It was around 1993 or so when I first became acquainted with Brian John Mitchell. Silber Records had not yet been officially opened for business but perhaps the seeds were already being sowed. Apparently both he and I attended Appalachian State University at the same time and ultimately neither of us would stick around long enough to graduate from it. However, it wasn’t until I came on down that mountain before we would actually meet. While at ASU, I was in the business of trying to get people to give shits about my dreampop band of the moment, burMONTER. Subsequently, Brian would be working at two organizations that would find themselves at the end of the stick with which I prodded, the school’s concert council and radio station. This is how Brian John Mitchell became aware of us and via phone or snail mail, we became aware of him as he extended an invite to interview us for his zine QRD and possibly record a song for a tribute compilation that he envisioned in which every band would cover the same song. As you can see from Silber’s back catalog, themed comps weren’t just a marketing ploy dreamt up to garner interest in the label, but a long running desire by Brian to not just piece together best of collections but present a collection of bands creating unique material that they wouldn’t just be able to mail in with their studio leftovers. In the genre in which he operated, I’m sure it pushed many of the songwriters beyond their comfort level with themes such as ‘I Hrt Mom’, ‘Songs for America’ and the more recent 5in5 EP series and of course the various Silber X-mas compilations. The comp never came to fruition but the interview did and I’ve been friends with him ever since and eventually we were asked to contribute a song to the Alleviation comp CD with our song ‘Thirteen Layers of Heaven’. This was the official launch of Silber Records as far as I know and quite frankly as far as I’m concerned. Perhaps there were some cassettes that preceded it, but Alleviation is like the official birth certificate of the label.
Eventually we both found ourselves living in Raleigh, NC in what should have been an exciting time for indie-musicians. The 80s paved the way for the acceptance of sub/counter culture in more mainstream venues and acceptance where they would have traditionally been shunned. It seemed as if there were more opportunities to make something of your art and more opportunities available to supposed underground artists. So all things considered, Silber came on to the scene at a great time. I must admit that I wasn’t always a fan of all of the releases, but the scene in which Silber operated and with the connections made through QRD there was reasonable expectation that Silber could move to the next level and be sort of the indie and more experimental niche alternative to 4AD or Projekt. Through this period, Brian started playing keys and noise guitar in burMONTER (which admittedly was probably too mainstream for his tastes) and between his own tours and doing the Lycia tours he managed to facilitate burMONTER’s tour of Germany with Hamburg’s 1SBH (both bands appeared in the same issue of QRD, consult the archives).
During this time it became apparent that Brian had an obsession with a post-apocalyptic world and in particular one that suffered from a zombie outbreak. I mention this because the lifecycle of human to zombie can be sort of a metaphor for Silber Records, or maybe the other way around. From birth until approximately early 2000 can be seen clearly as the human stage, whereas early 2000s: the bite, the incubation and subsequent infection of the host with the parasite in the form of the Internet. It affected the population of the music industry as a whole, the promise and freedom came quicker than the industry could cope with and the potential that that the widespread introduction of the World Wide Web to the population and created a culture and mindset that proved detrimental to music as commerce. The inability of the industry to acceptably adapt or even keep up, resulted in ensuring anything they attempted would be too little too late. I’m sure we’re all aware of the pitfalls of the new music industry and how while there’s the illusion that the smaller artists have a voice, getting that voice has been getting increasingly more difficult. This left labels such as Silber struggling for survival, unable to gain attention in the new media because they weren’t beneficial for the zines and blogs looking for clicks to impress advertisers. How then does a label with a small reserve of capital and ever diminishing returns on products stay alive? Unlike 4AD and Projekt, Silber never really developed into an identity for its fans and with the new industry, what way did they have to prevent listeners from aging out as life consumes them or to capture the attention of new listeners?
It was around this time that I left Raleigh for Boston and started Plumerai, we’d eventually release a few titles via a promo/distro deal with Silber as a way for both of us to hedge the losses that come with releasing a CD. Eventually though, Silber would succumb to its open wound and in 2013, Brian would put operations at Silber Records on hiatus.
Like the undead brethren of Brian’s fancy or Christians’ own Jesus, resurrection was due and it’s anybody guess as to what the result will be. Would a headshot be forthcoming or would ascension and cult status await? In 2014, the newly risen Silber has shifted its attention to being more of a media conglomerate as opposed to primarily a music label, with more attention being paid to the comics division, a revamped QRD, and embracing digital releases as well as trying to navigate the new music industry and how to manipulate it to Silber’s benefit. A lot of us long time fans and friends are anxious to see where Brian John Mitchell can take the Silber Empire.