Go for broke

From A Frames to Lili Z., S.S. Records founder Scott Soriano ponders 10 years of punk rock, illegal downloads and underattended local gigs

S.S. Records owner Scott Soriano, a behind-the-scenes (and perhaps camera-shy) kinda guy. Here he is inside his label’s warehouse space.

S.S. Records owner Scott Soriano, a behind-the-scenes (and perhaps camera-shy) kinda guy. Here he is inside his label’s warehouse space.


S.S. Records’ 10th anniversary goes down this weekend with three shows.
On Friday, May 20: A Frames, Liquorball, Hank IV, Charles Albright and DJ Mitch Cardwell at Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th Street in San Francisco; 9 p.m.; $15.
On Saturday, May 21: Feedtime, Lamps, Nothing People, Wounded Lion and DJ Ryan Wells also at Bottom of the Hill; 9 p.m.; $20.
And Sunday, May 22: the Mantles, Nar, 3 Toed Sloth and Lenz at Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk Street in San Francisco; 4 p.m. record swap, 6 p.m. show; $8. All gigs are 21-and-over. Find out more and purchase tickets at www.ssten.com.
Buy a record at S.S. Records at www.s-srecords.com.

Like many smart but bored kids in the late 1970s, the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks was the epiphany for Scott Soriano, Midtown denizen whose impressive DIY résumé over the last 30 years reads like the journal of a man of with a mission. Seeing the world of possibilities that punk offered, Soriano plugged himself into Sacramento’s music scene and, by 1983, was already releasing his own zine and cassettes of local bands.

A few decades later, Soriano will celebrate his label S.S. Records’ 10th anniversary this weekend with three days of raw, impassioned rock ’n’ roll culled from his roster of bands, a real labor of love and a gift from one music lover to a whole world of them. “We’ve always gone for broke, literally,” said Soriano of putting out 58 releases in a decade.

Over the years, Soriano also joined forces with legendary once-promoter, now-attorney Stewart Katz at Club Minimal; ran The Loft, a volunteer-operated, all-ages venue that was spiritual home to bands such as Nar, Popesmashers, the Bananas and the Yah Mos; and started Moo-La-La Records before his current label.

I met with Soriano recently at the Verge Center for the Arts, headquarters of S.S. Records and his online record store, and helped him package up his next release.

People sharing your label’s music for free online can be a backhanded compliment in some ways?

Sure. When someone walks up to you and says, “I love your label. I’ve downloaded everything!” But not downloaded and paid for it. It’s like, “OK, well, that’s great that you love the label. But I need help paying the bills.” There’s a whole generation who doesn’t think twice about not paying. For them, they’ve grown up where it’s all been free. I’m not going to get down on them, but there seems to be no conception that all this stuff costs money to do.

What happens is the traditional ways of funding these projects are not happening. Content can’t be created free if people expect that product to have quality. You can’t expect people to dedicate themselves to learn to write or craft, to make a film or music, and recording in a way that sounds good. What you get instead is a bunch of stuff that isn’t the quality it could be.

Did you get every band you wanted for your 10th-anniversary shows?

No. I would have loved to get a Geeks reunion. I tried, but it wasn’t going to happen. Would have loved to get Volt or Lili Z. to play. I tried, but they got their lives overseas.

I go through the roster and say I’d love if every band could play.

That’s quite the score getting Feedtime, from Australia, to come over to play. Are you going to work with them afterward?

Yeah. I’m putting out an “Odds ’n’ Sods” compilation. Unreleased stuff. All archival stuff. Mostly from the first two records. Demo stuff and different versions.

What was the process to pick the bands? Did you have a laundry list?

Well, the A Frames were a no-brainer. If the A Frames weren’t going to do it, this show wasn’t going to happen. It started off as a two-day event, but then it turned into three.

I didn’t have a “list” list, per se. It was going through the roster and figuring out what band would be good on what bill and this and that. Some of it was geographical, like the Nothing People, who are from Northern California. … It would have been insulting to the band and stupid of me not to have them on the show. I released three albums by them, and I just want to see them play. They’re one of the more consistently well-known bands on the label, probably right after the A Frames.

You might as well ask why the shows are in San Francisco and not here in Sacramento.

I’m sure it’s just a matter of getting a draw.

There was no venue in Sacramento. … I mean, I just couldn’t draw that many people to make it worthwhile.

Right. How many Feedtime fans are there in Sacramento?

The A Frames, I could get 100 people to show up. In Sacramento, there’s a ceiling.

Why is that? We’ve talked about this many times before.

I don’t know. You know, it’s funny, going back to whenever. Back before punk rock became popular, before independent music was popular, back when we were youngsters, a small show was 400 people! Remember, when Stewart [Katz] would do shows with just all local bands, and there’d be 400 people. And that was a small show. People would die to get 400 people out to an all-local bill nowadays. We’re talking punk-rock shows where there were 600 to 1,000 people. I remember the show he did at the Convention Center, Butthole Surfers and Circle Jerks.

But now that punk’s more popular, supposedly, it draws a fraction of that these days. Maybe it is, going back to the whole digital thing, that it’s so available. We went to shows because it might be the only show that we see.

It’s not like music is any less important in people’s lives.

It’s easier to come by. It’s easier to come by anything you want. I didn’t hear Can for years. I had heard the name. I didn’t hear [Lou Reed’s] Metal Machine Music for years. I didn’t hear the Stooges Fun House because it was out of print. Even though you’d read it was the greatest rock ’n’ roll album ever, you couldn’t find it. Now, you can read about some South American psych record that there are only 300 copies of and someone has already posted it online.

It’s like this: You walk into a buffet and everything is free. Now, do you eat everything because it’s free? Do you stack up your plate with everything you can or can’t eat because it’s free? If you keep on doing that and keep on eating, you’re going to be one fat fuck. And it’s not going to be good for you.