DIY Isn’t Dead: An interview with Jake Sulzer of Counter Intuitive Records
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Three years ago, Jake Sulzer decided to take a leap and press his first record. After stumbling across a Bay Faction demo on Reddit, he asked the band if they would be interested in working with him. They said yes, and Counter Intuitive Records was born. After a successful run of their self-titled album, Sulzer began working with more bands in the scene and things have quickly grown from there.
Set to release numerous highly anticipated records this summer, including: Retirement Party, Mom Jeans, and Just Friends, he took some time to talk about the inner workings of the label.
You’ve been gaining a lot of traction with up and coming bands like Prince Daddy & The Hyena and Mom Jeans, what’s your secret? How do you decide which bands you want to work with?
Jake Sulzer: I don’t know if there’s a secret. It’s just trying to finding active, young bands that are doing it because they love it and really dedicate their lives to it. So those two specifically were bands who were touring so constantly. When I first started seeing Prince Daddy, the shows were often to 20-30 people or something; but they were just doing as many shows as they possibly could even if they weren’t making much money. So that’s the kind of thing I see, where I’m just like damn okay they just really want to do this.
Did you teach yourself what to do or how did you go about doing everything?
JS: Basically the first thing I thought of was, ‘oh, it would be cool to press a record on vinyl.’ So even years before I even found the Bay Faction demo, my friends were in a band and I was like I wonder if I could help them make a 7’’. I started looking at the pricing just to see if it was possible. I always kind of had that in the back of my head, like it would cost this much to put a record on vinyl. Then, once I started talking to Bay Faction and was like oh this is something that could actually happen I started just doing more research into different record pressing plants. Just to really price everything out and get jackets made and everything. From there it was just like okay now the vinyl is sorted out, what else do I have to sort out. Oh okay, now I gotta figure out how to set up a website, so that people can buy it online. Gotta figure out how to get artwork and who can do graphic design, making templates for the vinyl jackets or the record labels on the actual vinyl, stuff like that. It was just figuring it out as I go basically.
Did you have friends doing this or know anyone who had done this before? Was it just something you had seen done and wanted to try?
Ya none of my friends had done anything like this before, at least none of my friends at the time. I didn’t even really know that people would do vinyl pressings on their own. So after I started I realized that there’s actually a pretty good amount of labels with just one person or a couple people that are just putting out vinyl releases. But I didn’t really know that that existed when I started. I saw a thing on Asian Man Records, they put something on their website like, “email us if you want some tips on starting a record label” or something. So I did that, and they basically responded back with: here’s the places we go to get jackets, here’s how much it costs, here’s where we go to get records pressed. It just broke everything down so I ended up taking a lot of the advice from that to get started.
Were you still trying to get a handle on how things worked or after Bay Faction were you set?
After Bay Faction I tried to find a better system. I ended up spending a pretty fair amount of money on it because I was getting everything from different areas because that’s what Asian Man had said they were doing. They’d buy jackets from one place and records from another place and it ended up being a lot of work and a lot of money. I ended up finding a place that just does everything so that definitely made things a bit easier after.
Obviously music has been a big part of your life. Were there any particular moments or something that happened to you that made you want to do this?
In terms of wanting to work in the music industry, I don’t know if there was; but there were definitely many moments I can think of where I was like, ‘wow music is so important to me.’ Just going to my first show that wasn’t a stadium show, like Linkin Park or something. My first real venue show.
Who did you see?
I think it was a local show. It was this Boston band Therefore, I Am and Lions, Lions might have played also. Just some local Boston bands from the early 2010’s. It was pretty cool. It was just kind of like, ‘whoa I didn’t know this existed outside of movies, now I want to do this and go to shows like this.’
Do you think it took being submerged in the DIY community to make you realize that this was something you could do?
It definitely wasn’t until a lot later that I realized I could be more than just someone attending a show. I think I was probably 19 or 20 when I was like wait if these people are my age playing music why can’t I do something similar.
Is this your full time job?
Right now this is my full time job. I was working full time just doing sales for this company that sold lab testing equipment for the first year and a half after I graduated college and started the label. After I lost that job, I decided to do this full time and it’s been about a year and two months since then.
What separates you from other labels in the scene?
I’m not really sure. I think it’s cool that a lot of the bands that I’m working with are friends. I’ve never been like you should tour with this band or this band because they’re already on my label even if you don’t know them. All the bands on my label that tour together chose to do it on their own because they’re friends. So it’s cool that a lot of the tours seem to be staying in the CI family. There’s a lot of community type aspects to it.
Do you think being part of the DIY community has helped you with the growth of the label?
Absolutely. It wouldn’t be possible without it. Throwing shows, booking tours. Basically every show I’ve ever booked on the label has been DIY. So it would be impossible without the network of people and I’ve just been really lucky. I’ve been touring with Prince Daddy for the past year on and off and they already had such a large network of people around the whole country that I’ve been getting introduced to and are becoming friends of mine and people that I can work with. It’s been very beneficial in terms of helping bands get on the road and spread the reach.
What’s the proudest moment you’ve had with the label?
That’s hard to choose. Within the first two years I had already felt like I had accomplished more than I thought I ever would have with the label. I was at a point where I was like damn I actually have to rethink what my goals are because I’ve already accomplished everything I thought I would. I sold out the Bay Faction record, my first record, and I was super proud of that. Then, I was super proud when Mom Jeans started getting bigger and bigger tour offers and were playing bigger and bigger shows. It was definitely pretty crazy the first time I went to SXSW and saw them play at 2 AM to just a packed house. I was like damn there’s something special going on here. When they signed to SideOneDummy that was super cool to me because that’s a label I really loved. There’s just a number of things that when they happened I couldn’t believe.
What was your original goal?
Right off the bat, when I heard the Bay Faction record I was like okay this is amazing, and if I can be involved in this in some way and have my name attached to it that’s enough for me. Just having my name and my logo attached to an album I believe in. Whether the label collapses right after it goes on to put out more things, I have something that I can hold in my hands and be like I was apart of something that I believed in. That’s always something I’ve felt from the get-go. I don’t know how many releases I’ll be able to have. I hope it’s a lot, but as long as each one is one that I can hold in my hands and be proud of being a part of bringing it into the world then it’s a success in my mind.
What are your future goals, especially this year with so many anticipated releases?
This is the first time where I’ve had a couple signing announcements going up at once. Where people have a few different things to look forward to, so I’m definitely really excited. My goals are to be able to continue putting out bands and not have to get an actual office job. That’s definitely a goal, but more so just to continue getting my bands and my friends the coolest opportunities possible. Just seeing how far things can really go. If I can see a band like Prince Daddy start doing more international stuff and get to go with them on it, that’s a massive goal in my mind and I think that it’s totally obtainable.
What are some releases that we can see this year?
I’m really excited about the summer we’ve got coming up. There’s a three or four month period coming up where there’s going to be five albums and every single one of them is absolutely amazing. Retirement Party is going to be at the end of May and that’s just such a good record. I think that’s going to go super well and they have got a bunch of touring plans for this year that I think are going to really expose them to a lot of people and people are going to realize they are a very good band. So that’ll be in May, and then Just Friends record Nothing but Love is coming in June and that’s another absolute masterpiece. There’s no band really making music like that, especially in the DIY scene and so I really think that’s going to turn a lot of heads and people are going to be like wow I can’t believe this exists. Then, the Mom Jeans record will be coming out within a month after the Just Friends record and that’s obviously super anticipated. Even though everything sucks with how it played out with S1D, I’m stoked as hell to get to work with them again and I think that people are going to really like the record.
Do you do everything by yourself?
I do have help. My roommate Dan does the mail order for me while I’m on tour, and that’s really clutch to have the availability to tour without having to shut down the webstore for a month. That’s super crucial, and then recently I’ve had an intern, Gill, and they’ve been super epic just helping me create tour fliers and any sort of graphic design stuff that I need done. They are really good at it. So it’s starting to expand a little more than just me doing stuff.
If you could sum up the label in 3-5 words, what would you say?
A good music label.
Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to start their own thing?
So many people can get involved in so many ways and half the battle is just putting in the effort. Kids should really try to book shows, and bring in touring bands, or just buy a guitar and start playing music. Find your friends band who you really like or just a local band and be like hey let me make tapes or CDs for you. Just get involved in any way possible. It’s so rewarding and it can be done with very little money. By putting in effort things can change so much. If anybody reading this is like, ‘I wanna book a show but I don’t know how’ or ‘I wanna do 20 tapes for my friend’s band but I don’t know how’, then please feel free to reach out to me on twitter: @CIRecs. I’ll point you in the right direction.
Make sure to keep an eye on their social media (mentioned above) for more updates. They are ready to make a splash this summer, and you don’t want to miss out.
You can pre-order Somewhat Literate by Retirement Party now at their webstore: http://www.counterintuitiverecords.com/
Emily Kitchin // @DeathNap4Cutie
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