Trance-induced state

Austin label showcases some of the best Texas has to offer

At some point, Stewart says, Trance would like to broaden its stable of artists so it's a better mixture of Texas and national bands. With the exception of Bedhead and Erickson, Trance seems to be overrun with bands for whom the difference between noisy and deafening is subtle, and has been characterized by some writers as a label filled with bands whose every breath seems to pay homage to the Surfers and Scratch Acid.

"I don't know anything we could do we're not doing already," Stewart says. "Our only goal is to put out music and to have a good time. One goal, I think, would be to have a more national bent. Right now, the label is cool concept-wise, but King realized he was just pigeonholing himself--not with a bunch of what writers say are Butthole Surfers rip-offs, but there are only so many good Texas bands he can sign."

As part of that expansion, Trance has added another imprint, Emperor Jones, that will release albums from low-fi darlings Truman's Water (Milktrain to Paydirt) and Austin's My Dad is Dead (whose first album was titled My Dad is Dead and He's Not Gonna Take it Anymore, recorded after the frontman's dad had, indeed, shuffled off this mortal coil). Stewart will run that label almost exclusively, if only because the Emperor Jones will push those bands he prefers considerably more than Coffey; Emperor Jones records will, however, also bear the Trance logo, the infamous seven-headed snake once used as the SLA logo.

Unlike a Direct Hit Records in Exposition Park--perhaps Dallas' closest parallel to Trance in ideology; they share Bedhead in their catalogs--that has a limited distribution through indie record chains, Trance currently has an amazingly good distribution and production deal with Touch and Go (and Trance's European imprint, Southern). Trance provides the music and the artwork for the albums, and Touch and Go manufactures, distributes, and even promotes the releases. Trance, in fact, was the first label Touch and Go distributed other than its own imprint; because of the deal's success, such labels as Merge (home to Superchunk) and Drag City (Pavement) followed suit. Touch and Go also helps with the bookkeeping and, when all the money's taken in, Trance gives 60 percent of the profits to the band--which is 10 percent more than Touch and Go, "one of the most honest labels in the world" (so says Stewart).

Because Touch and Go handles production and distribution, the Chicago-based label decides how many copies of each album to press; usually, they will manufacture between 3,000 and 5,000 CDs, a couple thousand cassettes, and almost 1,000 copies on vinyl (the only exception being Bedhead's 4SongCDEP19:10, which was logistically impossible). "Vinyl, it's for the kids," Stewart jokes.

Currently, the Pain Teens are the best-selling, and probably the best-known, functioning band on Trance: their last CD, Destroy Me, Lover, sold more than 11,000 copies internationally (more than half in the U.S.). Bedhead, though, has sold more than 6,000 copies of their 1994 debut WhatFunLifeWas in the states, as well--which, Stewart says, "is really incredible for being an unknown band" that has played such a small amount of live gigs with little publicity. It's likely, though, Trance's profile--and album sales--will increase with the release of Erickson's album, his first in a decade, and the Butthole Surfers bootleg, which will retain the original packaging.

Such success has not gone unnoticed outside of Austin. Trance so far has fended off the advances of at least one major label seeking to absorb it into the fold: MCA Records recently made Coffey and Stewart an offer, hoping that having its own indie label might give it the sort of alternalegitamacy it sorely lacks (and no, the Nixons do not count).

To attach itself to a major label--as Sub Pop just did with Elektra, as Matador has done with Atlantic--says Stewart, "would be so bogus. I would be so against that, and King would be so against that. It's like fake money, just for a major label's credibility, which I don't give a fuck about. It nauseates me just to think about it. We're set up doing distribution and production with Touch and Go, which is the best indie in the world, so that's the end of the line. There's no further to go when you're putting out this kind of music."

But if, indeed, any Trance band is interested in making the leap to a major label, they have that option: Coffey and Stewart rarely sign contracts with any of their bands, and they are, in most cases, free to split after two or three records--and sometimes, after just a single release. Ed Hall, Crust, Desafinado (formerly johnboy), and the other Austin bands operate on a handshake deal, and to sign a contract with Sixteen Deluxe, Stewart says, "is insulting because they're my best friends."

Bedhead was among the "two or three bands" that did put pen to paper simply because they were not friends with Coffey and Stewart before going to Trance. "It was really more out of courtesy" for both sides, Stewart says. All Bedhead requested of Trance was that Coffey not sell the band to a major label.

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