Australian Cattle God
Who Let the Gods Out?
The Australian cattle dog is a breed known for its intellect, independence, and wily tenacity. The same might be said of Australian Cattle God, the 3-year-old local label run by scene veterans Bryan Nelson, Win Wallace, and Lee Brooks.
From their home office in East Austin, ACG has unleashed avant-rock recordings from as far afield as Japan, Italy, and Israel while simultaneously maintaining local underground fealty with a roster that includes Cat Scientist, Attack Formation, and Gorch Fock. The latter band boasts Nelson on guitar and Wallace on bass.
Not surprisingly, Fock figured prominently in ACG's formation. The thunderous Austin septet was on tour with screech-happy Japanese trio Bleach03 when the label idea took hold in 2004.
"We were without a label," Wallace recalls. "Josh [Chalmers] and J.D. [Fanning] were moving away from doing Perverted Son Records because their screen-printing thing was really taking off. We'd been talking to a couple of other labels, but we'd all come from that do-it-on-your-own aesthetic.
"Bleach didn't have a label in the States, either, and we just thought they were amazing. I'd worked with Josh and J.D. on Perverted Son, so I had the idea of running a label ourselves."
Meanwhile, Brooks – who plays guitar in the Snake Trap with Nelson on drums – was handling tour publicity for Gorch Fock. That made him a natural third partner. The trio officially incorporated ACG in January 2005. After getting Bleach03 on board in February, they launched the label at South by Southwest the following month.
With inaugural releases from Austin and Okinawa, Japan, ACG was an international label from the beginning. Interestingly, the multinational roster that coalesced in the wake of those first releases was an organic, largely unintended development.
"People from other countries started sending us CDs," nods Brooks.
One such submission came from the Redneck Manifesto, a prog-leaning instrumental quartet from Ireland. Once ACG re-released their 2004 album, I Am Brazil, fellow instrumentalists Diane & the Shell and Lebanon came calling from Italy and Israel, respectively. Serving as U.S. subdistributor for Japanese all-girl act label Benten Tokyo – home of SXSW favorites Petty Booka and Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re – also contributes to ACG's global scope.
"Maybe we all should've gone to some sort of international business school," Nelson quips.
Absent the promotional muscle of a bigger label, the ACG triumvirate quickly discovered the only way to make such a far-flung roster viable is to stipulate that bands go on tour. "Even if touring doesn't necessarily mean what it used to, for a label with very little money and bands with very little money, it's really the only way to get some kind of national attention," explains Wallace.
To that end, ACG provides in-house support for tours, including publicity and screen-printing of show posters. The label also used to handle its own radio promotion, but they've since decided to sub it out.
"We've been around almost three years now, but the learning curve is still a curve," Brooks says. "Just recently, we came upon the realization that it really does pay to hire a radio promo person. We were doing a great job for doing it ourselves, but if it's not what you do and it would take you longer to do it, then it's better to get someone you can work with who's good at it."
Though Bleach03's jagged guitar assaults and high-pitched squeals couldn't be more geographically and stylistically removed from Cat Scientist's Soweto-driven techno-punk, a bright-red streak of rabid eclecticism characterizes all of ACG's output. "We're all musicians, so we're attracted to bands that are trying to do something a little different," says Wallace.
ACG's delineation efforts extend through to unconventional promo items like a limited-edition Gorch Fock skateboard, which has since sold out. The label also has a subsidiary "art label" called Blue Healer for releasing uniquely packaged albums in limited runs of 300 or less. The only Blue Healer release thus far was a 2006 reissue of Attack Formation's Let the Notes Drip From Our Lips to Yours. La Mancha's demise earlier this year was especially lamentable given the ambitious packaging envisioned for their aborted Blue Healer release, Uncomfortable Silences.
"It was going to be a cardboard sleeve that opened into a pop-up book of the band. They were going to pop up out of coffins," Brooks says.
Even without pop-up album covers, November 2007 promises to be a busy month for ACG's principals. Two Austin bands, Lick Lick and Good Times Crisis Band, and Seattle's Mico de Noche all have new albums out Nov. 6. The label is also presenting a showcase at New York's CMJ Music Marathon on Oct. 19 with Bleach03, Lebanon, and Lozen. With that much work on the table, devotion is a must.
"Something like 30,000 new records are released each year," Wallace muses. "The sheer volume of new releases makes it really hard to get through to people who are getting calls all the time, but we really like all the bands we work with, so at least we're getting frustrated over something we really believe in."
Kingpins: Lee Brooks, Bryan Nelson, Win Wallace
Number of releases: 20 CDs, two DVDs
Notable releases: Gorch Fock, Thrilller; Cat Scientist, Cicada; Bleach03, The Head That Controls Both Left and Right Eats Meats and Slobbers Still Today; Lebanon, Planet Rubble; Attack Formation, We Are Alive in Tune
New & upcoming: Good Times Crisis Band, Select a Gather Point; Lick Lick; Mico de Noche, Cherries
Average print run: 1,000-3,500 (ACG), 300 (Blue Healer)
Distribution: Nail Distribution, Carrot Top