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NewCityNet Perish the Thought

A fresh take on Perishable Records

By Dave Chamberlain

NOVEMBER 2, 1998:  If you want something done right, it's said, you've got to do it yourself. Or in the case of Tim Rutili and Ben Massarella, even if something is being done right by other people, sometimes you just want to do it.

The two, both members of Red Red Meat, Califone and a bevy of other one-offs and side projects, have formed, or rather, re-formed Perishable Records. The label was actually founded in 1993, its first release having been Red Red Meat's "Hot Nikkity Trunk Monkey"; but before Perishable had a chance to put out the first, eponymous Red Red Meat record, the band signed to Sub Pop.

"The label essentially went dormant," says Massarella. "Tim was shooting videos through Perishable, but it didn't become a label again until we released the Loftus record [earlier this year]."

On October 31, the label's next record maker, Orso opens for Red Red Meat. The band - made up of Massarella, Phil Spirito and Brian Deck, with notable appearances by Califone/Red Red Meat players Rutili and Tim Hurley, in addition to Julie Liu, Gary Shepers and what is accredited as "the ghost of Bundy K. Brown," - has created a kind of morbid, banjo-driven death march. Awashed in the bizarre (heavily distorted vocals weird bursts of static, tin pan alley couched in wailing echoes), its not what you'd expect (hence, exactly what you'd expect) from the roster of players. There's a haunting spareness to Orso, and it's fitting that the band plays on Halloween.

But Perishable isn't just stopping with Orso. Planned for January release are a record from Out in Worship, featuring Doug Sharon (June of '44, Rex, Loftus), and an ensemble project called Drumhead, which was formed from an all-percussive session in a New York City warehouse and, with the help of added-on piano, bass and synthesizer tracks, has turned into a record. Plans are in the works for a Frontier record with Brian Deck, and a non-Chicago band project for which rights have yet to be secured. A re-issue of the first Red Red Meat record should also be out early next year.

But what makes one want to form a record label and subject oneself to a monumental amount of work (especially by just two people), to put out records that, carrying the name recognition power that they do, would likely be snatched up by any number of record labels throughout the country? "We had been talking about it forever," says Massarella. "But putting out the Loftus record really put us over the hump."

The label is currently being run out of, of all things, an old mobile-home trailer/truck wash on the South Side at the north end of the stockyards, west of Comiskey Park. It's from there that Massarella runs his other business, BJ Transportation Service, with the occasional help from the record label side as well. Massarella laughs and says, "last year we even had a wonderful show of camaraderie when our main truck washer broke his wrist. The entire Perishable staff took turns washing trucks to help out."

The ultimate challenge posed is for two people (plus one assistant) to handle every part of the record-release business, certainly not an easy task. "We try to split [the work] up, and things just fell into categories that each of us were better at," says Massarella. Essentially Tim helps design the records, and I get them printed."

At this point, Perishable is just releasing records on CD, though both Rutili and Massarella would like to release vinyl as well. "Right now," notes Rutili. "We just want to get the stuff out." Perishable has no exclusive distribution deal, but the label does have seven distributors. "We know a lot of people," adds Rutili.

And by no means will these two constituents of Califone brush aside its past ties. "As Califone," says Rutili, "we still want to do stuff with other labels. We love working with Flydaddy [which released the band's first record]."

And though plans are in the jetstream for another Califone record, Massarella notes that "we're having fun doing the label thing. Especially since expectations for the records are good."

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