For a record company named after the most basic of implements, Arlington,
Va.'s Simple Machines label has led a far from basic existence.
Since 1990, the imprint has defined itself through intricate, themed
such as the Working Holiday singles club and the Tool Set
cassette series, along with award-winning cover art.
It only makes sense, then, now that the label has decided to call it a
day, that its supporters would celebrate the closing with a three-day
next month that will feature art, films and performances from such diverse
rock bands as Rocket from the Crypt, Tsunami, Grenadine, Lungfish and the
"It's what you'd expect Simple Machines to do," said Kristin Thomson who,
in addition to playing guitar for Tsunami, runs Simple Machines with her
band's singer, Jenny Toomey. "We're having a really big party, because we
like doing big events, having a lot of fun and inviting other people and
labels to be involved."
Although Simple Machines only recently summoned fans to "Come Kick Our
Bucket With Us," Thomson and Toomey began planning the label's closing in
November 1996. At that point, the label was assessing the resources
required for its 1997 releases as well as the fact that several Simple
Machines bands (Scrawl, Ida, Monorchid) had moved on to other labels
(Elektra, Capitol and Touch & Go, respectively).
"So here we were about to spend a lot of money, and we were going to lose
some bands," Thomson said. "We had to decide, did we want to pursue other
bands to start rebuilding the roster, or did we want to go out with a
flourish and have total control over our last year?"
Many of those who can't attend the March 27-29 celebration in Washington,
D.C., will look to the label's unique releases to remember its eight-year
run. In addition to the six-single series (one named for each of the
Simple Machines) that inaugurated the label, SM issued myriad memorable
items. Tool Set, for example, contained a 10-song cassette by
Late, a one-man project from a pre-Nirvana Dave Grohl. Subscribers to the
Working Holiday club received not only a year's worth of
holiday-themed singles (including songs from Versus, Superchunk,
Bratmobile and 21 other bands), but also a huge wall-calendar, a carrying
case for all 12 singles and a birthday surprise.
In the early days of Simple Machines' existence, such lush packaging
eyebrows among some indie record-buyers, especially those used to the
ascetic look of many hardcore punk releases.
"I err on the side of the over-developed package: the whole idea that
there's a theme," Toomey said. "The music connects with the theme, and
the artwork might connect with the music and the theme, and there might be
something handmade about it. When the first series worked so well that
way ... we sort-of gravitated toward the over-developed project, like this
huge festival we're going to have now."
The legacy of Simple Machines, however, is not confined to mere vinyl and
CDs. "I had never been exposed to people being activists but doing
something as simple as a record label," said Mickey Menard, who helped
operate SM for three years before joining Southern Records as a
Thomson and Toomey inspired many of those around them with their fusion of
business, music and social activism (such as the early policy of garnering
cardboard and other shipping materials from corporations that had
them), Menard said.
"And plus, they were women," she added. "I thought that was really
cool -- girls run this record label."
Simple Machines also leaves in its wake a myriad of other labels
sparked by a booklet called "The Simple Machines' Intro To Putting Out
Records, Cassettes and CDs," now nearing its fifth printing, with a total
of 10,000 copies distributed. Thomson estimates that the label has
well over 100 releases inspired by the guide.
"Just from the seven-inches and CDs we got from people that said, 'We
followed the book and this is what we got,' it seems like there were a lot
of things that happened because people read it," Thomson said. "So that's
really great." [Fri., Feb. 13, 1998, 9 a.m.