Here’s my interview with Melanie Voltz, the commander in chief of Melotov Records, an independent hardcore punk label based in Santa Clarita (Los Angeles County). Pushing music from artists such as THE BANNER, GHOSTLIMB, BONE DANCE, BEAU NAVIRE or CALCULATOR, she’s rapidly become the front running label of both local and international hardcore scene. I managed to catch up with Mel, the Melotov creator, for a lengthy interview and an insight into the workings of this amazing label.
Hi, Melanie! Thank you so much for your time! How are you? Please shoot us a quick introduction about the label, tell us a bit about the history of Melotov Records . How long has it been going?
Hi Karol and Idioteq! Thank you for doing this interview with me, really flattered. Melotov Records was started in the summer of 2008 right after I graduated high school. My first physical release was for a local band, CHARGED, and it was the most DIY CD release imaginable. We held a record release show for CHARGED in a park with generators to run the PA. The next band I worked with, DANCE FOR DESTRUCTION out of San Francisco, had wanted to do a CD release with one label and a vinyl release with me. I did some basic research, said “okay”, and fell in love with the wax from thereon.
My goal with Melotov Records is to promote hardcore, punk, and all applicable sub-genres as a medium of art to unify its followers under relatable and progressive ideas. We’re here to advance the whatever-genre-community and help grow in this aggressive music scene.
Is there a particular story behind the “Melotov” name?
I wish there was a cool, inspiring, or funny story behind the “Melotov” name, but basically I thought I was being clever when really I was just being a smart-ass and instead of using Molotov Records as the name, I threw in my name (Melanie/Mel) to make MELotov. It’s a little pretentious in retrospect, but I am forever branded now [laughs].
How many people are involved in your team? Do you have constant associates to assist you there?
I currently don’t have any associates/employees that work for me. I run this thing on my own. I do however have a solid network of friends who never fail to support the label and promote where and when they can. There are definitely people I have in mind that I would love to hire and have work for me while I work my full-time 9-5 (my supplemental income), especially for shipping and mail order. I love that I am kept busy with it, don’t get me wrong, but it’s so tedious and time consuming that an extra set of hands would definitely help.
Cool. Have you ever been in a band?
I have never actually been in a band, although I’ve jammed countless times and have attempted to get something together. I play guitar, bass, and drums so I’m willing to play just about anything when getting together and jamming. I do have some prospects coming up so we’ll see how those pan out. Brandon of Old Wounds and I have already seriously discussed the idea of Skype-jamming haha.
Great! Let me know as soon as you out something together.
Do you earn something out from running this label? Is it possible to do it DIY, yet make it possible to reinvest some money in order to support bands even better?
That’s a great question and I apologize ahead of time for the long-winded answer you’re about to get. This is such a cliche and “posi” answer, but I earn a lot from running this label that isn’t necessarily of monetary value. I enjoy developing bands and working with the pressing plants, blogs, etc. and having something tangible and custom come out of that networking; I love the environment of being at a show and the camaraderie within it. However, what I get out of it the most is the fact that I’ve played a part in spreading progressive messages that unify the followers/participants of whatever genre or sub-genre, and have maybe helped open some minds to different thought-processes or ideals, all through an artistic medium that I personally enjoy. In high school, I fell in love with a semi-local punk band because they had such unique, intellectual, and progressive ideas I strongly identified with and promoted in hopes of getting other people involved. If it weren’t for that band, Melotov Records may not exist, so to run this business as an extension of that initial high school excitement is rewarding in its own right.
From a financial standpoint, I have been fortunate enough to run Melotov for 5 years and still be able to reinvest in the label. We’ve grown every year and it’s because of the DIY ethic and DIY community that we’ve been able to realize our goals and continue to be a successful independent label. It’s all about that constant hustle and understanding that what you put into something is what you get out of it. Give 100% get 100%. You can’t sit idly by and wait for it to happen. You have to stick your neck out, do it yourself, and make it happen, whether that means working a bunch of shitty retail jobs so that you can pump that income into your project, or selling your car for start-up capital and being car-less for three years, or all of the above (and then some). And there is nothing wrong with taking the less-than-DIY route like drafting a business plan and meeting with bank loan officers to help support and enhance the business you put so much DIY ethic into starting. I’m beginning to ramble now so to summarize, listen to punk rock and sell your car if you want to succeed.
[laughs] It’s unbelievable how you cherish having a car in the States. I’m just laughing, but watching movies and talking to Americans sometimes I get this feeling that having no car is humiliating and almost the worst feeling in the world [laughs].
Ok, but to follow your interesting thought, please tell me what motivates you to continue doing this?
It’s not so much about cherishing an automobile or feeling incompetent/ashamed of not having one as it is living in a nation that is not as progressive in alternative transportation like the rest of the world seems to be. I live in Los Angeles, which is one of the most traffic-congested cities in the US, and yet we are still struggling for more effective public transportation and continuing to fight an uphill battle for cyclists rights/safety. Its rather ass-backwards of us. Without a car, it IS more difficult to get where I need to be, especially because I live in a suburb of LA where shows and label-related activities never take place. I need to travel to get to where the “action” is. I’m going to buy a bike in the near future however so that will help alleviate some of the frustration of traffic.
Anyway, enough griping about traffic. What motivates me to continue doing this is simply the fact that I love it. I want to be my own boss, work on my own terms, and the stress and financial woes and pitfalls that come with it are so much more worth the effort to fix and more rewarding when you come up with the solution when it’s something of your own. I love hanging out (“networking”), and I love the music I work with. When you do something you love, it’s not a job or a chore. Who wants to actually work to earn their income?
True that :) And what’s demotivating sometimes? Tell me about some of the obstacles you’re facing, without which it would be much easier to develop this business?
There are two main obstacles and that would be organization and delegation. There’s that saying/sociological study that showed that those with a more active right brain (the creative side) typically were more disorganized. I believe I am a creative person (as opposed to someone who has an undiagnosed case of ADD). My desk is covered in papers that, to me, is an organized chaos, but when dealing with multiple projects it proves challenging. I need to spend an entire day sometimes just organizing reports, filing, cleaning up my laptop’s desk top, etc. I write a lot of things down, but on multiple pieces of paper that are spread out throughout my makeshift office. At the end of the day, the projects get done and get done relatively smoothly, but I can’t say that having everything organized and together wouldn’t help things run way smoother and in a more professional manner. Hopefully that doesn’t deter future bands from wanting to work with me haha I promise I’m not just a “hot mess” and that there is a method to my madness.
The second obstacle being delegation is simply because I’m the only one running Melotov. I have to do all the shipping, deal with the pressing plants, listen to the submissions, handle the accounting, facilitate PR, sometimes oversee booking, and do all this ten fold when handling multiple bands. It’s a blessed burden, a very blessed burden, but it can be overwhelming at times. However, when I feel like I’m juggling too much, I take a step back, organize things, and break it down and just do the damn thing. I am fortunate to have an extremely supporting family that will help me with shipping when need be, and have friends that will run errands for me while I’m at work. If I had the payroll to hire them, I would in a heart beat. Family and friends are everything, and essential to the continuing operation of this business.
Are there some obstacles that demotive you at work, you would like to eliminate them as soon as possible and you feel you’d spread your wings if it was out of your way?
There will always be obstacles, but I never feel defeated. Things get stressful/hectic/busy, but if anything that is actually the motivation I need to just do what it takes to handle business. I don’t mean to come off as saying that I am an expert in stress management and handle it like a champ, because that isn’t true. But to let these obstacles be demotivating means I would be in the wrong mindset. Things get stressful because the business is picking up and that is the silver lining. In terms of eliminating those stresses, I’m not sure how to answer that. They are (typically) good stresses. And sometimes you need to just step away from everything, go grab a beer (or coffee) with a friend and just enjoy the leisure time.
Do you own a tablet computer? Along with the rest of modern technology gadgets and services, do you think it can simplify small business tasks? There are more and more tools that let you become more mobile and productive throughout your working day. What’s your opinion on that?
I’m too lazy to learn and own a tablet computer. I have an iPhone, which for me is enough. I have a Macbook that I use while at home and the rest I can literally do from my phone. Having an iPad or a tablet would be excessive and unnecessary for me at this time. The advances in technology are great and do help simplify business operations, but I can’t help but feel overwhelmed by all the latest-and-greatest infiltrating the market. It’s all want versus need and that varies on the person. Larger scale operations (i.e. bigger labels) may need tablet computers, but with Quickbooks and a laptop, I’m able to run Melotov just fine. For now.
Do you collaborate with other underground labels? If yes, how do you support each other?
I do collaborate with other underground labels. Most often it’s in the form of a split-label release for a record, but I’ve also collaborated on shows, carrying distro, etc. A For example, the GHOSTLIMB “Confluence” LP was a split label release between Melotov and Vitriol Records (GRAF ORLOCK, DANGERS, BIRDS IN ROW, etc); for SXSW this year, Mayfly Records and myself set up a few shows for bands on our roster including a huge showcase show including our bands and other bands off other labels like Deathwish, 6131 Records, Relapse, etc. I have also traded distro with other labels in order to help each other out. Essentially, a trade is giving five copies of your whatever LP for five copies of their whatever LP and selling each respective LP for the price you set. It’s a twist on carrying things on consignment. I’ve done trades with Mayfly, Flannel Gurl, Throatruiner, Panic Records, Glory Kid, and the like. All those labels you should check out along with Broke Hatre Records, Fist in the Air Records, Dog Knights Productions, and a ton of others that I’m sorry I’m forgetting.
Great! There are lots of amazing people and bands behind these!
Do you notice a tendency in you to be more likely to spend more time “living” rather than running the label? It’s a common issue faced by many underground artists and supporters to be forced to give up their activities or reduce their hours because of family or day job responsibilities. How do you deal with that?
I equate running this label to being a single-mom. I know that may sound offensive to some, but this label is my baby. 95% of the decisions I make revolve around what is best for the label. What I spend on myself is extremely limited to what I spend on Melotov, time and moneywise. There’s always some Rainman-like calculation going on in the back of my head when it comes to budgeting and balancing things out between myself as an individual and myself as a business owner. It’s important to have a solid work/life balance, but this label is my life and I am able to fortunately balance it well with my work. I work a 9-5 job as an assistant property manager, which allows me to check e-mail and everything label related from my phone, go to shows after work and on weekends, and pack orders/do shipping after I’m off. I’m very fortunate that my family and friends understand how busy things can get and continue to support me. It gets frustrating sometimes, and being 23 years old I feel like I’m having a pre-mature mid-life crisis where I’m doing everything for business reasons and not for myself. But, if you want to do something, do it. I’m not as spontaneous as I’d like to be because of Melotov, but I still plan vacations and get togethers and still find time for things that I like for leisure like playing guitar or going to the gym. It isn’t a perfect balance 100% of the time, but it’s working and has worked for the past 5 years that Melotov has been around.
Do you have any plans for the summer holidays this year? :)
I’m going to Hawaii at the end of June for a week. Nothing but cliff diving, hiking, and drinking from a pineapple.
Sounds perfect! I remember talking to Christian from DEATH IS NOT GLAMOROUS last year about his trip to Hawaii, so you may catch him there, haha! Great band, by the way. Check out their new split with SHOOK ONES. It sure will be a killer!
Ok, back to Melotov, the cliché question must be asked ;) How do you pick up bands? Is there a key to it?
Hahaha DEATH IS NOT GLAMOROUS rules! Unfortunately, I did not run into Christian in Hawaii. Maybe next time… More often than not, I seek bands out on someone’s recommendation or by seeing them at a show/multiple shows. The submissions are great and help get names on radars; in fact, there are a few that I’m currently working with that wrote me versus me writing to them, but a lot of the time I approach the artist. Bands that are active in playing shows, touring, have a self-release or two (digital or not), and generally emit that work ethic always catch my interest, regardless of genre.
What’s the biggest range between genres and subgernres you’re ready to accept within the label? Would you consider putting out hip-hop or a strict rock record?
This will sound bold, especially feeling as if I already belong in the hardcore/punk niche, but I will continue to release what I find interesting and innovating regardless of genre. As long as the artistic integrity is not compromised (signing a band/playing a certain type of music for the sake of hype or to fit in with what is “in”) then I have no problem releasing a hip hop record, or a shoegaze record, or an acoustic record, or a straight-forward mosh/sk8 punx record, or a bluegrass record. I love all that shit. Jake Bannon had addressed something similar in an Instagram post not too long ago. He was unnerved that a critic (or multiple critics) berated DEAFHEAVEN‘s “Sunbather” because it wasn’t as “macho” as what Deathwish was “known” for putting out. Being pigeon-holed into a particular genre is dangerous for that reason; it not only keeps people from being exposed to new music, but completely restricts growth of both the label and bands. In this sense, I hope Melotov isn’t known for any specific genre. I’d rather be known for releasing cool records, supporting the band’s growth and development to the best of my ability, and for not getting tangled in snares of genre-identification. That being said, I draw the line at that FALLING IN REVERSE scene/dubstep/rock bullshit. We all have our limits (no offense Epitaph. Just not my cup of tea).
Haha! True! :)
Ok, one more The SXSW is one of the fests bringing lots of different artists together, which is really amazing. The name itself has become legendary, too. Hwo do you remember this year’s party? How did you take part in it as a label?
SXSW was awesome and a headache at the same time, but in hindsight it was just overall hilarious. To sum it up, it was a 26 hour straight overnight drive to Texas, lots of Lonestar Beer – the “National” beer of Texas, fireworks/bud/general debauchery with GLOBE AND BEAST & VICES, TIDEMOUTH and BADBLOOD being crammed into one tiny Motel 6 room, having a backline, not having a backline, having a backline again but having to cut the show short, actually continuing the show all the way through, bridge shows, lots of familiar faces and new friends, lots of Antwon/Larry Susan/Creative Adult worship, a cameo appearance by Matt Schmitz of FORMER THIEVES (RIP) and Jacob from DEFEATER/DREAMTIGERS (see picture), a 4 hour layover at the airport in Austin, and coming home to two new dogs. I had a blast and would absolutely do it again.
Any cool Summer fests you’re looking forward to?
There are a ton of awesome fests this year! Punks Is Dead Fest in Lancaster, CA will be awesome and features NAILS, THE BANNER, EARLY GRAVES, ACXDC & more, Destroy LA with NOMADS, Power of the Riff with OLD WOUNDS, NOMADS, HIRAX, FROM ASHES RISE, and more, Riot Fest with AFI, This is Hardcore with fuckin’ MODERN LIFE IS WAR, Fun Fun Fun Fest with MELT BANANA, SUBHUMANS, JUDGE, & SNOOP DOGG, I Got Brains Fest with CALCULATOR, OLD WOUNDS, FULL OF HELL, & Geoff Rickley, The Fest 12 with CALCULATOR & a million other awesome ones. I don’t think I can make them all, but you should definitely check out the line ups of each and go. Quick shout out to Sound and Fury who couldn’t make it this year. We still love ya.
Lots of fun coming up, huh?
Alright, can you share some upcoming Melotov plans you’re particularly excited about?
I can’t say much because I have to play that promotional game where you build anticipation by not “officially” announcing anything, but I can say there are a few represses on our plate, new records from some kick ass bands, plans for a fest, and elementary discussions for a venue in southern California…
Melanie, thank you so much for your time. I wish you and your label best of luck!
Thank you! And thank you for your saintly patience with me getting back to you with these questions. This has been fun!
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