Austin, Texas and Minneapolis, Minnesota are two cities that most people would not connect with one another. Austin is the capital of Texas. The weather tends to be hot and dry. And 6th Street in downtown Austin might have more live music venues on it than any other street in the US. Minneapolis is one half of the Twin Cities. The weather tends to be cold and snowy. And there are more shops in the Mall of America than in most towns in the US. The cities have distinctly different cultures, climates, and vibes. There is, however, a very real connection between these two cities , and that is Interstate 35.

From 6th Street in Austin, one could get in a car, or better yet, truck hop onto I-35, and then drive about 1200 miles north along I-35 until reaching Minneapolis. Over the course of that 18-hour drive, there'd be plenty of time for thinking and maybe even day dreaming. And I suppose, that's probably pretty close to what brothers Eric and Marc Ostermeier did back around 1995 when they moved from Austin to Minneapolis.

Maybe during that drive they had time to think about a new project. Maybe moving to a city that didn't have a big music scene inspired them somehow. Maybe it seemed like the right time to do something they had been thinking about for a long time. Or maybe none of these scenarios are correct.

Eric Ostermeier, the co-founder of the label, Words on Music, and a member of Should and Motion Picture, recently took the time to answer some of my questions about the label, indie music, and the influence of UK shoegazers and Rush. (!?!?)

PB : I believe you had been living in Austin and making music with the band shiFt (which later became Should) prior to starting the Words On Music label. What led you to starting your own label and did the label start when you were still in Austin or did it begin once you moved to Minneapolis?

EO : The label launched in 1998 in Minneapolis with the release of the first Motion Picture album, several years after we’d left Austin. I run the label with my brother, Marc, and for some time he had been particularly fascinated in the schematics of building a record label – the task of creating a coherent label identity through the content of the music, the style of cover art, and the design of the website etc.

PB : Did you start the label on your own or are there a number of people who split the workload?

EO : Marc and I have jointly run Words On Music from the onset. I direct the ‘Words’ and Marc directs the ‘Music.’

PB : Has running the label gone smoothly or have you run into more issues than you thought you would?

EO : This is difficult to surmise since we have no basis of comparison – Words On Music is our first experience in running a label. We unveiled Words On Music with no prior knowledge, no contacts, and, thus, no expectations. But now we are more than four years into the venture, our music has reached an audience, and, perhaps because we have not overextended ourselves, we are in a position to quickly launch any new project that stirs us.

PB : This is a possibly annoying question: It seems that every year the death of indie is announced on some email list or magazine. Do you feel that these claims are valid and have these claims made it any harder to run a label?

EO : To be honest, we fancy ourselves as rather insulated from musings about the climate of independent music. Perhaps this sounds a bit like a contrivance, and, of course, I recognize that the Words On Music cocoon exists in a larger environment, to which we are not completely impervious. But dialogues about the state of that environment are of little concern to us, and they do not really affect decision-making at our label. If we love an album, we will release it, regardless of the vagaries of the current indie music climate.

PB : Although there are some notable indie bands that came from the Minneapolis area, I don't think it's an area that people tend to hear about too much. How would you describe the local music scene there and how does Words On Music fit into it?

EO : Hmm. Again, I don’t know if I can speak with any coherence about the Minneapolis scene. I have lived here seven years, and, truthfully, I’ve never seen a local band that enthused me, but I don’t attend local shows with any regularity, so it’s difficult for me to say. In general we look for artists that are studio-minded rather than performance-minded anyway, for the studio is where the art form achieves perfection, not on the stage.

PB : The first review I wrote for Pennyblackmusic was for the first Words On Music release, Motion Picture's 'Every Last Romance'. It was only the 11th review on the site and I recently found out it was one of the best selling CDs during the early days of Pennyblackmusic. When you first started the label were most of the CDs sold via on-line stores or did distributors pick up the label fairly quickly?

EO : Despite having few contacts in the industry at that time, Motion Picture’s first album was actually picked up by distributors immediately, and was, surprisingly, one of the top sellers of a few distributors in 1998.

PB : With printed zines seeming to disappear over the past several years, do you feel the internet has done a lot to help Words On Music grow as a label?

EO : I’d say so – although I suppose that somewhat depends on whether the internet caused or filled the void in the first place. But I estimate the ratio of magazine reviews we get now for our releases is probably 3:1 on-line zines to print zines; whereas even four years ago, it was probably 3:1 in the other direction.

PB : Looking at the Words On Music website I saw that the first four releases were for bands that you are in (Motion Picture and Should) and then came Coastal's self-titled debut CD. How did you hear about Coastal?

EO : Marc actually first discovered Coastal through their web site. By strange coincidence, the week we signed them, Coastal also was courted by an English label [Becalmed Records] to do a 7”, so we let them use two songs from the Words On Music album for that release.

PB : Both Coastal and Should have elements of the shoegazer era sound. The first Should CD (recently re-released on Words On Music) came out in 1995 and the Coastal CD came out in 2001. Do you want Words On Music to somewhat champion the US shoegazer sound?

EO : Not at all. While Should has ties to shoegazing, I don’t see much affinity between Coastal and that scene. My own view about shoegazing is that there are only a limited, discrete number of quality shoegazer albums, and almost all of them were English and released a decade ago [MBV’s ‘Loveless,’ Ride’s ‘Nowhere,’ the first two Slowdive, Pale Saints, and Swervedriver albums, Boo Radleys’ ‘Everything’s Alright Forever,’ and Chapterhouse’s ‘Whirlpool’]. Most self-heralded shoegazer music, especially American, is painfully underwhelming. I believe American shoegazer fans, however, have been willing to embrace virtually anything resembling shoegazer for a variety of reasons. The aforementioned albums were very inspiring, but, almost overnight, some of the bands disowned their work (Slowdive, Boo Radleys), abandoned their initial style (Chapterhouse, Ride), or were cast off by their record labels. On top of this, music critics quickly turned on the genre. Thus American shoegazer fans were left waiting and waiting for the next ‘Loveless.’ American bands, often late-comers to any scene, were thus embraced by die-hard shoegazer fans regardless of quality of their content, to fill this void left by the mass desertion in the UK.

PB : What bands from that era influenced your own music or even the direction of label, if any?

EO : Early Should was certainly influenced by ‘Loveless’ and The Lilys’ ‘In the Presence of Nothing,’ although elements of Should’s sound, especially on 1998’s ‘Feed Like Fishes’ can also be linked equally to Yo La Tengo, Low, and Colin Newman [the album’s lead track, ‘Fish Fourteen,’ references Newman’s ‘Provisionally Entitled the Singing Fish’ album from 1981]. But Motion Picture’s sound is not a product of this genre whatsoever; it is much more precious, intricate, and precise, with nods to Felt, Red House Painters, and Belle & Sebastian.

PB : What led you to re-release Should's 'A Folding Sieve' and how has that album been received?

EO : shiFt released ‘A Folding Sieve’ in 1995 on ND Records. In 1998 shiFt agreed to change its name (o ‘Should’ as part of a settlement with another label which also had a band named ‘Shift’ on its roster. As part of the agreement all unsold copies of ‘A Folding Sieve’ had to be destroyed. Once the rights to ‘A Folding Sieve’ reverted back to Marc from ND in the late 1990s we decided to go ahead with a reissue as we had received several inquiries about the album. And, thankfully, the requests have continued!

PB : You have two rather interesting upcoming releases scheduled, the first being a reissue of an album by Remnant Three that came out in 1981. What can you tell us about Remnant Three and did you contact them to do the reissue?

EO : The reissue was our invention. Remnant Three is an interesting but extremely obscure footnote of the time period and one of the few artists I’ve heard that had the early "Factory Records sound,", but was not on Factory Records. There’s a good history of the band on our site ( Their songs are quite compelling, regardless of the era in which they were written, and the Factory-esque production only lends to their mystique.

PB : The other upcoming release is for a compilation CD featuring covers of the Wire song 'Outdoor Miner' I have a 7" by Flying Saucer Attack with a cover of that song and I think aMiniature used to cover that song live back in the early 90's. The original version has also shown up on a lot of mixtapes I've made over the years. What was your inspiration for doing this CD and what bands have you have lined up for it so far? Have you talked to the guys from Wire about this project and what was their reaction?

EO : Our idea to release a tribute album to a particular song sprung from noticing the well of quality versions of '\Outdoor Miner' that we had collected over the years (it was covered numerous times in the 1990s – Lush, The Lightning Seeds, Flying Saucer Attack, the Grays, and Luna among them). Our album, 'A Houseguest’s Wish', will consist entirely of versions of this Wire masterpiece. Several artists are planning to record versions for us including Early Day Miners, Hamish Kilgour (The Mad Scene), For Against, and Laura Watling. We are also currently trying to secure the permission to include several of the previously recorded versions of the song. We have not yet contacted Wire – hmmm – I wonder if they would consider covering their own song?

Are there other bands the label is interested in working with in the near future or are you going to keep the roster fairly small?

EO : One exciting development has just come to pass during the past month or so. This autumn we will be releasing ‘Coalesced', the sixth album by Nebraska’s For Against. I’ve been listening to For Against since the late 1980s [e.g. ‘Echelons’ and ‘December’ on Independent Project Records], so this is all quite heady for me, especially because ‘Coalesced’ is among their strongest and most coherent albums.

PB : Are you recording new songs for a future Motion Picture or Should release?

Motion Picture is currently orchestrating about fifteen new songs, selections of which will be recorded this winter for a 2003 release on Words on Music. Should is currently on hiatus, although they are recording a version of ‘Outdoor Miner’ for the compilation.

PB : Here's perhaps a dumb question. The Words On Music logo is designed in a similar fashion to Rush's "grace under pressure" logo (a script "g" under a "p"). Should I just be embarrassed that I made this connection or is there a story there???

EO : I’ve never even heard a Rush album, actually. But our aim in designing the logo was simplicity – a minimal, visual representation of the label name. I originally chose ‘Words On Music’ for our label to emphasize the equality, or even superiority, of music to lyrics in this art form. It seems to me that music critics have always overemphasized an album’s lyrics to the neglect of the music. Take The Smiths, for example – I doubt anyone would even care about what Morrissey is singing unless Johnny Marr’s music was engaging in the first place. Great lyrics are wonderful (and rare), but great music is essential.

PB : And now for a more personal question: Do you know if David Gedge ever heard Should's cover of 'Spangle' on 'Feed Like Fishes' and if so what his impression was? I really like your version. Actually, I like that whole album quite a bit.

EO : Thanks! Yes, in fact, Gedge did hear our version of ';Spangle', and he considered it an interesting interpretation. Although the Should version is quite a departure from the original Wedding Present recording on ‘Watusi,’ I remember Marc being a little surprised when he later discovered the Peel Session version of the song was louder and upbeat like the Should recording.

PB : Do you have anything like a "five year plan" for the label or are you just going to continue releasing music that you like and see where things go?

EO : We endeavour to gradually expand the roster, but we don’t want to build up our catalogue simply for the sake of having a lot of releases. While name recognition is important in building a record label, and the more albums you release the more the brand is recognized, our greatest priority is to insure that the Words On Music brand is not diluted by sub par releases or radical departures in style.

PB : Do you have any advice for others who may be thinking of starting their own label?

EO : As I suggested above, my only advice is to not dilute the brand by releasing albums by artists that are wholly incongruous with one another. Labels such as Labrador, Elefant, Shinkansen, Kranky, Teenbeat, Thrill Jockey, and Aesthetics have perfectly linked their name with a particular sentiment or style, like Factory and 4AD did twenty years ago. These labels harvest a variety of artists that are far from redundant and yet share an important affinity of sound, style, or technique, which inspires fans to take chances on releases by new artists on the label with whom they are not familiar – because they are familiar with the crucial, uncompromising elements of the label.

PB : Thanks

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