WINO and CONNY OCHS album complete!

Exile On Mainstream is thrilled to report that the magic has arrived: we received the final master for “Heavy Kingdom”, the awaited album by WINO AND CONNY OCHS.

The Legacy of Scott “Wino” Weinrich in the world of heavy music is indisputable. Now he teams up with fellow Conny Ochs, a songwriter so pure and honest in his output that he seems to be the perfect partner. Both met for the first time in 2010 when Conny was supporting Wino on his acoustic solo tour promoting ‘Adrift’ (EOM050).  Through music they discovered a very similar approach to life and art and a shared wisdom in creating music. It really seemed like two souls becoming one after they have learned to know each other.  And here is the result: 11 soulful tunes that speak for themselves, personalities shine, truth within. All songs got written and performed by Wino and Conny together. The album contains one coversong by Townes Van Zandt. The artwork contains drawings by both artists and follows the dedicated and deeply intense approach of the whole album.

“Heavy Kingdom” will be released throughout Europe on January 27th, 2012. Check back often. We are planning to reveal some songs as stream by the end of 2011!

Posted on November 16, 2011 by Kanzler


Ian Ilavsky of Constellation Records recently gave an interview to the German Magazine JAZZTHETIK (Interviewer: Klaus Von Frieling). We consider this interview so good and enlighting for the attitude and approach behind this fantastic label that we had to post it here in its full glory. Have a good read!

The German version can be found soonish here: http://www.jazzthetik.de/

What was the music scene in Montreal like when you started the label and how did it change since then?

I can only speak about a small part of the Montreal scene in the early 1990s.  For myself and the people I felt an artistic and political kinship with, I think there was a fair degree of healthy suspicion about what other parts of the “music culture” in the city were about, what their reference points and motivations might have been, and whether we really had any common cause with much of what was going on.

On the one hand, this was a period when “punk” and “indie” was going through another phase of general co-optation by commercial forces (i.e. post-Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Vans Warped Tour, Lolapalooza, etc.) and the term “alternative” had become a mainstream branding term.  So there were a lot of bands in every city still working through that hangover, dreaming of a ‘cool’ American record contract (Sub Pop, etc.) and generally looking outside local community for validation and connection.

On the other hand there were various scenes on the Francophone side of things in Montreal, with cultural and artistic reference points that we also didn’t necessarily feel drawn to.

Overall, our feeling in Montreal in the mid-90s, as part of fairly small Anglophone do-it-yourself community at that time, was that we could (and had to) create something of our own, on our own.  Everything about our cultural and historical context encouraged this impulse towards self-sufficiency, resourcefulness, and artistic production as part of a larger sense of political engagement and social marginalisation.

The “anti-globalisation” movement (as it was inappropriately named) was absolutely central to our broader discourse and practice as well.  So the idea of building local institutions and local economies, avoiding corporate media and mainstream forms of promotion, etc. were all self-evident.

Obviously another crucial part of the equation at that time was the general economic depression of Montreal as a city: there were high vacancy rates, huge amounts of empty warehouse spaces and big cheap apartments.  Of course there weren’t any jobs either!  But it was totally possible to live on very little money and still have quite incredible places to rent, in which to live,  rehearse music, make art.  I’ve never lived in Berlin, but I feel that Montreal probably offered something similar as a city in the 90s, in terms of affordable urban space, some political/cultural tension, and a spirit of both marginalisation and re-invention among the artists and musicians that migrated here at that time (mostly from other parts of Canada).  You know: actually bohemian, when things are still too dirty, unstable and fucked up for tour guides to safely point to it as “bohemian”.

Since all of the “official” clubs and bars at that time were very unsupportive of non-commercial/experimental music, the biggest issue of all was finding spaces in which to present interesting stuff and gather people together in genuinely constructive and co-operative ways.  This is really what Constellation set out to do initially.  While my partner Don and myself always imagined a label would evolve, the original idea was to open a public performance space first: an artist-friendly venue out of which a label would emerge.  It took us about a year to realise the City Of Montreal was never going to give us the permits for such a venture unless we had a whole lot more money to ‘invest’ and legitimise our plans in their eyes.  As we became friends with Efrim, Dave, Thierry and other members of Godspeed – who had a big loft space of their own that they were renting – we soon realised that we should just put on shows without permission, keep an eye out for the police, make sure everyone attending was respectful of the risks and conditions…and off we went.  We would organise shows at the Hotel2Tango (the Godspeed rehearsal space) and at the Constellation Room (which was a smaller loft where Don and I lived from 1997-2000).  These events never made any money.  People brought their own booze and no one could afford more than $5 admission prices.  But they could sometimes at least put a couple of hundred dollars in the bands’ pockets, or help buy a pice of half-busted equipment for the PA.  And of course,organising these things consolidated a sense of work ethic and community. Then a few band started making their own recordings, which Constellation packaged into albums, literally by hand, and put them out with no real expectations beyond selling them locally.

With the unexpected success of Godspeed outside of Montreal – as the band’s work traveled through word of mouth and through the first LP we put out – there was an evolution into the early 2000s.  Godspeed became very busy just being a band and touring.  They didn’t make a ton of money, and it was all split between nine band members, but certain people in that band had a real commitment to putting anything they made back into local institutions.  And Constellation similarly.  So the label evolved into something that could provide a more stable platform for various Montreal bands, and the Hotel2Tango recording studio started getting built by Efrim and Thierry in the loft space that Godspeed rehearsed in, and Dave started building a studio at The Pines as well, and Mauro started renting the space that became the Casa Del Popolo live music venue – which really made a huge difference in our part of the city, insofar as it was focused on independent artists and experimental music, hosting free jazz, improv, electronic soundart, etc. alongside various forms of indie rock and indie pop bands.

I think Godspeed in particular, as a creative and musical force, also contributed to bringing Anglophone and Francophone scenes together to some degree.  Their music was wordless, so it removed the language barrier.  And their music was appealing to fans of ‘progressive’ music, which had always been strongly supported in Montreal and Quebec (bands like Genesis, Yes, Soft Machine, etc. had always been very successful here, often before anywhere else in North America).

By the early 2000s it seemed that there were a lot more people in Montreal simply interested in checking out the kind of music we were interested in, a broad range of stuff that I suppose had been informing the whole ‘post-rock’ thing: jazz, free/noise, improv and electronic music being mixed with punk and D.I.Y. ethics and instincts.

Through the past decade, Montreal has obviously become a much more established place as an international music destination and a much larger magnet for hipster migration – just as the wider Western culture has moved towards general hipsterism as a culture/art/fashion trope.  What can you do?  We’ve mostly tried to keep our heads down and continue doing what we do, which is to pursue music that feels genuine and non-disposable and truly committed.

The scene here is now exponentially healthier and unhealthier at the same time.  Tons of bands playing all the time, many more decent venues and spaces in which to put on shows, and lots more people looking to make careers out of music, which by definition means lots of people acting on very different principles and with very different motivations than we ever brought to the table.  That’s not to say trying to make a living as a musician is fundamentally flawed – of course not.  But with the explosion of people who see that as a viable possibility, especially in a music scene essentially informed by pop culture and the “commodification of cool”, you get a similar ‘diversity’ of political and economic agendas that frame such activity.

Anyway, Montreal these days just looks a lot more like everywhere else I suppose.  Inevitably.

That said, there is also no shortage of people in the city with whom we continue to find common cause, who are making strong work and doing it with motivations that we find authentic, honest, balanced and committed, in the deepest senses.

How much more time in percent  do you invest in the artworks of the records you release,  compared to if you would be doing it in jewelcases?

Most of the LPs and CDs we make require at least a few processes coming from different printers, paper suppliers, etc. and we manage all of that.  We also use 100% recycled materials whenever possible, which are usually more expensive and take more time and effort to get a hold of.  We coordinate everything and move all the pieces around and bring them all back to our warehouse, where we physically assemble, bag, seal, pack and ship just about every single album we produce.  We also keep our entire back catalogue in print with the same packaging and artwork that the initial pressings had.  I would guess we spend at least 4-5 times more time (and money) than a “jewel-case” label, just actually making and assembling the physical formats we release.  Partly that is because we do not outsource any of the labour.  We and our own in-house people do it.  So we have to maintain a large area for workspace and warehousing for all that.  But we love it.

There is nothing worse than abstraction from the means of production.  This is a core principle of ours – with the label, and in life.  Abstraction from the means of production is the source of our global malaise and the cause of our global crisis.  We all have to do address this in whatever ways we can.

It probably means we are more expensive for the consumer, so we sell less, and we produce less.  So far we continue to sustain things, even though music has become so brutally devalued in this sense.

How much of the labels philosphy did change since the start of the label?

I honestly don’t think the label’s core philosophy has changed.  The internet, combined with people’s increasing reluctance to pay for recorded music, has forced various changes in practice and been the source of a certain amount of frustration and dismay.

But we continue to make money only by selling records.  We ask our bands to agree in advance not to accept advertising as a source of licensing revenue, and in exchange, any licensing they do receive (for film, TV, etc.) goes 100% to the artist.  We do not charge artist management fees even though we end up providing that for various bands by default.  We accept that digital sales are a reality and necessity, even though this does not bring in a huge amount of revenue.

We live on the same small amount of money as we did in 2000 when we started doing the label full-time.  This makes it a lot easier to stick to one’s principles, I think.

How many people are involved in keeping the label going?

Alongside Don and I, there is a full-time warehouse person, a full-time web/PR person, a part-time accountant, and various contract workers brought in to do everything from a big record assembly job to a specific creative project, like shooting a live show on video or re-designing the website or helping to organise an event.

Can you please explain the relation of Constellation to the Hotel2Tango?

See above.  The Hotel2Tango is separately owned and operated (although we collectively own the building that houses both).  Neither Don or I have a financial stake in the studio nor do we participate in managing it in any way.  When any of our bands record there, we pay the studio for recording time – though surely we benefit from the generosity and long-standing friendships of the people that run it, in terms of getting some extra time off the clock, or squeezing something into the schedule on short notice.

H2T evolved at the same time as Constellation, with some of our closest friends and collaborators.  So of course they are connected in that sense, spiritually and situationally.

Do you have any problems with all the GY!BE bootlegs, that are avaible for free download?


When you decided to sell your records via Amazon, what were the reactions like?

We have never prohibited anyone from selling our records.  Our distributors can sell to whoever they want.  I do not remember a time when our records were not available on Amazon – not that I spent any time looking.

We simply try to make sure chain stores are not given special treatment.  We try to encourage people to seek alternatives and we try to make sure those alternatives get our support.  Amazon sucks – they aggressively defy local tax laws (in North American at least) and are utterly predatory.  Anyone can learn this about them if they so choose.  But millions of people choose to shop there, for whatever reasons.

We learnt long ago that you cannot control the consumer, and that the lowest price and the highest convenience are very powerful consumer motivators.  We also accept that millions of people do not live anywhere near a record store, yet are connected to culture via the internet and are likely to end up using a delivery system that dominates the internet (be it Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, etc.).

I have no idea why anyone would not consistently use a mail-order service like Green Hell or Glitterhouse or Flight 13 once they discovered that these exist.  I assume it is largely fear – a ‘security’ issue in people’s minds, where only the most solidly branded corporate e-commerce entities are perceived to be reliable, trustworthy and accountable.

If we have become in any way cynical about this, it is only in this sense: in 2011, anyone who is actually motivated enough to pay for a record we release is not to be discouraged!  We are never going to make a deal with Amazon to increase that potential, but if that’s the portal through which we and our artists end up getting some actual revenue for our collective hard work, then so be it.

In an essay on GYBE I found the sentence: “The non-hierarchical, underground mail network described by Pynchon finds an echo in the message on the Constellation Godspeed! website.” How much does this ethic reflect what you do with Constellation? If so, what’s your view on distributing and selling music on the internet?

Sorry, I do not know what message on the ‘Constellation Godspeed! website’ this would be referring to.

But yes, we would absolutely prefer to see our records sold through entirely independent channels and networks.  I don’t believe things need to be secretive and ‘underground’ – as if that’s really possible anymore in any case, when it comes to cultural phenomena at even the lowest levels of commercialisation.  But there is no reason that 100% independent channels of small, sustainable, locally-based enterprises cannot entirely deliver music created and produced from faraway places – as long as the producers of such music accept a natural limit to the number of units they can shift through such networks, which we have always had faith in and have always established as our natural definition of sustainability as well.

We have no problem with the internet as a mode of independent exchange and commercial transaction.  Clearly if even 1% of Amazon’s market moved to independent mail-order companies, the impact would be significant.  Constellation will continue to encourage this.

If you shop at a physical record store, you are supporting a different sort of economy, and will usually pay a slight premium for doing so.  Paying this premium is money that stays in your local economy.  Constellation obviously supports the local social and economic horizons that small physical shops are a part of.  All we can do is hope that a couple of extra Euros is understood by the conscious consumer as supporting this as well.

Posted on June 29, 2011 by Kanzler