It’s not easy to start a record label… and actually sell records… and not be a douchebag… and remain friends with the bands after the record’s out. It’s infinitesimally harder to remain an active, independent record label after five years because, by this time through the laws of nature, several major things haven’t gone as planned. (Many of these will be out of a label’s hands, like the economy or changing music format preferences. Many of these will be completely in the label’s hands, like balancing books and not developing a drug habit from record profits.) The initial burst of fun is often replaced with realities like “How am I going to pay for this? Where is my mind? What is free time?”
Several routes can be taken at this juncture. Number one, which many independent labels have taken, is apathy: attempt to sell as many records as possible and let the bridges burn as they may. The second route is to look for some sugar. As in “All this independent stuff’s okay, but poppa needs to get paid,” and negotiations with major corporations ensue, most clandestinely so as not to disrupt the current fanbase. In these cases, DIY is treated as the lowest laying stepping stone to shinier things. The third route is called “What would Dischord do?”—be fairly priced, ethical, smartly run, sustainable, and care about the music. The aim being bands that manage to remain in tact for decades rather than being hot right now and forgotten about tomorrow. In punk rock, there’s no shortage of record company horror stories, rip-off artists, opportunists, or failed starry-eyed credit card idealists.
This is not one of those stories.
No Idea took the hardest route by constantly reinvesting in itself and its communities—the international punk community; the geographical community of Gainesville, Florida; and the community of employees at No Idea headquarters. It’s called buying in instead of selling out. By the end of 2010, No Idea will have released over three hundred independently made and distributed records.
I don’t think I’m the only one who thinks it’s fuckin’ weird that No Idea—first the fanzine, then the record label and distributor—is clocking in its twenty-fifth year in 2010. The math doesn’t seem possible, but it holds. In 1985, a sixteen-year-old Var Thelin, on a family trip across the States, was popping the first issue of No Idea fanzine in the mail during rest stops.
By no grand scheme other than refusing to do anything else—even part time—No Idea is one of the prime examples of what the best of DIY punk is capable of, in any decade.
Interview with Var Thelin, Matt Sweeting, Ken Coffelt, and Replay Dave
Todd:Var, No Idea started in 1985 as a fanzine. How old were you and what was your job when you started the zine?
Var: I was fifteen when we worked on the first issue. I remember mailing promo copies while I was on a cross-country trip to the Grand Canyon with my parents, sleeping in the van along the way. Christmas Eve in a hotel. We would stop here and there and copies would go in mailboxes. I turned sixteen a couple weeks before that trip. We printed the majority of the first issue on an offset press in our high school graphic arts class, after hours. My job at the time was “high school kid” coupled with mowing lawns.
Todd: Didn’t No Idea have a longer name in the beginning? Were there any other names in heavy consideration?
Var: I drew a blank on this question, so I asked Ken Coffelt, who founded the zine with me, and he said: “As I recall, you and I were on the phone, bandying about name ideas—I don’t recall any of them—then you say something like, “Well, what should we call it?” And I replied, “I have no idea.” And you go: “That’s it!” Me: “What?” You: “No Idea!”
Todd: Who did you consider your musical nemesis—the epitome of anti-punk—when you were growing up? I still hate Rush, Foreigner, and the Grateful Dead.
Var: Wow, you name it! Tina Turner, Bryan Adams, pretty much anything on the radio. I did like “Juke Box Hero” at some point; I hope you can forgive me! Over the years, I have softened a bit on some of the people I loathed. I can hear some Springsteen and be okay with it. Same deal with Tom Petty. I don’t rock it, but I am okay with it existing.
Todd: Why did you gravitate towards punk and not, say, black metal, as a little Var?
Var: I liked a little metal along the way but not a ton. I had a couple Metallica years amongst the punk, although I never find myself jamming to it now for some reason. I was pretty selective about what sounded good to me all along.
I’d hear something on the radio or late-night TV and it would stick with me. At a point that became Midnight Oil, Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime,” and Wall Of Voodoo. I think punk was intriguing to me. Scary, but fascinating. “What is this? What’s it all about?” I wanted to be a part. I heard some Florida punk on a second or third generation mix tape and that set me in other directions, too. I suppose I was an outsider and this vague, wide-open punk, new wave, whatever-you-call-it stuff spoke to me and dragged me in. Over time I got into harsher stuff too, but through it all I still come back to loving Louis Armstrong.
When I started going to shows I immediately seized on the fact that I could interact with the bands. There was no separation between band and crowd. We were all the same. This was real.
I also had an ear for music itself. I liked the way one version of a song hit harder than another. I recall hearing a radio show that was all live versions of up and coming bands and thinking it sounded so much better. More immediate. I also liked to play with a graphic e.q. to make mix tapes… altering the way the songs sounded to make them more lively. That way of hearing helped send me on a certain winding path too.
Todd: What nationality is “Thelin”?
Var: Swedish. There’s a story there, but I never got a straight version of it.
Todd: Is “Var” short for something, besides “Vardcore”?
Var: “Var” is my full name. It’s on my birth certificate! My Dad made it up. Coincidentally, it means “pus” in Swedish, among other things.
Todd: What was the first band you interviewed?
Var: I’m going to have to call in reinforcements.
Ken: For me, it was the Fleshtones. For you and me together, it was Psychic Violents. Do you remember cribbing interview questions from Flipside and MRR? Probably the worst places to get interview questions from, just the most blah and standard idiotic questions. I think that’s why we kept trying to come up with inventive ways of asking the same things, namely “If an alien from outer space landed in your back yard and asked you to describe the sound of your band, what would you say?” instead of “Describe the sound of your band.” Funny remembering back about all that stuff.
Todd: Do you remember if any of their answers surprised you and left a mark that you remember it twenty-five years later?
Var: I guess not. [laughs]
Ken: It’s funny, but largely no. I think, like you, there were a few interviews that were a bit more fun and turned out better. I remember liking Specimen; they were quite funny. I recall that Martin Atkins and Margot Oliveira of Brian Brain were so nice. I remember the second-hand smoke high of talking to HR from Bad Brains in which he seemed like he was making more and more sense all the time.
I remember how cool I thought it was that we had Operation Ivy, the Flaming Lips, Naked Raygun, and Fishbone all in the magazine because they were our favorite bands. Actually, one of my takeaways from interviewing all those bands back then was that not everyone is articulate and interesting just because they play music. I also keenly remember getting dissed by the Red Hot Chili Peppers who wouldn’t talk to us because we didn’t offer cocaine.
Todd: How many issues did No Idea fanzine last?
Var: Twelve issues in total. It took forever to finish them and by the last two, the label was feasting on my brain and time.
Todd: Where did the stressed-out face/logo of No Idea come from?
Var: As I recall, I doodled the Stressface on a lunch break from my job around 1991. Five or six years earlier, Ken and I used to make absurd comics in the middle of the night. I made a character called “Amazingly Boy” who never talked. I think the Stressface was an attempt to remember that character, or perhaps I realized the loose connection after the fact. At any rate, the Stressface originally appears in No Idea #8. It had a topknot and a bowtie. Those things got trimmed off. I suspect I have the original somewhere, but I am not entirely sure. I have clutter issues. Now that I think of it, it may have first appeared on a shirt I made celebrating “Pastacore Summer 1991.”
Todd: Who were your mentors in mid-’80s Florida?
Var: The Mutley Chix. They proved that anyone can do it. Want to start a band, but don’t know how to play an instrument? No worries! (No Worries! was also their zine.Their last issue came out right around our first.) Want to set up a show? Get to it! They were supportive of us younger kids being active. They never put us down; always lifted us up with advice and encouraged us. They knew that if you don’t do it, no one will. They spread that word by example. Alongside that were people like Greg Ceton who was in bands and had a PA, Richard Steinmetz who taught graphic arts, Dan Destructo and the Florida Contact List bringing people together. So many people were kind to us, and through it all, the support of my parents glued it all together.
Todd: Who were your FL contemporaries at the time—labels, bands, venues?
Var: Destroy Records was a little before our time, but had an impact, especially the comp We Can’t Help It If We’re from Florida. Doldrums and Psychic Violents in Gainesville, No Fraud and others in other parts. I know I am forgetting to mention way too many.
Todd: Are you a Gainesville native?
Var: Our office is directly across the street from the hospital I was born in. A crew of machines has been knocking it down for weeks, spewing weird dust all over us.
Todd: Was the transition from the zine to No Idea records easier since you
included 7”s in several of your fanzines?
Var: My mind was blown when Ken showed me that he had created a few issues of a comic in middle school, organized the printing, and even sold a few ads. This was a pivotal moment. Kids can do it. It’s not just big companies. Things can be created and made by us, in small amounts, right now! It was the same way when Rabid Cat Records gave me contacts for record pressing. It was a lot of money for a kid to raise, but it was within reason. It can be done!
The transition from zine to label was accidental, and although it might not have been a surprise for anyone else, it certainly was for me. It took me a while to realize that the transition had happened. I would get the bug to do a zine again from time to time, but there was no time. Funny that I look back now and I wonder why I thought I was so busy.
Todd: How did Evan Dorkin, of Milk and Cheese notoriety, come to illustrate
Radon’s In Your Home 7”?
Var: That record did not actually come out on No Idea. We were given a few hundred without covers after the fact and we made photocopies for those. Years later we were given even more copies and all the missing covers.
Evan Dorkin: It was through Sarah Dyer, who was heavily involved in No Idea in the early days as co-publisher, co-editor, and writer. She had interviewed me about my comics work in an issue of No Idea, and someone she knew from Radon (Brent, I think) liked Milk and Cheese and at some point I was asked to do the 45 cover.
Todd: What has been the most striking colored vinyl record you own that wasn’t put out by No Idea?
Var: I recall being blown away the first time I saw rainbow splatter.
Todd: What marked the transition from No Idea records into No Idea distribution?
Var: Necessity is the mother of invention… or at least the midwife of DIY. We simply had no choice but to dig in and make the attempt. No one was going to do it for us. Mordam was not interested, and Revolver and others did a little bit, but we needed to do the work ourselves. Anyone can slap a label or moniker on something and claim it exists, but it is a lot of hard work to actually grow into those shoes. There are years of wearing three pairs of socks so those big boots don’t slip off… and insane hours of endless work, of course. We did not have a clear vision of what we wanted to achieve, but we knew where we had to start. Luckily for us, we had a few bands right at the beginning that helped bring people to us, albeit slowly. It all built from there.
Todd: What’s the most clusterfucky packaging of a record that No Idea’s released?
Var: I used to spend a lot of time brainstorming and sketching these concepts. Some of them were ridiculous. We used to put a lot of time into putting these things together… glue, fold, wrangle. Good stuff. Part of it is pushing the possibilities, while working within the confines of a certain sized printing press. Part of it is working with what is available. We can press odd sized records? Okay, I’m in! The Clairmel 9” was that size because the largest sheet of paper the printer could do was 18”. We always work closely with the plants and printers to find out what they could do outside the norm. I credit Imprint with some of the wacky record covers in that Walt worked to find affordable ways to create our absurd daydreams.
Replay Dave: The elaborate packaging goes through enough planning that it’s an organized chaos. Stapling booklets, gluing pocket sleeves, and handwriting takes time, but is a labor of love. The only clusterfuck was the Hot Water Music/Clairmel 8.5”. The vinyl showed up 1/16” larger and were super thick. The covers were cut 1/16th” thinner. The record had to be placed on the inside of the flat cover, then have the cover glued and folded around the vinyl. The Down in Front 4×7” had a bunch of parts, but was free of any problems. Around the same time, Capitol Records released a 7” box set of Less than Jake’s Hello Rockview. Those were riddled with problems: not all the records, duplicate records in one box, etcetera… More proof of the excellence of No Idea’s kung fu.
Todd: What was the last day you worked for someone else? What marked the occasion?
Var: It was 1994. I think it was heading into summer. I had learned all that I could from the job I had. At the same time the zine and label begged for more of my time. I was at a crossroads: either pursue a job and relegate the rest to the realm of side projects… or quit my job and give it my all. We used to ask the question of bands, “If you had $10,000 what would you do?” I had saved about that much, so it was time to turn the question around on myself. I figured I had saved enough money to put out a couple zines and a couple records, plus survive for a few months. If I had to get a part-time job to cover rent in six months, so be it. That’s all I expected: six months of freedom. Sixteen years later, I still look over my shoulder to see if that part-time job is creeping up on me.
Todd: The next day, what were the goals that you set for yourself? Was Gorilla
Biscuits playing in the background?
Var: Hmmm. Shortly thereafter I researched business licenses, dry stuff like that. I also bought a computer with a credit card so I could pay it off over time. I was probably listening to Fugazi.
Todd: What was the No Idea building before the No Idea building?
Var: It was a collection of lawyers’ offices under one roof. Yes, the punks moved into the lawyers’ building. Now that’s a story you don’t hear every day!
Todd: Where did you and Jen meet?
Var: I met Jennifer when she was working at a record store in Tampa. I bought a “Mission District” box set from her. She does not remember that. A few years later, she started buying a few things here and there from me for the store.
Todd: Was it a long courtship?
Var: I still do not know why, but one day in 1995 it all clicked and we ended up on the phone for hours. Two days later she was at my door. And my life was a lot better from there on out. One hundred thirty-five miles, door to door.
Todd: How long did you date before you got married?
Var: A year later she moved up and realized a disaster was looming. She single-handedly beat back the wolves and straightened out the nightmare. We started getting paid for the records we shipped. What a revolutionary idea! We forged a life together, got a mortgage for a house, and on our five-year anniversary of the day she called me, we got married in our house… by her father, nonetheless!
Todd: Would you consider her the secret weapon of No Idea?
Var: Without Jennifer, not only would I be a hopeless mess living under someone’s couch, there would be no No Idea as we know it.
Todd: Do you have any hobbies besides records?
Var: I have had a few obsessions over the years, some of which I chased way too long before I broke free of their grasp. I had multiple fish tanks and I collected toys a couple times. These days, I spend time renovating a couple old houses and helping raise our kids. Time? What’s that? I have interests, but my focus is stretched thin already. I would like to play guitar more than I do, things like that. Ironically, outside of listening to music, I have no time to be an active “collector” of all the music I like. Lots of things pass me by. That said, I feel lucky every day, even those days when I feel like I am drowning in liquefied stress. Not that I’ll admit it! [laughs]
Todd: As of Dec. 31st, 2010 how many No Idea releases will there be?
Var: Closing in on three hundred. This scares me, but not as much as back when #100 was looming. That seemed like a big number to cross. I worried about things like Sub Pop. They had over three hundred records before we had one hundred. I could not even figure out what they all were. How could anyone follow a label with that many releases? Daunting.
Todd: What’s been the longest time span between listing when a record’s coming to
when the record actually came out? [coughs] Dillinger Four. [coughs]
Var: Ten years and counting! We should have left that D4 one on the list permanently. There are a couple clocking at eight years. Yikes!
Todd: If you could be an animal, what would it be and why? I would like to be an otter.
Var: Honestly, I am thinking about what would make the kids the happiest. They talk about giraffes a fair amount. I could see being one of those, but I’d feel pretty marginalized being so necky and way up there. Maybe if some of you were giraffes with me? I could see being happy having kids slide down my back… maybe into a pool? Kangaroos are popular as well. I suppose it depends. If I had my current mind, it might be frustrating being inside a new animal body. It might be liberating to soar as an eagle, but what about when you wanted to talk to your old pals? See, I’m over-thinking it again.
Todd: Has No Idea ever won an award? Like, a music achievement or civic
achievement award? Anything?
Var: I don’t think so. I don’t recall any plaques. Donorschoose.org has sent us some very heartwarming “thank you” notes from kids. I’d call those the biggest of awards.
Todd: Have any of the No Idea bands/band members won any?
Var: I figure LTJ probably got a “smurfiest band” award at some point.
Todd: Who’s been the longest-running No Idea employee?
Matt Sweeting: Not including Jennifer, who I think has transcended employee, I have been here the longest. At least, I don’t remember anybody from when I started that’s still around, except Var and Jennifer, so that’s something. I think I started getting paid in 1997 in the spring or summer. It’s confusing. I remember my first checks used to say things like “for furniture construction” and shit like that ‘cause the books weren’t legit yet for employees.
I remember once Var had a family emergency and I got to run everything by myself for awhile. That was super fun. We—I—it was only me, had clothing-optional day, smoke-weed-all-afternoon day, and shots-on-the-hour day—all of which disappointingly never caught on. My goal in working here is to eclipse Amy from Dischord’s mailorder record. I think I’m almost halfway.
I don’t really remember the first time I met Var. I once tried to get him to help my old, crappy band make stickers when his bag was graphic design. It didn’t work out, but I ended up poaching two of his band members for my new band. Pretty sweet.
Todd: Have you ever attempted a beard? If yes, what was the result?
Var: Full speed ahead, pedal to the metal, I am capable of the wimpiest middleschool, hoodlum scruff. It fails to impress. I’m not trying to sell clove cigarettes in the arcade; it’s just not the look for me. I feel the months it would require in commitment would not be worth the ridicule. “Hey dude with the puddin’ ring!”
Todd: Have you ever attempted a beer gut?
Var: I am not a bear. Beer gut, no. Food gut, yes. I experienced a “metabolism shift” which is completely different from working fourteen-hour days and eating large meals right before falling asleep.
Todd: So, explain many people’s perceptions of No Idea music being played by Florida weird beards who love beer and detest wearing shirts.
Var: I like to blame everything on Hot Water Music. I feel that is my “get out of jail free” card. Around here, if someone in a band grows a growler of a thatch on their face farm, they coincidentally end up in a hundred photos that month. Then they shave and the evidence haunts them for the rest of their days. Basically, men are lazy oafs. Why do we bathe even? Oh yeah. Society makes us.
Todd: What’s the stupidest tattoo you’ve seen that you wished you’d thought of
Var: I have one small, self-administered tattoo. I never went that route. I claimed that I would not get any tattoos or piercings in the ‘90’s and I stuck to that. Of course, I never got any more in the aughts either. There are some winners out there. The “I Exist” taco is a favorite, but I would not even call that stupid. Geis has “420+69 = partytime”… I can claim to not having thought of that or having the wherewithal to have it tattooed on my body.
Todd: What has been the biggest risk you’ve taken on No Idea’s behalf?
Var: I’ve taken out loans, mortgages, loaned in money, that sort of real-world thing. I suppose the biggest risk was giving my life over to it and choosing this path, as opposed to starting a band, touring, going to art school… or any of the other things that I may or may not have been any good at. I stayed in Gainesville when I could have moved. Outside of that, it’s the usual leaps when we felt a certain record needed an extra attack or we somehow found room to slot in “just this one more record.” Who knows? So much of this was unplanned, but came into focus along the way. Goals were certainly created as we went, but usually backwards and upside down. We don’t tend to follow the crowd, exactly.
Todd: Have you ever had to take any side jobs to keep No Idea going?
Var: No, strangely. I have romanticized working nights at a pizza or taco shop, but I’d probably melt. I have worked plenty of nights renovating houses, but after a week or so of four hours of sleep a night I get a wee bit odd. I really should try to take on more freelance design work, but I have not been very outgoing about it. I love coffee, especially the overindulgence in it. Yet, I only drink a cup a day on average. If I could handle it, I’d down half a pot. I tend to drink more of this nectar the less sleep I get. That in turn begets creativity, exhaustion, or both.
Todd: Did you have any graphic design training?
Var: I have no formal design schooling, but I picked up a little knowledge here and there from jobs I worked and from people who were kind enough to answer questions and take me under their wing. I learned graphics in the cut-and-paste style, before desktop computers played a large role. I worked at a newspaper using a knife to cut columns of text to size. I had to correct spelling errors by hand, slicing out letters and taping them back in. This seems foreign now, but I still use these skills every week. Photoshop is merely a construction tool for me. It emulates what used to be done by hand in a very tedious and exacting way using negatives and complicated methods by pre-press department folks.
Todd: How did you come upon the No Idea signature of hi-contrast, hi-detail
bitmaps and your handwriting?
Var: A lot of the techniques I am drawn to were inspired by John Yates/Stealworks, Great American Steak Religion, Blue Note, Dischord, and old punk zines in general.
Todd: What is No Idea’s best-selling title of all time?
Var: It is probably Against Me!, Less Than Jake, And Hot Water Music. AM! may have taken the lead now. They certainly did on vinyl, at any rate! The Axl LP is on its thirty-first pressing… and counting!
Todd: What is the current count of Radon’s “last show ever”?
Var: Well, it was twenty-eight, but I think it’s more like sixty-eight now.
Todd: How did No Idea coffee come about?
Var: Well, see, we had these coffee mugs laying around… Ryan Murphy got to know the folks at Sweetwater through his work with Harvest Of Hope. They made a custom blend just for us, which they do not do that often. We toured their shop and saw how they roast the coffee, getting the all-around tutorial on how coffee is harvested and fairly traded. Plus, they made us a fresh, piping hot pot, which we downed and we all got freaky and motivated. I love this stuff and drink it all the time. We were fans of their beans long before we started working together. We just got another batch!
Todd: Do you ever fear that you’re living in a No Idea bubble of your own creation—surrounded by people, music, and foodstuffs—all that you had considerable hand in creating? Or is that part of the comfort of creation?
Var: I can see that. I think the bubble for me is more based around the attempt to do too many things simultaneously and the resulting stress. I get locked in and often forget to take time out for myself to actually see bands play or to just hang out with friends period. I’m nearly always on the clock. I get a form of tunnel vision; always in a race to finish this or that, make sure something is happening on time… and that is with delegating a lot of the work to others. I’d love to revel in it all a bit more, cut loose, and have more “mental free time” to let ridiculous ideas come to mind… and to hatch said schemes along with the good friends and idiot savants I try to keep close.
Todd: Jud Jud. How?
Var: We will be pondering this question for eons. Genius knows no bounds!
Todd: What has been the smallest pressing of an already existing No Idea record?
Var: There are two records that come to mind, both of which were badly botched by the folks cutting the lacquers. After two or three rounds of test pressings, we just gave up. Panthro UK United 13 / Wardance Orange 8″ and Radon We Bare All LP, which was just the two 7″ records on one 12″ with one live song. (Both of these were sixteen copies, as I recall: eight copies round one, eight copies round two.)
Todd: What was your first glow-in-the-dark press? How’d it go?
Var: Against Me! Reinventing… once again. It has a little less surface noise than I expected and glows like mad!
Todd: No Idea catalog number NIR 246.5 – what does the .5 mean?
Var: I was experimenting with the old Dischord-style of calling collaborative/co-releases half-numbers. This works well on lists, but is a pain if you incorporate it during the pressing.
Todd: What’s changed in Florida the most for you in the past twenty-five years?
Var: Way more people live here. More talk of looming water availability issues. The town we live in is changing both with sprawl and infill. I am not sure I will recognize the place from my childhood when I am sixty-five. We have been huffing the dust and detritus from the hospital I was born in. They have been knocking it down over the last couple months. Soon, the University of Florida will start building high-rise somethings on the land. Farewell to the sun for us! I hope they got all the asbestos out of the building materials before they knocked it down!
Todd: How old are you now?
Var: “An empty 40, fuller than my life.”
Todd: How many Hawaiian shirts do you own?
Var: Somewhere between six and twelve. Ivo (Var’s son) has one too. He likes to wear it with plaid pants. If you think I’m proud, you’re right! I was married in a Hawaiian shirt.
Todd: What’s one quirk many people may not know about you that’s not really embarrassing, just not widely known?
Var: I like the ritual of changing clothes before going to sleep. I even do this on tour. Of course, I also shower on tour. I sometimes wig out when the right combo of stress, lack of sleep, drop in blood sugar, and a mood swing falls into place. I do not like goat cheese, but I do like Stilton and Double Gloucester. Go figure. I also talk to myself if I’m alone.
Todd: What was the last demo that you listened to—of a band you hadn’t heard a whisper of before —and you signed them on to No Idea?
Var: Shores, immediately. I am not sure if that counts, since I was already in cahoots with John from North Lincoln, but I liked the Shores demo from the first note. It clicked with a neglected part of my ears. Before that it was Glass And Ashes… and New Wave Blasphemy.
Todd: Average number of emails received in a typical day?
Var: Twenty or thirty. I get it easy. The rest of the crew probably gets a hundred a pop.
Todd: Most expensive Ebay purchase?
Var: I bought an extra brain, but it did not work. I am obviously still using it today. I spent like two hundred bucks on a Speeder Bike Pedal Car from the ‘80s a few years back. Years later, our kids got to mess with it. It all comes together. Other than that, it was probably a vintage light fixture or something along those lines.
Todd: If you could pick a wrestler—from anywhere in the U.S.—to be governor of Florida, who would it be? Why?
Var: Rick Flair, obviously! I would do this just to make a longtime friend smile, not merely because I could not think of another wrestler right off. “Whoooooo,” indeed.
Todd: Are your parents aware and supportive of what you do?
Var: My parents are incredibly supportive to this day. Without their encouragement and eighteen-plus years of food, not to mention the whole birth thing, I might have done something really bad with my teenage rebellion. Instead, they allowed me to follow different paths. At one point, my Dad stopped asking me what I was going to do with my life and started asking me when the next issue was coming out. We see them at least twice a week.
Todd: What do your parents do?
Var: My Dad is a project builder and a creator. He is a maker. My Mom is a professional grandmother, as well as working behind the scenes for restaurants. Their influence flows through everything that I do.
Todd: Is there any record that you’re still looking for to fill your personal collection?
Var: Honestly, my collection is full of holes and has been rather neglected over the past ten years or so. I like to think I need certain records, but I probably don’t. Gauze? Death Side? That said, I crossed Leatherface’s Minx off my list last week. And Codeine’s Frigid Stars was given to me not too long ago. I still care about records, mind you. I just forget to actually maintain a list and actively search for things.
Todd: What was the last thing you learned from your kids?
Var: I am amazed and surprised every day by the things that come out of their mouths. Their words too! [Laughs]
Todd: Do you fear that they’ll grow up not liking music?
Var: They are in love with music. They took over the stereo, the iPod, and laid claim to all of our CDs. Then they started in on our records. They have fantastic taste in music and through that insatiable curiosity I have been exposed to a lot of music I would not likely have heard, at least not as frequently. They went through a big Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash phase. Lots of old country and rock’n’roll and some jazz. They played the recent Defiance, Ohio record a lot. Right now, they are on a Chuck Berry kick. That and novelty songs like “Monster Mash” along with the “HauntedMansion” record.
These kids will not only be the saving grace of my interest in music, but they may one day take this silly label over. Or they may not. I’m fine with it either way. I expect great things of them, but I expect to be rather surprised by what they pursue.
Todd: What’s the furthest you’ve travelled to see a band play?
Var: I drove straight through to DC a couple times.
Todd: Last time you got in a van and toured with a band?
Var: I went out with Young Livers a couple times this year. We hit Rad Fest and Chaos in Tejas. I’d do that again, totally.
Todd: Name an early FL band you wish would do a reunion; one that hasn’t already. And it’s okay to wish if some of the band members are dead.
Var: Doldrums. They did a memorial show recently. It left me wanting to hear twice again as many songs. That says a lot. They are hands down my favorite band.
Todd: How many countries does No Idea send records to?
Var: All of them? Okay, not so much to Africa, the Middle East, and China.
Todd: Name a punk fashion you wish would come back. I was wondering what happened to monkey boots the other day.
Var: Ahhh, now you are getting me into trouble! I was thinking about hose with runs, spider web style, the other day. Attitude with a heart of gold? I always liked that.
Todd: Has No Idea ever had an official mascot?
Var: We may have co-opted Pesto for a couple years there, the Very Small Records canine agent. Colonel Culpepper hung around the office for a few years. Coffee! Coffee is our mascot!
Todd: What do you think is the largest contributor to No Idea’s continued success?
Var: An absolute unwillingness to accept failure in any form… or perhaps a fluid definition of “success.” Honestly, it is equal parts being doggedly stubborn and being supremely lucky. We have a revolving cast of mailorder freaks who “get it” (whatever “it” may be), and an unending supply of marginally insane people who create amazing music.
Todd: What’s a technology that you have no respect for?
Var: The inclined plane. Also, the aqueduct. Oh wait, I misread that as “respect for.” I have no respect for the UPC code, even though I know it works well. I use it. I abuse it. But I don’t respect it. Also, spray cheese. And shrink wrap.
Todd: Worst financial advice you received, but are proud that you didn’t take?
Var: I suppose it would be the frat prick who told me when I was fifteen that I would have to cut my hair and conform to succeed in the real world. I bet that guy is a happy guy today. He may have found the life he desired, but at what cost?
Matt: The advice to not buy the Hardback. I did, it was tons of fun, and I look back at it as one of the best experiences of my life. It was super crazy to work at No Idea all day long and go to the Hardback all night, but I couldn’t have dreamed up a better punk rock scenario! I felt like the luckiest dude ever.
Todd: What’s your food vice?
Var: Ice cream. I crave barbecue, though I do not eat it. I will not lie.
Todd: How do you manage your time so you don’t go crazy and won’t be a deadbeat dad?
Matt Sweeting: I’m a questionable father. I had “Bring your kids to work” day… much to the chagrin of everyone else…
Var: Jennifer is a grand motivator. Also, she carries a big stick and frightens me. I am awful at managing my time and if it were not for the amazing fools I have gathered around me, I would be lost in a sea of phlegm. The answer is that I do go crazy. I am crazy. Ask around!
Todd: Loudest show you’ve ever been to?
Var: It was either Assück or Damnation A.D. at the Utility House. Probably someone was louder on an arena scale, but they were absurd.
Todd: What was your beef with big pants? Has your beef subsided?
Var: The last beef I consumed was in 1995. It was the worst, hottest part of summer and one of my roommates “hooked us up” at the burger shack he worked at. Chris and Chuck (Hot Water Music) and I all got these one-pound burgers with bacon and the works. We sat at a park bench and all we had to drink was hot, crappy beer. We ate it all. I still do not know how. I was in pain for hours. That was it. I clocked out and never went back. I climbed the mountain and I was done with that. In that regard, yes, the beef has indeed subsided. As for big pants, I had some big freaking pants in high school, but they were Talking Heads big pants. Big difference.
Todd: What’s the best part about turning twenty-five?
Var: Y’know, the strange thing is realizing that we are in the club with Dischord and BYO. Our labels are children of the ‘80s. The older we get, we all become the same age. [laughs]