Ipecac Recordings 20 Years GREG WERCKMAN Interview
Ipecac Recordings was originally a collaboration between Mike Patton and his manager / buddy Greg Werckman. The concept was to simply find a home for Patton's post Faith No More projects but it soon grew into a functioning record label.Patton and Werckman met via Billy Gould during the early 90s and bonded over video games and basketball.
Greg has an interesting musical background, he was lead singer with 90s weirdo punkers Duh (which also briefly included Dean Menta), he worked as manager for Jello Biafra's record label, Alternative Tentacles. Greg also worked as a booking agent and handled authors such as the eccentric Hunter S. Thompson.
To help celebrate 20 years of the record label which has brought us Patton's varied and uncompromising music plus a host of awesome music from other bands over the years, we spoke with Greg.
So initially Ipecac Recordings was founded as a means to release the uncompromising music of Fantômas. Did you imagine then that the label would become so successful with such a huge catalogue of acts and releases?
We initially thought of it as a proper outlet for two projects that Mike was working on during and in between a couple of Faith No More tours. One was the project that went on the become Fantômas and the other was Maldoror, his collaboration with Merzbow. We spoke to a few labels that expressed interest in working with Mike and of course we had to make sure Warner Bros wanted nothing to do with these records. During this same time we were trying to convince WB to drop Mr Bungle. Not liking what we were hearing from labels, we figured we could/should release them ourselves. I had enough experience in the industry and several distribution contacts around the world. So to answer your question, initially, we did not even think of it as a record label. Just a name to put on a few releases. After the Melvins offered to be part of it, it turned into an actual label. But even then, we did not imagine what it would become. The success is one thing, but the amazingly deep and diverse catalog is what we are most proud of.
What are proudest achievements from the last 20 years of Ipecac?
I guess the easy answer is that twenty years later I think we are still an active and relevant record label that artists enjoy being part of. I don't reflect a lot but looking at our catalog of releases and thinking of the great artists that we have had the chance to work with makes me feel real good. It beats a real job.
As in your ‘mission statement’ do feel allowing bands to release music they want to over the last 20 years has defined Ipecac as a home for the ‘strange’?
Not really. I think most artists would prefer the creative freedom that we offer. Even Celine Dion. I think many of the artists we work with are not strange at all, but we are often described as a strange or avant garde label and that probably has more to do with Mike's reputation than anything else. Having said that, there is a certain amount of pride of being looked at as "different" from the norm. I like the term unique more. But like any form of art, that judgement belongs to the listener.
That's true enough and not everything you release is eccentric or weird, yet you have got a reputation for favouring the misfits. How does effect day to day business for you and for others?
Once again,I don't think we work with many unique artists. That is deliberate. It would be too easy....and boring to work with artists that are versions of other artists. We still get a ton of demos that sound like a version of the Melvins or Mr Bungle, etc etc. That does not interest us. Because of this we might not have the most commercial appeal but we do have a very loyal fan base that appreciates something different or something that might at times be challenging or ear opening. I don't think the term misfits works really. I would never consider Alain Johannes or Yasmine Hamdan or Spotlights, etc as being misfits. But at the end of the day, you can't control what people think about you or the box that you are put in. There are so many insanely odd stories about things that Mike has done or said or theories about Buzz and those things can be a blessing or a curse. In all honesty, business wise, it is better that anything is talked about than nothing at all, even if half of it is not true.
So you get some zany acts contacting you?
Well, we certainly get some zany submissions. Some of it is depressing.We don't consider ourselves as a zany label. As a matter of fact we pretty much lack anything that I would consider zany. I guess it depends on how you define zany. But I don't consider many of our releases as being in a clownish vein. I guess maybe Great Phone Calls is our zany release? People certainly don't hold back in their submissions. I should add that I don't remember the last time we released anything that was sent to us blindly. The first kid606 record?
Five years ago you held a great reddit Q and A session in which you said that ‘Uniqueness, hard working, realistic expectations, nice people’ are the qualities you look for in a band. How does it feel that through your personal music taste it has allowed for Ipecac to be a name people can trust for finding great and unique music?
I would be thrilled if that is indeed the way people think of us. But really, I'm not concerned about if people think about Ipecac at all. Its about the artists. If people know about and think about Daughters or Imani Coppola, as an example, that is way more important than having them think about Ipecac. Maybe we should try another reddit thing. That is a good idea. I doubt I could convince Mike to sit still for one.
Are there any bands you would love to see release records on the label?
I have always dreamt of doing a Sigur Ros release. They are my all time favorite band. Georg and Jonsi are old friends and I hope we collaborate in some way at some point. Would love to work with Willie Nelson. Would love to release a Mr. Bungle record.
Over the years the packaging of your albums has always been something special, great example of this are by Martin Kvamme. Is this something you take interest in when releasing records?
Well for Mike and I (especially Mike), part of the fun of being a music fan is the package and artwork that comes (or used to come) with the music. The people that still purchase physical music still appreciate it as well. It does not hurt to have something unique to look at as well as listen to.
In the ‘digital age’ how important do you think it is to keep producing such cool packaging?
I think it can convince someone to own something physically. It certainly does not hurt. We get a lot of very supportive mail about it.
So have you noticed an increase in vinyl requests and sales such as the media suggests is happening?
I think the media blows it up a bit. But the vinyl fan base is certainly healthy and they appreciate having the chance to own something on vinyl. We are in the process of re-releasing some of our older titles that were not available on vinyl. It is not a huge part of the market place but it is certainly a rabid sector. These are usually people who take their music very seriously...or they are collectors....or both. But I think its worth noting that a lot of our artists still sell primarily Cds. Compact discs are not dead yet.
This last few years you seem to have included some of biggest ever releases. Faith No More, Dead Cross, Daughters, Butcherettes and of course plenty of Melvins! Has this meant you’ve had to scale up or change the way you work?
It depends on how you define big releases. Those are not all in our all time best sellers, but all are quality releases. It especially rewarding watching a band grow their fan base. Recently watching the Spotlights and Daughters fan bases grow has been exciting for us. Those are two bands that you HAVE to see live to fully appreciate. We have not had to scale up but with things shifting towards social media, streaming services and digital distribution we have certainly had to change the way we work a release. You gotta change with the times.
How was working with Hunter S. Thompson?
A nightmare. He was an overrated asshole, in my opinion. Treated people very poorly and was out of his mind. He lost his creative talent many many years before his death. A sad man. I have many stories, but would rather not add to his myth.
What’s your personal favourite Patton project?
Yeah, these questions are not fair. Picking favorites is not something I enjoy. Being best friends with Mike and working with Mike has been a great honor. He is a real artist. His focus and attention is 100% on the creative process. Sales, charts, interviews, photos, reviews, touring are not things that he worries about or cares for as much as the collaboration of creating something unique. Each year we get several requests from people that want to write a book about him or do a documentary about him and hundreds of people that want to interview him. Quite simply, there is nothing he dislikes more than talking about himself. Let the music represent him. Could he sell more records if he did more interviews or made a certain type of record over and over again? Yeah, I'm sure he could, but that is not who he is and I respect that.
Obviously Patton’s composing, recording and touring limits his availability, does this mean management of the company and the finding of new bands mainly falls to yourself?
Well, Mike is certainly involved in finding new bands and he has his hands in a lot. The fact that he stays busy creatively is the fuel for the label. The day to day label management is also in the hands of Shawn and Marc. Two invaluable, dedicated, hard working people and friends that are and have been a HUGE part of Ipecac. There are a LOT of people that have enabled us to exist and do well for as long as we have. The artists, of course. Especially the Melvins. Bands like Isis and dälek who were the foundation of the label. The booking agents like Robby, Rob and Marlene. Rosemary our legal and spiritual adviser. The publicists, especially Monica and Lauren. The many distributors all around the world that we have worked with. So many of these people are not just people we work with but people we love that are very good friends. This is starting to sound like an award acceptance speech.
When will we get to hear music from the Patton / Jean-Claude Vannier collaboration?
Very soon. We will announce details in the near future.
Has Patton anything else in the works at the moment you can mention?
Not that I can mention. The reason is not to be secretive or sneaky or anything like that. Mike comes in and out of projects and some things move quicker than others. If I were to mention the new Mr. Bungle album fans would be asking about it constantly even though it might not get finished any time soon. Ha! Did you enjoy that joke? But rest assured, Mike always has works in various states of progress.....just not Mr Bungle.
What other artists upcoming new releases can we look forward to from Ipecac?
New releases from Spotlights, Imani Coppola, Alain Johannes, h09909 and believe it or not the Melvins. A few other goodies too. Thanks for your support! Let's get the next twenty started.