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Juan Carrera sleeps with his clothes on. It’s likely, his Mount Pleasant housemate says, that he even keeps his steel-toed work shoes on. But perhaps Carrera is not so much another quirky row-house denizen as a young man who’s aware of the symbolic and keen on efficiency. Though his three-piece band, the Warmers, recently called it a day, he’s busy, working at the GLUT Food Co-op (“If anyone needs organic brown rice, call me”), recording bands in his basement, and running a fledgling punk label, Slowdime. It’s therefore understandable that he finds it unnecessary to don pajamas for his nocturnal respite. But leaving his shoes on? How low can a punk get?
Slowdime’s catalog numbers are now climbing the double digits, and though its new releasesRegulator Watts’ The Aesthetics of No-Drag, a special recording by a temporarily reunited Hoover (a “gift” to Slowdime), and Kerosene 454’s At Zero promise to heighten the label’s profile, the company line is not one of diversification or expanding into emerging markets. On the contrary, Slowdime proprietors Carrera and John Wall invoke the values and strategies of progressive activists when describing their label’s character: “Community,” “helping each other,” and “keeping focused” supersede corporate mantras. In a town renowned for the integrity and longevity of its home-grown punk scene and the labels that have nurtured it, Slowdime is emerging as a vital mechanism for documenting, exposing, and advancing a musical community.
“Musically speaking, I’m not listening to one kind of musichardcore or whatever,” Carrera explains. It’s not the trends that concern him, but rather the local artists who are defining their own sounds. “[The] people are more important than what they’re doing, specifically…There’s no rhyme or reason to what we’re putting out [except that it’s] something that interests me.”
“It’s rock music: guitar, bass, and drums,” Wall clarifies. “It reminds me of what SST used to be, a lot of different stuff. In the ’80s, that label ruled.”
As was Greg Ginn’s stable, Slowdime’s roster is eclectic, with room for the sounds of both innocence and experience. The experimental All-Scars draw on post-punk, funkeven dub and electronica. Kerosene 454 and Regulator Watts are the label’s muscley rawk brigade, made up of hardcore vets flexing their artistic heads. The Meltdown captures the peculiar energy of the early-’80s Rough Trade art-school sound. The Sorts, who have a forthcoming long-player, take a detour into jazz-fusion territory. And the Boom layers rock ‘n’ roll elements in the manner of the Grifters.
A self-described “late bloomer” where hardcore is concerned, Carrera moved to D.C. from Arizona in the summer of 1992. Fellow Arizonan Wall followed in early ’94. Both found the appeal of D.C.’s punk scene irresistible. “I came on vacation,” Carrera recounts. “I went to a show at St. Steven’s. The whole idea of what was going on was more community-oriented. I just kind of gravitated [to D.C.].” Wall, a veteran of second-generation emocore proponents Wind of Change who had scouted D.C. on a U.S. tour, explains that when he wanted to get away from the West Coast he picked D.C., because “there’s not that many communities or areas in the country like this where people have established something really cool and you can expand on it, work with it.”
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The impetus to put out records came in ’95, when Carrera realized that a local punk outfit he enjoyed, the Metamatics, was going to disband without releasing a record. “They were so damn good. All they did was a split 7-inch with the Make-Up. The initial idea was to do a 7-inch; then they broke up, and it was, like, why not do a CD?” He asked Amanda MacKaye, who had gained label experience with both Dischord and her own Sammich Records, to help him. “I never imagined there would be that much [to release],” Carrera says. Soon Wall’s group, Kerosene 454, and others approached him. “No one seemed to be helping a band that worked really hard. [The label] took off; it flourished from there.” By January ’97, MacKaye needed a break from the music business, and she left her jobs with Dischord and Slowdime. Without MacKaye, Slowdime had a lot to learn. “Oh, you just sell the records to these distributors, and they give you money,” Carrera says of his previous understanding of the business. Wall entered the picture to tackle the distribution question.
Though he works at a sleep-disorder center to pay the rent (“Anyone’s got any problems, give me a ring”), Wall speaks as though he’s part of a military operation. The connective tissue has been removed from his sentences, leaving only a skeleton of ideas. At times, he gets ahead of himselfespecially when talking about the labelhis thoughts leading elsewhere before they wind their way into his flat Southwest drawl. For Wall, the label’s activities bring people together. We’re “working with friends, [and] becoming friends by working together,” he says. “We bounce motivation off each other. Everything from recording a record to hitting the road is much smoother as a group. The rippling effects are good things.”
In ’97, Dischord stepped up its support for Slowdime in the form of loans, co-releases, and distribution through Dischord Direct. This soon led to a manufacturing and distribution deal. Dischord is “the spark to the flame,” Wall says. “People give [Slowdime] a chance because of the Dischord name, but [the people at Dischord] help a lot more than that.” In the wake of several years of major-label cherry-picking, small labels are better off as allies. “‘It’s time to get the wagons and circle around the campfire,’” Wall says Dischord’s Ian MacKaye told the Slowdimers.
Carrera and Wall aren’t too enthusiastic about talking numbers, though they attest that Kerosene 454’s Came by to Kill Me sold more than 4,500 copies before going out of print. The label’s newest releases are selling out in pre-orders before they’ve arrived from the factory. This is nothing new for the label; most of its releases have been in small editions that quickly sell out. “There’s only a certain amount of people that want something,” Carrera says, and Slowdime tries not to end up with records lying around unsold.
“Everything’s moving; everything’s doing really well,” Wall says.
“I don’t care what the numbers are,” Carrera continues. “I try to make [the initial pressing] low, so there’s more of a chance that it’ll get paid for. [I want the] band to understand the costs involved.”
“You hear complaints,” Wall says. “‘There are too many records out there.’ [But] if you make people think it’s that difficult, you’re limiting all of us. If you don’t [put records out], nothing’s going to exist.”
So, with so many indie labels in the area, why start a new one? “There are tons of labels,” Carrera agrees. “[But] there are things that fall in between [the cracks]. It’s not like I’m picking up the scrapsthey’re friends. My whole thing is to show people what it’s all about. They become part of Slowdime.”
Slowdime’s philosophy of community involvement means that the label does things its own way (but in a manner not unlike that of, say, Motown, where early hits were recorded in the label’s suburban garage). Carrera and Guy Picciotto record bands in Carrera’s Irving Street basement, and many of those recordings are seeing the light of day on Slowdime. “There’s tons of talent in this town,” says Carrera. “[We’re] trying to use every bit possible. If we could only build our own CD and record plant…”
Still, he continues, “I don’t want to feel just like this guy who does business. I spend a lot of time in the basement recording stuff. We save the community money by recording it here.”
As far as an aesthetic vision for a record’s design is concerned, Slowdime’s principals say, “It should represent what the bands are trying to do.” The label has no official logo. For the Metamatics LP, Slowdime’s name had to be scratched into the film with a paper clip at the last minute. “The only reason I have the name down is for distributors,” Carrera says. Perhaps inevitably, though, a distinct Slowdime identity is starting to emerge through fanzine advertising.
With an expanding catalog of future releases, Slowdime looks as if it is here to stay, which is good news for the groups on the label. “From being in small bands, on tours, [we] know how tough it is….” Wall says. “You have something to come home to. It helps keep you going. You can see someone at the bar, and say, ‘Hey!’” He snaps his fingers, points, and smiles at an imaginary tour-weary rock friendwho undoubtedly feels good to be back.CP