Interview: Greg Werckman, IPECAC RECORDINGS

Ipecac Recordings is the legendary music label releasing stuff as diverse as Faith No More, Dälek, The Melvins, Dead Cross or Eyvind Kang. It is owned by Mike Patton and his manager, Greg Werckman who kindly agreed to an interview.
How did you decide for this label name?
We were bouncing around a lot of ideas, but Buzz from the Melvins suggested Ipecac. It is an herb used for medicinal purposes that induces vomitting. We thought that appropriate for what we were doing.
I know you worked for Alternative Tentacles before, but what about other jobs and schools?
I grew up and went to college in the midwestern United States. After college I moved to New York City and worked at an agency that represented people for speeches and personal appearances. At this agency I met Jello Biafra from Dead Kennedys who hired me to run his record label, Alternative Tentacles in San Francisco. After that I worked at Mercury Records for a year before deciding to start Ipecac and be an artist manager.
Which bands made you want to be in the music biz?
I loved music from a very young age. I played my parents records and listened to the radio constantly until I was old enough to start my own record collection. I read every music magazine I could find. As far as which bands influenced me the most that is hard to say. My parents had Chuck Berry, Elvis and Neil Diamond records that I loved. The first record I bought was Elton John. I was obsessed with KISS. I ate it all up.
Have you ever been in a band? And did/do you DJ sometimes?
Yes, I was in a horrible punk band in the early 90s in San Francisco. I worked at radio stations during college. I thought for awhile I was going to do radio for a living.

Dälek v Akropoli, 2018, foto jk

How do you see the current state of music business?
Ha! Well, it is certainly different than it used to be. It is challenging, that is for sure. We are very lucky that we have a loyal fanbase of fans that support a lot of what we do. The climate is more geared towards singles now, which is strange and not what we are about at all. Consumers tend to have short attention spans and are not as loyal to the same bands year in and year out as they used to be. It is getting harder and harder for bands to sustain recording careers. With the digital shift, suddenly the consumer felt it was their right to get any music they wanted for free. This obviously is not good for the artist that puts a lot of time and money into recording. The streaming music concept is taking over and of course artists do not get much from that. Like I said, most of our artists are fortunate to have loyal and supportive fanbases. But its very very tough for developing artists.

What is a working day for you like? Do you enjoy the mundane tasks, or are they just something you have to do in order to work on the more interesting and creative things?
Working days change every day. I can never predict what any day will hold and how long any particular work day will last. At times it is just as boring as any other job in the world. Unfortunately I have to do a lot of the boring jobs like talk to lawyers, do accounting, pay bills. BUT it sure beats a real job!
I understand there is two main people involved, you and Mike Patton. How do you discuss, plan and execute the label issues, and what do you do when you disagree?
Well, just to be clear, it is certainly more than 2 of us. Mike and I are the co-owners, but there are many more people that keep us going. Mike and I are the ones that have the final say in which artists we ulitmately decide to work with. We very rarely disagree. But some times one of us will feel more strongly than the other about a record. We communicate well and know each other well.

Faith No More live in Tesla Arena, Prague 17.8.2009, pic: Tomáš Martinek

I assume you are also his manager, what is involved in this part of your workload, and do you get many weird requests?
Yes, I also manage Mike. This takes more time for me than the label does. Mike does not sit still very often. Yes, I get a lot of weird requests for Mike. But also a lot of requests that are not really weird, they are just not the types of things that Mike does. Every year he gets invited to collaborate with many different artists. Mike wants to say yes most of the time but I have to help keep his schedule in order. He has been asked to join a bunch of bands, some of them have really made us laugh over the years.
What happens after you decide to release an album of an artist? How much talking, meeting and emailing is usual before the actual things happens? And did this change during the life of the label?
After we decide to release a record we have to get feedback from various people in our team to figure out what we should expect from the release. We need an idea of how much money we should spend, how many records we should make and how each record could/should be promoted. There is a bit of talking and a LOT of emailing around the world for each release. Of course a lot of work goes in before moving forward. We take time to determine if the artist is the type of artist we would want to work with and if what we have to offer is right for that particular artist. It is very important to try to be upfront about expectations both ways. It does not serve anyone’s interest to get involved in a relationship without getting to know each other first. I think this has always been the case for us.
How many people are involved in the day-to-day activities of Ipecac?
A lot. There are 4 of us that deal directly in most of what is going on day to day, but beyond that we have sales, marketing and promotion people scattered aound the world. Everyone is important to the success of each release. So I would describe the Ipecac hub as 4 people, but many more are involved daily and many of the bands are very actively involved in their own releases.
You have been running the label for almost twenty years – does the amount of activity and also income fluctuate a lot, or have you found some sort of stable situation?
The workload and income certainly fluctuates. However, we have a pretty fine tuned system that helps us predict how things will work in the near future. From year to year there is not a set number of releases that we have. That changes. When bands tour it is certainly a lot busier. All in all it does not feel all that different than it did for me 20 years ago.
We are not doing anything that is very important. We are offering entertainment.
Is the label involved in the album covers, or do the bands just bring everything and you care for the release, distribution, promo…?
Each band works differently. Most come up with all of the creative ideas, including artwork, themselves. But from time to time some ask for help or advice. We give the artists the oppurtunity to be involved in EVERYTHING if that is what they want. It is after all the art they created.

Do you (still) do just one album deals?
Yes, it seems to work best for all involved. Why complicate matters?
Which of the current things related to the label have brought you most joy?
Well, nothing makes me happier than sending out royalty checks every 6 months to the bands. It is so nice to hear from musicians saying they are happy to be part of Ipecac. If we have created that kind of artist friendly environment then we have done what we set out to do. Happy artists bring me the most joy. Im so honored to have worked with and continue to work with some amazing people. Both artists and behind the scenes. We have a very positive thing here. I have developed great relationships with so many amazing people.
What do you do when you feel unsure or unhappy with something related to Ipecac?
Hmmm, I try to change things if they make me unhappy. In this business there is nothing you can be sure about, but we try to give each release the best chance possible to reach as many people as we can. But you must keep things in perspective. We are not doing anything that is very important. We are offering entertainment. So it is important to never get too emotional about anything one does at a record label.

What does the label plan to do next apart from the Daughters record and the 1922 soundtrack?
We have all kinds of goodies planned! Justin Pearson has a new project called Planet B, we are doing the new Alain Johannes Trio record, new Spotlights album and of course more from the Melvins and Patton is working on several cool things.