Eric Friedl behind the counter at Goner Records
In 1993, Eric Friedl (of The Oblivians) put out Japanese garage crusaders and part-time zombie hunters Guitar Wolf’s first US release, Wolf Rock!, and thus, Goner Records was born. From humble beginnings, Eric and co-owner Zac Ives have taken the Memphis imprint from label to store and now one of the most well known DIY punk fests in the world: Gonerfest, a four day marathon of the biggest up-and-coming acts you don’t know yet but that you’ll be hearing about soon. Tickets are on sale now, and a full line-up can be seen here.
It’s been almost 20 years since Goner started. How has Memphis changed since then?
Eric: Memphis is better and worse. It seems like there was more fun, wild times in the 90s, but maybe that was just the bands and that I was younger and usually drunk. I think a lot of what used to be a Do-It-Yourself type of punk rock scene has been co-opted and is served up ready-made now, which leads to a lot of less interesting bands. That said, it’s still Memphis and there’s something about the music that comes out of here that leans more towards not sucking than a lot of other places. And Downtown has come back in a way, although there’s a ton of empty buildings. It’s still a violent, exciting, boring, soul-sucking place that has infinite potential that will never get realized except in isolated, unexpected, amazing individual bursts.
What are the challenges to being a punk label in the South, and are there any advantages, too? Any advice for labels just starting out?
Eric: The South is poorer than other places, and bigger cities and scenes can be spread out. But also people are in general really interested in small bands, having a good time, and less about what some website thinks.
As far as advice for labels, all I think is that if you think something is really, really good and people HAVE to hear it and you can do it justice, go for it. If you’re afraid that looking at boxes of hundreds of unsold copies for the next few years will bum you out, don’t do it. You’ve got to know it’s great and not care about the rest.
Guitar Wolf, Goner Records’ first release, returns to Memphis for Gonerfest 7
In the Oblivians, it seems like your influence was to keep it simple, not over-complicating or over-thinking things. Do you apply that same mentality to Goner?
Eric: Definitely, but sort of in a different way. The Oblivians never really planned anything and we need to have some sort of plans for Goner, with employees and rent and advance times for records. But we still try to keep things instinctual. Accounting just doesn’t seem to want to work that way.
This is the ninth Gonerfest. What are some of your favorite performances and moments over the years? Anything special planned for the big 1-0?
Eric: All the mayhem of the first one seems like it happened yesterday- Black Lips & King Khan & BBQ playing in the Buccaneer and people from all over the place just going nuts. One of the best weekends of my life. I was driving with my girlfriend down the road and I saw this kid from Italy who ran a label walking down the street. We took him to lunch and the girl behind the counter could not believe that someone from Italy would come all the way to Memphis to go see a show in a house on Monroe Avenue. That was great.
Trying to kick Jay Reatard out of Gonerfest 6 and having him tell me “You can’t kick me out of Gonerfest! It’s like kicking Jimi Hendrix out of Woodstock!” I laughed.
Favorite Gonerfest sets were by Cheater Slicks, Sonic Chicken 4, Dirty Ho, Persuaders, Leather Uppers, Head, Reverend John Wilkins, Outdoorsmen, Golden Boys, Cheveu, Guinea Worms, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Davila 666…. lots more I’m forgetting! Whenever we would have a band at Gonerfest, in a year or so people would finaly hear their records and say - “You gotta get these guys! They’re great!” Yeah, they are- and they played Gonerfest over a year ago! So come see your future favorites… today!
Memphis native Rev. John Wilkins at Murphy’s during Gonerfest 8
We’re trying to get through Gonerfest 9 before we start planning #10… but it’s gonna be a honker!
What’s your favorite part about living in Memphis, what keeps you there? For people who have never been before, what are some must-see/must-do things?
Eric: I think I’m stuck in the Memphis vortex and can’t leave. For whatever reason, some things are easy here, and somethings just will never get done. It’s a beautiful disfunction.
If you’ve never been here you should go to the Missisippi River, the Stax Museum, Sun Studio, and Wild Bill’s juke joint. And drive around soaking it up. You won’t catch the flavor in a weekend.
I lived in Nashville for a few years and came to Memphis as often as I could. I love both, but it seems like there’s a sort of rivalry between the two. Do you think there’s anything better about one than the other, or just preference?
Eric: Seems like Nashville’s really come on strong with rock bands and a healthy young scene. Seems like more college kids are involved in music and such than Memphis kids do. Nashville used to suck really bad, and kids just wanted to hear folk music and funny punk. Now with Third Man & Dan Auerbach up there it’s sorta an indie industry presence, and definitely more money… Memphis really fails at any kind of corporate stuff. And that’s probably a lot of the charm. Memphis rules at barbecue, though.
The Oblivians play to the home crowd for an in-store at Goner Records
And, I have to ask, anything you can tell us about the new Oblivians record?
Eric: We’ve secretly been working on it since 1998. It’s our Fleetwood Mac Tusk. People will hate it when it comes out and in 30 years, when it doesn’t matter any more, kids will think it’s really great. Get ready for Techno Oblivians, with Memphis horns!
Photos by Bully Rook