Label Spotlight: Poison City Records

Poison City Records is a label, record shop and distributor. I first became aware of the label when I bought the Daysworth Fighting and Lead Sketch Union EPs. Both were great and so I checked out the label and their other releases. From that beginning, I ended up living in Melbourne where the label is based, stopping past regularly to hunt for new vinyl. One of the great things about that was Andy Hayden, the owner of Poison City, is one of the nicest guys you’ll meet.  He’s been able to bring out some of my favourite bands, put on some great shows and Poison City continues to release great music from Australian bands. I chatted to him about the label, the decision to expand and the “Weekender.” Read the interview here.

–          Interview by Justin George.  Interview first appeared in Wasted Opportunities Zine with republication under approval from Justin George.

Give us a quick history of the label.

I was playing in a hardcore band called Fast Times in 2002-2003 and it got to the point where we had an album’s worth of stuff and I guess, like how a fair few small labels start, it was more the case of “let’s just put it out ourselves.” Then came the name “Poison City” and we sort of didn’t look around for any other label, it was just like “yeah I’m keen to do a label and put it out.”  There was never that intention of “right! I’m going to do this for a job!” It really was just a hobby at the start and it probably wasn’t until after that release, we started talking to a couple of other local bands like Daysworth Fighting and Lead Sketch Union.

I had just started playing with A Death in The Family.  We got going at the end of 2003 and started meeting other bands and finding that there really wasn’t a label for that sort of music.  I thought well, I’ve got this name and there’s this other style of music, maybe more melodic stuff that was happening without any label to help those bands release it and really, just even to have bands to play with it. When we started A Death in the Family we really struggled to find who or which bands we’d play with, or similar or like-minded bands. So I guess the second and third year of Poison City was just about making a network for the bands and helping bands.

You were running it [Poison City] out of the office hours while you were working type of thing?

Yeah I was, I was working as a sales rep for a skate board importer, for a skate board distributor, so I had fairly flexible hours and I was able to, luckily, have a few hours here and there to do the label stuff and I guess it probably wasn’t until the point where I got in contact with No Idea [Records] about distribution in Australia and that was the point where it ended up taking over the house a bit more and we ended up having a whole half of the house dedicated to the label and distribution and I guess that’s where things went up a notch.

Was there a point where you made a conscious decision to make that big expansion or were you following that momentum?

Thinking back to that time it did seem to happen organically but then at the same time I remember coming up with the shop idea, must have been at the end of 2006, start of 2007 and we were just about to talk to my girlfriend about it and make it happen then my dad got really sick.  That put the brakes on for a while and he was quite sick for quite a few months, and the whole time one of his big things he was saying to me even when really, really sick was ‘you should definitely go ahead and do this’, do the shop, and he pulled through that really sick time.

Would you go back and release some of the older catalogue on vinyl release or not in the near future?

I’m definitely thinking about that, that’s something we’re looking at for next year, it makes most sense to do it with bands that are still active, because while you hear people say “all those small labels are selling heaps of vinyl lately,” we’re selling more vinyl then we use to, just because its available and I’m talking about all smaller labels at the moment, it’s still hard to sell. If you sell out of a pressing of 500 LPs that’s a pretty big effort for a smaller label, or a smaller band.

Speaking about the whole catalogue of Poison City what do you consider the defining releases of the label, or are there ones you’re most proud of? Or that have a special place for whatever reasons? Or You’re the proud father that loves his children equally?

Exactly, yep, you can put that down (laughs). It was really cool, a few months back we had the Fires of Waco record and Jen Buxton’s record came out, almost in the same month. We did a pre-order on both and Fires of Waco, possibly one of the heavier of the things we’ve released and Jen Buxton’s the quieter and the more softer side of things.  To see so many people ordering a copy of each of the pre-orders that really, I was really happy with that.  It shows to me that people don’t tend to pigeon hole things, they’re like “I really like to listen to well written acoustic stuff” and you know, can appreciate Fires of Waco and the more hardcore stuff but they’re still coming from the same though process.

The label has set up a weekend fest, called the “Weekender.” Can you give a brief history about why you set it up, how it runs and some plans for the future for the “Weekender?”

Well the first one we did was I 2007 and that was basically at the point where we had enough bands on the label to.  There was a couple of Sydney bands on the label, and 3 or 4 Melbourne bands and it was sort of a showcase type of thing.  I thought “let’s try and get all the bands we’ve released up to now and do one show” so we did that at the Espy in Melbourne, which has a few different stages and a couple of different rooms and whatnot. I never had any plans to do it again, it turned out really well and seemed that a lot of the people who had supported the label up till then or friends of the bands sort of congregated for that one show and it was cool. The year after that we didn’t do anything just because a lot of the bands were busy doing other stuff and we couldn’t get the right line up, so we just gave it a miss.

A Death in the Family were in the States where I got to meet the guys from Samiam and I started talking to them, with the help from Graham from Resist [Records], about finally touring Australia which they had never done.  The timing was around that September time and the idea was of trying to base something around that tour.  I got talking to the Bodyjar guys and they were keen to play as they were friends with Serge from Samiam.  It sort just developed into what could have been one massive show and then I thought, “we’ve got the Arthouse there, so let’s do a couple of Arthouse shows.”

So you split it [the Weekender] up?

Yeah exactly, and came up with the name ‘The Weekender’ and that one was bit bigger, with the main show on the Saturday night sold out straight away, we were really excited about that.  The Arthouse shows were really good, so it came up with a grand plan for the future, but it seems to be working really well.  We’ve just had this year’s one and that was by far the biggest, all 4 shows sold out and there were heaps of people who came from interstate.  I was just wrapped that people are treating it like an event and that its on their radar for that time of the year.  I guess the original idea, because we had been over to play the Fest in Gainesville, was the kind of concept that they had there.  It was based around their label but it was also inclusive of other bands, that are to do with their music community, which really appealed to me

To finish up, in terms of releases, is there anything we can look forward to in terms of the end of 2011 or start of 2012 for Poison City?

We’ve got the next release which will be the Fires of Waco 7inch and EP, which I’m really stoked on. I just heard the final masters for that a couple of days ago and really excited about that. Grim Fandango have a 7inch and EP, that should be out just before the end of the year, we tend to not to release, or try to not release stuff during December, just because yeah…

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