Interview with Paul Abramson
founder of Van Richter Records

by Tsanger Banger,
CJSR FM88 Edmonton, Alberta, March 1999

TB: Paul, can you tell us about this crazy label?

PA: Originally, I started the label around 1993 in San Diego which is about 120 miles south from here [LA].

TB: When you started, you had the intention of doing hard electro acts?

PA: Yeah, I felt there was a niche that was out there for a lot of bands. European bands weren't getting released in the US.

TB: You spent a number of years previous to Van Richter in the record business.

PA: I did a year with the majors in the early 80's at Arista Records and four years at Waxtrax before it was taken over by TVT.

TB: Does Waxtrax exist as an independent?

PA: As a part of TVT, It really got merged together. The gentleman who owns TVT calls the shots. He bought the name and the catalog.

TB: What were the first bands you signed to this label?

PA: The first two bands, signed at the same time, were two German bands: The Fair Sex, which at that time, was a very hot German band along the lines of a more radio-friendly Skinny Puppy and the other was Testify, which was an edgier version of Ministry.

TB: A side band of the same guys in The Fair Sex?

PA: It started as a side project but now it's had its own life for about five years now. They've toured many times with Die Krupps, Armageddon Dildos. Testify is a much bigger band that the Fair Sex is.

TB: And The Fair Sex had been around since the late 80's hadn't they?

PA: Yeah, they started around 1987. They've been around for over a decade.

TB: Tell us about your beginning distribution. Who distributed you in Canada and America when you first started and how has that changed with the deal you recently did?

PA: Orginally we were distrbuted in the United States for four years through Navarre Corporation and in Canada we had a loose non-contractual agreement with Cargo out of Montreal.

TB: And a brief stint with St. Clair?

PA: Actually, we were with them longer than we were with Cargo. About a year and a half with St. Clair. Now we're with Fusion III. We're just starting with them and they're doing a pretty good job for us.

TB: What kind of distribution deals did you have with Europe?

PA: We signed our first two bands with rights just for North America. Now that we have the rights for Testify worldwide, it's frankly too much work to try to collect from European distributors and it's hard enough dealing with US distributors. So we've been focusing on just licensing the band in Europe. We have a license deal with a division of Offbeat called Novatekk, we licensed the last Testify record and that's basically the route we're going.

TB: Crazy! You're doing to Europeans what they've been doing to us in terms of licensing our own North American bands and having to import it from the other side of the world.

PA: Yeah, licensing their own bands back to them. It's not that easy, either.

TB: Kinda like the Japanese taking out stuff, improving it and selling it back at even more! What other bands have you come to sign in the last six years?

PA: We've been really selective. Rather than these labels which have become production houses pumpimg out record after record. Just more concerned about the revenue rather than the quality. I've only signed six bands in six years.

TB: Bands like Sielwolf, Plastic Noise Experience, and Death and Horror Inc. from Canada.

PA: The latest signing is a band called Girls Under Glass from Hamburg, Germany.

TB: They did one album under Nuclear Blast and they actually have a new album coming out with you guys.

PA: It's gonna be called Nightmares and it's not your traditional compilation or "Best Of". It's gonna incorporate a lot of different elements. Some are their bigger songs, but some that were never released, as well as several cover versions they did for us. They did "Down in the Park" by Gary Numan, "Body Electric" by Sisters of Mercy, a Simple Minds song, and this great dance mix of the John Carpenter "Halloween" theme. So we threw in a lot of different elements, so it's not just a "Best Of" collection. There will be several hardcore fans who own the old stuff already so we want to please them.

TB: Exactly. Why would anybody want a compilation if they already have all the tracks on the past albums?

PA: Right. They're only gonna have half or maybe a third of them at most.

TB: Or maybe none of them since they're very hard to find up here in Canada. I'm not sure about the US.

PA: They never had a deal here as well. Other than the Nuclear Blast record.

TB: How many years has Girls Under Glass been around as a band?

PA: Since 1986. A lot of their releases are out of print. They were on real small labels. In Germany, they were on one label that had a lot of good bands called Strange Ways Records but they don't have any interest in licensing. I've been trying to get a hold of them for years so I finally got a hold of the band directly! They have a side project they out on Machinery I would recommend called Trauma. It's ambient. Kind of a Clock DVA-meets-Tangerine Dream kind thing. But I don't think they're in print anymore.

TB: Machinery had financial difficulties.

PA: I go to these music conventions and I sit on these panels and they say there's 33,000 new releases every year and less than 90% of them sell more than a thousand copies. It's pretty tough to stay in business especially when you're working in an underground genre.

TB: You also have two CDs coming out from The Fair Sex?

PA: Yeah. It's gonna be a collection of material that wasn't published before either from the late 80's. It's called The Dark Ages Volume 1 and The Dark Ages Volume 2. It's gonna be two separate records with ten tracks on each record.

TB: Looking at the liner notes of "Fine. We Are Alive", they certainly have a lot of vinyl releases, eps, and demos that were never widely released anywhere.

PA: No, they weren't. So for the hardcore fans this'll be good catalog pieces for fans and hopefully we'll make some new ones as well.

TB: These bands, Girls Under Glass and The Fair Sex, they can only be found on your label. They arent't licensed or have compilations left and right, a track here and there like many other bands.

PA: We're trying to create a brand name here. We don't wanna have a band that isn't associated with the label or is associated with 20 labels.

TB: So you know what you're getting. While diversifying is nice and its good to be open minded, perhaps you can diversify too much and then you get diluted "mystery-music".

PA: I've thought about that and the way we diversify is within the genre. Some labels only do pure electronic and others have only the metal-edge, but we have bands that cover the whole spectrum. Sielwolf is experimental noise, Testify is more the Ministry, guitar-driven sound, Fair Sex, PNE, and to an extent, DHI, are more of the Front Line, electronic sound. And when you hear Girls Under Glass, they kind incorporate all of that, except the noise.

TB: When can people expect these new releases from Girls Under Glass (Nightmares) and The Fair Sex (Dark Ages I and II)?

PA: We're pretty close to finishing prouction on Girls Under Glass, so hopefully no later than August. And The Fair Sex; we'll probably release the first volume at the end of summer and the second in the fall.

TB: Do you have any long-term plans?

PA: The way we run the label, sometimes we work it for two or three years. If it takes that long to expose the people to the music. Especially when you're doing independent music. Even with the majors, it's usually a two year cycle between the records. If you're just constanly pumping out product, there's no time to promote it.

TB: So you gotta put all your strength into less releases rather than no strength into more releases?

PA: Exactly. If I'm putting one out every day, how am I gonna get people interested in it for more than thirty days? We want to get their music out and it takes a lot of time and effort. Particularly when you're working in the independent underground level with a lot less resources and without commercial media which the majors dominate. So you have to do a lot of the little things like the clubs and college radio. These are the only venues. Except for the internet which is starting to explode and making the playing field more even.

TB: Unfortunately, there have been no tours of these bands in North America, have there?

PA: That problem is also because the booking agencies are catering to major label artists. I would love to give them tour support but can't afford to bring bands over to the United States who aren't supporting a large artist because if we're going to spend that kind of money, we want to get them in front of a large audience.

TB: Get some big exposure on the CD first, then perhaps bring the band over in the future?

PA: Exactly. Or if someone will give us a break, like KMFDM or whoever. That's where we need that break. It's not for a lack of trying. Some of these bigger bands, they get to pick and choose.

TB: A lot of these German bands; they do tour Europe though, don't they?

PA: Yeah. Europe has never been a problem. It's a lot easier. It's an hour's drive to the next country and it isn't controlled by two or three big booking agencies like the United States is. You can do things in more of a subculture where you can get things done. There's lots of festivals and it's just a different climate as far as touring goes.

TB: Industrial music seems to be more accepted, if not more mainstream, over in Europe.

PA: It's part of their counter-culture. Whereas here in the States, it isn't embedded.

TB: It's an oxymoron here when you have mainstream acceptance of bands like KMFDM, NIN, & Marilyn Manson but not so with obscure, electro bands

PA: There's certainly no trickle down. These kids, it's like when you go to the supermarket. You only try the brands you've seen on TV a hundred times and won't try anything different even if someone recommends it to you.

TB:>Even if it's better than the mainstream ones.

PA:And that's the frustrating part for us. People aren't as adventurous as they were in the 80s.

TB: A lot of the more obscure bands are just as good if not better than the major label bands.

PA: I find that in a lot of genres. Ha ha! Believe me!

TB: What videos do you have for your bands and what kind of home video package do you have?

PA: We have a promo video that we sent out to a lot of stations. You said you even saw some on Much Music?

TB: I saw the video for TESTIFY: Anger and PLASTIC NOISE EXPERIENCE. I can't remember what song it was. My VCR was kinda screwing up at the time! Dammit!

PA: Probably Last Regression or Synthesesis. I think those are the only two videos I have for them.

TB: People can buy this home video from you, can't they?

PA: Yeah, we might even be looking at releasing it on DVD.

TB: What's the name of this video compilation?

PA: It's just a Van Richter video compilation with no title. It's got TESTIFY: Anger, two videos from The Fair Sex; Not Now Not Here and another called Alaska, and two from PNE songs; Last Regression and Synthesesis.

TB: People can order this (preferably in America dollars) by phoning you or mailing you, or through the website. What's the web address and what can people find there?

PA: http://vr.dv8.net. What you can find is about 150 MB worth of content, which is pretty substantial for six bands.

TB: My god you've got a huge account!

PA: We've got unlimited storage. You can read anything about our bands including bios, liner notes, interviews, discography, reviews, stores, any on-line stores you can buy from. I've got all the audio clips there. We've got MP3 and the RealAudio streaming. You can listen to a whole record in RealAudio before buying. The whole thing!

TB: Where can people email Van Richter?

PA: It's vrichter@netcom.com. If you only like one or two songs as well, we have a custom compilation service you can click on and you can either pay to have it downloaded to your hardrive as MP3 or LiquidAudio format. Or if you want them to burn it for you, you pay just a nominal fee and they send it to you.

TB: What is LiquidAudio format?

PA: It's a digital format like MP3 which encodes music at stereo quality that requires no components whatsoever. So you can encode all the music and someone can purchase it and keep it on your hardrive either by the track or the whole album or even put it on your Diamond Rio Player (Diamond's new portable MP3 Rio Player has no moving parts except a hardrive you copy temp music to).

TB: So unlike others, you are using the MP3 format and not disdaining it like others have done in this industry?

PA: Most of the people who are against it are those who control the retail and distribution. The major labels don't want to have an equal playing field with the independents. When you have all these digital files, you are dealing with the customer directly and doing away with the retail store so of course they're going to be against it.

TB: Also a way to avoid the markup and middlemen of distribution. At your website, people can buy individual items retail and also wholesale rather than going to some chain store and buying it at some ridiculous markup.

PA: We make a wholesale price list available to all the stores who wish to buy direct from us. We make CDs available to customers without any extra shipping charges below our list price which they'd have to pay at a Tower Records or some such place.

TB: That's good 'cuz a lot of distributors don't sell retail to single individuals. You have to order minimum 200 copies or some ridiculous number.

PA: Many don't deal with customers at all. They only deal with other stores or wholesalers. That's the way they make their money. The biggest problem is all the returns they try to slam labels with but that will no longer be an issue because there's no physical inventory.

TB: What is your vision of unified world domination as opposed to watered down music licensed left and right?

PA: I'd worked for other labels and I'd gotten tired of selling their crap and things I didn't believe in so when I had the capital to do this label, it was always my vision to never compromise the artistic integrity but yet balance it with some kind of economic successs. There's a lot easier ways to make a living than the music industry, believe me. 90% of indie releases sell less than a thousand with 9 out of ten being a loser. You have a better chance of winning the lottery or slots.

TB: I have heard this before. I always thought that the numbers were bigger when you see a record that everyone knows or a band or label. It's hard to believe these records sell a thousand units given the population of North America.

PA: You'd think that, but with the saturation of records out there alienating the consumer, there's a lot of crap you have to wade through to find the good stuff.

TB: At least people know the bands, labels, and releases. So the word is getting out there.

PA: Any label that's worth their salt is giving an advance to their bands to make a record. They're paying five or ten thousand US up front to put out a quality recording. Some people try to be greedy and figure that even if they sell less than a thouand, if they release one evey day, no matter how bad it is they'll just keep pumping them out.

TB: How many releases does Van Richter have?

PA: With the new GIRLS UNDER GLASS, that will make sixteen. At the end of the year, we'll have nineteen.

TB: Are you looking at any other bands right now?

PA: We're always looking for good music but in the near future, it doesn't look like we're doing any new signings. If I hear something that blows me away, I'll do my best to bring it in.

TB: For any interested bands then, what's your mailing address?

PA: Our corporate office address in Palm Springs is: Van Richter Records attn: A&R #100 South - Sunrise Way Suite 219 Palm Springs, California 92262, USA. Phone number is: (760) 320-5577. We're on Pacific time an hour behind you (Mountain), so business hours out there for A&R are 9am to 6pm.

TB: I imagine you do a lot of calling to the other side of the world?

PA: Well, with the advent of the internet, it's a lot more email now. First it was phone calls, then faxes, now email.

TB:You're in direct contact with all your bands then?

PA: On and off. When they're on the road, I'm not in contact as much. I try to set up interviews and promotions for them, send them copies of any press from America. I also tell them to check out any press on the website, 'cause that's updated almost every day.

TB: At you website, can people find shirts and stickers as well?

PA: Yeah, we sell those on the side only. Postcards, and posters too for our mail order customers only and with the music videos can be previewed online.

TB: Can people get these videos in both PAL (Europe) and NTSC (America) format?

PA: Right now, only in NTSC. I haven't had any demand for PAL version. I was talking to a video company at this Las Vegas convention and we may work a deal with a DVD version of these videos.

TB: You mentioned a June ('99) convention you might go to. Which is that?

PA: The MIDEM Convention is normally held in Cannes, France. It's cost prohibitive to go there but they did have a booth at this Vegas convention I just came back from and they'll have a table at this Miami convention which I'm planning to go to because it's very international. A lot of licensing deals go on there, it's a big hitters convention. I need to make those contacts. I made a lot of licensing deals at this last convention.

TB: It's too bad DHI broke up. They could've been the one band to tour here!

PA: Never say never! If they get popular, I'm sure we'll be happy to still support them. They still have the same members, they just changed their format with this Transformantra project and they're doing techno.

TB: Maybe we'll see the Steel Wheels tour from them in the future! Hahaha!

PA: Maybe! I think some bands should call it quits when it matters. The Sex Pistols had it right.

PA: You can go to the store page on our website and it lists all the stores in Canada where our stuff is available, including HMV, Aux Chembeaux, and Sam the Record Man.

TB: And with this latest distibution deal with Fusion III, people will be able to find your stuff even in the moms and pops-type stores?

PA: Yeah, if they donít have it there, they can order it and it will be there in a few days.

TB: So we can look forward to new releases from Girls Under Glass: Nightmares, and later, we have two CDs compilations of unreleased material from The Fair Sex! Thank you Paul, we now return to The Maleus Maleficarum on CJSR FM88.5!

[Since this interview, Van Richter now has distribution with FAB in Canada.]


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