One of the great undergrounds that I’ve always enjoyed is the comedy underground. Hell, artists have some great issues but nothing like the comedian, I’ve always considered the comedian to be parallel to the serial killer, they just express themselves differently and the serial killer is an introvert while the comedian is an extrovert… Dan Schlissel is a person the wife and I met when we lived in Minnesota, we drove 5 hrs to see The Melvins and there were no tickets… Dan was standing there and gave me one, we made quick friends and then I found out all he does, including winning a grammy for a Lewis Black release. Dan is honest, outspoken and combines politics and love with his business.
What is underground art?
Underground art is art that isn’t recognized as a formal school of any kind, or art of a school that is recognized but done in a way counter to the traditional method.
Are there rules or a set of ethics to the underground?
I don’t believe so. I feel that the rules belong to the mainstream.
What is selling out?
Watering down what you do strictly for commercial value. In other words it is OK for you to make money from your art, but if you change your art to be more likable, more commercial, more to the public’s taste, just for the sake of sales and not for your artistic vision, then you have sold out.
Can underground go above ground and still be underground?
Of course it can. It happens often, and sometimes the artist stays true to that. It’s all a question for how long.
Have you ever sold out?
I have entered into distribution agreements with larger entities twice. One of them changed the deal on me part way through, and then dropped my label. They kept the records in distribution, screwed my relationships with the three affected artists and *still* have the records in distribution without paying or reporting sales at all. It happened because I was trying to reach for a wider audience for the artists I work with. I did it without watering down their messages or mine, but that reach had a bite to it.
The other one gave me a bunch of cash to use me as a scout. They had me sign deals that would allow the artists to pass to them if sales merited it, and they gave me a travel budget. I pursued artists I was interested in. They didn’t live up to sales numbers, and the deal expired. The relationship soured a deal with one artist I wanted to work with, but it felt way more pure of intent that the first one.
The lesson is that I would never try to make a deal like that again. It taught me that I am much better off to pursue my own path with my own vision, and damn the rest.
Your biggest artistic regret?
Not having an aesthetic and specific viewpoint to my original pre-comedy record label. Also, entering into one of the above two deals I mentioned.
Is it possible to steal an idea?
Theft/inspiration. Two sides of the same coin. It depends what you do with it. If it is the same idea exactly, it is theft. If it is a springboard to another area, it isn’t. I’ve been around people who simply tapped what I was doing. That is theft. Adding something of your own to the mix and altering the final product changes that to inspiration. The truly creative can do that.
Your biggest artistic inspiration?
Great art, honestly. That and knowing I only have a finite amount of time, no matter how long it is, as a living breathing, creative entity on this planet.
What is dangerous art?
It is literally art on the verge of life and death. That hits you in the gut and takes the wind out of you. That challenges things in a way that is heroic. I know of a man who makes, not counterfeit, but bogus paper currency in another country, where graft and corruption are regular occurrences. His bills are meant to be slipped to a corrupt official who is taking a “drop” and will look at the money later. The bills basically are very creative bits of art that say “I am honest” and they are meant to shame the corrupt person. I find that brave and dangerous.
Bonus question… nature or nurture?
Hard for me to say. Nature certainly feels right, like an instinct, a drive. I feel like nurture is a major piece, though. Without help in development, art is hard to make. Then again, I am forgetting outsider art… Nature. Yep.