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Interview: Devon Deimler of Wildfire Wildfire
by R. Baker
Interview: Devon Deimler of Wildfire Wildfire
Known for thoughtfully curated shows held mostly in artists' warehouse spaces, Wildfire Wildfire has since grown into a label with releases from locals like Dan Deacon, Ecstatic Sunshine, Video Hippos, Thank You, OCDJ and Santa Dads. In this interview, Wildfire's Devon Deimler was kind enough to dish on the label's upcoming projects, the realities of running a small business and the media's recent interest in Baltimore's music scene.

How did you get into booking shows?

I guess that we could give a couple answers for this sort of question. Matt [Papich] booked a show with a friend of mine at MICA [Maryland Institute College of Art]. It was so easy, it went so well. Matt [Papich] and I have always been going to shows and we were really interested in doing that in Baltimore, on a more DIY level. We had been going to shows around, at clubs and everything, but we wanted to make the shows that we wanted to see. It seemed it was actually really easy to do it. It's a little harder now, space-wise but at that time it was really easy.

Your first show was on the MICA campus?

Yeah, I guess...in a way. That would be the first one. Then some shows at Copycat [artist live/work warehouse]. We did a lot of shows for awhile and a lot of different kinds. We would accept any show, which we learned a lot from. It's not a very fun way to do it. We would try to match the bands really well with the setting. We didn't work with just one space. We put up a website and a myspace. It all just fell in to place from there.

How did it become more, that you were curating it?

We are really into the idea that it's a curated event. We care a lot about it. We put a lot of work into flyers and try to secure the vibe that we want before it happens. A flyer informs that a lot, the setting, how you set everything up. With the website the drawings were just a gesture toward the bands. It did create an identity and that was intentional. To create the sort of vibe that we wanted. We are sort of changing that now. Not because we don't want that same sort of thing but because it's good to change. That whole aesthetic seems a little tired and not as true to us right now. The drawings were creating an identity and a generous thing for the bands to have. That was really nice, a lot of people were really into that for awhile. It was almost all anyone knew about us. But, I don't really do that anymore.

Do you have a vision of where you're going in the future? Do you still want to do shows or focus on the label?

We have been doing both. It's hard to do at all. We've learned a lot about both shows and being a label in the past year. The thing with changing the aesthetic, it's more so just simple. A website isn't that big of a deal but it's more like simplifying things so what you have aesthetically is something you are happy with for a lasting amount of time. Like the aesthetic we had before just didn't last happily I thought. Simplifying things seems like a much happier idea. It was sort of simple anyway?

The origins of the label. I read on music website Paper Thin Walls that Lexie Mountain said you should release a Cex mixtape. So did you intend, at that point, to continue releasing things?

We only knew to do that one in the beginning. That's pretty much how it happened. I had been friends with Ryan [Cex] for a little bit and he had this idea, like a mixtape of everyone. It was a time where the scene was like a mixtape, all the round robin shows. Everyone was mixed up in a very good way. Ryan announced he wanted to do this on Elf Wire (google discussion group local to Bmore). A lot of kids and musicians, artists [are on it]. Lexie thought, because of what Wildfire had been doing so far, that we should step up and be the Baltimore representative label. We thought that we should do it. When my grandfather died he left me a little bit of money so I thought I would use it for that. That's never been released though, the mixtape. It may still be released and then I would be doing the artwork for it. Putting it in the Wilfire aesthetic.

That's how it started. We were pretty excited about the whole idea and really wanted to release the Santa Dads album. That was the next thing. Then we kept picking people. For a bit, we released the vinyl editions on other labels. Which was good in a lot of ways, but will probably be mostly just our own stuff from now on.

How did you go about finding the first thing you released, Santa Dads?

Just watching the Santa Dads play the first Whartscape, I was really blown away. I just thought they were really special. I still think they are one of the very, very, very best bands here...ever. Really strange in a great way. We facillitated getting them to record stuff and have the artwork made and then, I don't know! I don't know! Some people, like Ecstatic Sunshine, had already been signed. They were the first band around here to get signed. And Dan Deacon. Actually, know what? OCDJ's record was supposed to be our first release.

It got held up?

Yeah for a lot of reasons...

Did he clear any of his samples?

No! (laughs) It got held up for all kinds of reasons just because of how his life was going. So Santa Dads ended up being the first one, then Thank You. The same story. We don't want to be a label that's only doing Wham City stuff. There's a lot of people around here who have been in Baltimore for awhile and I feel that they are very wise in a lot of ways. So, I really wanted to be part of Thank You's project. I consider them to be like the Lungfish inheritors. So we ended up doing their's as the second record?

The Lungfish reference made me think of this, considering they were the only band on Dischord that wasn't from DC. Do you just want to release music from Baltimore?

No. I think it's really good to do it because a lot of the bands here happen to be incredible and we can work really closely. I feel that all of us, in the past year or so, are learning a lot together. A lot of the stuff that's happened has been new to everybody. We didn't really know how to do a label at first. Bands didn't know how to be on a label. So we were all figuring that out. I think the vibe around Balitmore is really great. But we are putting out a Cex release and after that would be OCDJ's next CD, depending on how his schedule goes. After that will be a seven-inch series so that will be Sand Cats and Car Clutch. We'll be starting to work with bands from elsewhere which we do really want to do. You get to know more people as you go and that makes it easier. At first, we only knew people here.

Do you feel that putting on shows and running a label have a symbiotic relationship?

Yeah, doing shows is great because it's like getting friends to come over. A lot of people we have done shows for are really incredible people and so, you get to know them. It's been really nice. I've met a lot of people that way. Matt, also, goes out and becomes that person as he tours. He's met a lot of people. It's weird how small things are, actually. But, we know a lot of the people we hope to work with, already. We'll see what happens after that.

Say you were really into what a band was doing but you didn't know them very well, if you didn't have that relationship there already...

I don't have to have that kind of relationship. I got to know Santa Dads by doing their record. So, no it doesn't have to be that way but it's becoming more that way as time goes on. Which is really rad, too. It's nice to be able to approach things like that and not have it be very awkward.

When you first started with the show collective and the booking there were more of you involved, right?

Yeah, it was me and Matt and my friend Kieran Gillan, who is now in Ecstatic Sunshine, and Michael Petruzzo, who is now going back to school. It was like four people were helping out. That was really rad in a lot of ways. But Matt and I, we were dating and doing all our projects together so it was really strong, in that way. We ended up making most of the decisions. We're still all really close friends, so it's not a big deal, but it ended up going down to two.

While Matt is on tour do you end up doing a lot of the day-to-day work?

Yeah. Matt is a much more outgoing person than I am. Like, talking to these people, but I end up doing a lot of it. When he's home he does a lot too, so it's not that big a deal. I'm just on the phone a lot. We've learned over the past year that it's not that fun to be a business, at all. [Now] we're steering the label more in the way that it's an art project and not so stressful, where you have to worry about press. Having it more stress-free. It's really hard as a small label to get press for your releases. But, you feel this responsibility to do it, especially if you are doing a CD release, if it's the 'official' thing.

Were you trying to do press campaigns?

We were only capable of so much. We don't have a real budget for that sort of thing, like some labels do. They can drop a lot of money on that. If we did that we wouldn't be able to release anything ever again. We were trying. We made a good effort and some of it was successful. But, it also felt really...it's not a world that I'm into being part of. Trying to suck everyone's dick just to get some attention that's so fleeting. Really, I feel like if you work with people that you are so confident in that it will all follow without trying to kill yourself over doing stuff like that. It's kind of a sleazy world. I don't mind doing interviews and stuff, but it's hard to try and get all these reviews for the bands. Like, with Thank You, that's a good example. It was really hard to get them a review. They only got a couple.

Which is weird! They're so good!

Yeah! They're an incredible band. But what happened was they don't play that much, either. They're in school, they work. But, they're a really great band and intelligent people end up being really drawn to them and all else follows. They're really appreciated by the people we'd want our audience to be anyway. Now they're going to put out another record on a bigger label. It wasn't reliant on twenty grand to get them reviews. That's very nice!

That's something I wanted to get into, with you releasing the vinyl versions of stuff that another label is putting out on CD. Like the Dan Deacon, you had to repress that right?

Yeah that sold out really quickly.

Did you have any inkling that it would become that successful? And how did that impact running the label?

We did that one, which was on Car Park. And we did Video Hippos which is on Monitor. Jason [Foster] from Monitor was really helpful in giving us advice on starting up. It was pretty generous of him to let us do something like that. We learned a lot from doing that. With Dan [Deacon], he wasn't that much of a surprise. He was on track. I think we knew it would probably get pretty big and because it did it helped out the label a lot.

Was there spillover and people getting your other releases?

Yeah, a little bit. It was kind of crazy because, as a smaller label, we ended up reaping a lot of benefits of the bigger label's capabilities. And being able to work with bands that were already signed, that we are friends with. That was good but we don't want to be a label that's facillitating another label, that sort of thing. Everything is really strange now, like mostly because of that blow-up. We had a lot of good things happen and some strange things too.

What were some of the more unexpected things that happened and how they impacted the day-to-day running of the label?

Taxes! I have to think about that because we have a LLC, mostly because of OCDJ's stuff. Because you've made yourself known as a business you have to buy all these other things that really suck because they are very expensive. Because we are not programmed to understand them, it's really weird. That's a hassle, trying to figure that stuff out [like accounting] but we have an awesome guy who does that for us here in Baltimore.

I don't think a lot of people understand the work that goes into running a small label. It's not just 'Yay! I put out a record by my friend!'

What's hopeful is that it can be 'I put out a record by my friend!' Like, I said before, all else will follow. It is great when you've set it up to not be so stressful. But, you can't get rid of all of that. [And] just finances in general. I don't know how many times I've had to try and figure out how to handle money. You have to pay the bands for their records. You have to figure out the whole plan, which OCDJ helped me out with a lot. You know, he's OCD and he's very good with stuff like that. But, we had all kinds of different formulas at first. Trying to figure out how to make it the most fair and the most easy. We had to figure out all this stuff that you certainly don't learn in art school. Plus, we would always want to be fulfilled, ourselves, in our project and how it's being represented. And, when other people are paying attention then you become even more anxious. So, we've been really trying to push getting the project to where we want it to be, as fast as we can.

Do you have a vision of what you want to be in the future?

In a way, at least what we want to do next. We are much more into the idea of putting out vinyl, limited-edition projects that are more high-quality, like the artwork. That's not to say the other releases have not been that way. I believe they all have. But, Matt and I have a big history of doing projects that are really about facillitating other people. That's really nice but, what can end up happening is that you may not get everything you want out of it. Or, it hasn't been made about you at all for awhile. With the seven-inch project, we'll have more guidelines for the art. It will be a good balance of a project that is ours and the other bands.

Were you giving the artists total control before, like with the art and design?

Yeah and I think everyone did a good job. It's not to say that that has not been happening. But, we'd like to be more a part of it. We'd like to look into other ways of printing. We have some great print-making friends...using more stuff like that. Not always sending things away to be made. Just making it more special. It's a nice way to do things financially too. If you have a limited run they're going to end up selling. And you're happier with it as your own project. We're interested in simplifying things for ourselvesand putting out other people's projects that they have control over.

Is the seven-inch series going to be a split thing? With one band on each side?

Right now it's a Baltimore band and a band from elsewhere.

A model?

Not a model, but where we are starting. It makes sense. There's a lot of bands around here that we hope to work with.

When choosing the bands for a seven inch, do you and Matt chose who will be together? And the bands are okay with that?

We haven't set all of them up for certain yet, but yeah.

How do you pick the combo? Is it a sound or a feeling?

More of a feeling but that comes into sound too. I wouldn't say that Sand Cats and Car Clutch are alike aesthetically and they are only somewhat alike in sound, but from feeling out the bands we want to work with we thought they'd be a lot of fun together.

What artists and bands, from Baltimore or elsewhere, are you excited about?

Matt and I booked a lot of Whartscape [three day music festival put on by Wham City collective] this past year. A lot of the bands that we invited we were all pretty excited about. A lot of them are already pretty well-known, like BARR or Car Clutch or Lucky Dragons, Dirty Projectors. People know them pretty well by now. I'm excited about some of the noise bands in Philly. I saw a show with some of them a few months ago and I thought it was really awesome and exciting. I've gotten to know some of them pretty well. Like, Cars Will Burn is really awesome. I saw a battle show between him and Drums Like Machine Guns that was really cool. There's still bands around here that could be paid more attention to, like Double Dagger. [DJ] Dog Dick is really good.

Compared to even a year ago, there's more attention [here in Baltimore], bands are being signed. What affect do you think this has had on the scene, especially the bands that you work with?

Among us, for awhile, and among a lot of our friends there was a retraction. People were thinking about what was happening and where they were in that. About what they wanted to do next. It's definitely a lot different now. I wouldn't to say that it feels as vibrant at this moment that it did a little bit ago. When a lot of things blow up around you, I think you end up taking a position on it, in your head. A lot of things were thought about.

Baltimore has a lot of different music, contrary to what a lot of articles have been written about. They blanket it under one thing. There's actually a lot of different stuff and all of it is kind of strange. But, I think it's also a pretty optimistic place. We all still do work together. It's such a small town. I don't think it's dead but everyone is refining.

It's a bit unexpected, especially if you've lived here for awhile. It's been a strange experience.

It's really weird but I also feel like it is the most incredible place right now. People can learn a lot by looking at these bands and people. I think like a lot of people end up looking because they've read about it on some website. That's a whole phenomenon that is not going away. That's how some people come to find things and that's okay.

What is the one thing that you would correct, in the writing about music here?

What is a little bit annoying is that people seem to be writing the exact same article over and over again. I guess that's what happens when you first review something. But, it would be really nice if people got deeper into things. I think everything is blanketed under Wham City a lot, but that's not how it is. There's a lot of things that fall under that and what's rad is that we all have worked together before. But what sort of sucks is when everyone is defining all these groups of people under this one thing, you lose some control over what you want your context and aesthetic to be. I think that if you thread everyone together you can see that everyone has similarities but it's not all just one thing. I think the media tends to burn things out before they are ever understood. I don't know how to fix that.

Like, with the retraction that's going on?

It's weird how one thing blowing up will facilitate other people's jobs. I wish that people would do more specific articles. A lot of the articles are really big generalizations. A lot of details get skipped. There's been problems with proper credit being given. You would like to be understood but I feel it doesn't end up being that way.

I would like to combat the idea that Baltimore is a bunch of people running around in animal costumes, making music and getting shot at by drug dealers. Also, not everyone who is making music is doing it like Wham City. Obviously Thank You is a good example.

Thank You is a great example.

Or, Double Dagger.

Double Dagger is very heroic. They are one of the only bands that literally says what they care about. If it were all that it would probably be redundant around here but they are one of the only bands [doing that] and it's very refreshing.
Posted by: R. Baker

Features (February 10th, 2008)

Tags: wildfire wildfire interview music