Interview with Lutz Mastmeyer
published: 20 /
The largest indie label in Germany, Glitterhouse includes on its roster the Willard Grant Conspiracy, the Walkabouts,16 Horsepower and Rocket from the Tombs. Second-in-charge Lust Mastmayer chats about its history and recent 20th anniversary celebrations
Situated in the small North Western town of 3000 inhabitants of Beverungen rather than Berlin or Hamburg like most other German labels, the Glitterhouse label has ,over the course of the last 20 years, developed into becoming Germany’s largest independent record label. Paving the way in the non-mainstream sector, it also both runs a thriving order mail service and has offices all over Europe.
Shortly after it was first formed by Beverungen local Reinhard Holstein in 1984, Glitterhouse formed a close alliance with Seattle grunge pioneers, Sub Pop, and it was the first European label to release albums and singles from bands such as Mudhoney, Green River and the Afghan Whigs.
It has, over the course of the last 20 years, released records in a wide range of musical styles including punk, dub and electronica, but has become best known in recent times for its releases by acts such as as Sixteen Horsepower, the Willard Grant Conspiracy, Neal Casal and the Walkabouts, all of whom fall under the alt.country/Americana moniker.
Other acts on its current roster include the Creekdippers, Dakota Suite, David Thomas and Two Pale Boys, Edison Woods, Friends of Dean Martinez, Knife in the Water, Lilium, Midnight Choir, Pere Ubu, Rocket from the Tombs, Savoy Grand and Woven Hand.
Glitterhouse runs its own summer festival, the Orange Blossom Special, an annual three day festival, in the large backyard of its offices in Beverungen. The latest Orange Blossom Special, which took place in June. was the centrepiece of this year’s 20th anniversary celebrations. With other events planned for later in the year Glitterhouse’s second-in-command Lutz Mastmeyer took time out of his busy schedule to speak to Pennyblackmusic about his label’s first two decades.
PB :Glitterhouse was formed back in 1984 by Reinhard Holstein. What experience did he have of working in the music industry before he formed Glitterhouse ?
LM : He had none at all. He started out by putting out a fanzine called ‘The Glitterhouse’ three years before the first album saw the light of day. That was in 1980 or 1981. Reinhard has always been located in the countryside and by the end of the 70’s, the beginning of the 80’s he was pretty bored by all the new wave stuff which was coming out everywhere. He was very much into the Australian underground, bands like Radio Birdman, and 60’s punk. That fanzine was almost entirely about that type of music.. There was a lot about the Stooges, Iggy Pop, and Stooges-related bands of the 70’s in it as well.
Out of this fanzine a mail order came out. People who read the fanzine asked where to get the records, and Reinhard got in touch with the labels in Australia and the USA and deported some stuff and basically built up a small order service.
PB : And so the mail order service came before the label ?
LM : Yeah, that’s right. Reinhard realised that there was a demand for good, indie, non-commercial music and, as he was already in touch with labels from all around the world, he had the idea to compile a compilation, ‘The Declaration of Fuzz’, which was the first album to come out on Glitterhouse in 1984. He wrote to several of the labels he was already involved with and asked if they would like to contribute tracks for this project and that is how it came together.
PB :What was on that compilation ? Was it primarily bands from the Australian underground scene ?
LM : No, there were actually very few Australian bands. There were more American bands and also German bands. The best known band was, I think, the Miracle Workers, who had one track on there. There were also quite a few Swedish bands. The Swedes had a strong 60’s punk scene with lots of fast guitar-driven bands.
PB : How many albums has Glitterhouse released over the course of the last 20 years?
LM : I don’t have an exact figure, but right now we are up to catalogue number 613, which is going to be out in August. 613 also includes 7” and the CD singles.
I would guess though that we have put out now around 400 albums. We rarely do singles nowadays. We have released in the last two years just two singles Until 1993 or 1994 we, however, put them out quite regularly.
PB : Glitterhouse became involved fairly quickly with Sub Pop. How did that relationship come about ?
LM : It was in 1986 or 1987 when Sub Pop started to put out their first 7” singles. Reinhard became pretty excited about that, and when the Green River mini-album. ‘Rehab Doll’, came out, he wrote a letter to the guys at Sub Pop, Jonathan Paulman and Bruce Pavitt. They wrote backto him -there was no fax machines in those days, and they found out that they had a very similar approach to music and the music industry and that they shared a lot of favourite bands . Reinhard flew over to Seattle and they met in person, and, as Sub Pop had nothing going on outside the US, they were quite happy that someone from Europe was interested in licensing the albums and putting them out there. We released “Rehab Doll’ in 1988, and then from then on we released most of the Sub Pop releases over in Europe, but unfortunately not Nirvana.
PB : How long did that relationship last ?
LM : it was until the end of 1993. That was when part of Sub Pop was sold to Warner, Jonathan and Bruce sold 49% of the company to Warner for an amazing sum. One of the conditions of the deal, however, was that Warner would have exclusive rights for the whole world, and that was basically the end of our relationship with Sub Pop.
PB : For a while both Glitterhouse and Sub Pop Europe rans side by side. What was the difference between the two if any?
LM : There wasn’t much of a difference.When Sub Pop was at is peak we didn’t use the Glitterhouse trademark much. We in fact went through a period of signing bands for Sub Pop. Some bands that signed originally to Glitterhouse ended up eventually releasing records on Sub Pop instead. Codeine was orignally a Glitterhouse signing, as were Double Happiness
In 1992 we, however, released that we had our own tradition, and that we should strengthen our own trademark and do something a little bit apart from Sub Pop and put it out on our own label again.
PB : That must have been in hindsight perfect timing because of what was about to happen with Warners.
LM : Yeah. We didn’t know that was going to happen, but it was good timing The hype for Sub Pop was more or less over. From that point onwards when Nirvana became really huge, the indie press and the music press, and especially NME, started to be sceptical about other new Sub Pop signings. Even if the bands were really cool it was getting more and more difficult to get good press. We, therefore, decided to do something of our own.
PB : Glitterhouse is often wrongly labelled as only being an alternative country label. It has released music in a wide range of genres over the years and it is only more recently that it began releasing material under the alt. country/ Americana moniker. When exactly did it first begin doing that ?
LM : That started around about 1992 when basically we decided to revitalise the Glitterhouse label. It was a very natural thing. We ourselves were listening to more and more singer-songwriters by that time.
The term alternative country didn’t really exist at that time, but some of our bands, such as the Walkabouts, were into that kind of stuff. In 1993 they released their wonderful ‘Satisfied Mind’ album, which was really a pre-alternative country album. The Mudhoney guys were listening to Townes Van Zandt and things like that, and that also had a bearing on us. Then there was this songwriter, Larry Barrett. He was a member of the Walkabouts for a few years , and he came up with a completely recorded album and that was basicallywhen we started releasing singer-songwriter stuff. After that many songwriters and bands that were were labelled under the alternative country moniker strated getting in touch. We have since then put out a lot of records in that field.
PB : One of the things which is very noticeable about the Glitterhouse label is that many of the bands that have been on your roster, such as Sixteen Horsepower and the Walkabouts, have been there for a very long time. In fact in the case of the Walkabouts they have been there since the early 90’s. Other more recent ones, such as the Willard Grant Conspiracy, have had links with Glitterhouse even before they signed to them. You seem to have adopted quite an old-fashioned, and in these days unusual philosphy of allowing your bands, to develop over a course of time, and of sticking with them. Do you think because you have allowed your bands to gradually develop this has in many ways contributed to the label’s success ?
LM : Yeah, that’s definitely our philosophy. We are very loyal to our bands and leave them to make their own decisions . They can do whatever they want. That is something that they really like.All of us here at Glitterhouse have never understood how anybody at a label can tell a band that they have to re-record this album because they don’y hear a second single or whatever. I think that shows a complete lack of respect for the artists’ work.
Economically it might not be better to do this, but we are not here for that. We are all, of course, here to make a living out of this, but it was not the initiial idea behind running the label and Glitterhouse. The idea behind running the label is giving artists we admire or have a lot of respect for the opportunity to record and to release albums that they want to release. That might be one of the reasons why bands like the Willard Grant Conspiracy have ended up being with us, after being in touch wth us for many many years now, or Sixteen Horsepower who came to us after being on a major label.
PB : What criteria do you look for when taking on new acts ?
LM : I would say three things. First , if the band is really convincing on stage,then we start to get interested in them,. The second thing is that they should have their own musical vision and personality. The third thing is that we have to get along with them on a personal level. That’s really important. We’ve worked with artists who without doubt are wonderful musicians and great artists, but the chemistry was not right. Even though things have started promisingly, we have said then that we haven’t wanted to continue working with those artists. If the personal relationship doesn’t work out, it does not make sense at all to continue.
PB : Your most recent signing are the Ricochets, who have just released their second album, ‘The Ghost of Our Love’ with you. They’re from Norway, aren’t they ?
LM : They are Norwegian as many of our bands are these days. It is a very creative scene and there’s some interesting bands in Norway. The Ricochets came out of our own need for a real rock band. The Ricochets are a fantastic rock band and raise absolute hell on stage. They are deeply influenced by 60’s punk and they have some great songs.
PB : How many staff does Glitterhouse now employ ?
LM : We are 13 people in all here. Of those there are four people who work on the label. The rest of the people work on the mail order, which is like a second leg for us, and which helps out through bad times with the label.
PB : Glitterhouse has always remained based in Beverungen and the countryside, rather than one of the bigger cities like Berlin or Hamburg ? Do you think that has benefitted the label ?
LM : Yes, I do. Wth modern communications like e-mail or fax or telephone there is no real need for us to be in the big cities because we can be in touch with everybody all the time anyway.
One of positive effects about being in a big city like Berlin or Hamburg is that it is easier to see bands because when they are touring they are more likely to stop over there. On the other hand, everything is cheaper here and there is not the distractions that city life brings .
If we want to go to the big cities, it is easy to travel there by car. We can drive to Berlin in around two and half hours , and there is also an airport here around about thirty minutes away, which takes us directly to London Stanstead.
PB : You have just put on your latest Orange Blossom Festival. When did you start those ?
LM : It started out as free event for the mail order customers, and we thought that maybe 200 people would show up. That was in 1997. We had four bands of ours touring in the summer period. They all had a day off basically, and we thought why shouldn’t we ? We built a stage around the house where the Glitterhouse offices are located. There is a garden there of 200 metres or so, just in a plain field, and it turned out that 800 people turned up. It has developed from there and has grown and grown.
We always tried to have a pretty mixed roster of acts on, and not necessarily just those on the Glitterhouse label. This year there were some rock acts like the Ricochets,and also some slower bands, and some experimental bands. It is a very friendly festival. We limit access to 1500 , and sell tickets through the internet and through our mail order catalogue. People come from far away for it, and a lot of local people come as well.
PB : The Orange Blossom festival has been the centrepiece of your 20th anniversary celebrations this year . What else do you have planned ?
LM : We are working on a specially priced triple CD compilation, which we are aiming to release in late October. We are still talking about the set list, but it will feature a lot of unreleased new stuff. Reinhard is doing a lot of DJing again. He used to DJ way back about 20 years ago and the third CD of the set is going to be a collection of Glitterhouse music which he is going to mix together. We are all interested how that turns out.
PB : Last question. What other plans do you have for the future ? You have just put out the Ricochets. You are going to be doing the compilation. What else is coming out on soon ?
LM : We are working now on our first DVD release. We have just released an audio DVD without any visual aspects from Lilium, but we are now working on a Sixteen Horsepower double DVD set. It is going to feature live excerpts, interviews, videos and also some remixes from their last two studio albums. We are working on Willard Grant Conspiracy and Walkabouts DVDs as well.
We have also got a few things coming up band wise also. We have just signed a band from Florida called Mofro. They are going to be releasing with us an album in the last week of August called ‘Lochloosa’. We saw them at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, and were absolutely floored. If you can imagine a singer that sounds like Van Morrison at the age of 40 backed a by a band that sound like a mixture of Little Feat and the Allman Brothers, that’s them.They are an unbelievable combination of Southern rock and Northern soul. It’s a great album and is very soulful. They’re a fantastic band.
PB : Thank you for your time.
Glitterhouse Records (60)