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Imprint Indie Printing

An Interview with Underground Medicine
I figured if we split the costs, Iím only going to lose half as much!

By Mike Frame
Tuesday, June 26 2012


Jim has been running Underground Medicine record distro for twenty years, with a focus on punk rock. Underground Medicine offers the best in garage, beach punk, power pop, glam punk and more. People are discovering everyday that mailorder is cool and fun even as buying records online continues to rise. Coming home and finding that box of records waiting for you makes your day, maybe your week. It is easier than ever to do, but the thrill is still the same. Back in the Ď90s though, if you were stuck in some shithole town, mailorder was essential. No doubt it still is in many locales, but many of us in the mid- to late-Ď90s would drop an order to Underground Medicine every month. I can still remember how exciting it was when that monthly mailer showed up with the new arrivals typed out and ready for order. Tons of great punk, much of it limited to two to three hundred copies and guaranteed to not be there next time. Jim always stocked a great selection of zines too, classics like Jeff Dahlís Sonic Iguana and, more recently, Thatís Cool, Thatís Trash. At some point, the Rapid Pulse record label became part of the operation and unleashed classics like a new Nikki Corvette single and that great LP from Young People With Faces from a few years back.


Mike: Did you grow up in Connecticut?
Jim: Yup. I actually lived in the same town, West Haven.
Mike: What music were you into before you discovered punk rock?
Jim: I forget the timeline exactly, but my first favorite bands were Aerosmith and Heart. Probably sometime before, during and/or after that were The Who, Kinks, and Rolling Stones. There were also Beatles and Led Zeppelin phases mixed in. Raised on classic rock, I guess. At some point I also had albums by the holy trinity of suck: Foreigner, Styx, and Kansas.
Mike: First punk stuff you heard?
Jim: Had to be The Ramones. This was probably early Ď79. I used to read about them and The Runaways in Creem magazine and was intrigued. Then a local college station played a half hour straight and I was instantly hooked! Itís hard to remember exactly, but at this time, Blondie, Talking Heads, Joe Jackson were starting to have hits and I really liked all that stuff. I donít think at the time I knew that this was ďpunk-liteĒ or that it was lot different than what I had been listening to, but it was a natural progression to The Clash, Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, The Jam. Prior to punk, my favorite songs were all short, fast, driving stuff like ďParanoid,Ē ďHighway Star,Ē ďImmigrant Song,Ē and ďBarracuda,Ē so I donít think it was a stretch to jump on punk when I heard it. Of course back then, before hearing the Ramones, all I heard at school was ďpunk rock sucksĒ and I guess I just assumed it did suck.

Mike: First records you bought?
Jim: The first ever were Boston and Heartís first LPís. I still like a lot of Heart songs! For punk, it was End of the Century and London Callingóif you wanna call those punk. The first 45s were The Clash, White Riot and The Professionals, 1,2,3.
Mike: When did you first start collecting records?
Jim: There was a local record store that sold import singles at $2.75 each or two for $5.00. Even at that price, the paper route money didnít go that far. That must have been 1980. I donít know if I would consider it collecting at that point, it was more just getting new music.
Mike: What gave you the collecting bug?
Jim: Probably my obsession with Joan Jett! Thatís the first time I remember buying the same songs because the sleeve was different and getting horrible compilations and soundtracks because there was I song I didnít have on it. What was that soundtrack the Ramonesí ďChop SueyĒ was on? Had to have stuff like that. The other thing I remember was meeting someone who had all the Buzzcocks singles on Singles Going Steady. I thought that was pretty awesome and getting those was one of my first goals.
Mike: How many records do you have at this point?
Jim: I donít really know as far as singles go, but itís thousands. Nothing crazy, though. I know a lot of people who have way more. Before moving, I sold off more than half of my LPs. I have maybe a thousand of those at most. As a kid bringing records to the used record store to get credit was how I bought a lot of new ones. I never regretted not keeping everything. In recent years, I cleared out a lot of CDs, too. Not a lot of sentimental value there.
Mike: When did you first start the distro and what were the reasons for starting?
Jim: As best I can remember, 1992; making this the twentieth anniversary! The previous five years I worked at a record store, Rhymes Records, in New Haven. It was a great store, but then the last couple of years it started to fall apart until it finally went out of business. At that point, I couldnít get the records I wanted for myself anymore and I was ordering from mail orders and labels and wasnít too happy with how long I had to wait to get my stuff. I guess at one point I just decided to start doing it my self.
Mike: What has been the best or your favorite era for Underground Medicine?
Jim: I donít remember if it was exactly my favorite at the time, but looking back, at least musically, the mid-Ď90s when bands like the Devil Dogs, the Humpers, the Stitches, Teengenerate, Thee Headcoats, and the Muffs were cranking out the singles and the whole Rip Off Records thing was going on was probably the best. Of course, in the early days, I didnít even have a computer and had the paper catalog, which was a major pain in the ass to put together. I definitely donít miss that! Email and, much later, Paypal have made things so much easier. Itís kinda romantic to look back at the paper catalog days and think about how cool it was to actually hold something in your hands, but fuck that. Iíd never go back.

Mike: Why did you move to Phoenix?
Jim: Mostly because my wife, Debbie. She had some health problems which have luckily gotten a lot better, though we canít be sure if it was actually the climate change or not that helped. And I certainly didnít mind getting out of the cold!
Mike: Why did you shift your focus to 7Ē singles for UMED?
Jim: Expense and space and I just like 45s better. Gradually, as prices started rising, it became more and more difficult to stock LPs. When they were five to six bucks for domestic releases and I could sell them for eight to nine, it wasnít nearly as big of a deal when something didnít sell. Now if I pay eighty to one hundred dollars for ten LPs and then only one or two copies sell, thatís pretty rough. Of course, the postage these days is way up and that pretty much eliminated getting albums from Europe. Now itís tough to even afford 7Ēs. Furthermore, my customers were buying less and less LPs. Iím not sure if it was the prices going up or what. Back when the KBD- type comps were coming out and I got boxes from Europe with forty LPs inside, Iíd blow through most of them in a couple of weeks. That was pretty fun.
Add in the space concernsóand once I knew I was movingóthere was no sense in stocking a shitload of LPs that Iíd have to move and then have no place to keep them. Also at some point, I developed some kind of musical A.D.D. I can listen to a 7Ē by a band and think itís phenomenal and later get a full length by them that is every bit as good and Iím disinterested after the third song. Gimme a Tranzmitors or Cute Lepers single and Iíll love it. Gimme an LP and Iím bored pretty quick.
Mike: When did you start Rapid Pulse and why?
Jim: The first Rapid Pulse release was in 1997. Before that, a lot of people would ask why I didnít have a label and many assumed that Underground Medicine was a label. I had thought about doing it for a few years, but figured I had my hands full with the distroóthat was more than enough. Then Ritchie from Screaming Apple in Germany asked if I knew anyone in the U.S. that would be interested in putting out a Basement Brats single. I asked, ďHow about me?Ē He said, ďSure.Ē That became Rapid Pulse 2. In the meantime, the Apocalypse Babys from England sent me a tapeóassuming Underground Medicine was a labelóand I liked it. The next thing you know, I had a label.
Mike: How has the label compared to the distro over the years?
Jim: I look at the distro as being really successful. I started it with two hundred dollars and itís been able to support itself ever since, so thatís pretty cool. At one point, I was actually making a few thousand dollars a year and was able to pay for trips to the Las VegasShakedown, Japan, and things like that. Itís probably been about six or so years since that was the case. Now, at best, it breaks even. The labelís been a disaster from the start! [laughs] Well, not a disaster because itís been a lot of fun and there are some good records to show for it, but, financially, itís been a losing proposition all along.
Mike: Reasons for going a few years between releases?
Jim: A couple of main reasons. One, the distro always supported the label. So, when it lost money, it wasnít that big of a deal as Underground Medicine could cover it. Then it got to the point where Underground Medicine couldnít cover it anymore and the label just stalled. Two, it just got so frustrating dealing with other distros and not getting paid when things did sell or the records themselves not selling. I just wasnít into it anymore. Itís mentally exhausting working really hard on something and then no one seems to care. Add to that seeing other labels seemingly doing great. I didnít particularly like them or their bands and that was just depressing. I never really wanted a Rapid Pulse back catalog with titles in stock. I wanted to put out a single, sell Ďem quick and be on to the next release. Hence, I often ended up selling singles off for a buck, just to clear them out. This isnít a fucking warehouse! [laughs]
Fast forward to a couple of years ago and I started to get the bug again. My pals Rick and Paul of Hostage Records started a podcastóSurf and Destroy Radioóand they are so enthusiastic about their scene, that it was really infectious. Enter Marco from No Front Teeth in London and he was looking for a label for his band, The Gaggers, first release. We split the costs and it worked out really well. I figured if we split the costs, Iím only going to lose half as much! Since then, we did The Pegs, Crazy Squeeze, and the Paper Bags together and, hopefully, more will be on the way.

Mike: Did you ever think about opening a record store?
Jim: That was kinda the plan or dream when I started the distro, but then a lot of real life stuff got in the way and I knew it wasnít going to happen.
Mike: What are the main differences between Connecticut and Arizona as a place to live?
Jim: Going from one of the bluest states, Connecticut, to one of the reddest, Arizona, took some major adjusting. Any time Arizona is in the news, itís always something racist, sexist, or homophobic. Itís a fucking embarrassment!
When we moved in here and we met one of our neighbors, the first thing she asks was if we found a church yet and, if not, she has a wonderful one. Really? Get the fuck away from me! All the Republicans and holy rollers is a bit overwhelming. Most of the time, I get up and do record stuff, go to work, come home and do record stuff, try to relax a little, and off to bed. So a lot of the time it doesnít matter a lot where I am. Arizona does have some good qualities. Itís so new compared to the East Coast. The streets and highways are huge. Despite the huge population, traffic generally isnít too bad. You never find yourself sandwiched between two tractor trailers. If you have an appointment somewhere, you donít have to worry about where to park, Ďcause thereís always a parking lot. Thereís a lot of things like that, that are always a hassle back East, that here you never have to deal with. While the summer heat is oppressive and it lasts like five months, there are more nice days by February than there is all year in Connecticut. Itís also pretty awesome that there are a lot of mountains and hiking trails everywhere. Cactuses rule! Or is it cacti? Back East, I never went in to work on a Monday and had to listen to women talk about how much fun the gun show was and their new Glock!
Mike: What are your favorite Phoenix or West Coast stores?
Jim: I hardly buy any new records aside from what the distro gets in the mail. I love Vinyl Solution in Huntington Beach, TKO in Fountain Valley, and Red Devil in San Rafael. Iíve never actually been to any of them, but they seem cool!
Mike: What do you think about the current punk scene?
Jim: I really donít have a clue as to what goes on with any punk scenes. I just know there isnít much that thrills me. So much of what I hear is post punk this, folk noise that, and whatever indie crud that gets churned out thatís not rockíníroll. I so miss the Devil Dogs! I know thereís a lot of good bands out there, but thereís just so much thatís supposed to be greatóbut itís third rate solo Jay Reatard or whatever.
Mike: Future plans?
Jim: Right now Iím focusing on the label more than I have in years. Hopefully thereíll be a lot of upcoming releases that sell so I can afford to put out more. Probably just 7Ēs, but you never know...

http://www.undergroundmedicine.com/






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