We’re back this week with our Label Spotlight series! In this latest installment, we checked in with our bud Moss at Strawberry Rain to talk about Indonesia psych-funk, Toronto’s dwindling dollar bin scene, and the label’s upcoming projects.
1. Hi Moss! What’s up with the name “Moss”?
It’s my producer handle. I’ve been producing music for around 17 years now for various artists, labels, and/or commercials, etc…
2. Tell us a little about Strawberry Rain—what prompted you to start the label, and when did you get started? What draws you to the specific records and genres you’ve focused on so far (Afro-rock, Thai/Indonesian, private press, etc)?
I was helping labels with masters for reissues and would offer them other stuff that I personally liked. They didn’t seem interested in the stuff I suggested, so I kind of decided to do it myself. In terms of the stuff I release, I’ve always liked to find music myself, so I’ve tried to buy records against the grain. It’s not so easy these days, but there are opportunities. I’m also just really into music. I love talking about it, hearing it, borrowing records, etc… I know a lot of people around the world who are big collectors and dealers, and we share info. Lastly (and probably my biggest asset is), I’m not afraid to take risks. If you’re not taking risks, you’re not going far enough. An example of that would be Indonesia. Maybe 11 or 12 years ago, I purchased the entire library of a radio station in the middle of an Indonesian jungle. I had no idea what most of the albums were, but in hindsight there was great stuff in there, lots of test presses and promo only material as well. It was a complete blind buy, but there was no market at the time so it wasn’t a huge investment. After we put out Those Shocking Shaking Days, the scene went nuts there, and this stuff isn’t around any longer.
3. How do you find the records you end up reissuing? Are you out there in the bins digging for weird stuff, or do you find a lot online via blogs, etc?
I own them or did at one point. I also have a lot of friends who I trade or deal with who put me on to albums or have records that only have one or two known copies. I’m lucky to know some of the more knowledgeable psych dealers and collectors in Europe and Asia rather well. I also travel and have been buying random crap for years and years now. Toronto’s Goodwills used to be loaded with random stuff in the 80s & 90s because of immigration. You’d be shocked at some of the international artifacts that used to turn up out here before the internet showed up. My mother grew up in Poland and was friends with the rock bands there so I always knew there were good records from other countries. When people were looking for James Brown, I was looking for records on Muzia or Pronit because we didn’t have soul distribution in Canada in the 70s. I’ve dug in other countries also. I’ve spent time in Zambia for example—easily the toughest place I’ve ever looked for records in my life. The internet has led me to some stuff, also; I’m sure that’ll continue as time passes.
4. Reissuing records can be a notoriously glacial process. What’s the longest you’ve ever worked on a specific release?
It’s hard to say. There are instances where things are delayed because of the source material, but I’d say from start to end the longest was the Benny Soebardja. That took around 18 months. It was really difficult. Benny had two photos of himself, and that was it. No music, no masters, no other photos. The real headache was the source material because it was cassette, and in Indonesia the sound varies depending on which factory was used, each small region having its own factory. The problem lies in that the tapes are warped or have flutter, so I have to piece together multiple tapes to make it happen. When buying multiple tapes you’re not guaranteed to find copies from the same factory, which makes them incompatible to piece together. On top of that, the Night Train tape is incredibly rare within Indonesia. It was into the 100′s on the collectors market, and even then sourcing a copy took a year! I had already owned it on LP, but most of the vinyl from Indonesia only contains half the album as the primary consumer format was tape. One song on the Benny reissue used 7 tapes to remake a single song by piecing it all together. The CD was 3 tapes/albums worth of material. It took boxes of tapes and 200+ magazines to make that reissue.
5. How’s the record scene in Toronto? Any good shops/digging spots to look out for when passing through?
I haven’t really been doing much shopping in the stores out here. We have a decent scene but the problem is the echo system in Toronto is out of whack right now. The cheaper bins are gone, and the stuff that used to be fun to guess on isn’t worth the rental space, so the shops are starting to all feel the same.
6. Without giving away any secrets of the game, do you have a dream reissue?
Yeah, I have a couple that I’ve been working on for many years. One I’ve spent 7+ years of licensing and am left with a headache. I have 20 signatures, and somehow it’s still stuck. Another has a single member who decided he never wanted it reissued, so once a year I call and still nothing. Last but not least, I have an acetate of an album that is simply incredible psychedelic garage, but I have no idea who it is. I got it from the estate of a big NYC record producer who had passed. It sounds like early Electric Prunes crossed with Ugly Ducklings. It’s a clean acetate LP—10 songs and just amazing music. I have no idea what to do with it. The labels are blank, as was the jacket. It came from the same collection that The Olivers’ reissue acetate came from.
7. What’s cooking at SR HQ? Can you tell us about any upcoming releases you’re excited about?
I’m excited about the Zambian comp of bands who never released albums. I can’t put into words how rare that material is and how incredibly lucky it was to get the audio as good as it is. All the Zambian stuff is bloody rare. I spent time in Zambia myself, and 9 years ago a guy named Adam who worked on Salty Dog with me had been as well, and over that time he was buying records as well, so I’ve got an idea of what it takes over there. In fact I’m doing a reissue soon that started 9 years ago in Zambia when he was there and found a record we’d never heard of. It took 9 years to gather all the material. Outside of that I think one of the other projects that’s going to be pretty cool is Peter Wale. He recorded a concert in South Africa in the 70s. He took 4 songs from the concert and pressed a 200 copy album that failed miserably before he moved to Brazil. It’s actually in Pokora 6001 with 5 stars. He did, however, keep the entire 14 song concert on reel, and I’m going to release it. It’s pretty awesome stuff loaded with flutes and guitars and recorded very well, unlike most concert material. Stefen Gnys is also one people have been asking about. It’s been a nightmare resorting, but it was never sold or pressed outside of an acetate. It rose to fame via the Pokora Books as well. A few other things I’m still trying to sign off on, but some unreleased psychedelic material from Hawaii is also on the radar, as are projects from various places.