Velvet Blue Music has been a constant in the indie rock community for over 16 years. How have they manged to stay afloat all this time even as the music industry has dramatically fluctuated? VBM’s founder, Jeff Cloud attributes it partially to sustaining an unwavering commitment to music he loves and a tremendous amount of hard work. I recently caught up with Jeff during an after-party for a secret T-Pain show in Hollywood…
Violent Success: What were your goals/aspirations when you started Velvet Blue Music in 1996?
Jeff Cloud: It’s something I thought of doing while I was in high school. I had a friend of a friend who put out a few 7″s and that just blew my mind, you know. I knew I wanted to do that too. My original goal was to put out music and have people like and buy it. Basically get some lesser known bands that I liked out there more. Pretty much the same goal I have now, it’s just 146 releases later!
VS: Why do you think labels are still important for artists?
JC: It’s funny as I’ve read some really compelling articles on this recently. In this day and age you can pretty much do everything on your own… or can you? Labels are important because they hold everything together. If bands could do their own recording, manufacturing, press, radio, artwork, ads, licensing, booking, etc – good… then they would. It’s a really large task to do this good though and as a band trying it out for yourself for the 1st or 2nd time… that usually doesn’t go well. Having a label is like having a partner, someone who actually works for you and for what you’re doing. Help is always a good thing.
VS: I’ve been on a Joy Electric kick lately and I even went out of my way to get the Art Core compilations that Tooth And Nail put out in the late 90s. You were a part of JE for 5 or 6 years… What was it like to simultaneously run a record label and tour/write with Ronnie Martin?
JC: Funny, as I’ve been pretty nostalgic lately as well. I hung out w/ Brandon (who owns Tooth and Nail) a few weeks ago at SXSW and we were talking about the good old days. Then that led me to have a extended phone call with Ronnie and just catch up. I loved being in Joy Electric, I mean anyone can say what they will but that was an extremely unique band. Ronnie and I toured all over this country so many times and we had a great time. He is a truly talented guy, insanely underrated if you ask me.
VS: Have you played with any other bands since then?
JC: I played in Starflyer for a few years after I left Joy Electric. Recorded a few Pony Express releases and I did some brief touring in a band called The Party People. I’ve belted out sing alongs with Interpol(when I’m alone)… I love being in bands and being out on the road, but I’m just so short on time these days.
VS: What’s your most common conversation with bands as far as balancing artistic integrity & financial viability?
JC: Honestly, I don’t really have that conversation. I pick the bands I like and then they do what they want to do. If I was picking bands on financial viability… obviously I’ve been doing a bad job! We have and will continue to put out music that doesn’t always sit comfortably with the general public. We much more often talk about gardening. You know, like how on earth do you keep the white flies from eating up your perfect tomatoes? Do you trim back artichokes leaves? How come the the zucchini at home never looks like the ones in stores? Have you ever made Green Goddess dressing out of fresh basil? Things like that.
VS: What’s your opinion of the return of vinyl and cassettes? Is it a fad?
JC: I think vinyl has always been around, it’s just come up to the front a little more lately. I think with everything being so digital it’s nice to be able to hold something in your hands, to look at something that isn’t on a screen. Cassettes… I know there’s this uprising of cassette labels, but this might be a bit more for novelty.
VS: What is the best piece of advice you ever received, from who and why?
JC: Wow, that’s so difficult. I’ve met a lot of truly interesting people who have told me a lot of interesting things. I just can’t answer this, without regretting it in a few days.
VS: Do you enjoy music as much now as you used to and how has running a label affected how you listen-to/hear music?
JC: I do. I don’t listen to it as much as I used to, but I think I probably enjoy it more. You know when you hear a great song, it’s such a nice feeling. Working in music means you are surrounded by it all the time, so I think sometimes you forget how hard and how much time someone put into making that song (before you hit skip after 30 seconds). I try to give what ever I’m listening to a complete listen. What I’ve been listening to lately:
VS: For aspiring bands looking to launch a serious career in music, what advice would you give them?
JC: Go to culinary school. Cooking is all the hype, right? Go eat at: Buenos Aires Cafe in Austin, Bobcat Bite in Santa Fe, Over Easy in Phoenix, Philippe’s in Los Angeles, Hitching Post in Buelton (CA) and The Corner right here in Huntington Beach. Then make your own.
VS: What are some other labels you admire or feel a kinship to?
JC: Independent Projects, Rough Trade, Kranky, Secretly Canadian, Badman, XRA, Burnt Toast, Friendly Fire, Harding St. and of course Spune (I’m super proud of the work we’ve done together, we are extremely like minded)
VS: What advice would you give to someone thinking of starting a label today?
VS: In 20 years, what do you think/hope Velvet Blue Music will be known/remembered for?
JC: I hope it’s remembered / or thought of as a little label with a big heart who put out quality, slightly left of center music. A label that never gave into the pressures of compromise for compensation.