Alt Citizen Feature

Crippled Swirling Dome — Is Jesus, cross? A few words on vinyl records with those who make them with Mark of Muddguts, Mike of Mystery Lights, Lia of Heavy Birds, Harry of Greenway

Interest in anything is the first step towards waking among floating Goddesses, who sip tea (verbatim). This is a fact. So what compels one to become interested? Who are those out to murder the interested, may be easier to find, but I have no interest in those folks. My curiosities lay with the lovers, creators of tribes, the blinking culture, whose breath aids beating hearts and sailing ships — “Nothing to it, but to do it,” coughs Mark Cross, the visionary behind Muddguts Records…Didn’t Blake, say something? I who create the lamb, create thee.
     Hold on, the focus now is on why and how the medium of vinyl records has survived and thrived for all these years. Will it remain for decades to come? Hell, in 1977, NASA (the space program, not the brains behind Alt Citizen) sent a solid gold record into the dark realms of outer-space as a means of communication, as a, how-to-understand humankind reference source, in-case the probe came into vibes of other intelligent life.
     Yes. The answer is, yes. These circles provide an experience. A pause. A ritual. Music pressed onto vinyl is a superior physical form of listening. Smoke a pipe in a Sioux teepee, watch a film on a theater’s big-screen, read poetry in drunken rooms with gusto, and put that arm down into the grooves.
Muddguts, on Graham Ave in Brooklyn, is renovating. I’m early to meet its head, Mark Cross. I find Jesse Gordon, covered in dust outside the front entrance instead. Milky clouds pour out of the cracked door. This space, that holds as label base and art gallery, was once a beloved coffee shop (a staple, I’m told) of the neighborhood since the early 70’s, with a beautiful tin ceiling that was hidden under cheap panels. The tin is not suffocated anymore. It is exposed. Segue…
     Mark loves his community and the neighborhood he lives and works in. His esthetic is to not change or drastically overtake the ethos/culture he has encompassed (originally hailing from San Fransisco) instead, he desires to instigate a place of mutual acceptance and growth. Almost a Utopia of various mugs. Acknowledgement of the past, but a hope for a florescent future, decorated with art, enjoyment of the Now. A punk. A hippie. A soft Zeus.
     Cross arrives. I help move a large display case with Gordon. Mark decides to relocate to his Rose Tattoo Parlor…Is that Hillary in a hammock? Hot tub is not on. I suppose we all have no home, until we make it. The needle holds the ink. It’s inside…
What instigated you, as an artist in your own right, to erect a label that produces vinyl?
Mark Cross: Six months ago I had no intentions of starting a record label. It just sort of happened. I’ve been making and selling edition’d objects, shirts, and ephemera, with artists for a while, so this wasn’t a huge leap, but what inspired me initially, I think, is the band Duster.
How so?
MC: Well, they’ve been my favorite band for a while, and I’ve bought their record, “Stratosphere” many times, and these records aren’t inexpensive. They were limited because in the 90’s, when they were first released, the market was all CD based, so that’s what bands had to put out. Anyway, I decided to contact them, and propose a reissue, but someone else had asked a month before. Numero, I think? The band asked, if I were interested in putting anything new out, I said, I would in a second. I then held the first Mudd Guts presents show for them and it sold out in 10 minutes. People flew in from Australia to catch them live. Now we’re good friends. Like Surfbort. They’re my best friends, so ok, let’s put out a 7″. It’s all very organic.
Does this mean you are only going to release your pals or in other words, what do you look or listen for? What deserves to be pressed? 
MC: I have literally 3 criteria with respects to anything.
1st. Are they chill
2nd. Do I trust them
3rd. Do they know what the fuck they’re doing
The third is of no importance if the other two aren’t there. If someone is crushing it, but fucking suck as people, I don’t want anything to do with them. At the moment, I’m helping out friends because I have many that are doing amazing things and I’m in a position to facilitate and foster that talent. My motivations are furthest from financial, to a fault. I am in for sustainability.
So what is your ultimate vision for Muddguts and its social imprint?
MC: I just want to take over the World (laughs). Mainly, to expose things that don’t or can’t follow a cooperate pecking order. This is spiritual. An innocent, holy, punk party. I hope to at least be a speck in the snowball that envelopes this capitol pig machine.
Pigs are for the slaughter or to roll in mud.
MC: Yes. Oh, and Muddstock. A festival void of cooperate branding. Just an independent safe zone for people by people.
Do you feel culture as a whole is moving towards this vibe?
MC: Nothing to it, but to do it. There needs to be a changing of the guards. The only thing that never changes is that things change all the time. I mean, DIY, for lack of a better term, only exists if community supports. To start, I believe in Graham Avenue. I always attempt to move friends to open apartments and to fill vacant businesses. I just want to be part of a really cool community, so you have to make it. I mean, it’s selfish, but I want to sit on a bench and be surrounded by positive vibes.
Sounds great to me.
MC: It all boils down to community. It’s increasingly difficult to stumble into because we’re all disenfranchised. Especially in New York. Everybody’s grinding to pay the rent, also Instagram, Internet in general, is trapping people into a matrix of fictitious life. Though the Internet is great if it is used as a means to an end. To result in the real. The tangible.
Is this belief part of the reason you release and enjoy vinyl?
MC: I’ve always loved the ritual of putting on a vinyl record. Holding it. I want to hear a pop. I want a record that someone snorted coke off of. I want that coke coming through the grooves. An experience. Photos, words, sounds. There has to be an analog end. Like you’re writing on paper after we connected via social media. Well, I guess no one has to do shit, but die. That’s literally it. I don’t wanna die at the moment. I want to figure out things that make life more chill.
Life after death…any thoughts?
MC: No.
/Currently listening to: Nancy Sinatra. Black Plate. Everything on Muddguts Records/ …
Echo resonates into some sort of foggy pint – it’s already the future. Another day. Another time. It’s dark, late for suburban standards. On my way to the voice of psych-pop band, Mystery Lights, Mike Brandan’s studio/bedroom. Jumpin’ Jack Flash, can you hear his chords quiver from where you are?
     Their new LP is out, and you should go buy it. I haven’t yet, but hopefully they’ll send me one. If not, I’ll pick one up at their show. The lads worked hard, and they are setting out to conquer. Not as Napoleon or Alexander, but as Marc Anthony. I saw their ship coming years ago, but forgot to warn everyone. They landed, seduced Cleopatra (who knew it all along, but didn’t care) and planted themselves in the middle of the city. Sure they had an army, yet the Pyramids remain unharmed. The Mystery Lights are here. Practiced. Poised. They’re fun. They don’t care if you like them. They just want to make their music and play for their friends, and well…isn’t that what it is all about?
Mike Brandan: I need to get a 40.
I brought 12.
MB: If I have two 40s, I’ll know where I’m at.
Understood. Let’s go.
     Walk. Return. Room scan – Full recording set-up, electric painting with audible waterfall, poetry and mysticism books. It’s orderly and incense is burning. I decide to sit on the floor. Mike’s on an office chair, facing speakers. Ready?
As a sound artists, how much thought goes into physical release, such as vinyl? Do you compose for an at-home listener or towards a live experience?
MB: We go for the energy of a live show. To capture that sound. Wayne, the engineer from Daptone, is super good at this style of recording. Throw a couple of mics in a room and record live. At least get the rhythm section going. As far as presenting tracks on vinyl, that’s Wayne’s genius. Our new LP, To Much Tension, showcases his mixing skills and production. So yes, we want the music to sound great on record. Have a nice stereo vibe, then capture that live also, you know, recreate what strikes to each side of the listener’s brain.
Nice to know you’re into the mixing process.
MB: Well, when I was younger I was into mono, because if you’re sharing headphones with a friend, both of you are getting blasted. Recently, I’ve been appreciating stereo. The beauty of each side contemplating the other. The song, “I won’t hurt you,” inspired this change, and this focusing on recording stereo for vinyl.
Is wax your favorite medium? Do you think it’s gaining stronger interest or heading towards oblivion?
MB: No. Vinyl isn’t going anywhere. It’s nice to put one on the deck, side A, let it play all the way through, flip it. You’re looking at the cover in your hands, and you just can’t get this digitally. Albums, well most, are a story. A part of that artist’s life at that moment in time. Digitally you don’t get the entire idea. You read a book. If you go straight to chapter eight, because people say that’s the great chapter, you are missing what came before and after, the different feel of the various chapters. Even if I write, “Golden pages” on top of that particular chapter, the flow is compromised, if I don’t get involved with the entire piece, it makes no sense. Our new record is set like this. It’s suppose to be an entire experience, and as long as we make music, we are going to press it onto vinyl. I enjoy cassettes to because they’re practical in a touring van, but I believe vinyl is very important. It’s an experience. It’s a form that demands attention.
– We pause – put on music – zone out – careen off into an expose’ on influences and instruments – delve into color patterns – sound waves – wait – get it together – get to business – Alt Citizen is waiting – Nasa will let someone else write this damn thing! The night is fleeting –
MB: I grew-up in Eastern philosophy. I feel I understand the balance of light and dark. I feel darkness follows me, so I look forward to, and embrace the light. This is a reason why I don’t get to personal with my lyrics. It seems selfish or vain. Obviously if it’s done well, like a Willie Nelson type, it’s fine, but Dylan is a huge influence on me, and he doesn’t really do that. He’s all matter of fact. You know, “blowing in the wind.”
With exception of, “Blood on the Tracks”
MB: True. Though he’s mysterious.
I definitely agree with that. I heard he recently has been constructing custom iron fences for people willing to pay the bill. Anyway, what’s your ultimate goal for the Lights? The band encompasses a large part of your life and seems to be your reflection for the World.
MB: I can only answer that as Mike, not for the rest of the group, but we’ve been around for sometime now, and I believe this is because we started as close friends, who all enjoy similar music. We want to play together because it’s fun. I love arranging songs, performing them for the group and for other friends. Some people want to be famous, leave a legacy, pull out their penis and cause controversy, but I feel people who actually do leave a lasting impression never really want this type of attention. They want to make good art and love what they do. My ultimate goal is to keep having a good time and make music that I’d like to listen to. I want things genuine. I love music and words, and honesty. My goal is to be present. Be in the moment. Make music. That’s it.
Truth. Any thoughts about life after death?
MB: Ha! That’s what I think about every day! I’ll see you there, I hope. Although death doesn’t really exist…only if it’s in your mind.
/Currently listening to: Dead Moon. Neu. Brian Eno. Insecure Men. Early Grace SlickSpeedy WestThe Screamers. Parasites of the Western World/…
– BOOM –
Her space is illuminated with different pale bulbs, green, pink, candles, smoke making patterns, as it does. Lia Moon, of Heavy Birds, is listening to Donovan’s record, “Gift from a Flower to a Garden,” as I walk through the door. She is sauntering with her 12-string, playing a new song she has written for her upcoming album. There is an open copy of essays by Frank Kogan, on a shag rug (feels like some 60’s art film or Rocky Erickson’s mind.) Lia, turns down the stereo, I walk over and lean in for a kiss. We decide to flip the vinyl and lay around, but the gears are flowing and the Sun is shining. “Let’s go to Rockaway Beach,” she says. “Sounds like a plan,” I respond.
     That star in the sky is cooking, the ferry is $2.75, and the sangria at Low Tide, is a fare portion, and cold. We sit at a beach braised picnic table, and there’s a DJ spinning trippy Caribbean music from 45’s – perfect. Also, as I am about to ask Lia a few questions, Patti Smith sits across from us. The poet is dressed head-to-toe in loose, tan cloths, smiles for a second, then up again, wondering around the boardwalk, as people tend to do.
Mind if I inquire why you like vinyl records?
Lia Moon: Vinyl for me, goes back to when I was four. My mother and her boyfriend at the time were hosting a block party. They had kegs, they were grilling food, and they had a record player blasting from inside the house into the streets. They had Pink Floyd‘s, The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon, on repeat, with the occasional Beatles’ single. “Come Together”, blew my new mind. The adults had all the lights out, and left my brother and I on this blue couch, next to the loud speakers. I still remember that feeling. My brother, Adam, and I only communicating through glares of acknowledgement. I was young, but I realized that “cool” existed. It being summertime, the Sun setting through the window, “The Wall” sounded perfect. I knew I wanted to be inside this music. It felt good. It was my introduction to a new way of sensing life. It wasn’t images, it was the sound. The crackling, the hiss, the tones. Something was uncovered.
Great image. Did this feeling lead you towards wanting to make your own records or what is your motivation for pressing music?
LM: Documentation. When I’m dead, I’ll still be alive (laughs) If I don’t have a baby, the albums will be my babies. The texture, sound waves, warmth, a layer to music you can’t get elsewhere. First tape, then vinyl, then your shitty speakers at home with your dirty needle. All this adds to the fun. I like looking at the album artwork, and how it relates to the music. Actually the entire process.  Making a record connects me to the rest of the World. Entertainment as sound.
Do you think vinyl will continue its current popularity?
LM: As long as I’m alive I’ll keep making and buying records. So will my friends.
I’ve asked everyone so far on their thoughts about life after death. What’s yours?
LM: Ah, whatever Ram Dass says or… I believe in Now.
/Currently listening to: Rain Parade. Spectrum. Brian Jonestown Massacre. Fripp & Eno. Television. Spacemen 3. Nico. Bach. White Fence/…
Earth is a sphere, a record is round, our organs misshapen, all dancing, perfectly. Is it time for tea? Coffee? Harry Portnof, the fellow behind Greenway Records, is waiting at a Bakery (could this be the reason his vinyl output is so colorful?) – 11am – I’m present. Recorder on…
Hi. Let’s get right into it.
You’re unique because you actually press your own catalog from start to finish, true?
Harry Portnof: Hello. Yes. It is. Before I had the label, I had an affinity for records and who make them, so I went to many different places to do just that, and quickly discovered how old every plant’s machines are, and how labor intensive the process is. All the machines have their own quirks, pluses and minuses, yet it just so happens that a place in North Jersey, was the most responsive, and let me keep showing up. After a while they had me pouring wax. Eventually, the staff left me alone to experiment. I enjoyed the freedom and the constraints. I continued to learn and once I liked I certain look, I attempted to do a 100 similar copies, resulting in a version of something. In this way, I make my own thing. I don’t own a plant or a press though. I just have a passion, and I became friendly with people who do have the equipment. A lot of folk ask if I can make their records and they’ll pay me, but it doesn’t work like that. When it’s “Greenway Day” at the plant, I’m lucky enough to show up and hand pour my projects only. It’s also my way of being creative. I’m adding to the physical experience of the music. My artistic contribution to the form.
Do you have complete creative control over a band’s presentation if they release on Greenway? 
HP: I like to have a cohesive package, but the bands present the overall art concept, and the music itself has influence over the look. Usually bands who sign-up for doing it the “Greenway way” or whatever, understand there will be two versions: the limited release, which is me creating an in-the-moment color pattern, and a “normal-ish” version, that is more innate with whatever the album art is.
Cool. So what prompted you to do all this? I understand at the time you started, the vinyl craze was not at the height it is now.
HP: Well, collecting records. I’m infatuated by vinyl itself. I worked in accounting for years, but before leaving that job, I always found myself searching on Discogs for some rare record that could be waiting for me at home. At the same time, I grew-up in Long Island, and my friends and I would throw parties with live bands playing surf-rock, etc, and I had the idea: “Hey, my friends write great songs. I’ll ask them for two and see if I can make some weird, colorful 7″, something I’d like to own.” So, I did this with the band, The Young Rachels. I then started calling all the plants. Some hung-up, others enjoyed talking, and some invited me in, as I stated before. I also wanted to create a brand or I should say, a conceptual art label. This turned people on, and things began to pick-up steam when I got to do the Brooklyn group, Scully‘s release.
So you believe vinyl will not fade in influence, but the popularity will remain intact, even grow as an industry?
HP: It’s here to stay. Vinyl is only increasing in popularity. I hang around record plants, and they can hardly keep up. It’s crazy now. A few years ago many pressing owners felt it was a fad, but a year later, it’s booming.
     I love to hold a vinyl. I love the sound, the look of the sleeve’s art, the feel of the entire thing. It’s an experience. One doesn’t get this digitally. I trust people want soulful, physical, connection. Everything is fleeting, but when someone comes to a show, picks up a record, it’s now theirs, it exists. It’s then in their space everyday and becomes a part of who they are.
Well said. I’m assuming this belief is why you continue to put out 7″ singles? I know this is a difficult format to market, however great they are. I’m also assuming you release them for passion over profit?
HP: For sure. I continue to press 7″s because of the B side. To me, it’s one of the most beautiful things in music. This piece that can only be listened to on a specific release. Sometimes the B side is my favorite song, and never reaches any LP. Those are the best. I’ll buy three copies of rare singles because I’m crazy, and want one to play, one to store, and one to gift. I love this idea of a song that has to be searched for. I’ll only release a 7″ this way. It keeps the beauty of the format alive. I also love the classic look. The 7″ wax I make are unique because I can push the envelope of what I do, as far as color combinations. By making these limited pieces, it sparks interest, and may inspire people to listen to a new band. So many listeners stick to what they “know.” By creating unusual art pieces paired with cool music, it may expose listeners to artists who are making great new music, but don’t have mainstream exposure. You’re not going to pay rent with a single release, but it exists, that’s what is important to me…that the vinyl exists.
Final question: Life after death, any thoughts?
HP: I just wanna live.
/Currently listening to: Los Rosas. Jane Church. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. Fruit Tones. Frankie and the Witch Fingers. Acid Dad. You know, Greenway/…
When I arrive back to my apartment, I put on Spectrum‘s, “Highs Lows & Heavenly Blows,” sounds relaxed and hip. Soothes my mind. I purchased it at the WFMU Record Fair, and it makes me happy. A bunch of people simply coming together for the love of an art form, nothing more, really.
     So what has this all meant in regards to this vinyl anniversary? Well, groovies, I know I love music. I love it’s followers. Dreamers and thinkers. Victims and champions of nights, harsh winds, days of melodies, spinning blood, orchid dust. I enjoy a vinyl record. They sound fantastic. Pictures are a nice size. Time well spent. If they go, my only other resort will be listening to live beasts, humming fires, but hell, Lester wrote it best:
” Each (great record) fried my brain a little further, especially the experience of the first few listens to a record so total, so mind-twisting, that you authentically can say you’ll never be quite the same again, and the whole purpose of the absurd mechanically persistent involvement with recorded music is the pursuit of that priceless moment. So it’s not exactly that records might unhinge the mind, but rather that if anything is going to drive you up the wall, it might as well be a record.”
     The dead speak. We’re not yet. Are we? Let’s crank-up the tunes and dance into eternity, why not? Like the sky turning purple through the lenses of red shades, these lacquer disks help make life more tolerable. Don’t they? Dig.

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