Stumbling through the offices of the Southern California based eggBERT Records, it is immediately apparent that label head Greg Dwinnell is a true music fan. Albums, CDs, posters and memorabilia cling to the walls, with only the occasional Redskins logo or Twin Peaks image vying for space. In the half dozen years or so since the label's first release, eggBERT has established itself as a highly respected label. Whether it's nurturing the development of a band (Action Figures), encouraging a solo outing (Kristian Hoffman), compiling definitive re-issues (Mumps. The Bent Backed Tulips), spotlighting new artists (Jill Olson, Charley, Mars Needs Women), or creating the two best tribute albums ever (Bee Gees, Hollies), Dwinnell has always kept the standards high by presenting his releases in an extremely professional manner. With the label's latest release, John (ex-Dramarama) Easdale's long awaited and excellent solo outing Bright Side in stores now, it was a good time for Eno to visit the world of eggBERT.
POPsided: Why start your own label?
Greg Dwinnell: I'm a talentless bastard who can only derive pride, pleasure and profit from the talents of others. Either that or I'm an extremely generous guy who doesnt' mind blowing a few bucks helping some folks fulfill part of a dream. Probably somewhere in the middle. Think Steve Buscemi as Charles Foster Kane.
POP: What was the labels first release and why was it chosen?
Greg: The real purpose for starting eggBERT Records was to expose the talents of a group of guys I grew up with in the Washington D.C. suburbs of Fairfax. VA.. who ultimately became the Action Figures. I hung out with these guys throughout high school, and was their roadie, soundguy, PR boy, , through their many different incarnations and endless nights of frathouses, pizza parlors, backyards and the occasional opening slot for some touring new wave band. They were my buddies, they were a talented bunch of guys and I was proud of them. It was like too bad they didn't have a record, eh? So long story short, I ended up in L.A. I know some folks in and around the business. I'm playing some Action Figures demos in my car and one these friends of mine (John Easdale to be exact) heard 'em and dug 'em and suggested that I should do something with them. This new outside support, I think, convinced the Action Figures that the time was right. They made a record, eggBERT was born. Of course they went on to make a few more for us. We're all still extremely close friends. I frequently spend vacations with some of them. The band's in a state of flux right now, but I think there's still some great songs to be tapped there.
POP:How do you go about choosing what to release?
Greg: Well. I like all our records! My taste runs all over the place, but know what I like. There's an old adage that if you're gonna get stuck with a garage full of records, you'd better be proud of them.
POP:Have any of your artists gone on to major label success?
Greg: The New jersey group Mars Needs Women jumped up to the Warner label Discovery. which has since transformed itself back into Sire Records. I think we did a better job with the album than they did, although their A&R champion Gregg Bell. who is still at Sire, is a super guy and really loves the band. I think the Mars record for Sire will be one to watch. No matter what happens to those guys, they're satisfied. 'cause they got to tour with Cheap Trick!
POP:eggBERT has released two of the finest tributes ever. What do you find appealing about tribute compilations?
Greg: As a record buyer, I always loved getting singles by my favorite bands where they did some cool classic or obscure cover on the B-Side. So when I saw this English label Imaginary Records putting out these "tribute records"- The Kinks and The Bvrds would be my faves - I thought, hey, even if only five or six of the covers are good, I'll get my money's worth - good concept! Imaginary actually made pretty great tribute records, unlike most of the idiom. The other thing I loved about the concept is, where else on one project could I get the talents of so many of my idols - Tommy Keene, Scott Miller, John Easdale, Steve Wynn, Mitch Easter, E, Jon Brion, Peter Hosapple - all on one record? How could that not be fun?
POP:What do you find appalling about tribute compilations?
Greg: Don't get me started. The majors fucked it up for everybody. They put out these ridiculously roster-heavy mishmash of uninspired and uninformed rehashes. often just as vehicles to generate catalog sales for those same labels. Like I said. don't get me started - I won't name names but, from Sophie B. Hawkins at Bob Dylan's 30th Anniversary to All Saints at Burt Bacharach's recent tribute, bullshit marketing goes on everyday.
POP: Have either the Hollies or The Bee Gees contacted you in regard to their tributes?
Greg: They were all great. The Bee Gees and their management gave us complete cooperation and even did a couple of interviews in respect to the Melody Fair record. They were very generous with their comments. With the Hollies, we basically spoke with Allan Clarke, who was wonderful. and Graham Nash, who was very nice once we finally got to him. Graham's management at the time was a real pain in the ass - Graham was scheduled to sing on "On A Carousel" with the Jigsaw Seen but his manager screwed it up. I've run into Graham a couple of times since the Sing Hollies Reverse and he's had nothing but genuinely nice things to say about the project.
POP:Youve released two albums by Kristian Hoffman and a Mumps collection. How did that relationship begin?
Greg: When I started eggBERT, I actually made a statement, like some drunken teenage proclamation of boastful bravado. "wouldn't it be amazing if I could put out a Mumps record!" Chris Carter. John Easdale, Pat Pierson and myself were all big Mumps fans and we all shared a passion for An American Family the early 70's cinema verite PBS series chronicling the day to day activities of Lance Loud and his family. So one night Chris and John are scheduled to host Rodney Bingehiemer's radio show while Rodney was in England. Chris lined up all these special in studio guests like Three Oclock, Sylvain Sylvain, Joey Ramone and a surprise for yours truly, Lance Loud and Kristian Hoffman. Lance and Kristian played this hilariously riotous 4-track cover of "Last Cigarette" and a new Kristian composition which became "I Don't Love My Guru Anymore." They made a couple of self-deprecating remarks about their works forever remaining on the shelves collecting dust. John said. "I know a guy who'd sign you in a second!" They went to commercial. my phone rang, and it was John and Lance and Kristian. The rest, as they say, are histrionics!
POP:Your latest release is the long awaited solo album by ex-Dramarama singer/songwriter John Easdale. You also released the Bent Backed Tulips (aka Dramarama) record with bonus tracks. Are you a Dramarama fan?
Greg: Greatest bunch of guys - they changed my life and I think I had a pretty big impact on theirs. I was somewhat responsible for getting them to L.A. in '86. I hooked Dramarama up with Rodney and they did the rest. I worked for them, I traveled with them, they were my extended family for the past many years. I could write a book. To say I am a fan is the ultimate understatement. I'm extremely biased, but think John is one of our reatest songwriters, and someday, very soon, threes gonna be a John Easdale renaissance, much like Alex Chilton or John Hiatt experienced. Where just the right cover version is going to open many eyes to a tremendous catalog of songs. No offense. but John can still make much more vital records than either of those guys too. John's new album is a killer and I'm sure they're many more where it came from. Did I mention that besides being one of my closest friends in all of this world. John is also the nicest man in show business. The world would be better off with more like him.
POP: Whats next for the label?
Greg: Sell lots of John Easdale's Brightside. Also, this Spring. we have the first release from a cool English-American group, The Crowd Scene, who recently transplanted to Washington D.C. The record's called Turn Lift At Greenland and if you get the title, you'll really get the record. If you don't get it, get someone to explain it to you, but get the record. Lots more in the works. Big plans for everybody.
POP:What do think about the renewed interest in pop?
Greg: Pop music didn't go anyplace. Melody has always been out there. BUT, that's a big but, a large part of rock n' roll...popular music, is about separating the generations -about pissing off your parents and establishing one's identity. From Elvis, The Beatles and Stones, Alice Cooper and Kiss, punk to rap - kids don't want their parents listening to the same music that they are. Every year, The Beatles generation gets older, and every year, a new generation pushes the boundaries a step further than the generation before them. Right now, with few exceptions, it's mostly unimaginative techno, tired raps and hackneyed punk and ska. Not much room for intelligent melodic pop. So the dilemma is that the teen dollar, which generates this crookedest of industries, will continue to be spent on music which shocks and separates, and less and less will be spent on melodic pop. If the L.A. pop scene is any reflection of the "renewed interest" in pop, then it's all a myth. Great bunch of folks in general, but go to any pop show and you'll see the same people time and time again. And we're all getting old. At the same time were the first generation to see rock n' roll through to adulthood, so it's nice to know that the electric guitar will never disappear. And everything really only exists because of The Beatles.
POP: What are some of the current pop bands/records you find interesting and worth recommending?
Greg: In L.A., I spend all my time at Largo catching Jon (Boy Genius) Brion and his Cast of co-horts performing musical splendor on a weekly basis. At any average Jon Brian show, the audience is usually made up almost entirely by multi-talented musicians, actors and comedians, who at any given moment could be called to the stage to join in. Even Largo's owner, Flanagan. is a hell of a talented writer and performer - I'd put out Flanny's record in a heartbeat. As far as bands in L.A. are considered, there are tons, lots and lots of great bands. Far too many to mention, but the big three I truly, truly love are - The Negro Problem, Wondermints and Baby Lemonade. A couple of artists I think will break out in 98 will be The Candy Butchers., whove got some very cool demos and deserve a break, and singer/songwriter Jeff McGregor and his band The Solipsistics, who distills a wonderful brand of cynicism over a host of memorable melodies somewhere between Randy Newman and Brian Eno. Right now, you can only get his music if he gives you a tape. Someday, maybe soon I'll be able to talk him into letting eggBERT put out some of his stuff. The new Rufus Wainwright record is the best record of the year. Accomplished songwriting. he has wonderful phrasing, gorgeous strings - God bless Van Dyke Parks - and Jon Brion cum Lenny Wanonker "I'm Stupid With Money" production - it'll only sell a handful but it's a marvel. Grant Lee Buffalo's new record is brilliant, of course. The new albums by old stand-bys Tornmy Keene, The Loud Family, Chris Vim Sneidem and John Wesley Harding are amongst the best of their careers. New releases from Aimee Mann, eels, Jon Brian and The Sad Man (who can do no wrong) Mr. Elliott Smith... I 998 looks to be promising. Hell, how could any year be bad that holds in store a Costello/Bacharach album?!