with Brian John Mitchell
Brian John Mitchell is me. Editor of QRD. Runner of Silber Records. Comic writer. Hack musician. I was asked by Ben Link Collins to be interviewed for this issue, so he came up with some questions for me as did Nick Marino.
.blc – You do a lot of stuff. Let’s start with a list of all the things that you, Brian John Mitchell, do – maybe a break down of a month or two in your life.
Brian – Right now things are at such a crossroads as far as me being on the verge of not having the ability to get out of bed on any given day, that it’s hard to honestly answer this question. I make some music, I write some comics, I draw some comics, I write some reviews, I run an interview oriented webzine, I do some paintings, I try to run a record label. Ideally I guess I’d be doing an issue of QRD once a month, making a comic every week, releasing three records on Silber every three months (batches are easier to deal with promotion wise), doing a dozen paintings a month, writing/recording a song/piece every other day, & maybe make a few ebooks on the side.
.blc – As I understand it, Silber started with QRD as a printed zine back in 1994, rolled into music in 1996 when Silber became “official”, & then you started doing comics in the early 2000s. Can you give us a short overview of how Silber developed as an idea & as a record label/ publishing company?
Brian – I started QRD knowing I wanted to do something bigger. At the time I wanted it to become a record label & zine & book publisher. It’s morphed on & off over the years with sometimes one idea or the other taking on a greater roll. I think the biggest transformation was in 1998 when I learned how to make a website & that lead to me being able to get things to people for less financial investment, which lead to me stopping printing QRD in 2001 & making it electronic only. Also over the past couple of years I’ve been leaning away from physical objects at all as my basement gets filled with what I want to think are beautiful works of art, but may actually just be trash.
.blc – The “about” portion of Silber’s website talks about a sense of morality behind Silber’s operations. Can you elaborate on that aspect & how that has (or hasn’t) evolved over the years?
Brian – It’s super important to me to be honest with the artists on the label as far as what to expect & to pay them money whenever there is money earned to go out. Unfortunately that’s come to mean more & more saying I don’t have much to offer that they can’t do themselves. A lot of people get ripped off in the music business, in part because of how fast the business models are changing & I do my best to help people better guide their careers.
.blc – Both your main musical projects, Remora & Small Life Form, have distinctly different aesthetics & seemingly different focuses; though, both are based largely in drone. How would you describe each project as a creative outlet?
Brian – For me Remora is about guitars & songs & in general Small Life Form is more about the way sound functions & improvising around that. Sometimes the difference between the two is pretty subtle. The Remora stuff that is all guitar feedback & the guitar isn’t even held in my hands could easily be called Small Life Form & the Small Life Form stuff that are songs (usually cover songs) could easily go as Remora.
.blc – You have at least one other music project called Muscle Mass. What’s up with Muscle Mass?
Brian – Muscle Mass was originally going to be an all-star band of me, Shaun Sandor, Bryce Eiman, & I can’t remember the fourth member in skintight shirts. It was supposed to be basically a boy band of dance music. It ended up being just me on my own trying to do some primitive dance music. So far no live shows & dance moves. I’m hopeful to one day make it happen.
.blc – Are there any other music projects you’re working on or that you would like to realize?
Brian – I’m always going to at least vaguely be working on the super group version of Vlor where my friends collaborate on songs I start off. I might do some more stuff that is composition oriented as Brian John Mitchell. Unspeakable Forces might do something again. I think that’s it right now. Hard to say.
.blc – Are you a self-taught musician?
Brian – I am self-taught, but I’m not so sure I’m a musician. I took two or three guitar lessons from my sister’s boyfriend when I was 14. I’ve read some music books & sound engineering books & hung out with people that are musicians & engineers & asked them questions. But I don’t really have the intuitive abilities that most people I know seems to have when it comes to music.
.blc – Both your music & your writing often take an autobiographical tone. Can you talk about a few of your comics, albums, or other works that have maintained the most meaning for you over the years?
Brian – Hmmm. Right now all of the stuff about my grandmother is still holding up pretty well & all the stuff about girls & relationships seems a little juvenile. Though the fact that I have now done a ton of comics about me taking care of my grandmother & her dying makes me feel like I’m just repeating myself. I do still like the Vlor stuff a lot. I think I might be better off as a catalyst to make other people work than being an actual creator of things sometimes. I think I’d rather write song ideas & let other people craft them into final pieces of art if possible, but I don’t know how to get to a level where that happens. I recently re-read a bunch of my short stories from when I was in my early 20s & they stood up fine as what they are & I was surprised how many things from my life in that era I had totally forgotten. So I might try to start writing more seriously again based on that. One of my goals for my work is emotional accuracy, which I only have myself to judge on for that, so it makes every thing autobiographical even if it’s about a robot after the apocalypse or whatever.
.blc – You’ve written A LOT of comics. Most of them (or all of them?) are tiny -- matchbook sized. You’ve also created a bunch of relatively small paintings. You obviously have an affinity for small things. Have you ever considered taking your comics to other publishers to produce something large & glossy, or taken on larger painting formats? What’s drawn you to the smaller formats?
Brian – I tried to do a painting the size of a door for someone for Christmas last year & it was pretty awful. I couldn’t figure out how to translate my ideas on that canvas size. The same thing in general with trying to do larger format comics or writing a novel instead of a two page story. The way I work really loans itself to those formats. I do think part of the attraction to smaller objects is the ability to hide the things or give them as unique gifts & that they take up less physical space in your house. I might do something collecting some of my comics as a book, but I feel they’ll be less special that way.
.blc - You’ve written at least one collection of short stories that I know of. Do you write anything other than comics these days?
Brian – I have my dream diary thing & occasional essays & memoirs & flash fiction all of which are likely to appear in the Silber Blog. I think I might be heading into a phase of writing more again, especially if there’s any interest from the public about it.
.blc – As of the last I’ve heard from you Silber is winding down operations, being made somewhat official in a Silber newsletter earlier this year. Though, you still seem to be active in a lot of what Silber does/did. Are there some parts of Silber that will remain active? Do you have an idea of what is to come for Silber in the future, if anything?
Brian – I quit Silber for a few months after spending a few months winding it down. I spent some time looking at life & realized that in the end as frustrating as it is, I’m less unhappy doing Silber than watching TV or playing video games or getting drunk or however else other people spend their time. So I’m trying to figure out how to make Silber happen with me having it as a hobby more so than a career. Maybe focus a little more on the parts I like (creating actual product) & less on the parts I don’t (promotions & research basically). We’ll see how long it takes me to get frustrated & give up again. I’d been talking about quitting it for five years before the break.
.blc – With or without Silber, you’re an active artist. What’s the outlook for Brian John Mitchell without the vast network of Silber to conduct? Any new horizons to explore?
Brian – I’m not sure. Sometimes I think about trying to really master my craft as a guitarist or start drawing more or learn more about recording music. But in the end, I am lazy in a certain way. So I have no definitive thing. I’ve been trying to do some weird photography & stop-motion animation stuff. But I’m not sure what’s coming in the future. I could change my mind at any moment I guess. I sometimes think about getting a house & building a studio & performance space in it, but that sounds like a lot of work.
.blc – What are some of the musician/bands, artists, writers, & labels that are the most influential to you & your work?
Brian – Joy Division, Lycia, Swans, Jandek, Hefner, Six by Seven, & Low for popular music & Ligetti & George Crumb for composition. For labels Projekt over shadows everyone really. I probably owned the first 60 or so releases at one point, which is basically every thing before I started my own label. For writers there’s Robert E. Howard & H.P. Lovecraft & Edgar Allan Poe & Edgar Rice Burroughs & William Burroughs & John O’Brien & Douglas Coupland & Joe Lansdale & I could go on forever. For comics the big ones are Dave Sim (Cerebus), Sam Kieth (The Maxx), & Will Eisner. For art I’m not even sure of any besides Kay Sage.
.blc – I’ve seen a lot of labels rise & fall in a short period of time. What do you attribute to Silber’s long life?
Brian – My pig-headedness & living a frugal lifestyle. I have had the same problems as most labels, but survived because of how I managed my money. I’ve also managed to not quit even though no one really cares much anymore.
.blc – Do you have any advice for record labels in the digital age?
Brian – Take advantage of your low overhead. Do something special. I don’t know… if I knew the secret, Silber would be doing better.
Now we’ll do a rapid fire Q&A, some of which came from the Facebook users solicited for questions:
What’s the big idea?
Brian – To help other people.
Does having a long beard make you magic?
Brian – No, but it might make even crazier girls attracted to me.
How often do you tour?
Brian – At this point, only when others explicitly ask me to. I’m too lazy to book things on my own & feel like no one really cares, but if all I have to do is set up & play, I can do that.
Given the recent brouhaha of Miley Cyrus, which black metal band has the hottest/sexiest song?
Brian – I don’t know. I only look like I listen to black metal. I actually pretty much don’t even listen to music most of the time. Miley Cyrus has some decent pop songs.
Is there a fictional character you closely identify with?
Brian – I’d like to say Solomon Kane or Cerebus, but probably any of John O’Brien’s protagonists are more likely.
Do you eat meat?
Brian – No. I’ve been a vegetarian for 20 years. There were a handful of times touring in the 1990s that I ate meat on the road. There’s no real reason for it other than momentum at this point.
What’s your favorite cheese?
Brian – Lately I’m into string cheese as a snack. I just discovered it a month or two ago.
Nick Marino – What drives you to create?
Brian – Probably a combination of boredom & pleas for interest & approval.
Nick – You work in so many different mediums. What do you appreciate most about each medium?
Brian – I like the balance of collaboration & control in all of the mediums. There’s something cool about just making something on your own (be it a comic or a song or a painting), but there’s also something awesome about having a collaborative to push you to the next level or to elevate your work on their own. I do like how in more abstract music or visual art I can just kind of ride the wave & be free & they are in the moment & totally completed. At the same time there is something rewarding about working hard & laboring 40 hours on someone’s three minutes of entertainment, at least there is when you get it right! I do like that in my comics especially there’s a thing where people assume a story that I’ve mostly made up is true -- that people really think there’s a body buried in my parents’ basement & that my childhood best friend is dead are testaments to something.
Nick – What do you dislike most about each medium?
Brian – Honestly, the need to promote & or think about a potential audience. I wish I could get to the point where I just worked on things. Oh, & with collaborative stuff… one of the things that really sucks is waiting because of other people’s schedules & then they bail out after you’ve been waiting for months. I wish I had the money to exclusively work with professionals.
Nick – If you were 20 yrs old & could devote yourself to a single medium, which one would you choose & why?
Brian – Maybe writing fiction. It translates to songwriting & comic writing anyway. But I feel like as much as the writing industry is flailing, it’s not quite as soul crushing as the other things I do. But maybe that’s just because I haven’t done it as seriously.
Nick – What was your craziest experience on tour?
Brian – One of my favorite stories is at a show in Amsterdam this totally incredibly beautiful girl was talking to me & asked me to stay at her house & I told her no because I was in a serious relationship at the time & she had this confused & sad look on her face & then it looked like a light bulb went off & the expression on her face changed & she said she’d be right back. She came back with her gay brother & introduced me to him. I didn’t sleep with him either.
Nick – Why do you hate the word "and" & love ampersands so much?
Brian – The ampersand saves time in reading & writing & it saves space & ink in the production process. Also I think it mimics speaking patterns better as a conjunction than using “and” & a comma.
Other QRD interviews with Brian John Mitchell:
Interview with Brian John Mitchell (October 2013)
Christian musician interview with Brian John Mitchell (March 2011)
Indie comic creator interview with Brian John Mitchell (February 2011)
Label owner interview with Brian John Mitchell of Silber Records (November 2010)
Guitarist interview with Brian John Mitchell of Remora & Vlor (June 2010)
Father's Day Interview with Brian John Mitchell of Remora (June 2009)
Interview with Brian John Mitchell of Silber (March 2009)
Couples interview with Brian John Mitchell of My Glass Beside Yours (February 2007)
Remora interview (for spanish radio station in 2003)
Remora interview (July 2002)