Twenty-one years is pretty impressive, especially in your industry these days. How do you explain Matador’s survival?
We try to concentrate on what we like, as opposed what we think the rest of the world is gonna like. On enough occasions it’s turned out that our tastes and the rest of the world’s have intersected. I also think we’re pretty motivated. I think we actually care about what we’re doing. We care about the bands. We care about the people we work with. We actually care about the people buying our records, who are not so different from us.
But it remains an interesting question, why we’re able to keep doing it and others have kind of fallen off. I think it’s almost entirely down to the roster. I don’t think we’re bad business people by any stretch, but in terms of being able to put together a label that had some kind of personality and some kind of an aesthetic beyond here’s a bunch of random records from artists of this era, I think we were able to pull that off and kind of repeat it over and over again. By and large, it does seem we’re able to hang around because we keep coming up with new things we like.
[Co-owner] Chris [Lombardi] and I had many years of experience buying records on SST and Rough Trade and 4AD and Touch and Go … and the idea that we might on any level be able to approach that, not so much in terms of audience loyalty, but a feel of quality that people would take seriously and that might actually open doors for a band, that was certainly something we hoped to accomplish. And I guess we probably have pulled that one off.
What do you look for first and foremost in a band?
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I think we find ourselves attracted to artists that, on some level, strike us as being very, very determined and very homed in on their own universe, rather than trying to sound like somebody else or fit in with notions of a genre in some way, shape or form. There probably were eyebrows raised when we first began working with Fucked Up, because that’s a band that is deeply respected and very entrenched in the hardcore community, and Matador is not a label that has a tremendous amount of cred in that universe. But it really didn’t matter. Our motivation to work with Fucked Up was not entirely different than our motivation to work with a band like Yo La Tengo or to work with a band like Interpol. We just thought they were fucking amazing at what they did, and we wanted to embrace the challenge of trying to get their thing across to a wider audience without compromising anything about what makes them special in the first place.
But it’s tricky. There have been times in our history that we’ve put out hip-hop records that I thought were very, very good and those records were not embraced, certainly not by the hip-hop audience and to a lesser extent not by our core fanbase. We’ve put out albums that I would call more experimental than the average Matador records. There was a brief working relationship with a fantastic New York metal band called Early Man. There are situations where, although we try to keep things interesting and shake it up from time to time, there are fields that are not necessarily our fields of expertise. But I’m not gonna tell you we’ll never do another hip-hop record or another dance record. If we’re gonna sink or swim, let’s sink or swim on the shit that we actually believe in and care about.
A lot of the Matador musicians I’ve spoken to describe it, if not as a collective, as having a family atmosphere.
That’s flattering. I hope we’re able to maintain that for a lot longer. The three guys who run the label in the United States are all based in different timezones, and we have a very active partner who lives in another country, so it’s an amazing challenge. The fact that we’re able to get as much done with the four partners in different parts of the world is kind of astonishing. Probably a real testament to our patience, a trait we didn’t always have many years ago. And we’re very lucky to have been able to surround ourselves with very talented, very smart, very idiosyncratic people who I don’t think would fare nearly so well in a more corporate environment. I think the artists have responded to that.
I don’t wanna overstate it—it’s not like these bands all live in a big clubhouse, and I know for a fact a few of them don’t like each other, but there is a lot of mutual respect. Some of these bands literally grew up with each other. There are members in common. They played in similar circuits. They’ve toured together. They’ve collaborated. So there’s an awful lot of cross-pollination. Pavement and GBV have played together before. Cat Power’s first real show that I would say more than 100 people saw was opening for Liz Phair many, many years ago. So there’s a lot of little things like that all over the weekend, in terms of funny connections between these bands.
How difficult has it been planning this festival?
It’s been a little tricky. Everyone’s got their needs and their own circumstances. Some people have existing travel bands. And it is hard to fit everything in. We would love to start as early as possible every day—the problem is there are some folks who are traveling great distances to be there, so we can’t start super early on Friday. And not everybody wants to watch music starting at noon or 1. But this event is not Coachella and it’s not ATP. I’m not sure what it is. On paper, at least, I think we’ve given people a really good bill, hopefully three nights and two days of fun. But at the end of the day, it is all gonna be about the performances. If the performances are great, I expect everyone will have a good time. If not, I’ll be hearing about it on the Internet (laughs).
You guys heard a lot from Las Vegans when the ticket policy was initially announced. You and I talked at length about that in July, but is there anything else you’d like to say about that?
I feel good that we did what we could to address the fact that there are music fans in Vegas. If there is anyone who couldn’t get a ticket to this, I obviously regret that, but there are people in other parts of the world who couldn’t get tickets either. Those are the breaks, as they say.