My friend Chris is an alarmingly motivated guy on a nearly unimaginable level. He does things like hitchhiking band tours and conceptualizing forty people traveling cross-country in a school bus on an insane D.I.Y. music/political/cultural festival. His ambitions are boundless and he actually accomplishes most everything he sets his mind to. The Plan-It-X record label he co-founded ten plus years ago is the home to: This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb, Ghost Mice, Soophie Nun Squad, Against Me, The Bannanas, Defiance Ohio and the label's first ever decidedly non-punk artist, singer-songwriter Madeline Adams. Check them out.
1. At the time you first started Plan-It-X (PIX) there were tons of small scale punk labels, I even managed to co-run one for awhile. How in the world did PIX survive and thrive when so many others dissolve after a year or two?
It wasn't really an effort at all. I just kept releasing records. I didn't depend on the label for anything. It had no cost to run it, other than releasing CDs and occasionally running an add. I didn't have an office or anyone else working that needed to be paid and I loved what I was doing. It was really slow for the first few years too, it was easy. Giving up was never a thought since to me it was always very successful, even when we were only selling 2-3 CDs a week. To me that was food and food was all I needed since I lived in my van for 2 years. 10-15$ a week was enough. I guess, all I can say is how could it not survive? And why does anyone give up?
2. Your politics and the politics of the bands you've been in have always been explicitly anti-authoritarian. How have you managed to incorporate these beliefs into the day to day operations of the label?
Well I guess they are incorporated in some ways, like, there are no contracts, there is nothing to sign, there are no records being kept, there are no business type activities involved in the running of the label. I try to keep it more like a family than a business, I am friends with everyone I release music by. I love them as people and I love their music.
3.What do you look for in the bands that are on the label? Are the bands' politics equal to the quality of the music?
This comes back the friends thing. I release music by my friends. Their politics are not really that important but since the politics of the people I choose to be friends with are important to me, it is reflected in the music I release. I like bands with a message, but I don't think all bands on plan-it-x have a message and they surely don't all have the same message. I think they are just great, politically aware people.
4. PIX and the larger Bloomington punk community seem to be deeply involved in community organizing efforts. Most of the shows in town are benefits and label bands are involved in lots of organizations. Did this occur organically over the years or is it part of some larger PIX takeover scenario?
I think this just goes back to the question above. There is no plan-it-x take over scenario. It's just that I really want to be a part of making the world a better place and I like people that think the same and I really like the music those people make. I think the punk scene (the diy punk scene) as a whole has grown politically more aware in recent years and we have all realized together that community is maybe the most important way to start making a change. We have all done this together.
5. Explain the philosophy behind the label? The insistence on keeping the label's releases at $5. The bands always touring together. There's a sense of mutual aid and camaraderie that is really powerful amongst the bands, label workers and even fans. How can you account for such harmony on such a wide level?
It started with my good friend Sam. She released my bands first release. She is a militant anti-capitalist to the point that she released tapes and sold them for 10cents more than they cost to make with no account for the labor cost of dubbing them and making covers etc. I took that same philosophy into mind when I took over but raised the prices so that we could generate enough money to release more music and hopefully eat sometime. When I found out CDs only cost 1$ to make I was horribly offended at the idea of a 10$ CD and since that day I have made it my mission to make people aware of that. The people that buy music from plan-it-x are cool and I would like to consider them my friends. No one wants to sell stuff to their friends. I like to think of their 5$ as them chipping in so that WE can release more CDs together. Punk rock is about a lot more than just selling stuff to each other, at lease it is to me. I was so happy when I discovered the punk scene. I was so lost before and I will do what ever I can to make it a real community and not just a mini version of the mainstream. 5$ a CD is a lot of money by the way. The most expensive CD I have released cost 1.75 to make and that's because it comes with a big booklet and is a full color jewel box thing. I sell a lot of CDs wholesale so those sell for 3.50 and the ones I sell through the mail include postage so I usually make about 3.80 off of those, I give the bands 20-25% of the pressing and send off a lot of review copies. In the end I still make about $2.50-$3 off of each CD I sell and that's a lot of money. It's more than enough to keep the label afloat.
6. So, this summer the label is going on a month long, nine band, cross-country tour with 35-40 total participants in an old school bus? What are the goals? What will a day on the tour look like and how in the hell can something so insane possibly work?
It might not. I just want to keep trying to do crazy things since they seem to keep working. A day on the tour will be spent mostly driving and sleeping. Then we will hopefully arrive in time to see some of the locally organized day events, which will differ each day and will hopefully include: workshops, speakers, skill shares, games, acoustic sets, puppets, sporting events, gambling, etc. Then the bands will play, using a shared backline. Everyone will play a short set and 2 local bands will play each night, half of our crew will get really drunk. I will try to get everyone on the bus and we will probably have to leave after the show each night to make it to the next one on time. The shows will cost 10$ and hopefully most of the door will go towards the tour since I hope to do three things with the money that we may or may not make. 1. Pay for some of the bus I'm gonna buy, 2. Pay everyone on the tour , including staff, they money will be split equally between everyone on the tour, bands, cooks and road 3.Make the fest a benefit for a local group/space that we are trying to start called the Center for Change.
7. You recently announced plans to make the label a full-time benefit label with plans to add a new organization each year for ten years. Explain how such an ambitious concept will work?
It should be easy. Plan-It-X makes enough money now that I feel it should share a little bit. It's not going to be a ton of money but the groups that I have and will choose will be the kind of small groups that can really use a steady flow of cash. I’m starting small but if things continue to grow then so will my plans. I want people to know that the music serves another purpose.
8. What do you envision PIX looking like ten years from now? Are you worried about mentally and emotionally being a forty-year-old in a punk community dominated by twenty-year-olds?
I don't think I will live that long but I'm sure even if I don't someone will take over. The label is a lot more than me. I have been thinking a lot about who I will leave the label to. If I do manage to live that long, I assume it will be the same and we are going to have the biggest party of all times. Plans are already under way for the 20 year birthday party. Hopefully things will continue to grow all across the punk scene and hopefully in 10 years there will be a lot of labels like us and no one will pay 10$ for a punk CD anymore. I'm not worried about being old. It's an illusion. I am old, but it means nothing and I don't think the scene will always be young kids, there are more and more old punks sticking around everyday. I think as we continue to build our community and scene stronger and stronger and make it more sustainable and less of a marking scheme for teenagers, more and more kids are going to stick around, in 10 years I think 50% of the 20 years olds of today will still be around and I know me and the rest of my old friends will be there for sure.
9. Closing thoughts? New Releases. Contact Info.
Quit your job, quit school, start working on this mess and most of all do what ever it takes to stay happy. We always have new releases, just check out the web-page or write for a shitty catalog. Feel free to write, or email: Plan-It-X/ PO Box 3521/ Bloomington IN 47402. firstname.lastname@example.org / www.plan-it-x.com