Ghost Mansion Records

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When the founders of Ghost Mansion Records say they're in it to have fun and "celebrate good music and good vibes," they mean it. There's nothing uppity or exclusive about this operation. Case in point - they took a random music blogger into their home (moi), gave me beer, told me everything they could ever muster up about how their label works and then they taught me how to block print. Not an ounce of exclusivity in that deal.

The label was officially formed when members of Dame Satan, Sky Pilots and The Everlasting Arms (the latter two of which are no longer playing as those bands) moved into an enormous house in Potrero that they dubbed the "Ghost Mansion." No ghosts have thus far been sighted, but the house ended up spawning multiple bands, recording and shows.

Since then, they released their first records in 2005, and the label continued, taking many different forms and adding quite a few bands and individuals to the team. Currently the label is run primarily by Mike Chopko, Brendan Sheehan and Ben Thorne.

"As the business of making records and putting out music is in a state of chaos these days, I think the concept of a perfect record label is something currently unknown," Mike said in a pre-interview email. "It is however an exciting time."

An exciting time indeed. Thus far, the label has released albums for six bands, and supports many others, which include: Black Fiction (Feature Podcast), Dame Satan, Escalade, The Chapin Sisters, Two Sheds, Sky Pilots, Low Red Land (Feature Podcast), Elders and The Everlasting Arms. But the beauty of the label is its constantly changing lineup and format. Because it's a DIY operation, the guys realize that they can't necessarily provide every service for every band. So they do what they can, and they've accepted that what they do isn't necessarily going to make a lot of money.

"I wish we had more time," Mike said. "Because no one really buys music as much anymore - you want to be accessible, and accessible used to be selling cheaper stuff, but now people want it for free. And once that happens, we're not going to make any money."

But out of this never-ending challenge, GMR has offered fans a multitude of goodies beyond the music. They have figured out how to blend the music with art, design, and the value of hand-made artifacts. Ben himself has designed a lot of the art work for GMR bands, which includes hand-pressed and hand-printed sleeves in both CD and vinyl format and hand-printed t-shirts. Even as we talked, he was hand-writing the tracklistings ("It's totally inefficient to hand-write these, but I like doing it," he said).

"Honestly if someone gets one of our records for free, I say fine - just go to a show," Ben said. "But that's why we go and make things like the Dame [Satan] and Two Sheds split, which is a hand-pressed piece of vinyl to give [fans] something that they can get their money's worth out of."

And while they still aren't padding their pockets, they've been able to get the word out about GMR through touring and promoting, which in turn brings more opportunities for projects that the group enjoys, and gives the bands what they ultimately want - a community of people who share music and ideas, and make things happen.

"Every time we go on tour, that's another aggressive way to promote Ghost Mansion beyond San Francisco," Ben said. "And to some kid who picks up a record at a show, it becomes something bigger to them already in their minds. They have no idea how it really works, but if they want to find out, we're not going to hide that from them."

Their local ties to other musicians through Thread Productions (a collective of local musicians that includes Birds and Batteries, Silian Rail and Tartufi) have helped foster the GMR community. For them, there is always the possibility of working with any one of these bands to do a small, exclusive project.

As Mike described it, GMR "has its fingers in many pies." Amidst talk of the restaurant business, a food blog and more involvement in art and design, the guys just want to keep being involved in things and hope it's sustainable.

Currently, they're looking for two things - a distribution company and an intern. But this year promises to be a big one. Ghost Mansion will celebrate the release of their eighth album, Dame Satan's Beaches and Bridges, this Saturday, April 26, at El Rio with Black Fiction and The Chapin Sisters. They will follow that release with many others, including acoustic releases from Low Red Land, an Escalade/ Tabernacle split 12" and many other manifestations of this invaluable group of local musicians and artists.

"If nothing ever comes of this label besides this interview and these records that we've put out so far, and the few bands that we've been able to contact, then okay," Ben said. "But as long as we can keep doing it, we're going to keep doing it."