INTERVIEW: Brutal Panda's Bob and Mike

We spend a lot of time talking to artists—whether in blog posts or in each month’s issue—and rightfully so. After all, they put their blood, sweat and tears into making the music that brings us together. We haven’t necessarily dedicated a lot of space to the people actually putting out those releases, however, so we figured we’d pick the brains of the men and women behind some of our favorite record labels. Sure, part of the reason we love Brutal Panda Records is that the label's homebase is the great city of Philadelphia. But really, Bob Lugowe and Mike Lara—the dudes behind BPR—could be based out of anywhere and we'd still be behind them given the quality of what they've been putting out (releases by Kowloon Walled City, Fight Amp and Norska to name a few). With the new Zozobra (featuring Caleb Scofield of Cave In/Old Man Gloom) record on the horizon, Bob and Mike were kind enough to answer some questions about how the label came about and currently operates. Check out its official site here and preorder yourself a copy of Savage Masters, due out April 2nd.

Tell us about who is involved with the label and how it got started. Did you have any experience in the industry, whether on the artist or business side (or otherwise), before things began? Mike Lara: The label has always just been Bob and I, give or take one or two interns from time to time. We were both interns at Relapse Records at the time we decided to start this, so we had a little background in the whole record label world. We had both expressed interest in starting a label and then we found out that Translation Loss wanted to have someone put out the first Fight Amp record on vinyl, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get things started.

Taking a step back, talk a little bit about your formative experiences with music. Was there one band or record in particular that really got you into heavy music? Bob Lugowe: I got heavy into music at around the age of ten thanks to my parents and my cousin's eclectic tastes and my first few cassettes were Michael Jackson, Queen, ZZ Top and Nine Inch Nails. NIN in particular opened me up to the world of heavy jams and after being taken to an H2O show in junior high, I got really into hardcore like Snapcase and Earth Crisis, which then led to more extreme bands like Morbid Angel and Opeth. Once I started college and met Mike, I started getting into the more noise rock/sludge realm of metal, which is what we primarily peddle. Both of us listen to all types of music and you're just as likely to find us at a Sigur Ros show as a heavy show.

The label is based out of Philadelphia, a place near and dear to our hearts. How has the City of Brotherly Love treated you? Are you from the area originally? BL: I grew up in South Jersey right across the bridge from this fine city while Mike is originally from Austin, TX. We moved here while working at Relapse and it has been a truly rewarding experience to watch the scene here grow and to play a role in its growth, no matter how small. We've put on a decent amount of shows here and released albums from local favorites Ladder Devils, Fight Amp and Javelina, so we are definitely proud of our city and our bands here.

You guys put out new albums both exclusively (for instance, the latest Kowloon Walled City record) as well as vinyl releases of bands from other labels (like Primitive Weapons). How do you go about finding new acts to sign and end up working with bands that are on other labels? ML: It always starts with us hearing a record we both like or talking about a band we want to work with. Then it's as simple as us contacting them or their label and coming to an agreement. I'm not going to lie, we have been extremely lucky with the the caliber of bands that have agreed to work with us. I don't know if I scare people with my beard or if people feel bad for Bob because he looks the way he does, but we have generally been able to work with all the bands we go after.

We started off mostly putting out records that we licensed from other labels, but recently we have been focusing on albums that we are putting out exclusively. More and more bands have been coming to us asking if we would want to put out their new record on vinyl, while they put out the CD themselves. With the way the industry is headed, it seems to make more financial sense for smaller bands these days.

As vinyl experts, tell us about the process and work that goes into putting out records on wax. Since you only deal in one medium, what are your views on others like CDs, cassettes, mp3s, etc? ML: It starts off with us getting the final 24 bit masters for an album. From there, you send it to your lacquer cutter. The most important step in making sure the record sounds awesome is to make sure you get someone who knows what they are doing to cut your lacquers. If it is a heavy record, find someone who knows how to work with that style of music. Once you have the lacquers, you get the plates done and then the test presses. If everything is satisfactory, you approve them and you sit and wait for your records to come in. Vinyl manufacturing takes a bit longer than CD manufacturing, so if you are thinking about pressing a 7" for your tour that is coming up next month, it probably isn't going to happen.

As far as the other mediums, we definitely aren't against them in any way whatsoever. We just prefer the sound and aesthetics of records. There have been a couple of instances where we have had the chance to do a cassette or CD release of one of our records, but we have always decided against it.

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What have you found to be the most effective means of communicating and interacting with fans of the music that you put out? BL: We are quite fortunate to have a loyal and dedicated following for our label and our bands and I think that's due in part to the way we communicate with our fans. We don't spend money on advertising, keep our prices low and put on special shows for the bands and I think that translates well with fans who are there first and foremost for the music. We've had a lot of success getting the word out via message boards, small blogs and vinyl sites, social media and recently even national attention from sites like Pitchfork and NPR, which is amazing.

You're set to put out the new Zozobra record soon. Briefly walk us through what the process is like for you in terms of working with a band from when they begin to write/record until the album is released. ML: It is a little different with each band we work with, but everything is very collaborative. In the case of Zozobra, it was just me bugging the shit out of Caleb for a couple of years. I am sure the only reason he finally recorded the new stuff is because he wanted all the emails to stop. We stay totally hands off when it comes to the bands recording the record. We are fans of them for a reason, so we trust that they will turn in something rad.

We do stay in touch during the recording process so we can try to map out a release timeline. Around the same time the band is getting ready to record, we all start thinking of artwork ideas and how the record should be packaged. Do we want a gatefold? Who is doing the art? Is this a single LP?

Once that is all settled, we move on to the next phase, which involves setting up interviews, song premieres, features and any tour dates/events that we want to coincide with the release date. We only do a handful of releases per year, so it allows us to really focus and give all of our attention to each of our babies.

What are your thoughts on Spotify and other similar services, particularly as a label striving to "keep music lovers interested in 'physical' music"? BL: We completely endorse them and see them as an opportunity instead of a deterrent. If anyone in the world can hear an album that we release via a legitimate service that just means extra promotion for us and our artists. People who want vinyl will be vinyl and if we can reach more of these people through these services then its a win win for everyone involved. I'm surprised that labels and artists are still holding their music off streaming sites and think its the way of the future for music discovery and consumption. I am also a loyal user of streaming site Rdio and almost exclusively use their app on my phone and my vinyl collection to jam out.

In an ideal world, where would you like to see the label in five years? BL: We would love to continue to break new and up and coming artists and still work with the bands we currently have on the roster but on a much larger capacity. If we could do this as our day jobs that would be the ultimate goal but as long as we can remain tastemakers and push some rad bands and make new friends, then we are two happy dudes.

What are some non-BP releases you guys have been digging recently? ML: I have been really digging the new Tame Impala record. I definitely wore that album out. That one and the new Beach House record. I also really liked that new Deftones jawn and I have been way into all of the new KEN Mode songs I have heard.

BL: I've just got my fingers crossed that the purple yoda, Prince, is dropping a new banger this year.

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