“Hey, I’d love to talk a little bit about the Dt’s,” says Dave Crider. “Are we going to talk about the Dt’s?”
He’s asking me nicely, but I can tell that he must get a little exasperated having to field more questions about his record label than about his current band. You know how Ben Affleck has that film production company with Matt Damon but probably has to answer 10 times as many questions about his personal life (“So, are you still nailing that Jennifer Lopez?”) than about Project Green Light? I imagine it’s kind of the same for Dave Crider and Estrus Records.
Crider’s name is synonymous with Estrus, and for nearly 15 years the label he runs out of his Bellingham, Wash. home may as well have been known as the Garage Mahal. Since releasing its first vinyl record in 1989, Estrus has steadily grown in reputation and prestige to the point where having an Estrus release, for bands as far away as Spain and Japan, is akin to putting hand to Holy Grail.
Dave Crider probably wouldn’t admit to as much himself—but then, he’d much rather be talking about the Dt’s.
“Well, yeah, it’s basically banking hours,” he says of day-to-day business at the home office. “Twelve-hour banking hours, or as long as it takes to get everything done. I think any small business owner would probably corroborate that, whether it’s a record label or a corn-dog stand. You do what you gotta do to get shit done.”
It’s a risky business, I suggest, turning a passion into a vocation. Dealing with so much rock’n’roll in both his personal and professional life (Estrus is his full-time job and main source of income), does he ever get burned out?
“Sure, you deal with a certain amount of burnout and frustration,” he admits. “But again, I think it’s the same with anything. The bottom line, the important thing, is that I am lucky to be able to do something I really enjoy doing.”
“Of course,” he adds, “it’s nice not having to do it all the time, you know. I also like geeking out and playing video games. I like having a little time for that shit as well.”
Heading a label with such cachet—not just in the Pacific Northwest or the United States, but all over the garage-rock world—isn’t Crider constantly getting bombarded with demo tapes from bands with three chords and a dream?
“We do get a lot of demos,” he confirms, “although I wouldn’t say we get any more than any other label. I could be wrong about that, since I really don’t have anything to base the comparison on. But, I can’t think of any instances where we’ve worked with a band based on a demo. It’s always been more about seeing the band live and getting to know them first.”
For right now, Crider says his label has stopped accepting demos. It’s not entirely clear what that means, since he says he still listens to all of them and gets back to as many of the bands as he can, even though he’s never proposed business with any solely on the strength of a demo. Bottom line, Crider says, is that he just has his hands full with what he’s already got.
“Since I’ve started doing this, I’ve been hearing people complain about how there isn’t enough good music out there. My problem is that there’s too much good music out there. I just can’t do everything I want to do.”
Besides the Dt’s, other bands in the Estrus stable past and present include Fireballs of Freedom, the Cherry Valence, the Immortal Lee County Killers (who will be playing with the Dt’s at their show in Missoula this week), the Mooney Suzuki and Man or Astro-Man?
Past Estrus compilations, like the highly-collectible Gearbox and Half-Rack seven-inch boxed sets, have typically included tracks by bands with long-standing affiliations with other labels—Mudhoney, for example. Mudhoney side-project The Monkeywrench (which features members of Gas Huffer as well) also has some Estrus releases. In fact, it’s hard to name a Northwest garage band of note from the past 15 years that hasn’t ended up on Estrus in some fashion. Does Crider have any regrets about deals that might have fallen through, or big fish that might have gotten away?
“Nope,” he says firmly. “I never think of it that way, because that’s just not the way we do things. Every release we do is as important as any other, and I don’t think I’ve ever actually pursued a band. If both parties want to work together, then that’s what we do. If it doesn’t work out that way, well, there’s plenty of other labels out there, and plenty of other bands.”
Crider says there are aspects of running a label that he doesn’t much care for—like accounting—but that the end always seems to justify the means. He prefers the more creative side of the label business, especially overseeing the artwork.
“The whole creative process is very fulfilling—the idea of working with people to create something from nothing. Really, that’s what it is—all this stuff is just thoughts turned into art. Not to get all hippie and heavy and shit, but that’s where it all comes from. Nothing.”
He adopts a door-to-door salesman tone of voice: “Estrus and all our releases are the product of nothing. That’s our secret sauce.”