Heathen Harvest: How long have you been involved in the neo-folk and experimental music scenes?
Chris McBeth: Well, I have been a long time music collector - around 1982 at the age of 11 started collecting music such as the KTel Classic Hits of the 50's and 60's I would see on TV. It was around 1984 that I was exposed to the Legendary Pink Dots and then meet Steven Stokes in Dallas, TX who ran the Record Gallery music store. He would recommend to me albums to buy such as "Try this one by Nurse With Wound called "Sylvie and Babs" or Current 93 "Dogs Blood Rising". From there and S. Stapleton's classic 'List' my interest in music just mushroomed. I really love all music and currently on my Ipod play list are Paranoid by Black Sabbath, The Best of Astrud Gilberto, Cathedral by The Castanets, The Planets by Jack Goldstein, American Dream Life by My Country of Illusion, Always on My Mind by Willie Nelson, various songs by Ulver and Things Past by george&caplin. As for the neo-folk/experimental, I guess it would have to be about five hears now since I started the label.
HH: What first got you interested in releasing music, in starting your own label?
CM: It started as a hobby really. I was taking a year off before I went to dental school but before I knew it, it became a full time job and here we are 5 years later. I have always been a huge fan of music/art and the thought of putting out a few limited vinyl releases seemed like fun. It was more fun than I really thought.
HH: Are you the sole person behind Beta-lactem Ring Records, or are there other motivating personalities behind the curtain?
CM: Well, it is myself, my life force and best friend-wife Heather, Else Teicher (who does all the writing on the label for us), Brennan who does the packing of orders and various other essential things around here and Ekul B. who is starting to do more artwork for the label as I just do not have time anymore. Ekul B. recently did cover art for Ka-Spel's "A Long Red Ladder to the Moon" and "O Darkness! O Darkness!"
HH: How did you manage to get so many big-name underground acts--Current 93, Nurse With Wound, Edward KaSpel--to work with you? I would think they would be hard to get a hold of.
CM: I asked and in some cases asked again and again.
HH: Your label seems to specialize in rare, high-end, and collectable items. The Current 93 box set has been described as exquisite; many of your records are on 180 to 220 gram vinyl; and many releases are limited editions. What interests you so much in the limited editions versus regular, open editions?
CM: Well, I would rather press and sell 300 copies of an album than press 1000 and have another 700 sitting around. Plus, with vinyl the cost of production, storage and shipping issue is enormous.
Also, I see nothing wrong with doing editions of 30 of a record. It is art and not everyone can have that one Picasso or Dali painting. There is only one Apotheosis of Homer by Dali.
HH: Are there any specific inspirations or limited edition books, sculptures, or prints that moved you to create "something like that?"
CM: Not really. One of the main reasons they can be so limited is the amount of work involved. The Current 93 box took me three weeks of work to make the boxes and another week to assemble the albums, pictures, inserts and hand cut and glue the sleeves for the bonus 7" with D. Tibet/Ben Chasny. As far as inspiration, I am fascinated by the Fluxus and Multiple artists. Steven Stapleton’s audio sculptures, and the way he has presented his music with his artwork, have always impressed me. I like the visual aspects of the Vienna Aktionists, in particular Nitsch’s happening paintings.
HH: How is the market for the high-end artifacts you're producing? I noticed that the Current 93 wooden box set sold out quickly. Do most of those high-end projects sell out quickly?
CM: Honestly, every limited/high end item we offer sells out in a matter of minutes as soon as we announce them. The Current 93 box sold from us for $425.00/box but everyone of the people who bought it commented it was an enormous amount of money but they new it would be worth it with out even seeing what I was designing. I spent about three weeks making the boxes out of various hard and softwoods, dovetailed the joints, layered on about 8-10 coats of stain and gloss, counter sunk the lid and etched text and graphics into it. Basically it is an art form and there is a demand for unique, limited objects of any kind.
HH: How much of a role do the artists have in creating the custom packaging for the limited editions? Do you collaborate with them, do they have a free hand, or...? Could you give a couple examples of different projects you worked on?
CM: It is always a collaboration. Usually I will start with a few ideas, talk to the artist for more brainstorming and collaborations and then we take it from their. Every project on the label is a collaboration.
HH: Which upcoming are most excited about in terms of its music? How about in terms of its presentation?
CM: Currently the artwork for "Perekluchenie" by irr. app. (ext.) is still killing me and combined with the moody psych music, it is an all around classic. The bonus 12" pic-disc for the album contains two pieces of artwork from our gallery event SBtM which was were the most well received pieces. I am also very excited to issue the first new studio album by La STPO "Slices of Thrown Time" in 5 years and both the music and cover artwork by band member Jim B. is just amazing. STPO are one of my all time favorite bands. They are one of the finest, most fractured & indefatigable European avant post punk bands. They just celebrated 20 years as band and we released the comp. of rare, obscure and live albums "Le Combat Occulté" to mark the event.
HH: What is your favorite release, music wise, so far on your label? Please explain.
CM: That is a tough one because I only release albums that I really really like. When I first started the label I was told "never release an album just because you like it."
I might have to say 'A Birth Marked Conspiracy" by Edward Ka-Spel. I am a huge fan of his, it was my first proper release on the label and I spent three months making the wood boxes that the LP came in.
HH: What release is the most aesthetically, artistically pleasing to you? Please elaborate.
CM: This is a hard one. What comes to mind first is The Screaming Vagina that was produced by Eric Lumbleau of Sound for our "Screaming Zenith" release. Its a box with well... a gapping vagina with blood tubes coming out into blood bags... real body hair..
I will not even let my daughter see this one until she is older.
The reason I am fond of this release is because it is just so over the top and grotesque. I love this one.
HH: How did you get involved with the art gallery show, "See Beyond the Music"? Did you help arrange to show Tibet's, Stapleton's, and Balance's works? Or did it work out another way?
CM: Well, this started out to be a gallery exhibit of my own artwork. As the exhibit approached I only had about 7-8 pieces I wanted to display, but needed another 10 or so, but due to our crazy "psychotic record pimp" (-Jon Whitney/Brainwashed.com) I had no time to work on more artwork. I had been talking to S. Stapleton, D. Tibet and John Balance for the previous couple of years about exhibiting some of their artwork and a possible gallery performance. The idea struck me, what not make it a label artist showcase. Most are visual artist in their own right in addition to the auditory aspect hence the name "SBtM". So I started phoning up artists on the label and within 3 weeks time I had all the artwork for the exhibit. The gallery we had the month long exhibit at told us it was the most attended gallery event to date and since. People were lining up at 11AM every day to see the artwork. The opening night was just amazing.
HH: How do you see yourself, and BLRR, fitting in the Portland art/ music scene?
CM: Really since we started the label I have kept fairly much to myself doing the occasional show or exhibit. Though of late it has been kind of weird when I am out at a show, record store or exhibit and people recognize me as Chris from BlRR.