Interview with Level Plane Records

Ask any band on the Level Plane roster about label owner Greg Drudy and you will hear nothing but the highest praise. According to The One A.M. Radio’s Hrishikesh Hirway:

Working with Greg has been great. Since he hadn’t ever put out a record like the One A.M. Radio before, I wasn’t exactly sure what I’d be getting into when A Name Writ in Water was coming out. He put so much time and effort into it and he is really supportive of what I am doing. He really takes care of his bands in a way that is rare among smaller labels; he understands that if you are serious about dedicating your life to music, you need a lot of support from the label, and he provides that to an extent that separates Level Plane from many others. Before I had put out a record with Greg, I asked a few friends who had worked with him about their experiences, and they were all glowingly positive. I am happy to add my voice to theirs in praise of his hard work.

Jeff Kane from City of Caterpillar/Malady and Dan from A Day in Black & White also told us that Greg is one hard-working guy, doing everything he can to help all of the Level Plane bands out while they are on tour and many other times as well.

For the past six years, Greg has put out some amazing and eclectic records from some of the best hardcore, post-hardcore, indie rock, noise, and electronic artists not only in the US but around the world. Level Plane has been home to records by Japanese avant-grind band Melt Banana, City of Caterpillar who managed to blend Mogwai’s beauty with Sleepytime Trio’s pure volume and abrasive chaotic hardcore, The One A.M. Radio’s introspective singer/songwriter hush, the mind bending, new-wave influenced A Trillion Barnacle Lapse, Air Conditioning’s harsh droning noise, Muslimgauze’s electronic work, and Drudy’s own Hot Cross, n explosively technical band along the lines of At the Drive-In or Fugazi. That doesn’t begin to count for the long list of other equally impressive records Greg has put out in the same time frame. Being one of my personal favorite record labels, I was more than ecstatic about getting to interview Greg. What I found was a sincere person who truly believes in what he is doing, which makes me more than happy to say that I will continue to be inspired by Level Plane releases for years to come. Here is how everything went down.

Delusions of Adequacy: How did Level Plane get started? How did you get it off the ground and what was your first release?

Greg Drudy: The label was initially started to release a debut 7” by my first band, Saetia. We had agreed to release an LP/CD with Mountain Records, but they thought it would be a good idea to get an initial release out there. We decided to take two tracks from our demo and release a 7”. It was also done to have a record to sell on our first tour. This first release was a mutual effort amongst all of the band members. All of the subsequent releases have been done by just me.

DOA: Where did the idea to name the label Level Plane come from?

GD: One night we were assembling copies of the Saetia 7” and I was also looking through the current issue of National Geographic. An author was discussing photography and the need for a level plane. It seemed like an interesting phrase and we were at a loss for anything else at the time.

DOA: When did you realize that Level Plane was going to be a full-time label, and was there a significant release that marked this?

GD: Well, the label still isn’t really a full-time label. It consumes most of my life, but I don’t make a living from it. Starting with the Forstella Ford Quietus LP/CD, I began to take the releases more seriously. I began to do more advertising and promotion for each release. They were really the first band I worked with that was on the road, touring, for a good chunk of the year. I felt like I needed to at least match their effort and energy if they were going to entrust me with their record. Prior to that, I was mainly doing 7”s or vinyl only releases that were pretty limited in pressing.

DOA: How many people are on the staff at Level Plane? Do you run it out of your house or is it in an office or some other place?

GD: I don’t have a staff at all. It’s just me running the label and the mailorder. In August of 2004, I met a guy from Charlottesville who came on board and started helping me with promo mail outs and tour support stuff. He has really helped me out greatly. This summer I had a lot of releases come out and many of the bands were on tour. John and I were in my basement for hours on end filling out tour posters and mailing promo CDs. It was brutal.

DOA: There were some other people that ran the label at first, correct? What happened to them?

GD: There have been a couple of people involved at various times. But time constraints, other priorities, and my personal moving around have whittled it down to just me.

DOA: Do you still have a day job? If so, what do you do there?

GD: I am primarily a freelance programmer. I worked for years in NYC during the dot-com boom. I have been on tour so much this year with Hot Cross that I haven’t taken on many jobs. In the downtime I have been focusing on the label and the mailorder. I am lucky to have a very supportive and understanding wife. Although, once this tour ends I might be getting a job as a parking lot attendant.

DOA: The records on Level Plane are pretty diverse. You can’t get much different than say The One A.M. Radio versus Shikari or Air Conditioning as opposed to A Trillion Barnacle Lapse. Is there a reason for this, your own eclectic interests perhaps?

GD: Definitely. My musical tastes are all over the map. Many of the earlier releases were in a similar vein because these were bands that Saetia was playing shows with at the time or that I was friends with from the NYC hardcore scene. I never wanted the label to be limited in the type of music it releases. I would rather release records that appeal to all of my tastes and be completely fulfilled in the end. Records like the Muslimgauze 2xLP or The One A.M. Radio LP/CD might seem to be particular standouts from the overall label catalog, but to anyone that knows me it would make perfect sense.

DOA: Do you actually “sign” bands to the label or is it more of a personal thing where you become friends with these people who happen to make excellent records and you want to help them out?

GD: I don’t work with contracts and I don’t really “sign” bands. Almost every band has members that I am friends with first. Some of them are people that I might meet while on tour and played shows with them. The fact that I play in a band and am always meeting people through that medium accounts for the large volume of releases. I am just constantly meeting bands that I think are creating outstanding music and I want to help them out as much as I can.

DOA: You’ve put out several releases from international bands such as Melt Banana, Kaospilot, and Envy. How did these come about?

GD: Each release from an international band came about in a unique way. Out of all of the bands, I had only seen Melt Banana play before asking them to do a record. On a whim, I e-mailed Melt Banana and asked them if they would be interested in doing a record with me. They responded pretty quickly and asked to check out some releases I had done. I shipped them a box of records and they were impressed with the quality of the packaging and the music. They asked me if I would release a 6” because they had never released a record on that format before. It blew my mind. Melt Banana is one of my all-time favorite bands, so to get to release a record by them was unbelievable. The entire experience was topped off when Hot Cross toured Japan. We were able to play in Tokyo with Melt Banana, Envy, and City of Caterpillar. It was an experience I will never forget.

DOA: Do you receive many demos? Have you ever released anything by a band that has sent one in? If not, has there ever been one you’ve considered?

GD: I do receive a good amount of demos each week. I actually listen to them all. When Hot Cross goes on tour, I bring along a box of demos to listen to in the van. They range from really well done and professionally recorded demos to some kids setting up a boombox in their basement. I have never released anything based solely on a demo. I did being to work with Transistor after they sent me a demo with eight songs and that same weekend Hot Cross played a show with them in New England. It was really awesome to get a kick-ass demo in the mail and then follow it up with a really powerful and energetic live performance. After that, I was definitely into working with them.

I am actually pretty critical of demos. I think that the level of effort and time someone invests in creating a well-recorded and well-packaged demo reflects how seriously they take their art and their band. With Saetia, we all saved up enough money to go into a solid studio and record a decent demo before we sent it around to some labels. I can’t imagine any label is stoked to receive a poorly recorded demo with a handwritten note that contains only an e-mail address and the band’s name.

DOA: Does putting out your own band’s records ever present a conflict of interest or work to the disadvantage of the band or label?

GD: I don’t necessarily think that it has been a disadvantage or a detriment to either the band or the label that I have released all of our records. At times, I do wish the burden was taken off of my hands. It can be really hard to balance the needs of my band with the needs of all of the bands on the label. I really strive to make sure that all of the bands are treated exactly equal, with the same level of attention and effort dedicated to each. I think it has worked out well so far. I am not sure if I will be releasing the bands next full-length, but that is far down the road.

DOA: You’ve done some split label releases before such as the Jeromes Dream/Usurp Synapse 7” with Cleanplate Records. What is it like working with people from other labels and will you be doing any more of these in the future?

GD: Honestly, working with other labels can be a great time and a stressful time. I am quite a control freak, and having to rely on others to get things done is often nerve wracking for me. It can be a real boon when neither label has sufficient funds to release the record or all parties involved are good friends. I will probably not do another split label release unless it is something like one label releasing the CD and another doing the vinyl or licensing the record out to another label.

DOA: Are there other record labels that you think are doing a good job or that you’ve tried to fashion Level Plane after to a certain extent?

GD: There are several labels that I think do an amazing job and have definitely been an inspiration or guiding force for me. I particularly like the way Jade Tree and Dischord both run their labels. They seem to be able to release records they believe in as well as take great care of all the bands. Very few bands leave those labels once they are signed and on board. I think that is always a telling sign of how a label works with and for its bands.

DOA: Where do you have your CDs and vinyl pressed? Is it pretty inexpensive? I know there have been some releases delayed in the past because of problems at the pressing plant, what is your worst experience with that?

GD: I typically get all of my print material (CD booklets, traycards, vinyl inserts, posters, and films) done through Imprint in Florida. They are amazing and great to work with. MCOM in Tennessee does all of my CD duplicating and assembly. Erika Records does all of my vinyl pressing and assembly. All of these places are a mix of good prices and good service. There are cheaper places, but they don’t have the same level of service. I also believe in keeping all of my manufacturing in the US so none of these places source out work to Canada or other countries.

DOA: I am always interested in finding out what music other people love. Running a record label, surely you have some records that you love; is there a favorite, one you continue to find inspiration in? Why?

GD: There are a ton of records throughout my life that have been inspirational. Like most people, I tend to latch on to one record for a few months or a year that really gets me going. Right now I would have to say that it is still The Mars Volta’s Deloused in the Comatorium. That record is completely amazing to me. The intricate and catchy vocal harmonies and the extremely tight and creative drumming really sets this record apart. There are two recent releases that I think are also outstanding. Both the new Pinback and Q & Not U records have been in constant rotation in the van since we got them. I can see myself coming back to both of these records many times in the future.

DOA: What’s in store for 2005? Any major releases that you wouldn’t mind sharing a few details about with us or giving a hint?

GD: Right now I have about four or five releases planned for early 2005. In January, there will be the final Bucket Full of Teeth LP/CD and a remix CD EP from The One A.M. Radio. It features tracks from the full length remixed by Alias, Daedalus, Caural, Hrvatski, and some others. Transistor Transistor and The Holy Shroud will be releasing their debut full lengths in February, and hopefully there will be a new Anodyne EP as well.

DOA: Where do you see the label in 10 years? Do you think you’ll still be doing it?

GD: I really hope the label is still going in 10 years. It has already been going for about six years, which is mind blowing to me as it is. Another 10 is an enormous hurdle. I just hope I will still be putting out relevant releases in 10 years.