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Monday, September 3, 2012

SmartGuy Records: Garage and Punk Vinyl Releases From an Apartment in the Mission

Posted By on Mon, Sep 3, 2012 at 3:30 AM

click to enlarge Jerry Connolly, SmartGuy Records
  • Jerry Connolly, SmartGuy Records

Name: SmartGuy Records

Owner: Jerry Connolly

Founded: 1997

Headquarters: Jerry's apartment, Mission District, San Francisco.

Label one-sheet: SmartGuy is an independent record label founded in 1997 with the sole intention of releasing one Billy Childish single. Since its chance beginnings, SmartGuy has evolved into a reliable garage and punk imprint focused on small batches of vinyl releases.

Musical focus: SmartGuy deals primarily in garage rock and punk. A consistent strain throughout the label's catalog is the work of Billy Childish, a multi-faceted English artist whose work in music with a number of bands shows his voracious appetite for primitive rock 'n' roll. SmartGuy released records from Thee Headcoats, The Vermin Poets, and Wild Billy Childish & The Friends Of The Buff Medway Fanciers' Association, all Childish projects. SmartGuy accrued significant notoriety as the label home of Clorox Girls, Portland's power pop-indebted garage punks, whose profile quickly rose in the mid-00's. Recently, SmartGuy is a prime importer of garage and post-punk bands from Australia, with the release of Total Control, Boomgates, and Rat Columns.

click to enlarge thee_headcoats_messerschmitt_pilots_severed_hand_smartguy.jpg

Creation story: Connolly moved to San Francisco in 1997 without steady employment and sought a creative outlet. After making Billy Childish's acquaintance via an unsolicited letter, a 7-inch single from Childish's project Thee Headcoats quickly materialized. Connolly had low expectations of Childish's interest level, and considered his solicitation little more than a crapshoot to pass the time, but Childish quickly wrote back, to Connolly's astonishment. "In addition to including an IRC, I gave Billy my phone number to ensure that I would have two ways of being ignored. Much to my surprise, I came home to find an answering machine message from Billy telling me he had a new LP coming out and wanted to do a single to go along with it." As an aside, doesn't being unemployed and idle in San Francisco seem tragically impractical now? What about letters and answering machines? And this is only the late '90s. Childish was of a high profile at that point, boasting numerous albums, books, and credentials as a visual artist by the time Connolly contacted him, so opportunities began to materialize for SmartGuy based on that connection alone. As Jerry recalls, "a lot of doors opened simply because of who I was working with. The downside of that is I was unaware at the time of how difficult it actually can be to release a record, though I was to find that out on the next couple of records." Nevertheless, following Thee Headcoats' "Messerschmitt Pilot's Severed Hand" 7-inch and a couple releases that likely didn't sell as well, Connolly persevered.

click to enlarge The SmartGuy logo.
  • The SmartGuy logo.

Inexperience: Connolly remembers beginning SmartGuy as a personal challenge proposed to himself. "Could I succeed having no prior knowledge of the task at hand? I had no connection to the music industry at all -- I was a business analyst in the finance world, after all -- but I was always a huge music fan. I had no clue how to proceed." His lack of industry know-how inspired SmartGuy's model of avoiding artist development. Instead, Connolly seeks artists whose work he respects and wishes to share with a larger audience, without muddling up an artist's creative process.

Recent activity: For SmartGuy's few most recent releases, the label brings a flurry of artists hailing from the massive and arid continent-country, Australia. With the press setting its sights on what's new from the country, a number of hyped bands have emerged from Perth, Syndey, Melbourne, and other cities in recent years. But Connolly is dismissive of what's being called a "resurgence" of Australian rock. "Australia is far, far away and the accent's a bit different than we are used to so it seems easier to cast the new bands as the great white hopes, but are we really seeing or hearing anything new?" he wonders. "That's not to say the music isn't exciting and all that, but all this talk of Australian bands these days seems like an exercise in branding, no?" Still SmartGuy is contributing to the trend with releases from Australian indie-pop group Boomgates, maladjusted Melbourne post-punk from Total Control, and Rat Columns, a group fronted by David West, an Australian transplant residing in San Francisco who also fronts Rank/Xerox.

click to enlarge Rat Columns' Sceptre Hole
  • Rat Columns' Sceptre Hole

Latest release: Rat Columns' Sceptre Hole, the debut full length of the local group following their 7-inch EP on SmartGuy last year, is the label's newest record. Sceptre Hole still contains the depressive murkiness of earlier Rat Columns material and West's other project, Rank/Xerox, but a greater emphasis is placed on jangly pop. It's as if West traded in his Birthday Party records for The Church's Heyday, but couldn't completely escape his neurotic tendency.

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