Venerable indie-rock label Matador Records has long carried on a not-so-secret love affair with Austin—what with the signing of bands like Spoon, Shearwater, and most recently Harlem—but with the Jan. 27 release of Austin scene compilation Casual Victim Pile, it engages in its first sloppy public display of affection. Label co-founder Gerard Cosloy has been a local since 2004—a fact brought to unfortunate national attention when his SoCo-area house burned down in 2009—and Casual Victim Pile (an anagram of “Live Music Capital”) reflects all the years he’s spent supporting unfairly unheralded bands, ranging from relative stalwarts like Golden Boys to newcomers who have never even played downtown, like Wild America. The A.V. Club spoke to Cosloy about how he chose those 17 bands to represent Austin, and why he doesn’t particularly care if anyone else thinks they do.
Gerard Cosloy: It’s admittedly a very arbitrary, self-indulgent thing. I don’t pretend that this is a comprehensive overview of everything happening musically in town. This is just something that was gnawing at me from the middle of 2008 onwards—that there were certain things on the live music front that were not getting their due. Austin is a great town and it’s very supportive of live music, but I feel there’s a built-in hierarchy, where certain versions of live music are considered more legit than others. A lot of people are left out in the cold, and they happen to include not only some of the best bands in Austin, but some of the best bands in the country. Just the fact that three of the bands on the record hadn’t heard of ELVIS before, I felt that was a serious problem that needed addressing.
AVC: Are there bands you wanted to include but couldn’t, for whatever reason?
GC: There were certainly bands I like here who are good—not just okay, but world-class good—who I could not think of a way they would sound right alongside everyone else, without it seeming so incongruous that it wasn’t doing anyone any favors. The only band I asked to be on it who said no was Total Abuse. I managed not to cry about it for more than a couple days. [Laughs.] Had the process begun much later, there are certainly other people I would have asked. After my house burned down, I lost all the artwork and had to start over again, which meant we could add more bands that hadn’t broken up yet. The Teeners have broken up. The Persimmons seem to be on hiatus. One of my big fears is that by the time this thing comes out, 10 of the bands will have broken up. And if I’d started this six or eight months later, there are other bands I would have asked. Cruddy, Dated, and The Zoltars are as good as anybody on that record. If someone else wants to do Volume Two, they’ll have no problem with side one, at least.
AVC: Is it cool if they just Xerox your artwork and Wite-Out the names?
GC: I would love it if this became a Killed By Death thing, where people are doing their own volumes and misspelling “Matador,” doing bad variations on the logo, misspelling my name on the back. Hopefully bands would give their permission and would actually get paid, but that would be great. That’s probably too lofty a goal.
AVC: What would you say is CVP’s stylistic gamut, from extreme to extreme?
GC: From loud, mid-tempo rock to loud, up-tempo rock. [Laughs.] I do understand that some people will check this out and say it all sounds the same. There’s nothing I can do for people like that. It’s not my job to sort it out for them. I don’t think there’s a tremendous amount of common stylistic ground between, for instance, The Distant Seconds and The No No No Hopes. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy both of them, or that there’s not a place for both in this wonderful mosaic we call the Austin music scene.
AVC: Are there any you feel are particularly on the verge of breaking out?
GC: In spite of the fact that they’ve got the albatross of a Matador contract, Harlem seems to be getting a lot of attention nationwide, which is wonderful. I heard about a New York label looking to put out The Young, which would be a coup for that label if it happened. The new Golden Boys album is the best thing they’ve ever done, and hopefully it’ll win them a lot of fans in Germany. Woven Bones have probably made more of a stink in such a short period of time than a lot of the others on the record, save for Harlem. The new Love Collector 7-inch is fantastic, and when I see WMBR’s Late Risers’ Club playing their record—and they only play pretty much every great punk-rock single of my childhood—it’s like, that’s exactly the way it’s supposed to work. I’ve felt like Follow That Bird is one of the best bands in the country for a couple years now, and hopefully someone else will throw them some money soon. They’ve got a Southwest tour with Dikes Of Holland next month—which is another world-class band that doesn’t get nearly enough attention.
AVC: Is there a current "sound of Austin”?
GC: No. There are many, many sounds, and only a handful are represented on this. Obviously, the singer-songwriter sector is not particularly well represented, and those who are enamored of what you might call “the world music scene” might find this record a bit lacking. The twee-pop thing is not well represented either, and there are obviously people here who love that stuff to death. I’m sure there will be another enterprising person who will put out a very interesting record using a number of the bands not featured on this one.
AVC: Although, a lot of the bands on this compilation do share a shambolic, go-for-the-gusto sound—almost a purposeful amateurism.
GC: Like people playing ukuleles while sitting on the floor? “I’m gonna play the xylophone even though I don’t know how”? “I’m gonna pretend I’m 9”?
AVC: More like simple song structures, lots of fuzz, an almost calculated aloofness.
GC: Oh, we’re not talking about the same thing. I was thinking of a touring band I saw at Hole In The Wall, with a woman singing really off-key and a guy sitting next to her playing ukulele. It made most of the early K Records output sound like Throbbing Gristle, just the most sexless, soulless, horrible thing I had ever seen in my entire life. Like, if you could trace everything from Chuck Berry to The Beatles to the Stones to The Stooges to Alice Cooper to the Ramones to Black Flag—and now we’ve got this dude with a ukulele. You know the scene in Animal House where Stephen Bishop is playing the acoustic guitar at the toga party and Belushi fucking clobbers him with it? I would have given anything for Belushi to come down out of the heavens and slug the fuck out of this guy—who I’m sure is a wonderful person who doesn’t deserve physical violence of any sort. I’m not really encouraging that people get beaten up. [Sarcastically.] Unless that’s what it takes! But that’s not what you’re talking about.
AVC: Unfortunately, no.
GC: The thing is, a lot of great rock ’n’ roll is ramshackle. I don’t think I’ve ever listened to a Swell Maps record and thought, “Man, if they just had Bob Clearmountain in to fix this, they would have been so much better.” I don’t think Harlem are trying to be an archetypal, sloppy indie band. They’re just trying to be Harlem.
AVC: It seems natural to draw parallels between this and 1991's New York Eye And Ear Control, which was your last regional compilation.
GC: And I don’t take that comparison lightly. A number of the bands on that record at that time could not get arrested in New York City; clubs were not going out of their way to be hospitable to the likes of Dustdevils or Unsane or Cop Shoot Cop, or even two-decade veterans like Borbetomagus. It was very hard to get people to check those bands out, and I’m not saying that that record necessarily opened a ton of doors for those bands. Most of the door-busting, those bands accomplished on their own. It was a snapshot of a particular time and place, and I’m the one who decided who got to be in the snapshot. Now, the snapshot may have been a little blurry. [Laughs.] It’s the same way this time around. This is an entirely arbitrary, self-indulgent portrait saying, “Here’s who I like from this town, circa 2008-2010.” There’s not much more to it.
AVC: So who is Austin’s Cop Shoot Cop?
GC: Wow. Fuck. I’m gonna say ELVIS. They certainly don’t sound like them, but just in terms of being somewhat polarizing. And with Cop Shoot Cop you had two extremely strong personalities fronting the band that tended to be very provocative, and with ELVIS you’ve got Brian [Rowland], who is one of the more dynamic front-persons I’ve ever seen—in Austin, in America, the world, period.
AVC: Austin has long been "the next_____"—Seattle, Brooklyn, whatever. From your perspective, what’s held it back from taking whatever that next step is?
GC: To tell you the truth, I don’t care. Not once in my life have I ever walked in a record store and said, “Do you have any bands from Seattle?” Stuff like that is very convenient for media types to say there’s this particular movement or scene and blah blah blah—and I think the rest of the country is getting a little weary of hearing about Austin, and how everyone is in a band here, and everywhere you go bands are playing in someone’s living room. The rest of the country is beginning to think of that as a cliché. So I don’t know how to answer that question. That’s more of a chamber of commerce issue. I’m interested in what people actually sound like, and whether they’re good or bad. I don’t give a fuck where they come from.
Now, that may sound weird coming from a guy who’s just spent the better part of a year putting a regional comp together. [Laughs.] But I did that a) for fun and b) as a way to get people to check those bands out. But they’re not any better than anyone else because they’re from here. I do think, at the end of the day, people will understand that it’s a very insular thing I’m shining a light on, but I’m doing it because I want it to be less insular. It’s not about, “Hey, support Austin music! Move to Austin!” I’d ask people to move to Austin only if I could rent a room to them. For way too much money.