Our next entry this week is an interview with Chris Clavin of Plan-it-X Records, an independent, non-profit music label.
Plan-it-X Records will always have a special place in my heart, as I imagine it has in the hearts of a lot of Midwestern kids who grew up wanting more from their cultural experience than what the radio and MTV (when it still showed music videos) had to offer. Founded by Samantha Dorsett and Chris Clavin in 1994, Plan-it-X started as a non-profit tape label, taking the business aspect of the music scene out of the equation to create a purely cultural experience. They dubbed tapes at $1 each and sold them at the same price – as they would say in the Plan-it-X family, “if it ain’t cheap, it ain’t punx!” The label and its philosophy certainly grew, but over the years, the collective has managed to maintain its anti-capitalist, DIY, personal experience and feel. No one signs anything, no one is trying to get rich. Plan-it-X is about making good music with good people and sharing that experience with friends. I’ve been lucky enough to go to a house show or two to watch P.I.X. bands play – the warm, inclusive atmosphere is unforgettable. It truly is a musical experience in a way that a show in a huge venue never could be. There is a feeling of, “hey, I’m a part of this” rather than, “I’m allowed to be here because I paid someone $50,” and everyone really rises to the occasion, turning a dingy basement into a safe space where shy people can jump around and be sweaty with 25 of their closest strangers and feel like they’re in a room with only their oldest friends. I was lucky enough to interview Chris Clavin when he released his first Secret Sailor book, Free Pizza for Life, and I feel even luckier to have been able to interview him again for SD. Here’s what he had to say about the label, the press, and his festival philosophy.
STEPH: First, introduce us to Plan-it-X Records. Give the reader an idea of the scope of the projects you guys take on, and what kind of music you put out. Also, talk about the philosophy behind the label, and what DIY and punk mean to you.
CHRIS: Plan-it-X is a small DIY record label that started in 1994 as a joke. I was playing in a band and we recorded a demo and we made 50 copies on cassette. We thought it would look more like a real release if there was a record label on the back, so my friend Samantha drew a logo and wrote “Plan-it-X Records” under it. That is how it started. Over the years it slowly became a semi-real record label, but it’s still mostly for fun.
STEPH: At what point did you decide to cross over from a music fan to a musician? What made you want to take your cultural experience into your own hands and found a record label?
CHRIS:I guess when I went on my first tour in 1996. We played with a band called the Bananas from Sacramento and I wanted to buy one of their albums but they didn’t have one. I thought it was shocking. I told them how cheap it was to make CDs. They didn’t seem interested in self-releasing, so we asked them if Plan-it-X could release an album for them. They said yes. I think that’s what made us a real label, since before that we only released my own band’s music. Sometimes people asked why we started Plan-it-X and I like to say that we did it because no other label would ever release my band. It’s true.
STEPH: I know Samantha played a huge role in the founding of the label, and in the eventual founding of the press – I thought it would be good to introduce the reader to Samantha, to give them a sense of what her message was (and is!), and how she still shapes the label to this day. Talk a little about who she was, and how she brought Plan-it-X to life.
CHRIS: She was the coolest and weirdest and wildest person I have ever known or will ever know I think. She coined the phrase “If it ain’t cheap, it ain’t punk,” which became the main statement of the label. We were both kind of disgusted at how punk was mostly just a capitalist money-making scheme to sell the idea of rebellion and resistance. We thought it should be way more than that. It meant much more to us. Sam also thought it was weird that punks claim to be a community and just a big group of friends but sold things to each other for way more than they needed to charge. We decided to try to sell things for the price we needed to survive and make our money back, not the price we could get or the price accepted as the standard. Sam lost interest in running the label after a few years but I was hooked. P.I.X. would have never existed without her.
STEPH: The music scene was a lot different in the ‘90s than it is today – can you talk a little about what the DIY music scene was like in the beginning, the ways Plan-it-X has grown as the scene has grown, and the ways you guys have endeavored to stay the same?
CHRIS: I would say it was much, much smaller when we started, or at least it was harder to find each other, which is good and bad. Now it’s easy to self-release and self-promote and have a web presence. The bad part is everyone looks the same on Facebook. It’s hard to tell if a band is even a real band or just a page online. However, touring and meeting people and things like that are so much easier now and I guess I’m grateful. I do think that we have lost some of the magic of discovery though.
STEPH: Talk a little bit about Plan-it-X Fest. I was lucky enough to attend last year, but had to leave pretty early for crummy health reasons. It looked like an amazing festival full of warm, happy people just eager to share music with one-another. Can you talk a little bit about the philosophy behind the festival, and what it means for the Plan-it-X family?
CHRIS: Well, I have always been against the idea of doing a fest, since I think DIY music is best enjoyed in a small setting. The bands on P.I.X. are the kind of bands you want to see in a basement or a backyard, not up on a stage with hundreds of people. It’s not my thing and I don’t think it’s the ideal experience for many of the P.I.X. bands or P.I.X. fans. But, one night we were thinking about how much fun it would be to get all of our friends together in one place. It seemed like a fun thing to do. But still, a fest is a bad idea, we decided. Then we thought about how many people would come and how we could use the fest as a way to raise funds for important grass roots groups. So we decided to do it for the 10th anniversary. It was great and we raised $8000 for charity after paying 100% of our expenses and paying all the touring bands. We’ve done a few of them now, not every summer since it’s too much work and I think it would lose its magic. The last one, 2014, raised $24,000 for charity. So in short, we do it so that we can hang out with our friends and raise money for good causes.
STEPH: How do you find new bands and musicians to add to the Plan-it-X family? What kinds of people are you looking for, and where do you come across them?
CHRIS: I usually find new bands when I play with them on tour and we hang out. I almost exclusively release bands that are my friends.
STEPH: What made you decide to launch a Plan-it-X-affiliated press, and do you have any books in the works right now?
CHRIS: Well, I wrote a book, and just like starting a record label, I knew no one else would publish it so I did it myself and it was fun. So, I started publishing my friends’ books too. Currently I’m working on a book about living in Cairo, Illinois. We tried to start a punk rock utopia there. It failed. I think it will make a good read.
STEPH: Talk a little bit about Tour Sucks – what made you decide to put that project together, what shape did the project end up taking, and what did you hope to bring to the DIY music community with these tour stories?
CHRIS: Basically, on tour I always end up swapping crazy/bad stories from tour. They are more fun than good stories. No one wants to hear about how you played a big show and how much people liked you and how you got free pizza after the show. They want to hear about your van breaking down in the middle of Wyoming and how you had to hitchhike 50 miles to a truck stop. So I thought it would be cool to collect these kinds of stories. Sadly, so many of my friends that have great stories were too lazy to write them. But we got quite a few good ones though.
STEPH: Chaos Fest wasn’t too long ago – give the reader an idea of the different kinds of events that go on across Bloomington, and tell them how they might get involved next year!
CHRIS: The idea is just that we get all the DIY show/event organizers to book something/anything on the same weekend, so it’s like a fest but no one person has too much control or responsibility. Mostly, again, it’s just a trick to get our friends to come to town and hang out. That’s what most of our schemes are about. We probably won’t do one next year, since we are doing another Plan-it-X fest in 2016. But it will probably happen again, sometime.
STEPH: What other events and projects do you guys have in store this summer? Let the reader know where they can find you, and what awesome music they can look forward to hearing!
CHRIS: I’m taking it kinda easy this summer. I’ll be writing and recording a new Ghost Mice album. I’ll hopefully get some progress made on the book about Cairo and I hope to start at least 3 new bands this summer. You can find us on FB and at www.plan-it-x.com.
You can email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spotlight written by Stephanie Marker