Britt Brown (Not Not Fun, Robedoor, LA Vampires): Interview

Britt Brown (Not Not Fun, Robedoor, LA Vampires): Interview
“Ours is a thin-skinned generation, and a lot of artists harbor surprising venom toward anyone who isn’t buying what they’re selling.”

In February, the dynasty of Not Not Fun celebrated a decade of releasing music. Drawing from rock, “experimental,” psychedelic, dub, noise, and house influences, the label has been home to a plethora of musicians and artists, paving the way for plenty of them in the music scene too through the Bored Fortress 7-inch club and offshoot label 100% Silk. Britt Brown, co-owner of Not Not Fun, has grown from Weirdo/Begeirdo and Robedoor to Topaz Rags, Barrabarracuda, Quintana Roo, and a little Pocahaunted to Vibes and LA Vampires; a little of everything, really — all alongside label co-owner, frequent band mate, and significant other Amanda Brown (also owner of 100% Silk and vocalist of LA Vampires). 
Tiny Mix Tapes recently caught Britt moving boxes to a new Not Not Fun headquarters location.

Yo, Britt. How you doing? Just haulin’ boxes?
Yeah, trekking back and forth between this rusty storage shed and our new place. The new apartment is kind of compact; we can’t stock that much. We try and distribute most of it but it’s unpredictable as far as which stores want what and how many. Lately, there are so many record shops in L.A. Most of them have pretty specific agendas in terms of what vibe they rep, but some are loose enough that you can just stop in, explain you’re local, and they’ll take a couple of copies of something, even if they’ve never heard of it because they only read Pitchfork or Spin. Brick-and-mortar records store can’t just operate on internet conglomerate logic though, they have to feign some semblance of actual community or they tend not to last. 
Do you feel like this is an admirable aspect of L.A. specifically, compared to or similar to when Not Not Fun first began?
To me the admirable aspect of L.A. has more to do with how it’s laid out, how much sprawl there is. That’s part of why people migrate here, so they can escape into their own little zone. There’s no pressure to be public or social or even that productive. Artists from Europe or the East Coast are always coming out here for little three-month sojourns, renting an Airbnb situation in the hills where they can fuck around on some project, smoke weed, take a break from real life. 
In L.A. you don’t really run into people unless you choose to — you’re kind of cut off. To some that could seem sort of lonely but I see it more as this evolved mode of privacy, all these parallel lives. You never really know who lives here. Frequently a friend will tell me how some mutual acquaintance has been crashing in L.A. for the last year and I never saw them once. Unless you eat at the same taco truck or share some habitual activity, you’re off on your own path. 
Throughout the 10 years of co-curating Not Not Fun, which year has stood out to you the MOST?
I won’t be good at this question because to run a label for real I think you need to be fairly deluded. You have to always be drinking your own Kool-Aid. You need to constantly feel like the shit you’re putting out NOW is as awesome as anything you’ve ever done. The current crop should always be your favorite. 
Naturally you feel fondly toward certain eras and phases when you met deep new friends, or felt connected to a community in some kind of tangible way. But being nostalgic for your own past is the beginning of the end. Day-to-day we’re both pretty good at looking forward.
Good call. Then, throughout the years, what has been some of the most memorable ways Not Not Fun musicians have reached out to you prior to releasing their work?
Most of the stories that come to mind aren’t of people we ended up releasing. We came home one time and there was this 15-year old kid from Mexico who had hitchhiked to our parking lot with like a duffle bag and an acoustic guitar. Apparently he’d heard some early NNF release at one point and was like, “You guys are the only people I know in the city.” We were impressed what a freewheeling beatnik the dude was but he was definitely a stranger, it wasn’t like we’d ever corresponded before. He didn’t even have a tape to hand off or anything, he just asked if he could play us some songs right there. They were alright, strummy, kind of campfire jam-style, but we gave him some CDs and something to drink and suggested spots he could hitchhike to next. Never heard from him again. 
But most times it’s more mundane, like through a friend-of-a-friend, or someone happens to be in town and asks to meet up. What’s more common is getting stuff in the mail, a fan-turned-friend with cool taste who finally starts recording shit and sends it to us. And we definitely amassed a lot of unsolicited demos on the various Pocahaunted tours over the years. I remember one time during our final song, as each member leaves when their part ends, I dropped my guitar and hopped off the stage and instantly a guy was like, “Yo, can I give you this demo?” The band was fully still playing, three girls howling through pedals.
Everyone’s so terrified of being labeled a “hater” — god for-fucking-bid — that the only place people voice something upstream or bold is anonymously, online in some sad comments section.
How has the crowd at shows for Pocahaunted changed with LA Vampires shows?
They’re 100 percent different. When Pocahaunted was active, especially the early era, it was in the wake of that short-lived bubble of earthy, physical music, sort of post-folk/neo-hippie noise or something. So the atmosphere at shows was mainly positive, engaged, open. People would come up to the merch table and really want to connect, or trade their art. Amanda and Bethany definitely got handed some very witchy homemade jewelry by druggy art kids on many occasions. The barrier between performer and audience was porous. 
By the time LA Vampires started playing live the general show atmosphere felt traditional: performers on stage, audience on the floor, play your songs, people clap, everyone goes home. Even the pretty packed shows, where everyone dances and lets loose, you don’t get many people wanting a personal interaction afterward. Which is fine. But when you travel and play a fairly similar set most nights the excitement and diversity of the crowd, and the bravery of whoever bothers approaching you and engaging, that’s the stuff that stands out in your memory. You remember faces, you remember people. You don’t remember $250, five drink tickets, mediocre sound systems. 
LA Vampires live in L.A.
Have y’all ever considered living outside of L.A.?
Briefly. In 2007 there was a phase where Amanda thought she might want to move to the East Coast, since she went to school there and that’s where her mom and certain friends were living. Occasionally she’ll joke about wanting to move to Europe too, but other than that, no. We’re both too obsessed with California. 
You and Manda got married fairly early in your lives (assuming y’all will LIVE FOREVER). How has that benefited and taken away from your musical work, both solo and together?
It works for us. I mean, Amanda doesn’t have much to do with Robedoor beyond saying she likes a particular riff or thinks our amps sound disgusting, and I know we share some ex-bandmates who might have preferred not to be in a group where two members were in a relationship, but they’ve all happily gone solo now. I’m sure it’s probably less satisfying to be in a band with your spouse if you don’t think they have awesome ideas and a unique aesthetic, but I’ve never had that problem. Doing music together for so long definitely bonded us in a different way than just dating would have. 
There’s so many musicians out there that make, you know, pretty great music, solid cassettes, but if they joined forces with someone else who also had at least above average ideas? Much less if you added a THIRD person with vision to the mix? It’d be a fucking supergroup. Who knows what kind of next level synergy they could generate, united like that.
Considering your writing for The Wire, your year-end bits are typically written in a style most writers don’t employ. Is your style driven by your disdain for year-end writing, or does it peel around the idea that critical viewpoints during this time are very minimal?
Year-end lists are worthless, for sure. But it’s not that I wish everyone was hyper-critical all the time, it’s just that when there’s such a total absence of it then the whole ecosystem of music starts becoming abstract to me — like, why are all these artists working so much, devoting their lives to making and releasing these recordings, and why are all these media subsidiaries waking up every day and strategically hyping this content, and why do all these corporations start spin off divisions just to associate themselves with music or youth culture, if we operate as if nothing anyone does sucks? And I’m not talking about nitpicking Riff Raff or chiding Animal Collective for being slightly less zeitgeisty or something. I’m talking about intelligent disagreement with mass cultural consensus. To me it seems incredibly sane to feel wary toward something that EVERYBODY LIKES. Maybe I watched too many body-snatchers movies as a kid. Either way, everyone’s so terrified of being labeled a “hater” — god for-fucking-bid — that the only place people voice something upstream or bold is anonymously, online in some sad comments section. 
It’s opposite in person of course. At a party or a show, “off the record,” most creative types have a million gripes: who’s overrated, who’s phoning it in, who’s fake, who’s pretentious. This is deeply normal — if you’re invested you care. Plus, people are fucking snowflakes, they’re crazy-particular and generally hard to please. But weighing in with a publicly contentious opinion is risky because the Western world is a ridiculously sensitive place. Ours is a thin-skinned generation, and a lot of artists harbor surprising venom toward anyone who isn’t buying what they’re selling.
You have stated, “Having a face-to-face experience is like a ghost-town in L.A.,” insinuating a lot of American musicians are faceless in musical communities because of the internet. If someone were to suggest they play live do you believe there would be an evolution in their sound or setup?
Totally. Subjecting what you make to a public context changes it. Even on two-week tours a band’s sound will change. Night after night performing for people, feeling what rhythms work, what parts fit. People are staring at you, judging you, because you invented some moniker, drove to their hometown, charged them $5, and then turned your shit up loud. It’s a moment of truth — do you have anything dynamic to impart? 
Society’s not for everyone though, so I appreciate pure loner-ism too. We get plenty of demos from people explaining how they live somewhere with no music scene or record stores, where no one likes what they like, and there’s no one to collab with so they just make music in a vacuum and download torrents all day. I empathize. Growing up in Dallas in the 1990s was mainly a void. Best you could do was see Butthole Surfers at some overpriced sports arena. Digging deeper took dedication. 
You also mentioned how modern music is splintering off into “incommunicable cults of personality” — could you flesh that out for me a bit more?
All I meant by that was the vibe where the musician’s persona is as much a draw as the music. Sometimes that’s in a sort of “spectacle” way — like when an artist or band is known for doing deranged shit at shows, pissing on the audience or whatever, so people roll out regardless of admiring the actual music — and sometimes it’s just that the artist is unusually charismatic or has, I don’t know, like an aura almost. This isn’t at all a bad thing, or a new phenomenon, but it is a situation where what’s generating the interest isn’t purely the music — it’s like a belief in the “character.” For instance if you’ve ever met Jeff Witscher or Charles/Taterbug you’re probably not surprised that there’s a total cult of weirdos and music dudes all across the country who go to all their shows, mimic their slang, get similar tattoos, even dress kind of the same. There’s this idolatry aspect that’s beyond fanship. But this dynamic exists at all levels. People are definitely more interested in Grimes the person than Grimes the music. Same with Sky Ferreira, and tons of other people, rappers, Twitter stars, artists, actors, whoever. It’s not uncommon. 
This closely follows along with the article you wrote at the beginning of last year about how solo musicians had dominated 2012’s quantification of music. How did you see this evolve or devolve throughout last year, and potentially into this year?
I wouldn’t use the word “evolved,” but it continued, for sure. Statistically, there’s less money to be made in music now so people are less and less inclined to split it. First step is to go solo. Then you start your own label, “Artist’s Name Records,” then you tour nine months of the year. People love this fantasy of independence. When that recent Beyoncé album came out there was this ticker-tape quote of hers running under her videos on Fuse or MTV or whatever that said basically, “I hope by doing this I can be an inspiration to all women and artists on how they should never have to share their money with ANYONE.” [mimicking Beyoncé voice]. What a joke. Her entire existence is based on having a paid staff of people to write her songs, lyrics, beats, produce everything, promote the living shit out of it, etc. God forbid Columbia’s staff make a dollar off years of work hustling her brand all over the planet. 
What bums me out most is just the ebbing away from that communal aspect of music. I totally romanticize musicians playing together — not as hired guns but as a real team. There’s so many musicians out there that make, you know, pretty great music, solid cassettes, but if they joined forces with someone else who also had at least above average ideas? Much less if you added a THIRD person with vision to the mix? It’d be a fucking supergroup. Who knows what kind of next level synergy they could generate, united like that.
I remember one time during our final song, as each member leaves when their part ends, I dropped my guitar and hopped off the stage and instantly a guy was like, “Yo, can I give you this demo?” The band was fully still playing, three girls howling through pedals.
And then there’s PR helping these people go beyond just their community and access a general majority of people that could potentially enjoy their music — which again ties back into year-end nonsense. How do you figure PR enhances this intention of quantification of music?
It’s basic boring capitalism. American Apparel would have a tenth of the brand recognition they have if they hadn’t bought back-cover ads in a thousand different magazines for a decade straight. When a major release comes on deck 90 percent of music websites run interchangeable posts about it: “Wow, this Disclosure band is something special!” Only rarely is hype organic. Most of it’s paid for. 
That said, people aren’t sheep, you can’t convince them to like something just by dunking their face in it repeatedly. But you can implant it in their consciousness. And that has a real effect. So many shitty movies break even because the studio blanketed every bench and bus and billboard with posters, and it seeped into people’s brains enough that they found themselves Netflix-ing Olympus Has Fallen or some garbage. A Tame Impala record isn’t any different.
PR plays into the Darwinism of music, which I have a personal aversion to. For the first eight years of NNF we didn’t have anyone handling that side of things, we just sent promo copies to whoever we’d had a personal interaction with. That’s dinosaur-style though; that won’t get you shit in 2014. 
You wrote for The Wire that the critical infrastructure of music “plugs into the same loop [of music coverage].” Have you found any websites that review or promote in a way you enjoy, that keep it real?
There’s specific writers I like. Matt from Yellow Green Red is pretty thoughtful and intuitive. William Hutson, too, he writes for The Wire; his takes on things are nuanced and he calls stuff out for being lazy, which I’m into. Dwight Pavlovic from Decoder is a surprisingly good listener — he describes sounds in a way that’s not cribbed from one-sheets or other reviews, which is depressingly rare. So, yeah, definitely. 
But obviously the majority of music sites are defined by whatever gets them page hits. It’s a business; they need those McDonald’s and Red Bull ads. So, whatever facilitates that: Lana Del Rey remixes, wacky Odd Future tweets, corporate techno festivals, James Blake’s headphone preferences, whatever. None of the big sites have any interest in rocking a boat. 
I’m not calling these publications posers, I’m just saying that if a website has basically identical content to 20 other websites then why fight so hard to act like yours is uniquely important? You wanna stand out? Pan Yeezus. Admit the limitations of Julia Holter’s vibe. Obviously I’m kidding, this would never happen. 
I think Tiny Mix Tapes’ approach has gotten pretty offbeat the past couple years, with these über-intellectual idea orgies. I’m not a dropout, but I didn’t go to school long enough to understand all those post-structuralist/Baudrillard/meta-times-meta concepts the TMT staff is always snorkeling in. I don’t mind confusion though. And “dense” and “indigestible” are hardly buzzed advertiser keywords, so I appreciate that.
That’s right, you actually mentioned to me digging TMT’s feature “The Trouble with Contemporary Music Criticism.” Where do you see Robedoor falling within this idea of “the musicians being the real critics?” Do you feel it falls along the lines of dark music or perception of occult?
I did dig the piece, but it was really heady. I’m not sure I got it all. But speaking clear-headed about Robedoor is pretty impossible for me. It’s a real ritual of friendship at this point, I’m not really sure who it’s for or how it’s intended to be perceived. It’s born from a pretty isolated state of mind. 
Robedoor live
I’ve heard this crazy statistic that only 75% of iTunes has been played, like people just clicking through albums. YOU even wrote, “A person could spend a lifetime clicking and skimming without grazing a fraction of what’s out there.” With that in mind, would you mind indulging readers about what’ll be coming out on Not Not Fun for 2014?
Well I just picked up this Bronze LP for their release show tomorrow. They’re amazing, this totally unclassifiable lifer trio — an actual band, so it’s very novel. Later we’re doing this conceptual Umberto EP with Matt reworking one of his old songs and remixing it under an alias on the B-side. It’s different, really long. We’re also doing this Swanox LP this summer, it’s pretty epic in a homeless sort of way. He’s a really funny guy, his songs have this authentically busted vibe I’ve always been drawn to. What else? A new Cuticle record, a Skeppet LP. Some tapes. Plenty of stuff. We’ll hit the NNF300 mark for sure. Also a new Maria Minerva album in April. 
To end on one of the first questions I’ve asked you way back, but… what’s your epic tour story?
Oh right, shit… Most tour road warriors I know have way more psycho stories but one memory that me and Amanda always reminisce about is this one super-bizarre event LA Vampires played in Cairns, which is this tropical town in Australia that only tourists and bogans go to. It was our first day there, and we were already zombified from the 16 hours in a plane, but as night fell these heavy storm clouds rolled in and it start[ed] raining torrentially. But the “show” was this crazy outdoor arts circus — fire-jugglers, aerialists swinging from poles, barefoot children dancing in mud, video projections on broke-down school buses, like some Merry Pranksters family freakshow. The other musical performances all involved homemade helmets, extended improv, lots of spoken word. The crowd wasn’t phased by ANY of it — they laughed and drank wine in the rain, loving all of it. We played in this cramped wooden room near this kitchen/bar area and people danced till our gear fell off the table and we had no songs left. At 3 AM we took a taxi to our hostel and slept for 15 hours. Then we killed two full days there, wandering weird fruit markets and watching backpackers with dreads play digeridoos on the street. I don’t know if that’s a “story” but it felt fucking surreal.


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