words by Andy Turner
Releasing two live albums from the late, great Plimsouls is more than enough to make me embrace Alive/Naturalsound Records. After all, my radio show, Zero Hour, takes its name from the classic Plimsouls song of the same title. But the Los Angeles-based record label started in 1994 by Patrick Boissel through his association with Greg and Suzy Shaw’s Bomp! Records has plenty more to offer. Alive’s impressive catalog boasts the Black Keys (their celebrated debut, The Big Come Up, is the label’s best-selling release), Left Lane Cruiser, Thomas Function, Two Gallants, T-Model Ford, Occult Detective Club, Outrageous Cherry, Brimstone Howl, Nathaniel Mayer and more. Boissel recently took time to answer a few questions for WMSE.
How difficult was it to put out your first release?
Getting our first record out was never an issue, as fortunately I was associated with Bomp! and I could use Suzy and Greg’s (Boissel is now married to Suzy; Greg Shaw died in 2004) setup from day one. Alive/Naturalsound, as it exists today, was born when The Big Come Up was released. It was the first time that the Naturalsound logo appeared alongside the Alive logo. I designed it based on an old blues record logo, and I have pretty much used it since. The Big Come Up was initially pressed at 500 copies for the vinyl and we did 1,000 CDs. Before that, the Alive releases were rather sporadic and eclectic, from GG Allin, which was the first release, to the Swell Maps and Nikki Sudden.
You are a faithful believer in vinyl records. You frequently put out limited colored versions of albums and the new label compilation Where is Parker Griggs? is only available on vinyl and download. Why vinyl? What special appeal does vinyl hold for you and Alive fans?
We do color vinyl for pretty much all our releases and we often change colors when we re-press them. I enjoy changing the covers as well, with new designs, or with a different printing process for example, I find it fun and creative. Re-pressing the same object endlessly can get boring, although I understand it’s the essence of the business. There are hundreds, often thousands, of different editions of certain books…why not approach music packaging the same way? As far as Where is Parker Griggs?, I wanted it to satisfy fans of the label with rare tracks and oddities, but I hoped for the release to be an attractive object as well. An album cover is part of the listening experience; it should enhance it. Joshua Marc Levy, who also designed the latest Buffalo Killers album cover, did the artwork for this release.
In what ways has the success of the Black Keys impacted Alive?
I have more money to spend on other artists. Plus, their success brought a little bit of attention to the label as well.
How did you connect with Paul Collins and Peter Case and come about the excellent archival releases (including the just-out live Beach Town Confidential from a 1983 Plimsouls show) that Alive has released?
I contacted Paul Collins because I was interested in reissuing his first band, The Nerves. Paul put me in touch with Peter Case, who put me in touch with Jack Lee. It took me almost three years to get it done, but we eventually released One Way Ticket. My relationship with Peter and Paul developed from there. The Plimsouls, Breakaways and other releases followed, and they’re now reuniting for a US tour (appearing in Milwaukee at Shank Hall on Saturday, March 24th); it worked out great.
How would you describe Alive’s influence on independent music/labels over its history?
If you look at the big picture, I would say insignificant, at this point. We may represent some hope for other small labels though…the ‘you can make it if you try’ kinda thing.
What upcoming releases can you tell me about? What else is on the horizon for Alive?
The debut album by Lee Bains III and The Glory Fires is coming out soon. There’s one track of his on the Where Is Parker Griggs? release. We also have a new Andre Williams record in the works, produced by Matt Smith of Outrageous Cherry. Also in the works is a Left Lane Cruiser and James Leg album. James Leg is John Wesley of The Black Diamond Heavies. We’re also reissuing Radio Moscow’s previously unreleased debut album recorded back when Parker was only 17. It’s way more garage than his current work, in a Nuggets and Pebbles vein. It rocks.
Check out Alive/Naturalsound recording artist Paul Collins when he visits Zero Hour around 2 p.m. today. Also tune in to hear songs from the Alive catalog when I salute the label during the second half of my show.