By Tonya West
Amidst the Monday night chatter before an open mic at Radio Bean, 28-year old Vermont native andre.W discussed creating the independent label candyhammer lo-fi.: the “not so hi that you can’t do-it-yourself, not so lo that quality is compromised” record label. Three of its eight projects – Mac Dates and The Moderates, andre.W and Pink Crucifix – will be released July 21 at The Monkey House in Winooski.
I had come to this interview prepared with a riot of questions. A week prior andre.W had turned over the eight discs all within their own Nexpak case – the paperback-sized packaging that TV shows on DVD come in. Opening each was like the unexpected present of discovering that it’s really $11 you just found in an old pair of jeans and not $2. The covers, inside and out, are self-designed, some with chapbook-style lyrics, others with vinyl stickers, each with a presence of its own.
Inspired by Trent Reznor, the motor behind the machine of Nine Inch Nails, andre.W explained what fascinated him about starting a label. “Trent is an icon of a whole genre. He made his first album at a studio that he was the janitor at. He started his own label, gave his artists their own control. Seeing that led to my urge to do something like that.” Well, that and the mere fact he so aptly put, “I wanted my own backlog of albums to have somewhere to go, rather than sit around, go nowhere, and rot.”
andre.W has literally carted around a shoebox of recordings for over a decade from the most recent material previously mentioned and four other bands he was involved with – Yellow Squares, Nathanial Superfly, Transformers for Girls, and Cartoon Radio.
“When you’re in a band you’ve got dates to play, you’re promoting yourself, and then you look for the approval of a label to reward you for your efforts… to bring you to the next level. With all this activity, I thought it would make more sense to start something myself and make that the platform for launching these projects, rather than waiting around for labels to even tell me whether they are interested.”
Releasing candyhammer’s projects as a compilation “which would probably make it easier,” did occur to andre.W but “they have their own identity, their own names and imagery.”
“I get my work ethic from my dad,” said andre.W. “My Dad used to get up at dawn, split wood, wouldn’t take a break all day and would come back after dark. At the time, it was necessary for heating, but he still does it today, as a hobby. I get my work ethic from him; music, of course, requires a lot of diligence and discipline.
“And my mom has always been an entrepreneur. Professionally, she’s a nurse, but in her spare time, she makes a killing on handmade greeting cards, crafts, and handbags. And I mean a killing. It’s the confidence that I get from her: I’ve never been one to say ‘no’ to myself when it comes to taking a risk to do what I want to accomplish. That discipline and confidence come from their example—both of them.”
Sharing the Road
After fronting so many projects for so many years, andre.W fulfilled a wish by working with another local band for awhile. “I had one wish,” he says, and then lists multiple – “to be standing on the side, writing my own parts, being out of the spotlight, not writing but arranging the music for once.” He notes that his role as bassist for Burlington’s Nightbirds, as well as Mac Dates And The Moderates, recently gave him a chance to take that role.
Now, it’s a matter of swinging back and rounding it out by fronting his own projects again. “I have a need to do both. It’s almost like being in the driver’s seat too long. You want to stop driving and stick your head out the window for awhile. When you’re doing that you still want to be on a path that’s enjoyable and you still want to be playing good music. And I’m in the company of people who are definitely doing that.”
andre.W currently fronts andre.W & Aggressive Perfectors. He also continues to play bass for Mac Dates And The Moderates. Mac himself returns the favor, himself filling the shoes as bassist for the Perfectors. Both bands also share the same drummer, making something of a rotating roster of two bands with greatly varying styles: The Moderates play a speedy strain of rockabilly garage, while andre.W and crew blend dark, edgy alt. country with catchy melodies almost fit for cartoon theme songs. Both bands have other, uncommon members who round out their respective tones.
Jamie W., who is the drummer for both The Moderates and Aggressive Perfectors, operates A-9 Studio, a Burlington-based recording studio and practice space.
“The talent knotted up in these two bands isn’t just for writing and performing,” says andre.W of his bandmates. “It’s also a talent for recording, engineering, producing, publishing, and promoting the music. So it’s a real powerhouse. It’s a good time to start a label.”
Breaking the Mold
andre.W can list a slew of record labels and releases like an automobile lover would regurgitate makes and models, one of which is Tooth & Nail Records. “They had five initial releases in winter of ‘93… Starflyer 59 was one of their bands… their logo was simple enough so it’s a stamp on your mind. It’s not all about the logo, though, but everything that is behind it. They’re a label that has taken good care of me with albums that I have grabbed and loved.”
Concerning attention-grabbing, andre.W refers to CD packaging as an important element in promotion, noting that a CD’s own physical identity is just as important as any effort to distribute and advertise it. “The first time I really liked what I saw with a CD packaging was Pearl Jam’s ‘Vs.’ album, with the clear jewelcase that had a picture behind the disc, instead of the same drab dark grey. “The best CD packaging I’ve ever seen, though, is the Digipak, which is the folding, cardboard case that holds the disc either in a clear, plastic casing with a nub that fastens the disc, or a cardboard sleeve. Pearl Jam’s been doing these for 10 years now. Bjork does them now, too.”
Other attention-grabbers are NIN’s ’94 release ‘Downward Spiral’, and ‘Fragile’ – “both had their way of standing out.” Then, there’s “the ‘Fightclub’ soundtrack, ‘Pork Soda’ by Primus, and Pink Floyd’s ‘Pulse’ had this blinking light on its spine. There’s your Pink Floyd album on the shelf way over there just being present, even if you don’t want it to be – not necessarily pleading for you to listen, but always standing out amongst the rest of your collection.”
“I really didn’t want to do anything with jewelcases,” he said. “Everything is really kind of confined. If you drop it, the stupid hinge breaks. I like to be able to touch the artwork. You can have a better relationship with it than sterile, hard plastic. And I like the idea of someone first seeing one of candyhammer’s Nexpak album covers, like a plasma-screen presentation that fills the whole screen—they’re more than twice the size of a regular CD. The digipack forces the CD out of its mold, but our cases are just halfway to vinyl.”
“‘Candy’ and ‘hammer,’ simply put, are a sharp contrast. To me, they call to mind separate worlds – one’s easy, sweet, pleasing, appealing, I guess. An indulgence.
“The other’s cold metal; it’s work and high energy, sort of, task-oriented, hard, sharp, and precise, and really means business. Putting those together seems like an okay way to describe…me. And the ‘sonic and visual works of art’ that have been created by my experience.”
“The logo is sort of a supernatural version of the theatre faces imposed over pixilated candy stripes. I’ve had the faces tattooed for years, once each on my chest and once each on my back. They are faith and fate looking forward as well as behind me. Or life and death. Or work and reward. Or whatever.”
His appreciation of art was confirmed by seeing his reaction when opening Bjork’s new Volta release he recently received as a birthday gift. After he peeled the sticker that held the center together, (and smoothed it onto his bass), he opened the bright, red glossy cover and exclaimed, “It’s a Happy Meal!” Then, holding it to his nose, he said, “I can smell ketchup and pickles.” And you know? He was right.
The next step, andre.W says, is to work with bands “that like what they see in my projects. I’m going to go with my gut, but I favor bands that show ingenuity and independence.
“A big motivation is artists who promote themselves, then they promote all others, too, to increase exposure. It gives bands a sense of community and their material and endeavors, at best, can give listeners the same feeling.” Having a self-released CD is an “unspoken pre-requisite,” where the artist has the creative control but their work fits the tone of what candy-hammer is… a “good balance of tone and professionalism and proficiency.”
The Manifesto: Or, “what candyhammer is not”
candyhammer lo-fi.’s official manifesto follows:
“candyhammer has no dietary preference, religious membership, political affiliation, or stance on sobriety. candyhammer has no agenda, strategy, or policy beyond creating and publishing thought-provoking works of sonic and visual art and doing so with maximum proficiency and longevity. candyhammer has no concern with being correct, cordial, or current by any standards but those held by the artists themselves. That said, you yaysayers are always welcome and appreciated. candyhammer provides no interpretation for the intellectual, philosophical, emotional, or expository content of its material. The listener should claim full rights to assigning and applying what “message,” “meaning,” or “story” may be embedded in and involved with the material. candyhammer has no concern with changing what you think and believe, nor why. candyhammer sells ideas made tangible. Ideas are immortal. candyhammer is not immortal. candyhammer is neither a scene, a revolution, a cultural force, or a regional phenomenon. candyhammer will make no attempt to issue, embody, or encourage a changing of the guard, a call to arms, or a wake up call.”
CANNIBALPLANET: a hi-fi remedy for pain
candyhammer will be releasing CANNIBALPLANET later this year. It has been five years in the making.
“CANNIBALPLANET is my baby. If the whole label burned, that’s what I would take with me. It’s intelligent dance music (IDM) with a touch of trance and some 8-bit game music—mostly IDM though. It’s entirely composed of computerized sounds, which is ironic but that’s where most of my heart is. It is by far the most refined, has the most loss of sleep and brain cells, and the most heartbreak invested in it.
“I picture it as the real soundtrack for people, for whatever they do, whether they’re putting their efforts in a crummy morning job, or making love, or driving their car. It can define whatever they’re doing in life, whatever they want to do, whatever they wish they did, everything that goes on in your head.
“I hope it’s a remedy for pain.”
Mac Dates and The Moderates & andre.W CD Release Party with Second Agenda will be Saturday, July 21 at The Monkey House in Winooski.