Merzbow, the enigmatic and hyper-prolific Japanese noise sound sculptor, has many non-musical preoccupations (among which some would include large segments of his catalogue): a scholarly grasp of dadaism, a fondness for fashioning rubbish into art, an abiding fascination with ritualized eroticism. But lately, heís really wanted to visit Newburyport. That pretty seaside burg is home to 26-year-old John Brienís apartment, which in turn is home to Brienís one-year-old label, Important Records. Importantís latest release is Merzbowís Merzbeat, a hypnotic aggregation of coruscating rhythms blanketed in a sunburnt crackle. Its cover features the likeness of smiling, Buddha-bellied Minazou ó the only male elephant seal in all of Tokyo.
" Merzbow is really obsessed with seals right now, " Brien reports. " I was telling him that there are seals in Newburyport, where the Merrimack River meets the ocean. He got really excited about that because heíd never seen a seal in the wild before. " In tribute to Merzbowís phocine fixation, Brien has earmarked $10 of Merzbeatís $25 purchase price (itís available at www.importantrecords.com) for the New England Aquarium.
Brien helms Important Records pretty much by himself. The label has grown out of his on-line music shop of the same name (motto: " Because we love music even more than you " ), which serves as a clearinghouse for hundreds of import-only and limited-edition titles. (For $3500, heíll sell you an extremely rare book, housed in a wood-and-glass case, of Mick Rockís photos of Syd Barrett, signed by both; less-expensive LP and CD versions abound of everything from Stereolab, Will Oldham, and Belle and Sebastian to Metallica and Guns Ní Roses.)
But at present, his devotion is to Importantís other, still-nascent capacity. " Itís kind of a project label, " he explains. " I organize things that regular labels wouldnít be willing to do. My first project was a Daniel Johnston seven-inch that would have been cost-prohibitive for his label, but seemed worthwhile for me to do. So I worked with Daniel and his label, Gammon Records. "
That three-song single (colored vinyl, with a fold-out poster of Johnstonís drawings) sold for a measly five bucks. Its run of 1000 has already been snapped up, but for $10 fans of the rotund, mentally fragile romantic can purchase the same title in a second pressing with Johnstonís John Hancock scribbled in shaky script across the cover. Important has also just released a seven-inch by Johnstonís new trio, the NYC-based Hyperjinx Tricycle (back cover photo courtesy of Simpsons creator Matt Groening).These two singles, along with two Merzbow CDs (the other, a pulsating, tumescent throb called Amlux, came out earlier this year), are Importantís sole releases thus far.
But Brien has some exciting projects in the pipeline. First is a disc of Amlux remixes by renowned electro-tinkerers including Arto Lindsay, Negativland, and Add N to (X) ó an impressive line-up of contributors for a label with a practically nonexistent track record. " People are very excited to do it, " he says. " The more people agreed to it, the more willing other people were to sign on. " Heís hoping, for instance, that Richard D. James, a/k/a Aphex Twin, will enlist, if only because Jamesís pal Luke Vibert (of Wagon Christ fame) bought an Important release and was impressed enough to put in a word.
A Daniel Johnston tribute featuring tracks from Dean Wareham, Sonic Boom, and Thurston Moore is also being assembled, and Brien says heís been talking to Moore about doing a full-length in the fall. Definite for the fall is a seven-inch single from former Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV dude Genesis P-Orridge; itís timed to coincide with a book about him from NYCís Soft Skull Press.
For more info on Important Records, see www.importantrecords.com