words by Andy Turner
Dean Rispler runs the Brooklyn-based rock-n-roll label Drug Front Records with Jesse Cannon and the duo are responsible for some of my favorite releases over the past few years from a lineup that includes Born Loose, The Mighty Fine, Bamboo Kids, the Stags and more. But Rispler’s resume goes way beyond label head; to name a few of his musical pursuits, he’s produced the likes of the Little Killers, Candy Snatchers and Electric Frankenstein and played in the legendary Dictators, the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black and other bands. Rispler took time to talk to Sonic Diet about the past, present and future (it’s not looking so good) of Drug Front as well as his plentiful non-Drug Front activities.
When did you and Jesse Cannon start Drug Front and what was your first release?
Jesse Cannon and I have been working on recording together since 1999/2000. We really hit it off together as a team both in the studio and as friends. In early 2008 we recorded The Candy Snatchers last studio LP, Down At Delilah’s, before our friend Matthew Odietus (guitarist from The Candy Snatchers) passed away. So I had those masters in my possession. And I produced the first recording, 99 Diamond, for The Naked Heroes. I had always wanted to do a label and I thought, “Hey – this is the absolute worst time in my career to start a record label! Let’s do it!” And voila! Drug Front Records started with those two records in 2009.
Has the name of the label ever resulted in any unwanted attention from any “authorities”?
Luckily, never. I have had that name in the works for many years. Back in the very late ‘90s, I worked for Go-Kart Records. Head honcho, Greg Ross, had offered me an imprint on that label, which I was going to call Drug Front. Unfortunately everything fell apart there by 2001. But I did save the name.
What made you want to start a record label? Is there another independent label that you were influenced by/sought advice from? How hard was it to put out your first release?
I think I kinda answered the first part of this question up top. I had The Candy Snatchers recording and then did The Naked Heroes. I put those both out as picture discs. I thought that was pretty cool at the time, but in retrospect I realized I really like LPs in sleeves more. And I think collectors do, too. Whatever. What’s done is done. 99 Diamond is almost sold out. Amazingly, despite the great reviews and the history of the now legendary Candy Snatchers, I still have a bunch of copies of Down At Delilah’s left. I guess their fans would rather spend what they have on alcohol rather than a cool record. Who knows?
As far as influences go, I was influenced by so many. I am a record collector and love little cool independent labels like Dangerhouse, Stiff, Sympathy For The Record Industry, Touch & Go, Dirtnap, Megaforce, Metal Blade, Neat, Peaceville, Crass Records, etc.
Putting out the first release is the most difficult because you have to find distribution. In this day and age, that is very difficult. All the cool distributors are gone. And the ones that are left are way too overwhelmed with what’s out there that they can’t really take on new labels without a buzz. It’s super cool that people can sell stuff direct on the internet now and create a buzz, but you need to take the time to do that. Time I really do and did not have.
How fun is it to be a Dictator?
It’s pretty fun. Those guys are hilarious. I was in bands with the drummer, J.P. Thunderbolt Patterson, for many years. So we get along and play together quite well. Ross The Boss is possibly the best guitar player I have ever played with and the coolest guy ever to boot. Since he was also in Manowar, we get to talk metal – that’s always good for me. Handsome Dick Manitoba is hilarious. He has a million and one stories and his opinionated quips are always amusing. Daniel Rey has some amazing stories as well considering his pedigree. So I am always learning. As some may know, the original bassist and songwriter for the band was Andy Shernoff. Unfortunately he has no interest in playing his old music any longer. I have no idea why. It’s not like being in the Dictators is a full-time job by any means. If he was to come back, I would gladly step aside because The Dictators are one of my favorite bands, ever. But now, for me, it’s been a really fun ride.
You run a label, produce music, promote shows and play in band – ever get tired of being around music all the time? What non-music hobbies do you have? Stamp collecting? Prison pen pal?
I have taken a back seat as far as promoting shows goes and with the label. The label is coming to an end. I really never had the time that was needed to properly run it. A lot of the label failing is my fault for taking on something that I really needed to dedicate a full day’s work to at least four to five days a week to make it float. (That’s not to make money – that’s just to keep it from losing money. If you want to really make a very little bit of money, you better be working seven days per week all the time!). The other fault lies with the bands. As much as I like and/or love these bands and people as individuals, most of them did close to nothing. When you have bands put out a record and play seven shows in a year, guess what? Nothing happens. You can’t make things happen for a band that does next to nothing. And unfortunately I was wholeheartedly adept at finding bands that were quite excellent at doing nothing.
Non-music hobbies? I guess I have some. I am totally into film. I love movies. I read books about movies and then re-watch them and then I will watch documentary films about films and re-watch those films again. Do yourself a favor – watch The Shining. Then watch Room 237. And then watch The Shining again. Or watch Werner Herzog’s My Best Fiend and then watch Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre The Wrath Of God. So good.
I have been doing some non-film reading as well. I was an anthropology major in college, so I am always interested in cultural studies and history as well. A friend I went to elementary school and junior high with named Dennis Laumann has just come out with a book called Colonial Africa. It’s a very cool account of colonialism/imperialism of Africa by Europeans from 1884-1994. Amazingly this book came out a day or two after I finally watched King Of Scotland on cable. So that sparked my interest in that.
No stamp collecting, but I still buy records. I have been obsessed with trying to buy the few rare LPs I used to own as a kid and stupidly sold. I only sold records once when I was about 16 or 17 and I completely regret it. I didn’t even sell that many records, but I wish I had them all back. Now a lot of them are hard to find or ridiculously expensive. But I am trying to locate most of them. If anyone has the first three Mercyful Fate LPs for sale starting with the “Nuns Have No Fun” EP, please get in touch!
Fellow Drug Front honcho Jesse Cannon just put out at book, Get More Fans: The DIY Guide To The New Music Business. Do you have a book in you – or at least a book title?
Jesse Cannon is a complete genius in many ways. He is the best engineer and Pro Tools operator ever. Hands down. There is no other that is faster and more precise than he is. And the best part is that he still makes records sound natural – like they were recorded by a band in a room like I like to do. But even when he works on stuff that isn’t done like that, it sounds natural. He’s great. All this said, his book is amazing. He and co-author Todd Thomas really know their shit. And they seem to know everyone else’s, too. Believe me – if I had followed more of Jesse’s advice and had the time, Drug Front would have been a lot bigger. But, as I said before, I wasn’t able to dedicate the time that was certainly required. If you do have or want to make the time for your label, band, etc., buy Jesse’s book and follow it. If you are halfway decent at what you create, you will have some sort of career if you work your ass off.
I don’t know if there’s a book in me. I am becoming a tired old man. Even though I still go out and have fun, I don’t want to work much anymore. And a book sounds like work.
What upcoming releases/plans do you have for Drug Front?
Well, the brand new double LP by The Bamboo Kids called Safe City Blues is out now. And it’s great! Really, it is. A tour-de-force of real rock-n-roll. I think we all did an amazing job on it. Plus it looks cool and it’s a f*cking double LP! The only bands doing that are metal bands. This is far from that, but it totally rocks. Great songs and excellent performances. I should know – I was there!
I am putting out the new EP by The Walk Ons called Golden Goose next month. After that, I am most likely done. There is absolutely no money coming in and I want all these records and CDs (man, I hate CDs) out of my house. Hopefully one of these days I will sell out of everything. We shall see.
the Dictators NYC (the name they go by now) are playing Sunday, Sept. 8 at Reggie’s Rock Club in Chicago with the Angry Samoans, etc.