In this interview Glenn Dicker, co-founder of Yep Roc records (now in its twentieth year), chats about the origins of the label, the value of genre diversity, suggests some essentials from their catalogue, and more.
Guest post by Will Hodge of Noisetrade It’s always an incredibly fun opportunity to chat with the industry professionals that help get the music that we love into our hands and our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One with Yep Roc Records co-founder Glenn Dicker is no exception. During our enlightening and entertaining discussion, Dicker gives us a little of Yep Roc’s origin story, talks about celebrating 20 years as a label, speaks to the genre diversity of their upstarts-and-icons roster, recommends some quintessential Yep Roc releases, and much more!
NoiseTrade: To kick things off, give us a little bit of your backstory regarding the decision to pursue music as career, your early work at Rounder, and then your eventual founding of Yep Roc with Tor Hansen.
Glenn Dicker: Tor and I both grew up in the same Pennsylvania neighborhood and have known each other since we were about five years old. As we grew up, we discovered a mutual interest in music and started to play music together in bands in junior high school doing mostly classic rock stuff by the Beatles, The Who and The Rolling Stones. Eventually, when we got into high school we began writing songs and doing more timely cover songs by mod, punk, and new wave groups. After going to separate colleges, we found ourselves in Boston, again with the primary goal of playing music in a place we thought would fit our vibe. We had to get day jobs and found that Rounder Distribution was the right fit. We both started working in the warehouse and moved our way up into any new job opening that became available. Tor gravitated towards sales, myself towards the product end being a buyer and then eventually working for their record label.
As all of this was going on, we had a band that we booked our own gigs, toured around the country and put out some of our own records, as no one else was interested. So we learned a great deal from the artist side of things and the label and distribution side of things in just a few years time. Eventually Tor went to work for a retailer and did marketing, opening up stores and coming up with cool ideas of how to connect music with people. I started a record label with a couple other guys at Rounder and started putting out records. The label was ultimately financed by Rounder as we partnered up with the owners on the venture. The label was called Upstart and this is where I originally connected with Nick Lowe and Los Straitjackets. Tor eventually moved to Chapel Hill, NC to work for another retailer and when the parent company decided to consolidate their business to Ann Arbor, MI, he decided it was time for a change. The next move was Redeye! In time, I saw what Tor was doing as being a great thing and I felt the pull of true independence calling. So I moved down to join up and got onboard and came to work every day in Tor’s basement. Yep Roc started about one year after Redeye kicked off.
NT: Congrats on Yep Roc celebrating its 20th year this year, which is certainly no small feat for an indie label! What have been some of your most memorable moments regarding the YR20 events this year?
Dicker: Wow, there were so many killer moments. I really enjoyed some of the surprise type moments like having Alejandro Escovedo play an amazing set with a bunch of great local musicians including Chris Stamey and Mitch Easter, just to name a couple. Also Jimmie Dale Gilmore surprising everyone by coming out to do the last tune with Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin in which he sang “Get Together” by the Youngbloods. I loved it when the Stray Birds jumped up to do “Wild Fire” with Mandolin Orange during the outdoor day festival which blew everyone away. Chuck Prophet and Kim Richey doing a duet together at the outdoor stage also was amazing. And no one, and I mean no one, could deny the mighty Los Straitjackets backing up Nick Lowe for an unbelievable set. So much good music from everyone. But some super fun hangs with people and artists too. Just a great fun, wacky family reunion!
NT: What do you remember about the very first Yep Roc release and what did it feel like putting it together and then seeing it out in the world?
Dicker: It felt like the natural thing to do really, kind of organic. We both had been involved in putting our records before, but certainly this was a new feeling. The record was called Revival and was a compilation of all the amazing roots-based artists that were in the southeast doing their thing at the time. Some of them were artists that we distributed their records for through Redeye. But this comp was a great start to things as it included Trailer Bride, Two Dollar Pistols (who eventually recorded a handful of records with Yep Roc), Whiskeytown, and many others.
NT: What was one of the first Yep Roc releases that really took you by surprise in its awesomeness and let you know that you all had something special going there in North Carolina?
Dicker: Honestly, I think they all felt that way. We were so passionate about the records we put out, that they all seemed like we were really in it and living the dream. Bands like the Mayflies USA, Two Dollar Pistols, and Caitlin Cary really helped get the label on the map. But it was working with Los Straitjackets and then Nick Lowe that helped propel the label into more of a national thing.
NT: One of Yep Roc’s notable strengths is its diverse-sounding roster and no one can peg the label to any one single music genre. Was that an intentional decision from the outset or just a pleasant outcome of your unique orbit of artists?
Dicker: I wouldn’t say it was intentional, but it came about that way organically. Tor and I were not guys that really hung in one genre of music. We had grown up digging so many different bands and then when working at Rounder we really got turned onto a world of wonderful stuff. So our initial goal was to work with artists that we really loved and that were local as that was how the distribution was set up at the time. Just selling to regional stores in the southeast. But you could go to the Cat’s Cradle one night and see an indie pop band like the Mayflies sell the place out and the next night the Two Dollar Pistols would sell the place out and when you looked around, it was a lot of the same folks there for both. So why not have a label that was for these types of hardcore music fans, right?
NT: I’m always impressed that Yep Roc has released albums by some incredible young upstarts, as well as legendary icons like Nick Lowe, Bob Mould, Billy Bragg, Paul Weller, and Dave Alvin, just to name a few. What do you think draws established artists to the label and what do you think those types of partnership say about the label?
Dicker: Well, I’d say it was initially Nick Lowe. We call him the great Legitimizer of the label. Once he signed on, managers and artists suddenly started accepting our calls and indeed, some even started to reach out to us. Imagine that. We never intended it to go this way, but we were like, why not work with our favorite artists of all time? Let’s just make the call and see what happens. All the while we continued to search out new talent to help develop and grow over time. We like doing both things.
NT: What are three Yep Roc releases that you think best represent the spirit of the label and what are some of your own personal favorite Yep Roc releases?
Dicker: Such a tough one. I’d say that Nick Lowe’s holiday record Quality Street is one because it was really just a fun idea that he really went for and made a super fun and rocking record. Another would have to be Mandolin Orange’s Blindfaller, due to our being super fans of great songwriters and Andrew Marlin is a powerful young force to be reckoned with. The third I guess I’d have to say Take A Good Look by the Fleshtones. I think this is one of their best albums, but also just a great, fun rocking vibe that reminds me of the spirit of what Yep Roc is all about now but also where we came from.
I don’t think I can adequately say which are my favorite records. There are just too many. I love all of our artists, new and alumni, and I just dig them all too much to choose.
NT: Finally, one of absolute favorite records Yep Roc has ever put out is the Christmas record We Three Kings from Reverend Horton Heat. Over the years, you’ve also released some incredible holiday records from Nick Lowe and Los Straitjackets as well. With the holidays being right around the corner, what’s the Yep Roc secret for putting out such incredibly fun holiday records that hold up to year-over-year repeat spins?
Dicker: That is high praise which I am eager to accept! I think that holiday music has always represented such a fun time to us. We get excited for Christmas every year and really go all out for it. So why not contribute some of our own to the genre, right? We should do that and we will continue to do so. Maybe we just tend to sign artists that feel the same way we do about Christmas music. But we strive for some new take on things, with new songs, but then a couple classics to keep the people happy. But the Nick Lowe record was a triumph of another level in some ways. I think we managed to really pull a fast one by doing a record that was really a super hip rockabilly type of record disguised as holiday music. Nick is brilliant in that way and it was pure joy to play that kind of music on TV while panning it off as Christmas music. We have a Minus 5 holiday record out this year. Go buy it. The vinyl is fabulous and very creative artwork. You will love it!
When writer Will Hodge (@will_hodge) isn’t spending Christmas at the airport, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts, and vinyl atMy So-Called Soundtrack
I've always loved jazz ...my mother was a classical pianist and my aunt was a blues singer, who was managed by Clarence Williams (Bessie Smith's producer). As a young boy, they introduced me to people like Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, and Jimmy Smith
I've always loved jazz ...my mother was a classical pianist and my aunt was a blues singer, who was managed by Clarence Williams (Bessie Smith's producer). As a young boy, they introduced me to people like Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, and Jimmy Smith. We hung out at my Aunt Kate's Soul Food restaurant in Harlem after the matinees at the Apollo where I listened to their stories. I knew I wanted to be a jazz musician from then on. My mother wanted me to play piano, but my Aunt bought me a guitar. I've been playing ever since.
At my mother's early prompting, I first sang Blue Velvet at my Catholic elementary school...and all the nuns came running in and asked me to sing again, so I knew I must have sounded pretty good. I've been singing ever since.
I met Tony Bennett in Miami and he inspired me to return to New York. He was a great mentor.
The best show I ever attended is mpossible to say, I've seen so many great shows. From Tony Bennett to Pat Martino, Return to Forever to Weather Report...I've seen some great performances.
My advice to new listeners is don't let jazz intimidate you, the music has something for every listener and it is our American gift to the world.