I first discovered Houston record label Artificial Head Records back when I purchased its Knights In Satan's Service record, which features 12 mostly Houston-area bands doing KISS covers; the album was made available in four different vinyl colors, representing the members of KISS: red (Gene), blue (Ace), green (Peter) and purple (Paul). I got a red copy, not because Gene Simmons is my favorite KISS member but because I thought the red vinyl looked the coolest. Paul Chavez, owner and operator of Artificial Head Records, says he has been a KISS fan since the age of six and decided to put together the KISS compilation after hearing Houston band Cornish Game Hen's version of “Rip It Out.” Chavez loved their cover and had no problem finding other local bands to record KISS songs as well; his own band, Funeral Horse, recorded a cover of “Almost Human” for the album.
“That was amazing how it came together,” explains Chavez. “The bands were extremely enthusiastic, and my responsibility was to bring it all together and clear all the copyrights, so I had to pay for all those. With KISS there was a clause in there that if the entities or management of KISS did not approve of your version of their song, they have the right to revoke your license to perform this song. So at any moment, if they heard any of those songs, they could have said nope, pull it, done. You’re out of money.”
“I even tempted fate further,” Chavez continues. “Once the record was out, Ace Frehley was playing down here [Clear Lake] at the Scout Bar, so I came straight from work, where I had made a presentation so I still had my suit on, and I had the blue vinyl copy for Ace with me, and I walked up to the Scout Bar and told the doorman that I was from the record label and was supposed to give Ace this, and pointed to the compilation. The guys at the Scout Bar were like, 'Uh, okay. What?” Chavez laughs.
Chavez again explained to the Scout Bar people that he was from “the record label” and was there to give Ace a copy of the compilation; eventually they went on the tour bus, where they got another guy to come out. After Chavez explained it all again, the guy from Ace’s bus eventually took the album to Ace and Chavez split the scene.
Chavez never got any feedback from Ace about the album, and though he was happy about how the record came out and the packaging, there was some bad news about the Knights In Satan's Service record. Some of the copies people bought would not play.
“The pressing plant, to make records, there’s two stampers and they come together with this wax material between them, the vinyl, and they press a record,” Chavez explains. “The stampers were slightly off, so one side was correct [but] the other side was slightly off because they’re not perfectly centered with each other, so that’s why they came out so wonky like that.”
That plant, which was located in Dallas, has since gone out of business, according to Chavez; people who got bad copies of the KISS covers album, including myself, got replacement copies upon request. Chavez has since found other plants to press his records with no further problems.
Chavez started Artificial Head Records five years ago; previously he ran a record label called Destroy All Music back in the '90s along with a partner in the UK who handled releases over there. That label released tapes and 7-inch records, mostly of noise and noise-rock bands; Chavez’s partner in the UK lost interest in that business after a period, and Chavez himself needed a break after some time from all the long hours of work that even a small record label demands.
When Chavez moved to Houston from Pennsylvania (he is originally from Long Island, New York), he joined local post-punk band Art Institute; the band liked the music they were making and wanted to release what they had recorded, so Chavez created Artificial Head Records to do just that. The label took its name from the Styrofoam heads that Art Institute used on the stage as props during their live shows; after playing several shows with The Escatones in Houston, Chavez thought they were a great band, so Artificial Head released two 7-inch records of the band's songs, and he even got Paul Leary of the Butthole Surfers to perform a guitar solo on the "Out of Sight" recording by the Escatones.
“With Art Institute, we knew that labels were not going to pick us up; post-punk was going to be a tough sale,” Chavez explains. “So we just said we’ll do it ourselves, and with the freedom to do it ourselves, we could go wild with it; that sparked the whole idea of records on Artificial Head. The whole idea was to get really good artists with the bands and do something interesting together.”
Chavez contacted Raymond Pettibon’s agent, and after a six-month wait, Chavez got Pettibon to agree to do the cover artwork for Art Institute’s People Like It When You Fail album; Pettibon made a name for himself in the early-'80s Southern California punk rock/hardcore scene, with his artwork for Black Flag album covers as well as other bands on SST Records, which is owned and operated by his brother, Greg Ginn, himself the lead guitarist and founding member of Black Flag.
Besides the cool artwork, Artificial Head Records does other unique things with its releases. “The Art Institute Record has a locked groove in the middle of the record and then a roulette groove after that,” Chavez explains. “So the needle plays LA-LA-LA-LA-LA, stop. So you have to pick up the needle and put it back down, but you may get song 6 or 7, because it’s a roulette groove, so it’s completely random and completely infuriating if you’re a listener trying to hear a particular song. So we had this fun time putting that together, and it just took off from there. I want to keep doing this more.”
Chavez has a way of making things happen when he wants them to, so he contacted Terminal Cheesecake, a space-rock/noise band from England, and was relentless in his desire to release a record of theirs because he says he is a huge fan and respects them very much. His insistence paid off as Artificial Head released a double-length live album called Cheese Brain Fondue: Live In Marseille. The album includes a big sheet of acid inside, which Chavez jokes “is not charged so you have to find your own LSD if you want to use it; it’s all cut and ready for you to dip into acid.” This sheet is actually only for novelty purposes, of course.
The Ken South Rock VS Giant Battle Monster limited edition 7-inch that Artificial Head released was put out on vinyl that glows in the dark; the album cover is an envelope that folds onto itself. “The label gives me this artistic outlet to couple bands that I love so much and be able to work with well-known artists, exciting packaging; that’s really what sparked it,” says Chavez. For Houston’s Jody Seabody & the Whirls' album Holographic Slammer, Chavez got fantastic psychedelic cover artwork from Marijke, a multi-talented artist from Holland who painted the famous Gibson SG Eric Clapton used when he was with Cream as well as the walls and interior of the Beatles’ Apple Cultural Center in London, among many other notable works.
Chavez emphasizes that his interest in vinyl is not all about the sound quality. “A lot of people are very much into the sound of vinyl, and it does have a slightly different sound than CDs, because vinyl has that limitation so it cuts off those edges, those digital edges, so the sound is a lot warmer, if you will,” he says. “With vinyl you get this big package; you can stuff things in it, you can play around with it, you can do all these interesting colors, you can cut vinyl so that you have those roulette grooves, backward grooves, the ability to put all this artwork in there. Also, in my opinion, having that 20-minute side of a record is the perfect amount of time to really soak in some music, really listen to it, and then you have to physically get up and flip it over, and I like that experience.”
“It’s a combination of packaging and artwork, kind of related to the sound, the quality of sound you get but also the listening experience, whereas with CDs, I find them disposable; you pop it in, off you go, they are convenient, I’ll give it that, but I didn’t fall in love with the CD medium, and even back in the '90s when I was doing Destroy All Music, we made a conscious decision not to go to CDs,” Chavez explains. “When you have a record, when a band has a record out, that’s serious. They are not playing around. We’ve got records. Anybody can do CDs, but records, that’s a serious time commitment because it takes a long time to get them, it’s expensive, and the packaging. It’s all about all that together.”
The next batch of Artificial Head releases are scheduled to come out in the spring of next year; albums scheduled include releases from San Antonio doom/psychedelic rockers CURSUS; Brooklyn’s doom/psych/sludge band Mountain God; and Chavez’s aforementioned stoner-metal band Funeral Horse. Chavez provides vocals and guitars and writes the music for Funeral Horse; Chavez goes by the stage name of Paul Bearer in Funeral Horse along with Jason Adams, a.k.a. Jason Argonaut, on bass and Chris Bassett (no stage name) on drums. You can check out and purchase all the records Artificial Head has released here, including two previous Funeral Horse albums. It should be noted that all the label's offerings are released in limited quantities, so they may very well become highly sought-after collector’s items in the future, if they aren't already. The Knights In Satan's Service vinyl albums have sold out, but you can get a digital copy if you want to listen to it.
Funeral Horse is recording a video for their song “Underneath All That Ever Was” from their latest album, Divinity for the Wicked, at The Hellcat CAFÉ (306 E. 72nd) from 6-8 p.m. Saturday, August 13. Fans are invited to come out and be a part of it.
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