Rob Sevier and Ken Shipley, the deep crated folks who run the the Numero Group, have begun to reissue full albums as Asterisk (or simply *). Covering not dissimilar ground as Numero, lo-fi everything, basement soul, loner folk, Asterisk repackages glossy and gives the full shine to albums long forgotten. We caught up with them to find out how it all began.
How did you get started buying lots of old weird records?
It was essentially an extension of buying lots of new weird records. Once you understand that the most interesting music is issued independently, it's easy to extrapolate towards the future, by releasing your own or your friends' music, or extrapolate it into the past, by dredging up the independent, underground, and self-released recordings that already exist.
And how did that become Numero Group?
We had already been involved in various ways in the independent music industry for years, so it was based on conclusions from the mistakes we had all made and didn't want to make again. And we all understood the difference between a high-quality re-release and one that was simply pissed out by companies stuck in the major label special markets rut who were forced to high volume at low margins. We wanted to figure out how to do the former consistently and avoid the latter.
How did Asterisk evolve out of Numero Group?
Although this wasn't ever explicitly stated as the mission of the label, the Numero series of compilations were generally pretty ambitious projects. An exception would be the Catherine Howe CD, which was merely a single LP issued on CD with a single unreleased track. Today, that record would be on *, but we hadn't put that project in motion yet and the Catherine Howe LP was far too good to delay the release. If we had waited much longer I feel confident that it would have been bootlegged by someone overseas. Most Numero titles require significant research and legwork, and sometimes they take years to complete. Our goal with * was to take the same attention to detail we use with Numero's mainline, and apply it to less ambitious projects.
What are the stories behind the first group of releases?
Johnny Lunchbreak was an interesting project, because it was only recently discovered, and not by us. Mike Garber, from a store in Nebraska called Zero Street, discovered the acetate and did a very low-key pressing of it, only 300 copies, most of which were sold hand to hand. It was recommended to me and I bought it off Mike's simple website. I brought it to the office and left it there, and it was getting played all the time. Eventually someone said "Maybe this is worth more than a miniscule, vinyl only run." So we went off the master tapes and repackaged it completely.
Four Mints is part of the project to fully document the Columbus, Ohio scene that began with the Capsoul label. There may not be any city that has more consistently good and obscure soul output than Columbus, so we've really focused on the region. We're also releasing the Wee album early next year, an exquisite late-night soul effort that was the custom label answer to Steve Wonder and Marvin Gaye's LPs from the period. The Four Mints LP was simply too high in demand to keep behind closed doors any longer, so it had to go in the first batch of * titles.
Propinquity is one of my favorite albums. It's mellow, dreamy folk from gifted musicians who I've become friends with over the years. I spend a lot of time in Colorado, where they live, and have gotten to get to know the group really well. I think the ideal situation is to become very close to the people you work with, and that's been the case on most of our projects.
How have you gone about tracking the groups?
Some people are difficult to find, some people are easy. Unfortunately we don't get any extra credit for the difficult ones.
Is there anything you've wanted to release but have been unable to?
Circuit Rider. One of my favorite LPs, there is incredible mystery surrounding it. It was discovered in the 1980s by the legendary Paul Major, who turned up boxes of the record that swiftly dissappeared into the hands of psychedelic rock collectors worldwide. I'm told that he claims he purchased this quantity from the landlord of the band after their eviction. This claim seems dubious to many, and there are a variety of record nerd conspiracy theories about the real source of that stock. One of which is that Paul and some friends recorded and pressed the LP themselves. This also seems dubious to me. Even if this was the case, it would hardly diminish the intensity of this outsider masterpiece. Sadly, the band has failed to appear after numerous attempts to find them, so the public at large may never get a chance to hear it.
People not wanting to revisit something they did so long ago? Anyone been particularly stoked?
There have been people who treated us like the devil incarnate. Sometimes there are intense emotions tied up in these works, and sometimes you open a Pandora's Box and sometimes you save someone's life, and there's no telling what could happen when someone picks up the phone on the other end, or answers the door, or opens your letter. Usually it's a pretty good experience. When I've been yelled at, threatened, hung up on, accused of terrible things, I can't really take it too personally. The music industry has been responsible for a lot of misery in its time. We can undo some of that, but we've never taken someone to the top of the charts. Redemption is great, but it has its limits it seems.
Why not put these albums out on vinyl? How do you feel about selling CDs and MP3s?
We plan to put some out on vinyl. It's all tied to the intersection of logistics, finances, and our increasingly limited time.
Have you released anything, on Numero or Asterisk, where you haven't been super jazzed on the music but love the story and art? What do you do with records like that?
We have to love the music first before even exploring it at the level where we can assess the story and the art. There are certainly releases where we might ultimately like the art and story a little bit more than the music. I feel that way about Belize City Boil-Up, because it turned out really beautiful. But if we weren't jazzed about the music, well... I guess we'd just make a book.