Amy Fleisher - Sound In The Signals Interview

I recently had the chance to interview Amy Fleisher. We discussed Fiddler Records as well as her new company Animal Manufacturing Co.

For those who are unfamiliar with you, you founded Fiddler Records and more recently you launched Animal Manufacturing Co. Can you tell me a little about Animal Manufacturing Co.? How it is similar to how you ran Fiddler and what are some of your goals with it?

Hi, Thanks for the opportunity. Well, to jump right into it, Fiddler and Animal have a few similarities and some grave differences. For starters, Animal is just me, there is no staff. The funny thing about that is that is how Fiddler started- so I guess you could consider that a similarity and a difference… Actually, now that I sit down and think about it, Animal is a lot like how Fiddler started out. Everything is a group effort, all profits are split, and we utilize a ‘where we go one, we go all’ mentality- meaning- the bands and I are all on board with something or we don’t do it.

Also, Animal is different than Fiddler in that I want to be available for any projects that I am interested in. There are no confining rules as far as what I can and cannot do or release. There are no major corporations involved telling me what I can and cannot do. I actually just did a layout for an old friend’s record label and I did it under the Animal name, just because, why not? Also, I didn’t name Animal “Animal Records” because I want to do more than release music. I felt like “Animal Manufacturing Company” fit the bill for what I’d like to accomplish with it in the future. I want to make things, lots and lots of things.

The logo for Animal Manufacturing Co. is really interesting. Who came up with the design and why did you feel like it fit for the company?

Wow, thanks for thinking the logo is interesting. The inspiration for the logo came from two places. The first was Wes Anderson’s movie Fantastic Mr. Fox. Jason Schwartzman’s character, Ash, makes me laugh on such a real level that I just fell in love with him. Towards the end of the movie he has a sock on his head with his ears sticking out while donning a cape- and I just love it so much. And coincidentally, I have a Luke Chueh painting in my house that is of a bear-like-superhero with a mask and a cape- and I guess now that I look at it, those two images are strikingly similar.

So when I set out to create an actual logo for Animal, I started drawing superhero-like-masks and I got it about 80% there and then I had to hand it off to an old friend of mine to make it come to life. Sergie Loobkoff took the reins and really made it sing. We debated a lot about the shape of the ears and whether or not to include eyes or not- but in the end we were both in love with just the mask with ears.

I feel like it fits for the company because a mask is something that you can wear that makes it ok for you to be yourself. It’s like on Halloween when you dress up as something and you realize that you really like what you’re wearing and how you feel. Sometimes you need a mask to help you figure out who you really are. I remember one year I dressed up as a zombie Amelia Earheart, and I’d never worn a leather jacket before- but after that night that’s all I wanted to wear.

One newer band you work with through Animal Manufacturing is Ashtree. Out of all the bands that are probably interested in working with you how did Ashtree stick out and what made you want to work with the band?

For me, with Ashtree, it’s all about authenticity. From our very first conversation to now, we’ve just always been real about goals and expectations and how things are going to work. But also, when they sent me their music I checked them out online and there was a photo that stuck out to me like none other. It was their singer Will, sitting in front of a train, with his head down and in his hands. It was a beautiful photo and it made me feel like if they were comfortable enough using a photo like that publicly (instead of using all of the band members and having them do silly promo-photo things) I knew that we would get along creatively. And as far as music, there is a unique quality to Will’s voice that I know is going to grow into something unparalleled and fantastic. Honestly, he’s just finding it now and the vocal trajectory that he’s on is a great one. They just recorded with Beau Burchell (Saosin) and Beau and Will were able to reach some new levels that Ashtree hadn’t reached before. We really can’t wait to share those new songs with the world.

You are responsible for introducing the world to quite a few great artists/bands (some include New Found Glory and Dashboard Confessional). I know you knew some of those bands from your early days. What was it like working with those groups and what do you think sticks out in your mind the most from those early Fiddler Records days and the way the music scene was?

Now, looking back at what was happening 15 years ago, all I can equate it to is the story of Dogtown (Side note, if you haven’t seen Catherine Hardwicke’s Lords of Dogtown movie, watch it today). We were all a bunch of kids, running around and bumping into each other, and then all of the sudden it became ‘who was getting what from whom and for how much’.

I felt so lost initially because I thought we had our own scene and our own clubs and our own labels so we didn’t HAVE TO work in the mainstream world, with mainstream people that didn’t understand what we had built. I was sorely mistaken. I wanted to build our own world so we didn’t have to leave it, while other people simply existed in our world with the specific goal of leaving it.

There’s nothing wrong with either side of the coin, but it was just a shocker when bands started leaving with the promise of bigger and better. I was raised on NOFX and Rancid, so ‘big’ labels to me were Fat Wreck Chords, Revelation, and Epitaph. It never even entered my mind that major labels would want what we had. And then it got to the point where if I didn’t have some sort of major involvement in my label that I wouldn’t have been able to keep my bands or even stay afloat. It was the total opposite of what I wanted. I always thought of my label as my roommate- it was just this thing that I shared my life with. I never wanted an office or a fancy car, but when the threat of extinction became more prevalent, I thought I had to do what I had to do.

When you were younger did it ever cross your mind that groups like New Found Glory and Dashboard Confessional could grow to be the huge and influential artists they are now? Do you still keep up with any people from those groups as time has gone on?

You know, I always knew New Found Glory would be big in the pop/punk scene but I had a different feeling about Chris (Dashboard Confessional) that maybe he hasn’t even peaked yet. When “Vindicated” was on the Spider-Man 2 soundtrack I was so excited for him, but he still hasn’t reached that pop-icon status on the cover of Rolling Stone and selling out stadiums… I thought he had that in him but I don’t know what went wrong. He has a new band now, maybe that’ll be the ticket.

New Found Glory happened a few years before Dashboard, and instantly when I heard them and saw how crowds reacted to them, I knew big things were going to happen. At the time, they were an anomaly in that they had recorded an EP before they had even played a show. I sold CDs at their first show. That was unheard of in those days. We were armed with shirts and stickers and CDs and usually, a band’s first show back then was just four or five guys with gear that didn’t quite work. So, just the work ethic and the drive and the desire to break into our little scene with such a splash made me aware of how different this band wanted to be.

And then with Dashboard, it was different. I learned a lot from being apart of New Found Glory getting so big so quickly, and I applied the same ideas. The interesting part about Dashboard is that in the beginning it was just Chris and me, so we were much more nimble than a band consisting of five guys still in high school. We were able to drive all over the southeast on a moment’s notice to open up for friends’ shows.

As far as keeping up… That’s an interesting subject. Chris and I catch up from time to time- but our day-to-day best friendship dissolved. Too much happened. Too many miles and too many people got between us. I see Chad from New Found Glory from time to time, and it’s always nice to catch up, but we’ve all just become such different people living different lives. Never underestimate the way that time can change a person.

Also, just a side note- I often equate having a record label with being a mom and having children (even though I don’t have any kids). What I mean is, every band is different, and you work with different bands for different reasons and you measure expectations of success differently. For example, I used to work with a band called The Agency. They were phenomenal, by far the best musicians I’d ever had the pleasure of working with. And I surely felt that there was a place for them in the world where people would see their greatness–but it didn’t really happen. They became the ill fated “band’s band” where other musicians fell in love with them, but on a broad scale people didn’t really get them. Their singer/drummer, Mike Marsh, ended up playing drums for Dashboard which essentially ended The Agency, but they were a band that I would have loved to have seen go really far. No one signs a band because they think they’ll be ‘sort of big’. I always signed bands that I thought had grand futures in front of them. Granted, the futures were relative, but there were a lot of bands through the years that didn’t work out that I really wished had.

I was doing some research for the interview and came across and interesting thing you had said about Chris from Dashboard Confessional getting his sleeve tattoos really quickly. I was wondering if you could kind of recap that story for our readers?

Hah, I have no idea what interview I said that in- but yes, its true. When Chris was a Vacant Andys man he had a few small tattoos (my favorite being the star on his wrist). But once he went solo, it was like someone turned a switch on and there was no going back. He got tattooed almost every weekend in a tattoo shop on South Beach by this awesome guy named Yanush. I sat with him through the whole process, it was weird to say the least. (PS, the best part of this process is that the tattoo shop was next to a pizza shop called Pizza Rustica, so I’d just gorge on pizza while Chris writhed in pain). Yanush kept asking me if he could tattoo me- he said he’d even do it for free. He said he loved my pale skin. I declined though, and all of the ink in the world went into Chris’s forearms.

You reissued Name Taken’s album Hold On through Animal Manufacturing. What was it like working on the vinyl version of that album and was the band involved at all in the process?

Working on the vinyl was an amazing celebratory process that the band was 100% involved in. Chad, Blake, and Ryan are some of the most amazing people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. They were very adamant about not sending a reunion message, but that releasing the vinyl was a personal victory for them so it was a-ok in their book. And as for me, I’d never release anything for a band that they don’t want released. If Name Taken hadn’t wanted that vinyl to exist, it wouldn’t.

Hold On has become such a cherished album over the years. What did you see about Name Taken that really stuck out when you were thinking about signing them? What was your first listening experience to Hold On like?

With Name Taken there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to work with them. In a word, it was energy. The first time I saw them play at Chain Reaction I was just blown away. Every single soul in that room felt something and was moved by it. I remember the exact day that I got to listen to Hold On by myself in my car. I was at Beau Burchell’s studio in Newport Beach, and I listened to it on full blast all the way back to LA and I found myself at my friend RJ Shaughnessy’s house in Silverlake. I made RJ come outside and sit in my car and listen to the record with me. We both just sat there, baking in the hot car, unbelievably excited for what we were hearing. RJ ended up creating all of the artwork for the record and shooting the promo photos a few weeks later. It was a really exciting time.

With vinyl represses becoming so prevalent in today’s music market people have also been interested in other old Fiddler releases from artists like New Found Glory, The Bled, and Recover. At some point would you like to reissue those releases on vinyl?

The Challenger record from Recover (and maybe more…) is slated for a vinyl release this summer. As for the others, it’s up to the bands. Like I said, I want to make things. If people want to make things with me, then let’s do it..

The start of the illegal download era really hurt a lot of indie labels. Do you think that era was what caused Fiddler Records to end? Or was moving on from the label something you just felt like you had wanted to do at some point and time?

Yes. Hah, I think there were a lot of factors. The illegal download trend really hurt distributors, which prevented them from paying labels, which is how the indies were affected. The flipside of that is that all of the free music floating around out there only made the bands and their fan-bases even bigger. It was definitely a catch-22. Moving on from the label was one of the hardest-if not the hardest-decision I’ve ever had to make in my life. By 2005 things were such a mess, though. Distributors were built on a model that wasn’t working anymore, bands couldn’t support themselves without tour support, and labels weren’t getting support from their distributors so they couldn’t provide tour support, so it was one giant vomitus ouroboros. I had put my trust in a lot of people that didn’t deserve or respect it, and it in the end I was left with a crumbling company, so at age 26 I decided to close the doors. I didn’t think the label could be salvaged at that point. Too many wrong turns had been made, and it was time to move on.

You started working with bands at such a young age. If you could go back and give yourself one piece of advice (and I guess really give anyone wanting to start a label a piece of advice) what do you think it would be?

The one thing that I have learned and that I will never forget is that when you do something you love, you’re bound to get your heart broken. My advice is to not let a broken heart break you; it’s just a part of life.

I guess that about wraps it up. Thanks for taking the time to answer the questions. Do you have anything else you’d like to add?

Thanks for the interview, it was a great to think about all of these things again. I suppose for anyone who is reading this that is a fan of the bands or Fiddler or Animal, just keep an eye out for us. We’re going to keep doing what we love.

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