Nate: Could you describe who you are and what you do in relation to the label?
Jeff: Hi, my name is Jeff Matlow. I run Crank!. I also founded it, which I always thought was a funny way to say; "I started the company". Cause I didn't really find it anywhere, I mean, it wasn't lost. But I digress.... I handle the basic operations of Crank!. I also handle a lot of marketing, press and A&R activities, whatever those may be.
Nate: Lets get the basics out of the way…when did Crank! first march onto the playing field, what was your first release, and where are you from?
Jeff: So many questions. Let me start at the end. Where am I from? I grew up in New England, mostly lived in Connecticut but I moved around a lot. Boston, DC, New York, Philly, etc. The witness protection program keeps you on your toes. I moved out to Los Angeles in 1989 and have been living here, in Santa Monica, since. I started Crank! in 1994, after working for some major labels for awhile and getting a bit fed up. The real story there is that I was introduced to this band called Vitreous Humor, who I thought was amazing. I couldn't get them signed to the label I was at, or any other major for that matter. So, on Sept. 4, 1994 (9/4/94), I quit and released a Vitreous Humor 7".
Nate: How many people work at Crank!? Is it a nice place to work or is it a lot like Dilbert?
Jeff: Crank! has three people working with the label. It is the best place to work ever though I am a huge Dilbert fan! Though we do have cubicles, they are much cooler than you'd imagine. Unfortunately we don't have any dog consultants telling us what to do. There's me. Then there's Fred our token French guy. He takes care of sales and \ distribution. And there's Rob, who handles our finance, keeps Fred and I in line, and yells at me when I'm being ridiculous.
Nate: I'm a huge Mineral fan, so I have to ask a little about them. Do they still continue to be big sellers? Do a lot of people write in with questions about them?
Jeff: I'm a huge Mineral fan too, so it's ok. Yes, we get lots and lots of questions about mineral. They continue to be one of our big sellers even though their first record was released over 4 years ago, and the band broke up 3 years ago, they continue to sell very well because more and more people are learning about them. And with well-deserved success of bands like Jimmy Eat World, Get Up Kids and Hot Water Music, it seems the Mineral name is floating around even more. It's exciting.
Nate: Crank seems to be selective in signing bands. You don't seem to sign a lot of bands at the same time, but instead add one every once in awhile. Why is this? Would you say getting signed to Crank! is harder then other labels? Are you looking for something specific?
Jeff: This is a good point and thank you for bringing it up. There are a few "rules" I set for myself when I started Crank!. One of the most important ones was that I refused to work with bands that I'm not passionate about. After all, I own the company and if I can't be happy with the company I own, then what's the point of doing it? So, there's a good side and not-as-good side to that. The good side is that I get to work with bands that I'm completely passionate about. The not-as-good side is that I'm really really picky. I don't find many bands that really kill me, so to speak. So I don't always sign as many bands as I probably should, that said, I think it is definitely harder to get signed to Crank! than it is to some other labels. But not necessarily all labels. There are a lot of picky label owners/A&R people out there!
Nate: What sort of marketing strategy does Crank! have? Do the bands sort of stand on their own as far as creating a name for themselves, or does Crank! push them?
Jeff: Crank! definitely works with the bands to help them get the name out there, but I firmly believe that the only thing that can break a band is the band itself. A label can provide support, and help with press and help with distribution, etc, but if the band isn't touring, and doing interviews, and making contacts and basically working it anyway they can than nothing is going to happen. A label definitely can't break a band on it's own. With that in mind, Crank! works with our bands as much as we can. For bands that are just learning what to do, we try to show them how things should be done. For bands that know what to do, we try to provide them with the support they need. We also like trying to do some different things. I hate getting stuck in the same old press, and radio push. I mean, all of those are important, but it's also fun to try and create different opportunities.
Nate: A lot of labels say that what they want to do is produce great music while keeping their integrity. Would you say this is true of Crank!? What is the mission statement of Crank! and what does it mean in the course of day to day operation.
Jeff: This is absolutely fitting for Crank!. As far as the great music, like I mentioned before, I sign bands that I'm passionate about. So, if nothing else, at least I think it's great music. Fortunately other people have agreed more times than none, and I definitely want to maintain a certain level of integrity with Crank!. Regardless of the size of the company, you have to be respected. Nothing hurts a company more than having a bad reputation. Take Nike for instance: they're still a cool company, but think back to when the whole sweatshop thing came out and how much it thrashed the company. So I try to do things that don't completely take away from the "coolness" of the company. After all, I've never been cool in my life. This is my one chance for people to think I'm cool! However, this kinda moves into another topic, which is the Indie music label. We're tagged as an indie rock company. Honestly, I have more of a history with pop music than indie music. And many of the bands I sign are just plain pop bands. So I'm not trying to maintain this big indie rock edge, which I know a lot of other labels are. I just want to remain true to myself, cause at the end of the day, its me that's got to feel good about what I've done.
Nate: Previously you have sold your merch through SaulGoodMan. It looks like now your selling directly through your web page. Why the change?
Jeff: Unfortunately SaulGoodMan had a string of bad luck, resulting in the closing of their mail order catalog and distribution network. Crank! was selling its records and merch on its own before SaulGoodMan came around. Now that the SG catalog is no longer around, Crank! has just reverted to doing what it used to do before, which is providing the kids with the rock they need.
Nate: What is the touring situation? From the looks of your touring section on the website, it looks like the majority of the Crank! bands aren't out on the road. Is this a wrong impression? If not, why is this so?
Jeff: You know, its all timing. Sometimes bands tour, sometimes they don't. Right now there are two Crank! artists that are on the road.. Icarus Line and Onelinedrawing. Both of who, by the way, put on AMAZING live shows. We realize that touring is what makes and breaks a band, so we encourage our bands to tour as much as possible. You'll see a lot more touring in the very near future.
Nate: Where would you like Crank! to go over the long haul?
Jeff: You know, I'd like to continue to sign great bands and release great records and sell a whole helluva lot of them. I'd love to have an Offspring-like hit for one of the Crank! bands, and I know the Crank! bands would love for that to happen to them. Of course, the odds of that happening are pretty low, but at least we work our butts of to try to get as many people to hear the Crank! bands as we can. Suffice to say, Crank! will continue to grow and get better and better. And maybe one day we'll conduct a hostile take over of AOL.
Nate: What distros does Crank! have, are you happy with them, and what would you like to improve?
Jeff: Crank! is distributed through all the usual suspects: Revolver, NAIL, Choke, Smash, etc. We just signed a deal with Allegro Distribution that we're really excited about. Allegro will help get the Crank! releases better placement in more of the bigger stores and chains (Tower, HMV, etc..). Distribution for any label, no matter how big or small, is an issue. Every store is never going to always have your records. There is nothing more frustrating than a band going on the road and not finding their records in a few stores. That just blows. So it's always an uphill battle. But we have some really good distributors on our side and, fortunately, the Crank! name is known and respected at hundreds of retailers around the country, so we actually get pretty good distribution nationally in thousands of stores from Tower, HMV, and Virgin and on down to local indie stores.
Nate: What do you see as the role of the Independent record label? Is there a market for as many labels as there are? Why doesn't the general public wake up to the fact that the radio doesn't offer as much as is out there?
Jeff: People always say it's a tough time to own a record label, and I agree with them, to a certain extent. It's definitely was easier for me to start a label in 1994 than it would be to start one now. With the internet and all it offers, and the fact that it is so easy for anybody to record their own music and press their own CDs, most bands don't really need a record label. I mean, why give a record label most of the money you're going to make when you can just do it yourself? The fact is, though, that its the record label's contacts with press, distribution, radio and retail that are the most valuable aspects of the relationship. As long as bands understand that, then it's all good. As one of my bosses once said, "distribution is a very simple thing, you take this 'thing' and you move it from location A to location B. That's what a distributor does. If you expect anything more from them, then you'll probably end up pretty disappointed much of the time." I really view a record label as a similar, yet more complex, tool. But that's all we are, is a tool for the band to achieve their goals. More and more these days, bands are realizing they don't need that tool, that they can build it themselves. But, as you mentioned, there are a ton of bands out there and a ton of records being released every year. So labels might also help to weed out all the really crappy stuff. Cause there are thousands of bands out there that will definitely never be signed to any record label and that's a good thing!
Nate: What is behind the name Crank! and does it have anything to do with bike mechanics?
Jeff: Either you've read something about me or you are very observant *(Interviewers Note: very observant). Yes, Crank! has to do with biking, but it has to do with oh so much more. The original name of the company was Gearhead Records. A Gearhead is a name for an avid mountain biker. I'm an avid bike rider, amongst other things, so I made this logo with a gear head. Then I realized there is already a Gearhead Records, so I had to change the name. I wanted something that stuck with the biking theme and stuck with the logo. So I went through a bunch of names in my mind and finally came across Crank! A crank is a part of a bicycle, but it also has a ton of other meanings. There's the old standby "crank it up"... I sometimes used to yell "crank!" to myself as I tried to pedal up an ungodly steep hill...and all the other meanings. On top of everything else, I just think it's a cool name for a company.
Nate: What has been some of the mistakes that Crank! has made? What lessons did you learn from them?
Jeff: Like everybody else, I've made my share of mistakes. In fact, I continue to make mistakes, cause nobody is perfect. But I try to learn from everything I do; both from the failures and the successes. Nothing huge really pops to mind when I try to think of a big mistake I made with Crank!. I don't regret signing any of the bands, I don't regret any of the distribution deals, and I don't regret any of the interviews. I guess its just small mistakes that you learn as you go along. Like not to send promos to certain people because they won't ever listen to them or how to best present a band to a magazine, whatever it might be.
Nate: What experience with music do you have and if any, how do you bring that influence to the label?
Jeff: I used to be a DJ and a band manager and a producer/engineer. I played piano (classically trained for 20 years) and guitar and a little saxophone, and then I realized I wasn't talented so I started a record label. I don't consciously bring any of those influences in to the label, but all of my history makes up who I am, so it definitely influences what I do. Is that a cop out of an answer?
Nate: What is happening at Crank! in the near future? New Releases, new bands being signed etc.
Jeff: I just signed a new band called The Get Set that I'm so friggin excited about I can practically pee in my pants. They are based in Los Angeles and play a quasi-brit-pop influenced rock. Amazing songwriting, wonderful voice, great record, I can't say enough wonderful things about this band. Also, we're releasing a new pop band called Jupither. Their debut EP comes out in September. Rarely do you hear hooks as big as what this band does. It's amazing. And The Icarus Line keeps kicking serious butt. This band is working so hard, you wouldn't believe it. Things are starting to break huge for the band and I don't doubt that they'll continue to grow tremendously in popularity It's all so wonderful. I'm happy. Very, very happy.
Nate: Any follow up comments?
Jeff: Yes. Don't do drugs. Drugs are bad. Try not to smoke too cause that's bad. I'd say don't drink, but I'd be a hypocrite. But lots of Crank! (heh heh). Come over to www.crankthis.com and say hi.
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