March 5th, 2014 by Amelia
Michael Sandor of Mind Cure Records in Pittsburgh and I started chatting when I tried to get an EEL 7” off him. My friend Zakk (who serves this man his morning coffee) said he’d mail me his as a trade for a rescue mission he owed me for, but I decided to go right to the source and tracked Michael down. I never got my 7” but I did get an interview and a Mind Cure scarf out of Michael…
Who are you? All I know is you released the recent EEL 7″s. We have mutual friends…
My name is Mike Seamans. I run Mind Cure Records, the record shop in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the record label that is based out of the store. I’m a born and raised Pittsburgher and have lived here my whole life, save for some very brief attempts at trying to live in New York and DC. I was fortunate to have a cool older sister who started taking me to punk shows in 1994 when I was 12. I fell into it super hard. I had grown up skateboarding and was into music from a pretty young age, but once I set foot into that first show I was hooked for life.
How did you start Mind Cure Records? Did you start off as a store or label?
I originally started Mind Cure as a record shop. I had worked at another store in town for 8 years and left that job to try and relocate to DC while my wife was going to school. I very quickly realized that I wanted to get back to Pittsburgh as fast as possible — the longest that I went in DC without coming home to Pittsburgh was 18 days. While I was there I saw a bunch of new shops that had recently opened — Smash Records had re-opened and two other stores had all opened within the 8 months before I got there. They were smaller than shops in Pittsburgh and more specialized and it gave me the idea of opening a small vinyl record shop in Pittsburgh. There had been an amazing shop here called Brave New World which had specialized in punk and metal that had recently closed so it seemed like there was a need to fill the void that their closing had created.
The name Mind Cure was recommended to me by friend Dan Allen who was instrumental in helping the store get set up. The name Mind Cure was taken from a Pittsburgh record label that was started in 1983 to release the demo cassette from Pittsburgh’s first hardcore band REAL ENEMY. It ran mainly as a cassette label by Mike LaVella until his band HALF LIFE released their debut 7-inch Under the Knife. The label was run by a guy named Dave Martin after Mike moved to California in 1988 and then ultimately died off in the mid-’90s. Dan thought it would be cool to revive the name and I was all for it and was honored when I was given both Mike and Dan’s blessing to use it.
Is the name a reference to anything?
The name itself refers to William James’ text Varieties of Religious Experience. As best as anyone can recall they basically picked the name out of a book and ran with it.
That book isn’t an easy read. But back to vinyl, what was the first record you released?
Before I ran Mind Cure I did a label called Dear Skull records. It focused on punk and metal from Pittsburgh. The first thing that I put out was an LP from a crossover band called OH SHIT THEY’RE GOING TO KILL US. When I started the store I was still doing Dear Skull. I was getting burnt out on it and had always wanted to do reissues of Pittsburgh punk recordings that had either only ever come out on cassette, never came out at all or had incredibly small runs. It only made sense to merge the label and store. The revived Mind Cure label started back up with an LP issue of what had been it’s first release in 83 REAL ENEMY. Since then I have also done a reissue of another cassette that had come out on Mind Cure in 1985 by SAVAGE AMUSED.
When I decided to stop doing records for new bands and focus on reissues a lot of folks were bummed so I started to do the monthly singles — which are really cut and dry projects, two tracks, one original and one cover with standard label and sleeve art. I have more reissues due out in 2014 from THE BATTERED CITIZENS, WHITE WRECKAGE, THE BATS (the Pittsburgh band, not the New Zealand band) and a bunch of other stuff that isn’t far enough along to announce.
Along with all of these, both the singles and the reissues, I have also been making videos. To get information about the older bands who have been relatively obscure out there, and the new bands in order to raise the profile of the bands themselves and the scene here.
What pressing plant do you use? Who do you use for sleeves?
I use Gotta Groove Records in Cleveland. I’ve used a lot of plants over the years and I think their customer service and quality is top notch. For sleeves it depends on what the release is — for the single series they are done by Hamlett in Nashville, who is amazing! Otherwise it is a mixture — from super DIY styled repurposed jackets, silk screening blank sleeves and also Imprint who have been doing all of the sleeves for the reissues LPs.
Have a lot of places gone out of business since you started?
In Pittsburgh, there has actually been a pretty big expansion of record stores. In the time that I have been open there have been 4 stores to open or re-open. It’s actually great to have so many shops here because it allows for more specialization of the shops — one specializes in hip hop, one more in Indie releases and there is of course the institution of Jerry’s Records, which is the best record store in the world.
Do you think anyone can release records or does it take a special kind of punk?
I don’t know, I guess the way that I think about it is that when I was a kid I knew that I wanted to be a part of the scene but I didn’t quite know how. I’ve never been much of a musician and playing in bands didn’t appeal to me the way it does to other folks, setting up shows stresses me out — it always has — so I knew that wasn’t my thing but I can remember from a pretty young age thinking that I would like to put out records. I talked about it for years and finally I figured I should shut up and do it. That’s a round about way of answering that, but really I think that it takes different kinds of people to fill the roles in fostering a community, musical and otherwise. Anyone can make a record the same way that anyone can learn to play guitar — Jimmy has tried to teach me on multiple occasions and I hated every second of it even though I thought I wanted to do it. Maybe putting out records appeals to my neurotic tendencies.
Do you think being based in Pittsburgh affected your store and label?
Absolutely. I don’t think that I could do what I do anywhere else. The support that people have given me has really made opening up a shop and doing the label possible. Pittsburgh has always been a very local place — which has it’s downsides when it comes to being welcoming of new comers and change — but it is also a place that has always taken care of it’s own and I would not be where I am without that support. Everything that I do with the label is about Pittsburgh — archiving and making available recordings that I think should be heard, promoting new bands and trying to get them recognition outside of town. Pittsburgh is a weird place, but it’s a huge part of who I am and the projects that I do.
What was the scene like when you were coming up in Pittsburgh?
A lot of the early shows, in fact the first punk show that I ever went to, were at a place called REA Coffee House which was in the basement of a dormitory at a women’s college in Pittsburgh called Chatham. At that time they brought a lot of riot grrrl bands and the people who set up the shows were women who went to the Chatham. That had a big impact on me — having a lot of my early experiences in punk being in informed by strong female figures. Also having that be one of the epicenters of activity in town of allowed me to check out a lot of shows at a young age — being 13, 14, 15 years old it was a lot easier to convince your parents to let you go over there since it was a really safe environment. Again, my sister immersed me in this culture — she had become close with women who were at Chatham when she was still in high school and they took me on as their little brother as well.
SUBMACHINE was a favorite band of mine early on. The scene in Pittsburgh was pretty political at the time too. One of the major forces in the punk scene here in that era was AUS ROTTEN, who were bringing other like-minded bands to town. I remember the Primate Freedom Tour coming through town and it being a really big deal. Those guys, were really encouraging of kids to get involved in what was going on whether it was playing in bands, booking shows, Food Not Bombs or just hanging out and checking out shows. They have remained really close friends of mine, Eric and Corey especially, to this day and supported projects that I have worked on. Besides shows at Chatham there were tons of basement shows — Chesterfield and 326 Neville St were to two mainstay basement venues in the 90s — but there was also a club called Laga which is where bigger shows would happen — it was pretty crazy to get to an AUS show at Laga and there would be 500 people there. Those shows also ended early, at around 10:00, so that there could be a this goth dance night and it was really funny to see a bunch of 16-year-olds with mohawks filing down the stairs past the goth crowd who were lined up waiting to go in the club after the punk show ended. Again, having those shows over early made it a lot easier to see bands that you wanted when you had a curfew.
In retrospect a lot of this was possible because of how run down the city was at the time — if the cops got called to a basement show where you had a bunch of underage kids holding 40s and puking on the front lawn, someone else is selling beer illegally inside to minors out of a closet and bands are playing they would just shut the show down but that was about it. A few times kids got arrested but I remember the cops just calling their parents or the pastors at their churches if the cops knew them — it was a small enough town that this kind of shit happened — but I don’t remember anyone even getting fined. Similarly when the bigger venues like Laga saw that they could pack the house with punk rockers, after years of having pretty dismal turnouts for live music, they started to give free reign to folks to book shows their. Now Laga is a grocery store and cops shut down basement shows with a lot more vigor and bigger fines.
The collectively run Mr. Roboto Project opened to try and give a more permanent home to punk and hardcore shows in town around 1999/2000. In some ways it was a response to basement shows getting shut down before touring bands got a chance to play and to make sure that underage kids had a place to see shows.
What local distros and record labels do you first remember?
The guys in AUS ROTTEN had a distro that they ran and there were always people set up selling patches and t-shirts at shows. I mainly remember record stores — Brave New World was the place for punk and metal, Jerry’s Records for used stuff, Paul’s CDs — where I later worked for years — had more Indie and Import stuff. I don’t remember a lot of local labels though. People self released a lot of records, CDs and tapes but I can’t remember a label that was set up in town focused on local releases.
What Pittsburgh bands have you released or have in the works?
The current Pittsburgh bands who have done records for over the years are: OH SHIT THEY’RE GOING TO KILL US, ICON GALLERY, DARK LINGO, KIM PHUC, RATFACE, ZEITGEIST, CAROUSEL, THE GOTOBEDS, MUD CITY MANGLERS, KILLER OF SHEEP, EEL, NIC LAWLESS, OLD HEAD, THE FRANTIC HEART OF IT, PLAYOFF BEARD, GANGWISH and surely more who I am forgetting.
Reissues that I have worked on: REAL ENEMY, SAVAGE AMUSED and BATTERED CITIZENS and I have more due out this year from THE BATS and WHITE WRECKAGE
There is also an EEL 12-inch in the works, it’s going to be a split release with Konton Crasher records, which should be done for their March tour.
Good man, that Konton Crasher. Did you model your label after a specific label/distro?
When I was starting out I did a lot of research into how other labels worked with artists. I have definitely taken a lot from Touch and Go and from Dischord, and generally just treat everybody fairly and honesty.
What’s your advice to punx who want to get in the game?
With the internet it is easier than ever to find out how to make a record and the amount of money that it costs to do it is attainable, just be prepared for a lot of frustration and to have a lot of boxes taking up room in your basement. With all of that said, every so often somebody will tell you how much they love a record that you put out or that they appreciate what you do and that makes it all worth it knowing that it isn’t just something that you believe in but that you are bringing something into the world that has affected other people.
What was your last release?
My most recent reissue is from a band called SAVAGE AMUSED who were active in Pittsburgh in 1985. What a lot of people new about them was that their bass player — Alan Peters — went on to be in AGNOSTIC FRONT and ABSOLUTION — but this record is insane. I’ve played it for a lot of people and nobody can really put their finger on it — it has Midwestern American hardcore influences but also has the element of the really unhinged sides of what would have been contemporary Japanese bands. Originally there were around 100 copies of this cassette made and they played outside of Pittsburgh only a small handful of times so I am really excited to get these guys on people’s radars. I have been also doing a local single a month — which is what the EEL record was a part of, there are four more to go in that series before I wrap it up.
How can we stay up to date on Mind Cure? What’s the best way to contact you?
Check in at www.mindcurerecords.com we also have a Facebook page and an email list which you can sign up for on the website. You can also email me directly at:
Before you go, can you tell us about the scarves???
Ha, I have always wanted one those St. Pauli scarves and last January a friend of mine was wearing a Pittsburgh Penguins scarf — Hockey and sports in general are huge in Pittsburgh, even with the punk rockers — I started thinking how cool it would be to make some for the shop like the St. Pauli ones that I have admired for years. I got in touch with the company who makes them for all the European and South American Soccer teams (even St. Pauli) about getting some made. The problem was that it takes like 12 weeks to get them, at which point it wouldn’t be cold anymore. So I made a note in my calendar and in August I sent in an order.
Any last words, punk?
I really appreciate you taking an interest and making time to do this! Thanks!