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Brooklyn-based Jeremy Thompson, impresario of the collector-clamoringly obscure punk/powerpop reissue label Sing Sing Records, has been busy with his usual hefty slate of releases. Last spring he got married to his longtime love Mary Blount, leader of the fine local garage act Babyshakes. In between deciding if it’d be better to be registered at Crate & Barrel or Academy Records Annex, the pair have, for three years, been compiling a wonderfully day-glo doorstop of a book of 1970s record sleeves, Wired UP! Glam, Proto Punk and Bubblegum European Picture Sleeves 1970-1976. And to top it all off, Thompson got one of his favorite late-’70s powerpop bands, Milk’n’Cookies, to dust off their guitars and regroup for his book release wing-ding this Saturday. Mr. Thompson, you can take a breather… in a few minutes.
Sing away about the history of Sing Sing Records.
I had been living here a little while and was doing some stuff with Radio Heartbeat [a short-lived local ’70s powerpop reissue label], I was living with Mike [Sniper, of Blank Dogs and Captured Tracks Records] back when he was involved with Radio Heartbeat. I was just doing little stuff like helping them get the artwork sorted out on a few things, and eventually I ended up helping them find a few bands for possible reissues. Once Trey Lindsay moved up here from Atlanta, we ended up hanging out a lot. One night at a show at Glasslands, he basically talked me into doing Sing Sing. He had already put out a bunch of records with Rob’s House Records and was totally familiar with the process. I kind of had an idea of some records that would be good to do, and we just went for it. The first releases were a Rudi 7″ and the Zips EP, all from the UK and Northern Ireland.
And you’re from where originally?
I moved here from Chicago. I was playing in a band there that had run its course and I couldn’t do another winter there so this seemed like the best place to go. I’m originally from Palatka, Florida, though. It’s a really tiny town in northeast Florida, close to the beach.
What gave you the idea or inspiration to do your kind of label—reissuing quite obscure, super collectible stuff? Of course since the 1990s, there have been labels that have come and gone releasing obscure stuff from that era. But you’ve been pretty busy and consistent…
Well like I said, It was Trey’s idea, and he came up with the name. I was aware of other reissue labels releasing stuff I liked a lot, but doing things like making the reissues way too limited and expensive; or going the other route and doing an LP with 90% filler and live recordings from a band that had one good song or whatever. And it always bugged me how shitty a lot of the artwork for punk reissues looks. I always prefer that reissue labels use the original art, etc. So basically we wanted to do a reissue label that offered up really good music, hopefully a lot of it new to people, try to turn them on to stuff and make it affordable and high quality so maybe they won’t feel so bad about not owning the original!
What other labels inspired you?
I don’t really follow new labels that much. I like that Time-Lag label a lot, they did the Eddie Callahan reissue which looked and sounded killer. Numero Group does cool shit sometimes. Jeez, not that many labels I guess!! Older stuff is much easier for me! CNR records, RAW, Chiswick, Good Vibrations, Rip Off [from Ireland], Vendetta, Titan, Mainstream, all that type of stuff. Ellie Jay put out a ton of great records, President, Youngblood… lots of labels!
As labels like this slowly keep cropping up, the shift seems to be away from finding the uber-obscure stuff—for uber-obscure sake—and instead satiating the DJs and fans out there by putting out high-quality, new reissues by well-known [by collector standards] “Killed By Death” favorites. What’s your plan as the label moves on?
We try to strike a balance. I think a label that just puts out shit no one has ever heard of all the time is a bad idea. You have to strike a balance. Overall, the records just have to be really good I guess. We did stuff like Ambulance, Razar, the Nothing—Killed By Death stuff like that, but we’ve also done stuff like the Rockin’ Horse LP that came out on Philips originally. It just has to be a really great record, and there needs to be some sort of a demand for it.
Do you try to get the original tapes, art, etc. And bring the old band members in on the project if possible? I guess I’m asking you if you do bootlegs. Ha!
We do not do bootlegs. One of the best things about doing this is paying the people in the bands and sending them links to reviews and stuff. As far as using master tapes and stuff like that, we always use masters when they’re available. When they’re not, we rip from vinyl and get Tim Warren [Crypt Records head honcho] to work his magic on the rips. He does a great job! We always involve the original artists and we always use the original art. We just alter the labels a bit. Trey does that actually, and he does a great job reworking them in a way that honors the original design.
I’ve known a couple of guys who do these kinds of reissue labels, and they always have a few wild and/or aggravating stories of crazy, old, bitter musician grumps, AA-altered door-slammers and such. Do you have any stories of trying to track down this stuff?
Most of the time it’s pretty uneventful. The guys are generally happy and excited about it, they’re glad that someone is contacting them about their old band for some other reason than [some desperate collector] trying to scam a couple copies of the original record or whatever. There was one recent thing that happened, I don’t want to say what band it was, but I had to give the guy my social security number, my parents names and addresses, names of people I had been in bands with and their contact info, all this really personal shit before the guy would mail me his banged up original copy so that I could get a proper scan of the cover. Then he mailed the record to me media mail from California in a fucking manila envelope with zero packing material! It’s a miracle it didn’t get completely destroyed. He probably would have tried to kill my parents or something.
Okay, now some queries about the book, Wired Up! There have been a lot of 45 cover art books over the years. What makes yours different?
Our book documents the post-hippie/pre-punk 1970s in Europe (mostly) where there were a lot of great, overlooked bands cropping up everywhere, and tons of these killer glam and pop singles coming out with really striking picture sleeves. The book is different because it zeros in on this very specific time and place and shows all of these records together for the first time. We’ve also included some really great interviews with some of the folks who were there like Jesse Hector, Brett Smiley, Gordon Nicol from Iron Virgin, and the almighty RAMMADAMMA. The book is available through our site, and the first 500 copies will have a copy of Jesse Hectors’ “Wired Up” b/w “Bye Bye Bad Days” 45, which is such a killer single!
How daunting was the process of getting it all together?
The whole thing has taken us over three years! Mary did a majority of the design and layout, and she went through tons of revisions until it was perfect. We had hundreds and hundreds of sleeves to go through, clean up, etc. Interviewing all those guys and pulling together all the photos and stuff, it was a ton of work, but a really fun project to do. We’re really pleased with how it turned out.
You got Milk’n’Cookies to play a very rare set for the Le Crunch party. How’d that happen?
There’s an awesome interview with them in the book, so it seemed like a natural choice. They’re one of the few U.S. groups featured in the book. Plus they played at Southpaw like five years ago with both [my old band] Busy Signals and Baby Shakes. That was a really big deal for us, and they were super great. One of the best shows I’ve ever seen!
Le Crunch, with a performance by Milk N’ Cookies, takes place at Zebulon on Saturday.