When reading the liner notes of the new Sympathy For the Record Industry release, the label’s 791st (that just dropped Dec. 15th) you’ll find founder Long Gone John waxing poetic about his latest discovery — Dosshaus. They have instantly become his favorite band. He describes their music as haunting melodies, and announces “that no other band will ever come close to replacing the overwhelming renegade spirit of rock by catapulting the sense of possibilities so far beyond all expectations.”
Sympathy has a tradition of discovering and championing new talent and working hard to establish a loyal fan base for support around the world. This latest 7-inch is in keeping with some of the more unusual offerings the record company is notoriously known for. However, this release is not what it appears to be, and unfortunately has no chance of sending a hit single straight to the top of the charts.
I spoke with Zoey Taylor and David Connelly of the art collective Dosshaus, along with John Edward Mermis, aka Long Gone John, about “Paper Thin Hotel,” a unique collaboration that is deservedly better seen rather than heard.
Gregg Gibbs: How would you describe this album?
LGJ: It’s a gatefold double 7-inch and the records are made of chipboard. I had been following these crazy artists who were making stuff out of cardboard, a lot of it inspired by music. They were making record players and instruments and had this musical bent to their work, plus they just looked so good. I was sitting at my desk, and somehow this idea popped in my head.
Dosshaus: John contacted us with this wild idea that we should make an album with him and that the record itself would be cardboard. We’re vinyl collectors of Sympathy, which has always been concerned about the artwork of its releases. We loved the idea and the label, so it was music to our ears.
LGJ: I wrote the liner notes that made it on the back cover. Then, they went into it full steam and put together the amazing photography and design. When I saw the cover photo they did, I flipped. I didn’t have any interest in selling it - most of my records are hard to sell to begin with. So, I did a small pressing and wondered if people would ever get the concept. For me it meant doing a nice project and a chance to have an association with artists I was really enjoying. It also includes a download card that delivers a disappointing array of sounds. Actually, I don’t know what’s on it, but it’s not music. I call it a new low in high fidelity.
Dosshaus: We decided that if we were going to do this, it would be the most absurd record ever. We are sort of hoping that people won’t get it until they open the gatefold and pull out the record, hoping that music would be there. Everybody who buys the record gets access to a download and they can listen to the record digitally. It’s a pop art artifact and exactly the kind of thing that we would collect. You could play it on a regular record player, but there wouldn’t be much sound there and it could be bad for your needle, so we highly recommend not to do that.
For us, it’s about the idea of image. So much of music is image-oriented - you see the artist before you hear the music. So it was fun to slip into the skin of some of our idols. You’ll see Patti Smith, David Bowie, Andy Warhol, the Sex Pistols, Flying Burrito Brothers, people who had an iconic style. Producing the album gave us this side project of creating clothing that these artists inhabited by wrapping ourselves in all of their packages. This was a project about image and the way music is presented, which is sometimes more important than the music itself.
Sympathy is well known for some odd offerings over many years, like custom-colored vinyl, records with etchings, 5- and 8-inch records, one-offs, etc. So, is this in keeping with the labels reputation?
LGJ: I’ve put out records before that didn’t have any music. I did one with Savage Pencil called “The Little Record That Wished It Could” which had etchings in the vinyl. It was really a comic book story about a little boy who goes to a record shop, buys a record and there’s nothing on it. I recorded different versions of nothingness. I’m also a massive fan of the conceptual artist Christian Marclay, and all the things he’s done with records. He did a piece called “Footsteps” where the public was invited to walk on records, and he later boxed them up and sold them as unique objects because of all the scratches.
John, you retired from the music scene and moved to a remote location in the Northwest. Is Sympathy back from retirement? What is the future for the label?
LGJ: The future is uncertain. I’m motivated to keep busy and do releases, but the truth is that it’s gotten so expensive to manufacture. I just put out a 7-inch of the Schizophonics and the cost was three times more than it used to be. I looked at the invoice for my per piece cost and it was more money then my wholesale price, so I have to sell it for less then it cost to make. I decided not to give it to the distributor and gave it to the band instead, so at least they could make a few bucks. These things that I put out, books, toys and records, have become losing propositions. Even breaking even, in this business, would be a major success.
Dosshaus: It was a great collaboration because John completely gets us and we understand him. Every time either one us had an idea about the project, it just got better and bigger. Originally it was supposed to be a 7-inch single, but then he said, “Let’s do a gatefold double album.” For us it was a chance to do something fun.
Is Dosshaus going on tour to promote the album?
Our goal is to be the number one cardboard band in musical history.