Britt Brown (Not Not Fun, Robedoor, LA Vampires): Interview
“Ours is a thin-skinned generation, and a lot of artists harbor surprising venom toward anyone who isn’t buying what they’re selling.”
In February, the dynasty of Not Not Fun celebrated a decade of releasing music. Drawing from rock, “experimental,” psychedelic, dub, noise, and house influences, the label has been home to a plethora of musicians and artists, paving the way for plenty of them in the music scene too through the Bored Fortress 7-inch club and offshoot label 100% Silk. Britt Brown, co-owner of Not Not Fun, has grown from Weirdo/Begeirdo and Robedoor to Topaz Rags, Barrabarracuda, Quintana Roo, and a little Pocahaunted to Vibes and LA Vampires; a little of everything, really — all alongside label co-owner, frequent band mate, and significant other Amanda Brown (also owner of 100% Silk and vocalist of LA Vampires).
Tiny Mix Tapes recently caught Britt moving boxes to a new Not Not Fun headquarters location.
Yo, Britt. How you doing? Just haulin’ boxes?
Yeah, trekking back and forth between this rusty storage shed and our new place. The new apartment is kind of compact; we can’t stock that much. We try and distribute most of it but it’s unpredictable as far as which stores want what and how many. Lately, there are so many record shops in L.A. Most of them have pretty specific agendas in terms of what vibe they rep, but some are loose enough that you can just stop in, explain you’re local, and they’ll take a couple of copies of something, even if they’ve never heard of it because they only read Pitchfork or Spin. Brick-and-mortar records store can’t just operate on internet conglomerate logic though, they have to feign some semblance of actual community or they tend not to last.
Do you feel like this is an admirable aspect of L.A. specifically, compared to or similar to when Not Not Fun first began?
To me the admirable aspect of L.A. has more to do with how it’s laid out, how much sprawl there is. That’s part of why people migrate here, so they can escape into their own little zone. There’s no pressure to be public or social or even that productive. Artists from Europe or the East Coast are always coming out here for little three-month sojourns, renting an Airbnb situation in the hills where they can fuck around on some project, smoke weed, take a break from real life.
In L.A. you don’t really run into people unless you choose to — you’re kind of cut off. To some that could seem sort of lonely but I see it more as this evolved mode of privacy, all these parallel lives. You never really know who lives here. Frequently a friend will tell me how some mutual acquaintance has been crashing in L.A. for the last year and I never saw them once. Unless you eat at the same taco truck or share some habitual activity, you’re off on your own path.
Throughout the 10 years of co-curating Not Not Fun, which year has stood out to you the MOST?
I won’t be good at this question because to run a label for real I think you need to be fairly deluded. You have to always be drinking your own Kool-Aid. You need to constantly feel like the shit you’re putting out NOW is as awesome as anything you’ve ever done. The current crop should always be your favorite.
Naturally you feel fondly toward certain eras and phases when you met deep new friends, or felt connected to a community in some kind of tangible way. But being nostalgic for your own past is the beginning of the end. Day-to-day we’re both pretty good at looking forward.
Good call. Then, throughout the years, what has been some of the most memorable ways Not Not Fun musicians have reached out to you prior to releasing their work?
Most of the stories that come to mind aren’t of people we ended up releasing. We came home one time and there was this 15-year old kid from Mexico who had hitchhiked to our parking lot with like a duffle bag and an acoustic guitar. Apparently he’d heard some early NNF release at one point and was like, “You guys are the only people I know in the city.” We were impressed what a freewheeling beatnik the dude was but he was definitely a stranger, it wasn’t like we’d ever corresponded before. He didn’t even have a tape to hand off or anything, he just asked if he could play us some songs right there. They were alright, strummy, kind of campfire jam-style, but we gave him some CDs and something to drink and suggested spots he could hitchhike to next. Never heard from him again.
But most times it’s more mundane, like through a friend-of-a-friend, or someone happens to be in town and asks to meet up. What’s more common is getting stuff in the mail, a fan-turned-friend with cool taste who finally starts recording shit and sends it to us. And we definitely amassed a lot of unsolicited demos on the various Pocahaunted tours over the years. I remember one time during our final song, as each member leaves when their part ends, I dropped my guitar and hopped off the stage and instantly a guy was like, “Yo, can I give you this demo?” The band was fully still playing, three girls howling through pedals.
Everyone’s so terrified of being labeled a “hater” — god for-fucking-bid — that the only place people voice something upstream or bold is anonymously, online in some sad comments section.
How has the crowd at shows for Pocahaunted changed with LA Vampires shows?
They’re 100 percent different. When Pocahaunted was active, especially the early era, it was in the wake of that short-lived bubble of earthy, physical music, sort of post-folk/neo-hippie noise or something. So the atmosphere at shows was mainly positive, engaged, open. People would come up to the merch table and really want to connect, or trade their art. Amanda and Bethany definitely got handed some very witchy homemade jewelry by druggy art kids on many occasions. The barrier between performer and audience was porous.
By the time LA Vampires started playing live the general show atmosphere felt traditional: performers on stage, audience on the floor, play your songs, people clap, everyone goes home. Even the pretty packed shows, where everyone dances and lets loose, you don’t get many people wanting a personal interaction afterward. Which is fine. But when you travel and play a fairly similar set most nights the excitement and diversity of the crowd, and the bravery of whoever bothers approaching you and engaging, that’s the stuff that stands out in your memory. You remember faces, you remember people. You don’t remember $250, five drink tickets, mediocre sound systems.
LA Vampires live in L.A.
Have y’all ever considered living outside of L.A.?
Briefly. In 2007 there was a phase where Amanda thought she might want to move to the East Coast, since she went to school there and that’s where her mom and certain friends were living. Occasionally she’ll joke about wanting to move to Europe too, but other than that, no. We’re both too obsessed with California.
You and Manda got married fairly early in your lives (assuming y’all will LIVE FOREVER). How has that benefited and taken away from your musical work, both solo and together?
It works for us. I mean, Amanda doesn’t have much to do with Robedoor beyond saying she likes a particular riff or thinks our amps sound disgusting, and I know we share some ex-bandmates who might have preferred not to be in a group where two members were in a relationship, but they’ve all happily gone solo now. I’m sure it’s probably less satisfying to be in a band with your spouse if you don’t think they have awesome ideas and a unique aesthetic, but I’ve never had that problem. Doing music together for so long definitely bonded us in a different way than just dating would have.
There’s so many musicians out there that make, you know, pretty great music, solid cassettes, but if they joined forces with someone else who also had at least above average ideas? Much less if you added a THIRD person with vision to the mix? It’d be a fucking supergroup. Who knows what kind of next level synergy they could generate, united like that.
Considering your writing for The Wire, your year-end bits are typically written in a style most writers don’t employ. Is your style driven by your disdain for year-end writing, or does it peel around the idea that critical viewpoints during this time are very minimal?
Year-end lists are worthless, for sure. But it’s not that I wish everyone was hyper-critical all the time, it’s just that when there’s such a total absence of it then the whole ecosystem of music starts becoming abstract to me — like, why are all these artists working so much, devoting their lives to making and releasing these recordings, and why are all these media subsidiaries waking up every day and strategically hyping this content, and why do all these corporations start spin off divisions just to associate themselves with music or youth culture, if we operate as if nothing anyone does sucks? And I’m not talking about nitpicking Riff Raff or chiding Animal Collective for being slightly less zeitgeisty or something. I’m talking about intelligent disagreement with mass cultural consensus. To me it seems incredibly sane to feel wary toward something that EVERYBODY LIKES. Maybe I watched too many body-snatchers movies as a kid. Either way, everyone’s so terrified of being labeled a “hater” — god for-fucking-bid — that the only place people voice something upstream or bold is anonymously, online in some sad comments section.
It’s opposite in person of course. At a party or a show, “off the record,” most creative types have a million gripes: who’s overrated, who’s phoning it in, who’s fake, who’s pretentious. This is deeply normal — if you’re invested you care. Plus, people are fucking snowflakes, they’re crazy-particular and generally hard to please. But weighing in with a publicly contentious opinion is risky because the Western world is a ridiculously sensitive place. Ours is a thin-skinned generation, and a lot of artists harbor surprising venom toward anyone who isn’t buying what they’re selling.