I’m Pat “Tall Pat” Sullivan. Svengali and Head Honcho at Tall Pat Records. Sometimes I play in a band called Comm To Black. My day job is in the insurance industry and you’d fall asleep if I explained it to you.
Back in 2014, you said, “over the last week tall pat records went from some weird side project to a real job. Time to get work and do it right.” How did the idea of Tall Pat records start coming about and what caused you to take it from a project to a job?
I wish I recalled saying that back in 2014! Clearly, it didn’t turn into a real job. That’s mostly because my day job went from something I could sorta half do as I worked on TPR some days to something that took up all of my time. Jobs, what ya gonna do.
As for how TPR started, I suppose you could trace it back to the way I originally got into the Rock’n’Roll musics. When trying to find out about bands, I always gravitated to labels catalogs. Sympathy for the Record Industry, Ace of Hearts, Estrus, Swami Records, Cargo/Headhunter, Flapping Jet, and so on. I loved labels that focused on local scenes and particular periods of time. I spent college working at the schools’ radio station, picking up sick tunes, and seeing gigs. I learned a lot in that period, getting close to the Asian Man Records scene and being super active in the San Jose punk scene. The whole “Phat and Phunky Family” world that bands like Shinobu created were a great training ground about how to actually be DIY. I moved to Chicago in about ’08 and after figuring out CHRIP wasn’t going down the WFMU path, I bailed on radio. As my day job started to wind up, I found myself with enough funds to do something besides crush beers and see bands.
As the story goes, The Dumpster Babies were going to do an LP on Slow Fizz Records, but the label folded before it came out. The boys were playing the Bottle and between slamming brewskis and hanging out with my dudes, it dawned on me I should put the record out. I’d always wanted to find a way to get more involved, and this felt like it. The LP was already mixed so we just had to get it mastered and figure out how to make records. It took some doing, but we got it out into the world. From then out, I had ‘ye old bug’. Turns out, it’s not as hard as it looks. You, dear reader, should try it.
When you were first starting the label, Bill Roe (of Trouble in Mind) told you that ‘the first thing to do was establish a solid back catalog so that people would take you seriously. It’s hard to get momentum when you’ve just got one release’ What were some of those first records you were able to establish as your catalog?
I love all my babies equally, but the records that really started to get me traction were the first Son of a Gun LP and the first Clearance LP. A lot of it had to do with how much those bands were playing. But the first record that really started to move outside of groups of people I knew was The Wet 7”. I have no idea why it got some good reviews and just kept moving for at least a year or two after the band broke up. From there on, I started to feel like there was a bit more support. Particular from Carrot Top Distro and record stores. Oh and I can’t forget the first Flesh Panthers 7”, the first record I put out to sell out!
A few years back you felt that you weren’t sure if you were gaining ground as a label, but when people say, “Shout out to Pat for running one of Chicago’s best record labels of the past five years” how did that make you feel?
It feels pretty great! I’ve done most of this in my apartment with my wife. It’s a pretty solitary thing most of the time. You ship stuff, do a little press, and see your bands play. For the most part its a behind the scenes thing. But it’s great when people say hi. At the last Cuddlestock, this dude James Miller came up to me and said he took time off work to come see the shows. That was a really great moment, to have someone I didn’t know take time to tell me how much my work meant to them. That was up there for all time best moments for me.
I know this is a super cliche question, but looking back over the years what were your favorite memories of running the label?
Cuddlestocks were always a blast. I loved leaning to the “Tall Pat” persona. Getting drunk and yelling at people to “get down” never got old for me at least. But then, I was the drunk guy. But people did get down, people did put their dancing shoes on, there were “No Weak Pits”. That’s the thing about Chicago, and this corner of the rock scene, in particular, people give a shit. People show up, people start bands, people dance. To me, it makes the city unmatched in its creativity and energy.
Anytime someone on the label played a big show was another great moment. I loved watching people get their due. But few things beat out that first test pressing for the Dumpster Babies LP. Sitting around with Paul, Tom, Kevin, and John and listening to it was unlike anything I had experienced, or have since. Watching this slap of wax, music made manifest, was rad as hell.
And, what were your favorite projects you put out? (Pastel Blue, Clinical White was mine)
I know better than to pick one. Nice try. Make sure to buy all of them. TPR-001 though TPR-023 are all perfect records. I expect TPR-024 and TPR-025 to maintain that level of quality.
Last month you brought the record label to an end. Did you feel like you ran its course? Or what caused you to no longer keep going?
Yeah, it felt like time. I had always thought to myself, 25 records or 5 years. Whichever came first would be when I would take a step back and figure out what to do next. After Carrot Top Distro went under, things got harder. My day job continued to get more serious, which limited my time to work on the label. The original crop of bands were breaking up or moving on. I’ve seen enough labels go under that I wanted to go out on top. I didn’t want to leave anyone hanging or screw someone over. So it was time.
As for extenuating factors. Well, its a number of things. Distribution is incredibly difficult to get these days. So you’re really limited to what you can hustle. Sales overall have fallen, as people turn to fucking streaming. At 0.000076 per stream (no joke) its impossible to even think about recouping on streaming sites. Record stores have enough to worry about and save for a few (Bric-A-Brac & formerly P-Rex) local music isn’t a high priority. But more then all of that is press. There is no press. Rolling Stone, I mean Pitchfork, doesn’t care in the slightest about music. Blogs, well they just copy and paste what P-Fork does. I personally can’t think of any decent music journalism that’s going on today, besides The Reader for local stuff. Having to fork out more then it cost to press a record really becomes an issue when you’re trying to do more than just cover The City. Yeah, press is a bummer. But then, that was the bummer paragraph.
Who knows, I might be back in five years. Doing this shit is fun.
With the recent ending of Tall Pat records, what are the next endeavors you’re looking to work on?
Well, I’ve got two more records to put out. A 7” from my band, because what’s the point of having your own label if you don’t put out your own stuff. I worked with Anthony from HAIR and Aaron from Comm To Black on recording both nights of 2017’s Cuddlestock on reel to reel tape so that’ll be the big project this year. Getting it mixed and ready to turn into a double LP tombstone. After that, I’ve gotta get back to buying records. There a tone of stuff I haven’t been buying as I’ve been working on TPR. I’m looking forward to getting back into collecting and crushing beers. That new Hot Snakes LP isn’t going to listen to itself.
In closing: Start Your Own Label.