Features Music Don Giovanni Records: History 101

Music: Don Giovanni Records: History 101

Don Giovanni Records started out as many punk labels do: owners Joseph Steinhardt and Zach Gajewski wanted to release their own record, a record that became DG-01 Talk Hard’s Sarah Connor’s Will. Ten years later, the project clearly grew legs. Now based in New Brunswick, NJ, the label has released big records from bands like The Ergs!, Waxahatchee, The Measure [SA], Screaming Females, Hunchback, and more. They’ve expanded beyond their original strictly local rule, but the two owners remain focused on nurturing their local scene as the label grows. In 2013 they released 16 records and 2 books.

Scene Point Blank, while congratulating the label on ten successful years in a trying industry, also asked Steinhardt to discuss some of the label’s most memorable releases. SPB picked out 6 of the below and the other memorable stories were chosen by Steinhardt.

talk-hard.jpgTalk Hard – Sarah Connor’s Will

(DG-01, 2003)

When Zach and I put out this record we had no intention of really starting a label, but we still discussed things like how we didn’t want to do any limited pressings, thought self-releasing was cool, and wanted to have a simple understated logo, and stuff like that which is still how we do things today.

kamikaze.jpgKamikaze – Seppuku

(DG-02, 2004)

Growing up, The Degenerics and Fanshen were two of my favorite bands and still are today so when Kamikaze formed, which had members from both of those bands in it, I was really excited. This record, along with their LP, still holds up well today and this 7” will always have a really special place as both the first band on the label which I wasn’t in, and also the first time some of the guys in these bands I really loved took me seriously since I had been bothering them about trying to help them out in some way since I was about 14. For this record Zach and I had this plan to screen our own shirts for people who pre-ordered but we literally had no clue what we were doing nor did we have any kind of space to do it so since we were living in dorms at the time. It was basically a disaster.

the-ergs.jpgThe Ergs! – Dorkrockcorkrod

(DG-08, 2005)

So much has been said about this band and this record, but it also feels like so little has been written about them that I always wonder if people who weren’t there know how special they were. I think for anyone that was there when this thing came out, this record was a life changer. For Zach and I, we thought it would be the end of the label. We had never put out a full-length at the time, which was 3-4 times as expensive as putting out a 7”, the CD version of this had been out for almost a year, and people weren’t buying vinyl the way they were now. On top of that, the band hadn’t really picked up yet to the point that they eventually would. We literally thought we would sell 10 copies, but it felt worth it because we really wanted this thing to be on vinyl. This being our first LP, I had no clue what I was doing with layout and so there is no spine on the first pressings which really bothered me so I was glad we got to repress it. On top of that, in order to make a record release deadline, I had to type up the entire back cover in a day and so it is riddled with typos and errors. This record would go on to be the first record we did where people seemed to notice the label and is also one of my favorite records to come out in the 2000s.

dustheads.jpgDustheads – Little Pieces

(DG-20, 2008)

This band was a fucking disaster, but was also Zach and I’s favorite band. Live, they could be either the best band you’ve ever seen or the worst. Recorded, though, they were always incredible. They felt like they were ahead of their time and, in retrospect, I think they really were. This LP, like the band, was a mess. We really wanted them to record it well because we knew it would be good, but they wanted to record at a rougher quality. We suggest things to bands all the time but, in the end, it’s important we give them complete creative control of their work. So they recorded it and we rushed it out on a discography CD for an (ill fated) tour but, when they got back, they told us they wanted to re-record it better for the vinyl version. With any other band we would have probably told them that was insane, but this was Dustheads and they were insane, so we did it. The end product is one of my favorite records we were ever a part of and, in typical Dustheads fashion, came out after they broke up.

hunchback.jpgHunchback – Inside Out b/w Song for Dave Berg

(DG-22, 2007)

This record was the first in our singles series where we pressed 300 7” singles at the cost of $600, charged $1 each, sold them all, took the $300 to Atlantic City, bet it on even on roulette, and used the $600 to put out the next 7” in the series. Odd came up, The Measure (SA) single never came out, and the series ended.

screaming-females.jpgScreaming Females – Power Move

(DG-29, 2009)

This was the record where Zach and I decided we were going to try to run a label, and do what “real” labels did. Screaming Females were neck in neck with The Ergs! for the best band in New Brunswick, so it seemed a natural fit for us. But, unlike the other bands we worked with at the time, they did an incredible job putting out their own records and getting them out there. Zach and I had this plan though, where maybe we could try to do what bigger labels did for their bands, but still on our own DIY terms without all the bullshit associated with larger labels. We pitched it to the band but they weren’t interested, so I told them I would kill myself if they didn’t let us work with them and that worked. Together, we figured out how to do all these bigger things on our own terms, slowly shaping the label into what it looks like today.

shellshag.jpgShellshag – Rumors In Disguise

(DG-31, 2010)

A perfect record by a perfect band. Meeting these guys changed my life and so did this album.

byrds-of-paradise.jpgByrds of Paradise – Teenage Symphonies

(DG-39, 2011)

If Dustheads were a car wreck, Byrds of Paradise were a train wreck. But like Dustheads, Byrds of Paradise (which shared a singer and bass player) were fucking incredible.

laura-stevenson.jpgLaura Stevenson – sit resist

(DG-44, 2011)

Pete and Alex lived on Zach’s floor our freshman year of college and Alex booked a Jeffrey Lewis show I'll mention when I talk about that record. I never really knew much about Bomb the Music Industry so I only really heard of Laura Stevenson when Pete and Alex started to back her but, once I did, I was basically hooked on her voice and songwriting. Once I discovered a mutual interest in watching Blink 182: The Urethra Chronicles 2, I knew I really wanted to work with them.

waxahatchee.jpgWaxahatchee – American Weekend

(DG-51, 2012)

A couple of times Zach and I talked about branching out into bands that weren’t from our area, and every time we talked, 3 bands came up: one of whom we are working with in the immediate future (Tenement), one of whom we will very likely be working with in the future, and P.S. Eliot. But while P.S. Eliot were active we were steadfast to our policy of only working with local bands. When we heard Katie and Allison moved to NYC and started Bad Banana we wrote them about doing a record but Katie told me they were done and she was working on something new. The songs she sent me were incredible and the rest is history.

jeffrey-lewis.jpgJeffrey Lewis – Last Time I Did Acid I Went Insane

(DG-53, 2012)

I first encountered Jeff when I was asked to play a show opening for him at a friend’s house when I lived in Boston in 2006. I had never heard of him, but after talking to him and finding out he liked Bent Outta Shape, seeing him play, and finding out that his albums were all only on CD I told him we should work together. He was into it. About 6 years later we finally got the first reissue out and there are more to follow, hopefully at a faster pace but who knows. Since discovering Jeff he has become one of my favorite songwriters and it feels pretty incredible that we work with him.

larry.jpgLarry Livermore – Spy Rock Memories

(DG-61, 2013)

When Larry Livermore said we could work with him on releasing his book, which I had been reading as he posted it to his blog in rough form, it was insane since a lot of the music Larry had released on Lookout (along with the way he ran his label), had a huge affect on my life, my friendship with Zach, and how we wanted to model our own label. Since meeting Larry he has become a close friend and a trusted advisor on all aspects of my life. Hopefully this will be the first book of many we do as a label and with Larry.

Credits

Words by the SPB team on Dec. 16, 2013, 5:06 p.m.

Words by Joseph Steinhardt. Edited by Loren Green.

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Don Giovanni Records: History 101

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