Dean Bein runs the NYC-based record label True Panther.
It’s pretty much been Girls week over at True Panther. Tell me a little bit about working on “Album.”
The process has been about two years now from the point where we decided we wanted to work together on this record and finishing it up, recording it at night time outside of day jobs. Very slowly bringing it together. Everything seems to have come together at the same time, right around the release of the album. It’s really exciting. When I first thought about the record, I thought it’s great, very San Francisco specific and very much of that city and representing that city. As a result, we set up a lot of things around there to both celebrate and thank the city of San Francisco for the support.
Do you ever feel that the Girls back story, which is incredible, gets in the way of people actually listening to the music?
I think that good music, music that’s honest and created sincerity and an open heart comes across as that. Obviously, the story with Christopher is something that people really feel connected to because it’s a totally insane story. It reads like a weird fairy tale.
Good music always rises to the top. It’s funny how that works regionally. I think in Europe, the UK or something, they get really into the story of a band and the darker side of rock ‘n’ roll music. And obviously the American press loves a good story too.
I feel like the notion of a “regional sound” has dissipated a little bit. I just remember people just instantly assuming a hot new band was active in Brooklyn just because they were on the rise. How do you assert that San Francisco perspective without completely going over the top?
What up! Just shouting out neighborhoods. What’s up to all my players on Hunter’s Point? (laughs)
The whole ethos behind the record label feels very connected to San Francisco. And the question is like, what does that even mean? You close your eyes, what does San Francisco look like to you? It’s not 1967. When we say San Francisco, we’re not talking about the long hair and flowers, strumming an acoustic guitar. In a sense, I almost feel like that’s the enemy, that we’re battling against that type of sentiment. San Francisco to me is sitting in Dolores Park as a teenager drinking beer out of paper bags and going to DIY punk shows where both the joy and agony of being there was that it was so easy to live but it was so hard to get anything accomplished. I feel that Girls’ music captures that same sort of frustration.
It’s interesting because New York, and San Francisco, and Los Angeles you don’t really meet a lot of natives. New York forces you to define yourself no matter what you’re doing. So having to define yourself with a city is interesting. It’s not actually in your blood, it’s an imaginary definition. I’m sorry, I’m feeling sort of psychadelic in my hungover-ness. My best friend’s from Eastern Kentucky and he was telling me about the name he has for this feeling, the morning sensation called “Brutal Fucking Clarity.” When you wake up, and you’re possibly still drunk, but for whatever reason, you can just see everything with crystal clear vision. And sometimes what you see is not pretty.
I feel the current music scene is pretty democratic; if something’s really good, it can rise to the top really fast. What’s your take on that as a label owner?
I read this really interesting statistic that said that most recorded music ever was released last year and only 6,000 albums sold more than 1,000 copies. And that’s getting worse.
But surely there’s more dispersion. In 1995, you’d go to Sam Goody and there would be like, five options.
It’s a pretty reasonable reaction to being completely overstimulated. People look to whatever avenues to either curate or parse this information in a way where they can even process it. I sit and listen to music probably 80% of my waking hours. I could probably say that I’m addicted to the sound of music. I’m totally there, and I’m still totally overwhelmed by how much incredible sound is in the world.
I think it’s a lot harder to get the attention of someone now.
It feels like it doesn’t stick well sometimes too.
Some of those records last in a really unexpected way. Like when The Strokes record came out (Is This It?) and I was like, “this is good,” but still being a little bit of a classic music snob about it. But someone put it on at a party six months ago and all the sudden I was just in the warmest, snuggly-est blanket. The songs are so simple, the production is so crisp and warm. That’s what I aim for with the records that I’m drawn to. And timelessness.
Is it deliberate for you to avoid trendiness in favor of timeliness?
Sometimes I feel really naïve and unimportant because, honestly, I was into punk rock from the time I was fourteen to the time I was 24. Obviously, there are exceptions to that basic principle or that basic aesthetic. I always listen to a diverse range of music. But I’m actually naïve in terms of what was cool in the last fifteen years of independent music. I couldn’t really begin to follow a trend. I just keep telling myself everyday is that I have to trust my ear, that’s all I have. Geoff Travis, who runs Rough Trade, I met him about a year ago when things really started picking up with Lemonade and Girls was getting off the ground, and he said that once you have a big record there’s going to be this voice that starts trying to veer you toward the next successful record. Maybe you don’t like it as much as the first thing, maybe you’re not completely there, but you kinda like it and can see the commercial potential. You don’t have to feel guilty about this impulse, but let me tell you that it’s poison. Certain labels or certain bands are really good about packaging themselves.
I couldn’t even begin to try to capitalize on something. I would fail. I’m an immigrant; I moved here from Russia when I was really young. There’s this common trait between immigrants and maybe kids who are raised really wealthy (I don’t have much experience with the latter), there’s always this feeling of being outside or alien. You can try to ingratiate yourself within this but you know that, fundamentally, there’s something that sets you apart. When I was in fourth grade, I got my mom to take me to the mall to Pacific Sunwear. I really wanted a t-shirt, like a Stussy or a Mossimo t-shirt. I went and tried on these shirts and they were all too big, and my mom was like, “I can get you this shirt for one-fifth of the price.” I wanted a hat too, a baseball hat. So I’m wearing this enormous t-shirt and this Golden State Warriors hat, and even as a little kid, I was like, “This is a joke.” This will never work. I’m just going to try to stick with my thing. I think that’s a principle I’ve tried to carry it with me with the label. I know I’m kind of a weirdo, but if I’m honest about what I believe in and what I like and that my taste is informed enough, and the music comes from an adventurous place but also an honest place, people will respond to that. So far, they have.
I know you’re a big pro basketball fan. Tell me a little bit about that.
One of my best friends, our families moved from Russia to America together (our moms were best friends), he remained really into basketball and he got a job within the Warriors organization. We’d go to these games, like a Rockets game, and I’d be like, “What a great tragedy! He really just wants to prove himself.” And my friend’s like, “He sucks. He’s made of glass.” I showed up so full of these aphorisms, poetic evaluations of the great epic. I really wanted to talk to him about Tracy McGrady’s depression or something and he was just like, “What the fuck are you talking about?”
The first game I ever went to I felt like I was wearing a beret and had a book of poetry, like, “Isn’t this just the most splendid little game? You should check out Free Darko!” I just came to over-intellectualize this game.
Soccer and basketball, there’s just this fluid motion to it. It’s always moving and beautiful. It really lends itself to viewing it with a weird art criticism lens. Basketball’s the most musical sport that’s popular in America.
Dean Bein Interview