Theoretically, all you need in 2013 is an Internet connection, a computer to record, and a little organization in order to distribute, publicize, and self-release music to the masses. The magic, though, is in the medium. For those who conserve memories along with ticket stubs and the smell of dusty vinyl, precious singles, and posters still hold an emotional quotient, although the ways in which we listen and love a record are shifting with every day.
Record labels, particularly those stemmed from homegrown communities, still establish a camaraderie between a roster and a listenership, even if it spans across various zip codes and IP addresses. Regardless of the Internet’s imagined communities, nothing quite compares to the resonance of a home-grown movement receiving well-deserved attention.
DIY label Exploding in Sound is the brainchild of Dan Goldin, a former Boston resident who has since relocated to New York City. Goldin’s partner, Dave Spak, shares the day-to-day functions of the label owner position, operating from Scranton, PA. Both men, music nerds who met in Northeastern’s music industry program, trace Exploding in Sound to simply a feeling of shock. They were dumbfounded that the bands they were seeing weekly in Boston weren’t signed to a label and gaining more exposure, and decided to take matters into their own hands.
Nearly three years later, the little label has grown from a bedroom operation to gaining a growing cult following, and has become a fixture in consistently sold-out CMJ, Northside, and SXSW showcases. Much of Exploding in Sound’s success is due not only to the grassroots approach to recording and marketing, but also the simply excellent curation of guitar rock bands. Porches, Ovlov, Speedy Ortiz, Grass is Green, and Two Inch Astronaut are just several of the names who have made EiS their home, each with the ability to win over strangers in just a single live performance. They’ll be performing at Exploding in Sound Records’ CMJ showcase this Saturday, October 17th, at Brooklyn’s Silent Barn, along with Roomrunner and Palehound.
From the cheeky lyrics of Speedy Ortiz to the jagged guitar lines of Pile, Exploding in Sound is a family destroying the notion that nothing interesting is happening in guitar rock. Here, several of the key players speak on the label’s formation, and how technology and the modern age of music consumption has shaped its trajectory.
Dan Goldin (Co-founder of Exploding in Sound): I originally started working as a temp at a major label in Boston. It was a really crappy job. The fact that I hated the kind of music I was working on definitely added to it.
Dave Spak (Co-founder of Exploding in Sound): Living in this world, it’s crazy. There’s two separate universes: one of people that really follow music and know what’s going on, then there’s people who have no idea that there’s this whole thriving, non-pop world going on with DIY bands, labels and rock music.
Dan Goldin: But, I was seeing all these amazing Boston bands all the time.
Rick Maguire (Guitarist for Pile): Some of the first bands on Exploding in Sound were us, Speedy and Grass is Green. I had known those guys – we played with the band before Speedy Ortiz, Quilty. We played shows with them, Fat History Month too. We all kind of knew each other.
Dan Goldin: The DIY community was where all of these great bands came together. With house shows there, you see different bands constantly, and they’re booking their own performances.
Rick Maguire: I also lived with both of the guys in Fat History Month, and that was back in 2008, ’09. So it’s been a long time.
Dan Goldin: If someone’s on tour they come through and play a dirty basement instead of a club, which is amazing. Everyone was around there and going to shows not to be “seen” or anything, but because they wanted to have a good time.
Dave Spak: Dan and I were both music industry majors at Northeastern. But neither of us had classes together, nor were we really friends with the music industry kids. So we ended up meeting through mutual friends. I remember the one night we were all hanging out, and Dan and I ended up dispersing everyone with our music talk.
I remember everyone was like, slowly walking away after we name drop band after band. Embarrassingly enough, I think it started from like, what we discovered in high school on PRP.
Dan Goldin: Great song writing lies at the core of all these bands. They can all make a great deal of noise, but their music speaks from the songwriting, which separates good bands from great bands. When you listen to Ovlov — yeah, it’s loud. But it’s the hooks and the songwriting that you remember.
Rick Maguire: I didn’t even know Fat History Month was in a band, I just needed a place to live. That just ended up happening. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Ski Mask, but Cory from there was in that apartment too. It was a good place to live for like three years. It all was happenstance.
Dan Goldin: While I had that major label job, I started a blog of music I actually liked. The intention was like, okay. If I can do this blog long enough to where it develops an audience, I can eventually start a label which in theory, has a built-in audience with that same taste.
Dave Spak: We were both blogging all the time, I had a blog called Stereotyping and we were going to shows every night. We became absolutely obsessed with Pile and Grass is Green, and we thought, “Why are they not on a label? Why is no one putting it out?”
Sadie Dupuis (Speedy Ortiz vocalist): I knew Dan’s website way before I knew him. At the time I was trying to search for other bands. When I would try Google searches for four or five bands at the same time to see what would come up, a lot of the time Exploding in Sound would always come up first. So I wondered, “What’s going on with this guy? What’s going on with this website?”
Dan Goldin: It’s since cracked down, as I’m sure you know. House venues will pop up again. They’ve always been around. But it may be a while.
Rick Maguire: I met Dan through a friend. At the time he was just working on the blog, and he wrote some really kind stuff about our band. Ovlov played our record release show before I even met him.
Dan Goldin: Pile is probably sick of me at this point (laughs). I’ve been to a disgusting amount of their shows.
Dave Spak: Then we thought, we can probably start a label; we both have degrees in the music industry. We’ve been following these bands obsessively, already. Why not?
Dan Goldin: I’d always wanted to start a label. It was just a matter of time. Labels like Kill Rock Stars, any random album of theirs is going to be somewhat decent. No duds. I can appreciate a label that not just releases things, but you can trust them. That’s what I wanted.
Dave Spak: I live outside of Scranton, PA. The actual town is 600 people. The only reason anyone knows where I’m from is because of that show The Office. People are always saying around here, “Oh, where’s the rock music? There’s no such thing as rock music anymore.” There is – it’s just not being shoved down your throat all the time like everything else is.
Rick Maguire: I was never interested in being on a label — unless it was someone who really wanted to record it.
Dan Goldin: Things also had grown to a point for the first time in my life where the bands I was seeing live in basements throughout Boston had replaced the bands I long considered to be personal favorites. These were no long my “favorite local bands.” They were my favorite bands.
Dave Spak: It’s a shame because people have to work to find the good stuff, you know? Just because it’s not being pushed by the big labels at all, and it’s out there, people are probably missing out on what could possibly be their favorite band.
Dan Goldin: Anyone who has seen Pile, Speedy Ortiz, Two Inch Astronaut, or Ovlov will tell you they come unwound live, and the audience is always responsive. Grass is Green and Fat History Month…you watch their sets as they both manage to mix an undeniable looseness with an impressively tight technicality.
It seems as though it shouldn’t be possible, but these guys have perfected the art of loose tension. It’s always jaw-dropping.
Sadie Dupuis: When Ovlov and Dead Wives finished their EPs, around 2010, I thought it would be a good idea to give it to Dan first. It seemed like he really liked guitar rock.
Rick Maguire: After a while, maybe after a year or so, Dan mentioned starting a label, and he wanted to put out something by us.
Dan Goldin: I moved to New York because of a full-time job, which was better than working at a coffeeshop. Once I’d been doing that for a little while, I realized that I could financially start the label. Right before I did it I thought, “Am I ready? Should I do this?” Well, you’re never ready. But you just need to do it.
Rick Maguire: I didn’t seek that sort of thing out. I was just content to see that Dan cared about it a lot, and I really enjoyed it. That’s how it all worked out. This was sometime in 2011, maybe summer.
Dan Goldin: The label officially came together the day I signed Pile, so October 16th of 2011. I only remember that because they were playing a CMJ show then.
Dave Spak: A word I use all the time to describe EiS is organic. That’s how it came up, and the transition into a label felt very natural.
Dan Goldin: It doesn’t matter what you can do in a studio if you aren’t amazing live. I really believe EiS started assembling and still assembles some of the best live bands in the country. There’s no theatrics or gimmicks going on — just great bands that give it their all on stage, show after show.
Dave Spak: We put out things by bands we like – I think Grass is Green was next — but also people we like, so it grew out of that. Everyone’s super creative and help each other out on records – like Sadie is on “Where’s My Dini” on Ovlov’s record. That collaborative aspect has such a nice vibe to it.
Sadie Dupuis: The Pile and Grass is Green records he put out at first made us [Speedy Ortiz] really want to work with him, because they were our friends.
Dan Goldin: A lot of people will look at us and say, “Oh, Speedy Ortiz were on that label.” What people don’t understand is that Pile is the true force behind the label. They don’t necessarily have the same kind of press exposure or hype around them, but you’ll talk to people in like, Kentucky who run a house venue and know them and love them.
Sadie Dupuis: Carpark Records contacted us after we did the Sports EP with Exploding in Sound, and we were weighing options as to what to do with Major Arcana. Carpark is a label we liked and seemed like a good opportunity, to expose ourselves to a wider audience. Dan’s always been super helpful, even with this album we’re putting out with Carpark.
Dan Goldin: In Boston, there’s a really great scene, but it’s small just because Boston as a city is small. New York has allowed the label opportunities that wouldn’t be there otherwise — play shows and meet press/radio people, and do the Northside and CMJ showcases.
Rick Maguire: There was a little bit of a scene before the label started getting exposure. It’s made the bands a little stronger, Dan is great about putting shows together in Brooklyn.
Dan Goldin: Honestly, the Boston bands on our label were so beloved already and engrained in the scene that I’m not sure they all realized they were on the same label once it started happening. It’s one of those things that like, Pile and Fat History Month are just givens in the community.
There was a show last year in January — Pile, Grass is Green and Speedy and Ovlov all played and booked it. I didn’t book it.
Rick Maguire: If you check out a small label like Exploding in Sound, you’re going to almost definitely find another band you like.
Sadie Dupuis: If I had to run a label, I think I’d have the exact same lineup. [Dan] is an excellent curator. He’s putting out so many crazy things in the next few months.
Dan Goldin: Dischord is a huge influence — they have their own ideals and stuck to them. But their records are printed in Europe by like, a friend of theirs that owns a printing press and it’s cheap. That’s not an option for us.
Dave Spak: Things often got chaotic. Very chaotic. We get panicky, but it eventually slides into place.
Dan Goldin: I always tried to model it after some of my favorite labels, but that just made me realize that I didn’t know how my favorite labels managed to operate for so many years.
Dave Spak: My displacement in Pennsylvania is a bit of a challenge, as we can only ship the record to one spot. Dan has to take on more of that load, which is unfortunate.
Title Fight came out of here, that’s the big band. I miss being in a city like Boston, being able to walk to shows.
Dan Goldin: We’ve used a couple of different places to press records, but usually go with Pirate Records in SF. It’s a little pricier but the quality is pretty good – for me, I really care that the company cares about the business. We’re only ordering about 500 records, not 5,000, so sometimes people couldn’t care less. Glad this is really moving along so you guys can hit our deadlines so the bands can go on tour!
Rick Maguire: A lot of the bands are touring as much as they can. There’s only so much the band and label can do because they have to put themselves out there. The opportunities will show up. There’s talk of touring overseas.
Dan Goldin: Our business model, while I’m pretty fond of it, is very band-friendly, not suited to be label-friendly. It’s very much a learning curve – each successive release we’re figuring out how to do it.
Dave Spak: The biggest problem has been pulling more people into our orbit. It’s hard around here to tell people like, even if it’s a simple thing, go to our Soundcloud. People are like, “What’s a Soundcloud?”
Dan Goldin: We’ve always kept it as DIY as possible. It makes it more so about the music than like, marketing, ticket sales and concerns about making drink money. Though selling your records for $10, while awesome, is really rough financially to continue as a label especially with 3-4 releases a season.
Sadie Dupuis: They’re putting out the tape from Ellen Kempner (Palehound) who I was the camp counselor of. She is this amazing songwriter. I’m so fucking excited.
Ellen Kempner (Vocalist of Palehound): I had released something in December 2011 during my senior year of high school, under the name Kempa. It was just some demos I’d recorded in my house. Dan Goldin heard them, because Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz showed him the stuff when they were on Exploding in Sound. He just came up and introduced himself at a show I was at — I guess he’d heard I was recording stuff at the Silent Barn — and he straight up said he wanted to release it. I was like, “Really?”
Dave Spak: I think people to some degree want to keep things small to their scene, but to the same extent, when a band is as good as Pile or Grass is Green, people are happy to see them succeed. It’s never been about “selling out.”
Dan Goldin: Pile came out in October 2012, and by early December we were on the second press, which is insane. It’s been word of mouth and people spreading the record around online. We’re currently on our third press. That’s nuts.
Sadie Dupuis: We played with Geronimo last night, and we were saying, “How the fuck does Dan Goldin get everything done in a day?” Our theory is that he has a twin. He gets so much done – he has the blog and the label. Any promotional emails he handles for bands too, and he also finds other amazing bands all the time. Oh yeah, he’s got a day job too.
Dave Spak: We started putting out more and more records, like Geronimo and Grass is Green. And still, there are so many we would like to take on, but we can’t yet because we have to see how those turn out. You can see by the prices of everything. You see a record for $10, and as a music enthusiast, I find it hard that people wouldn’t buy that. Especially with the work we’ve been putting into the artwork and inserts too.
Sadie Dupuis: If I see a band has an album with a big label, I always check out the label where they put out their first record. I want EiS to do as well as possible for any label, first and beyond.
Dave Spak: It’s really hard to say if radio is still big or important, and it costs a lot of money to get that going. I’ve been working on our Youtube channel a lot, for better or for worse – worse in my opinion, but everyone is streaming stuff at work. It’s a scary thought.
Sadie Dupuis: I think Dan’s willingness to put out things he thinks are great, regardless of how somebody else will perceive them, is so admirable. He really believes in the bands he puts out. It’s why I and so many other people read his blog as well.
Dan Goldin: Admittedly, it’s a weird time too. Because all of these bands are starting to get national exposure, and none of them have really changed their aesthetic. People are just finally taking notice.
Dave Spak: The press has been great; it’s exciting to see it. But it really doesn’t matter unless people listen to it. I hope as many people as possible get their ears around it.
Sadie Dupuis: Over the past few months, Exploding in Sound really became a thing from basement shows to the blogs. Now people at shows will come up to me and be like, “How do I get in touch with Dan?” Which is crazy to me.
Dan Goldin: Porches are one of the newer ones we signed. They’re really weird band but really good, they blew my mind the first time I saw them. We’re doing a split in a few months with two other labels, including Midnight Werewolves – they put out a lot of good releases. Basement bands like Sneeze that have taken over the house scene in Boston now, basically.
Dave Spak: I keep track of the plays on Soundcloud, and a lot of the plays have blown up by being featured on Pitchfork or something. I’d like it to cross over to more people than those that follow music extensively, you know what I’m saying?
Sadie Dupuis: Every time a band from the label has a show, even if he has tickets to a sold-out show, Dan will go to the label show instead. He hangs out with everyone as though it’s his family. This is why I have the twin theory, there have to be two of them. [Pause.] Wait, can you actually write this piece as an expose on how Dan Goldin has a twin?