Steven Williams is a longtime supporter of local music. In 2001, he started the Mankato-based Init Records to release The Vidablue (later Ten Grand). In the ten years since, the label has relocated to Sioux Falls and has issued a total of 74 releases. While he doesn't play in any bands himself, Williams has a history of zinemaking and booking/promoting shows, including as a co-proprietor of the short-lived Mankato venue Your Mom's. As for Twin Cities groups, Init has released records by POS, Building Better Bombs, Chibalo, Mahkato, and Tora! Tora! Torrance!
At present, Init is preparing the semi-annual Init Fest on July 17th. The festival will include all of the label's Sioux Falls-based bands, including headlining reunions from Sinking Steps Rising Eyes and Castle. Gimme Noise caught up with Williams to talk about the DIY record biz, vinyl production, and sticking to your beliefs as a label owner.
Gimme Noise: With the label's infancy being spent in Mankato, how closely did/do you follow the Twin Cities' scene?
Steven Williams: I followed it very closely, some of the key bands that got me into punk and hardcore that I saw live in high school were from Minneapolis: Dillinger Four, Disembodied, The Infinity Dive, Ereshkigal, Animal Chin, Killsadie, etc. Early 1021/Blood of The Young stuff was a huge influence on my label and bands like The Infinity Dive, Khayembii Communique, and Song of Zarathustra are still some of my favorite bands.
You've also released records from international bands (Belgium's Hive Destruction and Japan's Melt Banana). How did your relationship with these bands develop?
The Melt Banana release came about from doing shows for them in Sioux Falls and them seeing my collection of Melt Banana records and seeing my record label "warehouse" and asking if I wanted to put out a 7", which was awesome.
The Hive Destruction release came from putting out a release for a member's former band, Amenra, which came about from Battlefields (an Init band), touring Europe with them. One of my favorite things about the hardcore/metal scene is the networking and helping each other out with releases, shows, distribution, etc.
Have you tried to maintain or craft a label identity or do you just release records by artists you like--which tend to be in the hardcore/metal realm?
I have never really set out to be a specific-genre label, just to put out stuff that I really like. The bands I put out are bands I would buy records from and listen to if I didn't put them out--and it hasn't been exclusive.
The non-hardcore/metal releases I have put out have been the slowest sellers, which maybe is because I don't know how to promote those releases as well or maybe because fans of my label tend to just like hardcore and metal. I'm not sure. I just released an awesome EP from The Fortune Healers, which features former Twin City resident and Song of Zarathustra guitarist TJ Mcinnis, and it doesn't fit the label sound really.
When the label started, the main focus was Midwest hardcore bands I was friends with that needed someone to put out their records. As the years go by, most of those bands have broken up and members and friends have gotten out of hardcore/metal and/or gotten married and started families, so expanding to non-Midwest bands was a logical step to continuing the label, I suppose.
Vinyl seems to be your primary product these days. Have you always been a vinyl fan?
The first punk show I ever went to when I was 14 I bought 7"s because they were cheap. It was the only music format the bands had available, and I was pretty sure my parents' record player worked! Ever since that show I've been hooked. Fifteen years later and 7"s are still my favorite format of music. They are inexpensive, the perfect way to try new bands, and there are so many awesome things you can do with the packaging.
How do you feel about the collector culture in vinyl? Init produces a lot of limited editions, colored prints, etc. Do you see this as a trend or as a long-term movement?
I think limited editions and color vinyl are cool, but when it comes down to it, I just like vinyl. If I have a choice between mailordering a color vinyl copy and just buying a black vinyl copy at my local record store, I'm going to buy it at my local record store. I definitely think vinyl, in general, has really become a trend over the past year or two, and although it has boosted interest in a lot of small indie and DIY labels like Init, it has also meant an increase in vinyl production costs, slower turnaround from pressing plants, and a ridiculous amount of vinyl reissues flooding the market--usually with an expensive price tag attached. Something super important to me is keeping prices low and affordable, which is hard with production costs and shipping costs constantly on the rise. The latest trend is labels charging a buck or two more for the color vinyl copy and kids buy right into it. I'm more concerned with treating mailorder customers how I want to be treated instead of just going for a cash-grab. I do think the vinyl trend will start to die off a bit, and the diehard fans and sincere labels will still be pushing through after the mainstream interest has faded.
What is something people should know about the Sioux Falls music scene?
I wish there was a lot to say but, sadly, in the past few years it has seemed to die out a bit as far as show attendance and people being actively involved in the local scene. Unlike a lot of surrounding cities like Fargo and Minneapolis and Omaha, we don't have too much community in our local music scene. There are a few groups that have a strong draw and play out, but a lot of it is just bands not breaking new ground who are playing to the same group of their friends in local bars. No one is screening show posters, doing zines, putting out vinyl (except Init), or even posting on our local internet forum. It's sad considering how active it was not too long ago. I am pretty active in the local Sioux Falls scene with booking shows, but Init Records pretty much exists under the radar of the current Sioux Falls music scene, which is what it is, I guess.
Init Fest will take place on July 17th at The Vault in Sioux Falls, SD. Bands features include: Sinking Steps Rising Eyes Castle KEN Mode Battlefields Sleeping in Gethsemane