the Mirrors release. I'll have to borrow that other
stuff from him and I'll report back to you at a later date.
trakMARX - Are you looking forward to the upcoming MC5 movie?
Italy - Dave might actually be in the movie. They came in and filmed a segment
back when he worked at this local record store. They asked him what he thought about the MC5 and stuff like that. I'm anxious to see the movie because for such an influential band, very little video footage has made it to the public. The little bits I have caught, whether on bootleg tapes or VH1 has been promising, and I'd expect that they'd save the best stuff for the movie. I can't wait. Someone should do a Stooges documentary now...
trakMARX - What does the future hold for Italy Records?
Italy - Well, the super-immediate future probably involves me calling Dave
tonight, then going over his house this week, watching some HBO, lot's of
talk about filling orders, possibly filling some orders, and definitely a
trip to Subway. I usually get a 12" Italian BMT on white, but Dave get's my bonus
sub club points. Cool?
trakMARX - How do you see Detroit shaping up to NYC right about now?
dave and i are both pretty into nyc right now. we dig the mooney suzuki, the yeah yeah yeah's and the strokes. someday there's gonna be a detroit/nyc battle of the bands and the world might explode from the sheer potential of it.
trakMARX - What are your top 10 record labels?
hmm, top ten record labels, that's hard, but here goes, in no particular order
2. Human Fly
4. In the Red
7. Sub Pop
i'm sure dave would probably have different choices, but he's filming an episode of "that 70's show" now. later...ben
Jean Encoule - Feb - 2002