#19, WINTER / SPRING 2006




interview by B. Edwards

Erik Hoffman may be best known for his Ground Fault label; however, the man has a few irons in the fire, all of which are worth more than a passing glance. So, without further ado, into the realms of one of the most visible and hard-working label bosses around.....

1) Can you give an overview of the evolution / development of both Pinch A Loaf and Ground Fault?

The first label I started, Pinch A Loaf Productions (P.A.L), was born out of a love for experimental/noise music, a desire to start a record label, and to release my own material. P.A.L. started late in 1994 with a solo cassette of my own material called "36 Grit". P.A.L. ended in 1999 with the completion of the 18th release, a split cassette with MSBR and David Wright (Not Breathing). P.A.L.'s main focus was on packaging, the majority of which was bizarre, handmade objects that were pretty outlandish at times. Needless to say, I never used a plastic jewel case for any release. For roughly five years I spent an amazing amount of time cutting, gluing, screwing, and painting wood, metal, tar paper, plexiglas, bug screen, and whatever other strange materials I happened to come across. And keep in mind, it wasn't like I was putting out releases in super limited edition of 20 or 30 copies; this was 200-500 copies of each release. Eventually I knew I needed to change my approach -- all the labor was killing me. I began to rethink what I was doing. I wanted to make things a little easier on myself, and I knew I wanted to stay in the experimental/noise music business. I had a pretty good network of distributors, artists, and labels that I worked with, and honestly thought I could sell 1000 copies of a CD by some artists. So, I decided to put P.A.L. out to pasture and start anew.

2) Can you talk a little about your ideas concerning marketing? A lot of folks tend to think of marketing in black and white terms -- "selling out," or "co-opting" what your label is about -- without realizing there's always more than a simplified approach to it.

Ground Fault was born in 1999. In order to simplify the release process, the decision to release CDs in jewel cases was made. I felt it would give me more time to focus on marketing instead of packaging labor. There were still a lot of artists out there that I wanted to work with, and I knew if I simplified the release process I could work with most if not all of them. Many of the people that I originally invited were not very well known and were all doing fantastic work. I wanted to get them more exposure, and figured 1000 quantity to start and after getting good distribution I could repress as needed. Boy, was I a dreamer when it started. The packaging concept was based on the Pure idea of making them all very similar in appearance--make them easily recognizable. I wanted to build a collector customer base that would pick up a Ground Fault title even if they haven't heard of the artist. Price also was very important. I wanted them to be available for very little cost. 3 for $20 is still what I sell them for. $8 retail per CD was the price point. All of this may or may not have worked. I don't think the label has been entirely successful. I did, however, manage to get Ground Fault spread throughout the world by extensive trading. But I have only started to sell out of the first titles -- it took 6 years to sell 1000 copies, which isn't very good. I see other labels selling 1000 copies in a year or so. There is a lot that I haven't done.

3) You wear numerous hats, and do so -- certainly to the outside eye -- impressively and efficiently. You run the label, do substantial distribution, and are a conduit for manufacturing CDs -- and still maintain a day job. Do you have some sort of rigid "mode of attack" for handling these facets of your life without fraying your wires or getting run roughshod?

First, thanks for the "impressively and efficiently" comment. I strive for efficiency, speed, and quality. I guess the "mode of attack" would be tremendous focus and extremely hard work. I stay on top of the mailorder daily. I make sure that every order is processed the same day and mailed out the next day: I go to the post office every day. I make the customer the number one priority when I'm wearing the Ground Fault hat. I work a regular 40 hour a week job and put in another 1-6 hours a day on Ground Fault. I am fortunate enough to always be connected to the web and email throughout the day, so I can handle the fast paced nature and immediate demands that the CD manufacturing business requires while I'm at work. With my cell phone and internet access, I can keep things rolling. But believe me, my wires are definitely frayed. I have a very hard time keeping up with everything -- the CD manufacturing business is taking over most of my time lately, and has pushed the label to the back burner for the past year or two. I definitely do not have the time that I used to have to focus on label promotion and sales. Other people's CD manufacturing jobs are very important to me and require constant monitoring and fast response. Many of them have tight deadlines and I need to pull off miracles at times to get them to the customer on schedule.

4) Again, for me (personally) it's refreshing to hear you talk about components such as sales, marketing, and promotion. Although the passion for the music is the motive for the label, you need to think about how to get that music to people who are interested--the releases aren't meant to sit in your apartment. However, your meeting tight deadlines for CD manufacturing is an interesting point--at what stage do you tell the artist hey, this turnaround is impossible? I mean, you do have on your site the turnaround for the manufacturing process, right? I think of the "your lack of planning does not constitute an emergency on my part" schtick....

People tend to wait until the last minute to get things done. With CD manufacturing jobs, artists and labels quite often want super fast turnaround because they are going on tour in two weeks or there is a big festival coming up. I'm sure many of these jobs could have been wrapped up earlier but when the opportunity to sell some comes, like a tour or a large show, they decide to hurry up and get it done. More often than not, they end up coming to me wanting the CDs to be delivered to them in 10 days, and I’ve done it many times. There has only been one job that didn't make it in time, and that was because I was on vacation. The client knew I would be gone and she was OK with missing the chance to take the CDs on tour. The turnaround time for a fully packaged job can be as fast as 7 days if everything goes really smooth. I tell the clients that it takes 7-10 working days to complete the process, and I have sent my fair share of boxes of 50 copies via Next Day Air to wherever the band is performing the next day. They always get there in time for the big show. There is a certain amount of satisfaction to get the super enthusiastic email telling me that they arrived in time. I've completed about 250 jobs for other people in the past 5 years and missing one deadline is a pretty good track record.

5) Most folks who have followed Ground Fault are aware that you're folding the label at the end of 2005. Although you've alluded to a few reasons, can you expand on them and, perhaps, share insight into what's going to happen next?

It's true that I am ending the Ground Fault series some time near the end of 2005. I had always planned on making Ground Fault a finite thing--it was meant to be a collection, and a collection is not collectable until there is an end. I've also been feeling that people don't show as much enthusiasm for new Ground Fault titles anymore. I get the feeling they are getting bored with it. Couple that with the fact that I'm so incredibly busy lately, it makes sense to end it now.

6) What gives you this feeling of lacking interest/ enthusiasm?

I just feel that it has run it's course. I don't see that much excitement out there when new titles are released. It could just be me not having the enthusiasm for it anymore. I guess I'm basing that on lackluster sales of Ground Fault titles. But, that could very well be from the limited time I have to dedicate to Ground Fault, the label. I haven't sent any promotional copies to radio stations for a couple years. I used to take out ads in magazines and do lots of promotion, but I don't have time for it anymore. And sales show it. As for future plans, I am planning to get back to the painstaking roots of elaborate, handmade packaging. I'm a glutton for punishment and I want to put out productions that are truly special. Multiple discs, vinyl, outdated technologies, stupid packaging, etc appeal to me. I'm tentatively calling it "GF Special Projects". The first release will be the entire Ground Fault collection packaged in a really nice handmade hardwood box. It will contain all the bonus material that came with the limited 3"s as well as other surprises. One key will be that I will not be trading the GF Special Projects releases. They are going to be limited in quantity and I don't want to deal with all the work of selling all the stuff that I receive in trade. I will continue to trade Ground Fault stock until it is all gone.

7) You've probably seen a handful of labels come and go: what would your advice be for people who want to start a CD label?

Don't cheap out. Put out professional looking and sounding product. A crappy CDr in a folded piece of xeroxed paper will not keep orders coming. You will have a hard time building a customer following if your label puts out crap. Also, be prepared to trade. Trading is a big part of the business. However, you will end up with a lot of product to sell, so you best have a good outlet to resell it. If you don't want to trade, I'd hope you were very good friends with a reputable distributor.

(click for a larger view)

8) In addition to the P.A.L. releases, you have a fairly formidable personal collection of "unique" release packages. To delve into your private collection, can you tell me a) which package stands out as the most bizarre, b) whether the audio usually lives up to the packaging, c) a "concept" you've seen that you wish you'd done, and d) what "odd packaging" you've released that you think stands out the most?

a) I think the most bizarre is the Small Cruel Party/Daniel Menche 7" acetate on MSBR Records. It is packaged in original handmade mutated stuffed animal shapes. Absolutely bizarre.

b) I don't know that I've really taken notice.

c) For the release I wished I'd done, I'd say the record made of cement. I don't even know if it has been released yet (it's taken years) but Scot Jenerik has made a 12" record called "Aggregate" by F-Space. He basically poured cement into a mould that had a record at the bottom. When it dried, the record was removed and the grooves were pressed into the cement. The sound is crazy. Very crunchy (as you could imagine) and having a eerie quality to it like a very old recording played backwards.

d) As for the oddest I've released, definitely the MSBR "Electrovegetarian" 7". It came in a build-it-yourself kit when assembled had a marble green record with a transparency overlay bolted onto a spring connected to a painted wooden base. It was my tribute to the bobble-head doll.

9) What three artists do you feel are seriously underappreciated, and why?

1. Kevin Novak (T.E.F.) because he has been making some of the highest quality recordings for years. He is brilliant from a technical perspective.

2. Francisco Meirieno (Phroq). Francisco has been around for about 6 or 7 years now and hasn't really gotten much notice. I put out his first proper full length CD this year. I can't understand why it has taken so long for someone to put out a CD by him.

3. Spencer Yeh. If you've seen Spencer perform live you would know why I have him on my list. If you get a chance, pick up Burning Star Core "Let's Play Like Wildcats Do" CD. It is phenomenal. A totally original sound.

10) One facet of your world I've not touched on yet is your Spastic Colon project: any plans for taking it on the road?

We were on the road many times (Japan, OH, PA, PDX, SF, etc.) in the early years (1996-97). Our live history is available at www.spasticcolon.org We don't get out much anymore- actually, we don't really play live much anymore either, as we are both extremely busy with other things. We talk about getting out on the road all the time, but it never happens.

11) And, now, a short barrage of more “standardized” questions. What's the best thing about living in southern California? the worst thing?

Best: Convenience...everything is here. I have no trouble finding anything I need.

Worst: The weather. I hate the boring 85 degree year-round weather. Last year was good because it rained all winter. We had tied the all-time record for rain in one season. I loved it. I wished it rained every day. There isn't much change from season to season here, and I would love to have seasons.

12) What's your favorite item to cook?

Italian food; Lasagna in particular. With home made sauce....none of that jar bullshit.

13) What were the last three books you read?

I don't read much. It takes too much time to read. I usually only read when I'm on vacation, sitting on some remote beach doing nothing. I'm just finished "No Beauty Without Danger" by Max Dax and Robert Defcon. It's a collection of interview with the members of Einsturzende Neubauten. Before that I read "We Are Devo!" by Jade Dellinger and David Giffels...the story of Devo (the greatest band ever!). The third book would be "Angels and Demons" by Dan Brown, which I read while in New York for the No Fun Fest.

14) A variant on a usual final Blastitude question: whose record collections would you like to take a look at?

I would love to revisit two collections that I've seen before. They were truly outstanding and very large and need lots of time to really look at the whole collection. Those two would be Koji Tano and Ron Lessard. Ron's collection is mind-blowing; end of story on that. Because of Koji's early death, I will never get to see his collection again. It saddens me to have lost someone of Koji's caliber. He was a great friend to me and I'm lucky to have spent time with him at my apartment in Long Beach, at his apartment in Tokyo, and his parents house in Matsuyama (where his big archive collection is housed). Koji will be missed.