Dan Goldin has always dreamed of starting a record label. After immersing himself with the burgeoning DIY house show scene in Boston, he was able to start the long-running indie institution Exploding in Sound with his partner, Alec Cakebread. Now in its 10th year, the label has put out monumental releases from bands like Pile, Speedy Ortiz, Grass is Green, Krill, OVLOV, Porches and many more.
Goldin talks about transitioning from a blogger documenting the Boston scene into the head of an indie label, the artistic aura of Porches’ Aaron Maine, the genius of Rick Maguire of Pile and the band’s landmark album Dripping, his publication Post-Trash and the future of DIY.
Take me back to the early days of the label. What made you want to start Exploding in Sound?
I always wanted to start a label, probably since I knew what labels were. I like the idea of the type of label that can curate a sound while chasing down various different things. The sorts of labels you can build trust in and buy releases blind from and know you’ll probably like it.
The catalyst that made it happen was the bands I was seeing on a regular basis around Boston, where I was living at the time. It was going to house shows and DIY shows and seeing Pile and Grass is Green and thinking, “Well, if I’m going to start this label, I can’t think of two better bands to get it going with.”
It essentially comes out of a desire to bring the music I love to a wider audience and do all I can to make that happen. They were basically the first two bands where it hit me hard. I love what these bands are doing, and I wanted to see if they would do that with us.
Were there any labels you looked up to when you were younger that you wanted to emanate?
When I was a kid, I mainly listened to what was one the radio. Which for being a kid in fourth or fifth grade in the mid-’90s was a pretty good time relatively. I listened to a bunch of grunge/alternative rock stuff. Then, I didn’t really care so much about the labels. Because they were major labels and it was like whatever, they went after what was popular.
I feel as I got older and I started listening to more underground stuff — I use “underground” very loosely — things weren’t major label commercial radio stuff. Labels like Dischord, Touch & Go, and AmRep (Amphetamine Reptile). These monumental ‘90s labels very much do have a sound even if that sound does shift. Obviously every band on Dischord doesn’t sound the same but they do share a general aesthetic where you may not like them all to an equal degree, but you will find something to like about each release.
In the beginning, did you have any reservations about approaching bands to work on a release?
No. They were both somewhat friends of mine. Grass is Green I was pretty close with at the time and Pile were friendly acquaintances. Before I started the label, I used to run a blog by the same name. So I had written about them and we had hung out at shows a bit. So, it was a pretty easy-going experience getting it started. They wanted to know I wasn’t fucking around, basically. We all wanted to know we had each other’s best interests.
I’d say most of the other bands we started working with around then came from those relationships. It was a really close knit circle of friends essentially for the first couple of years.
How does it feel to be an established label that I’m sure receives a ton of submissions?
It’s cool! I think it’s nice that people want to work with us. I guess there have been a couple of situations where we have taken submissions, but I don’t know if they have necessarily been “cold” submissions. It’s usually more people we somewhat know or we know through other friends. There were many years where it was a very family oriented vibe to the label.
I’d still like to think it is, but there are some bands on the label whom I’ve unfortunately never met in person. It still has that family vibe because we’d like to think of our artists as friends. But we don’t all hang out and have barbecues or whatever (laughs).
Was there a first release that you felt really put you on the map?
I guess it would have been Pile’s — or however you’d consider it — third album Dripping. Which was our third release ever. People go insane over that record and I agree. As they should!
I think within our first 10 releases we put out, a lot of them, I’d say, are pretty highly regarded by people, not necessarily press. I didn’t so much know what I was doing as far as being a publicist in the very early days. I certainly gave it my all, but it was a bit of a learning curve. But within our first 10 releases we put out that Pile record. We put out the first Speedy Ortiz release, which was an EP and that was our second release ever. We put out the official Porches debut album and Ovlov’s first full-length. Records that still move really well today.
I’ve known Aaron Maine of Porches from going to college at SUNY Purchase and he’s always had this artistic aloofness where it seems like he is so intensely living his own creativity every moment he is awake. It has been something I’ve always admired. Back then the band was called Space Ghost Cowboys…
For sure! Some of those early Porches releases, the ones that never got proper releases like Summer of Ten, are so incredible. I used to see them a lot when I moved to Brooklyn in those early years. While it’s certainly a far different band now. Back then, their shows were wild! They threw down and it was heavy and aggressive in its own kind of way.
They were songs about being lonely and needing friends but at the same time they could start a crazy pit where everyone was throwing down. I was like, “This band is incredible.”
This year, Pile’s Dripping will be turning 10 years old. I feel like that record is the perfect representation of Rick Maguire at the height of his powers. What memories do you have about hearing that batch of songs?
Is it? Oh yeah, the label is turning 10!
Rick is one of the most focused and hardest working musicians I’ve worked with. He’s always three steps ahead in his mind of what he wants to do next and what he wants to accomplish musically. It isn’t always the case. Like you were saying about Aaron with his “creative aloofness,””, Rick is sort of the opposite. He’s super dialed in.
With that record, I don’t know if he was setting out to create any one sort of specific thing rather than following the ideas that interested him moving forward from the release of Magic Isn’t Real.
I’m 100% a fan first and label second.
So I generally lose my shit when I get to hear a new Pile record, or anyone else’s record. It’s always an interesting thing. I feel like a lot of the bands we work with, Pile included, have a very humble nature to themselves. So you’ll get the record and they’ll be like, “Yeah … let me know what you think.” No one is overselling anything (laughs). They’re always underselling things. A lot of artists aren’t necessarily thrilled with their own records. There is a lot of doubt after you finish making it. I listen to it and I’m instantly floored and try to alleviate any doubt.
I think that album is incredible. I think every album they’ve done since is incredible. Some of them are more challenging than others but I think for a lot of bands that’s a good thing. Some of their records you latch onto immediately. I think Dripping is certainly one of the records you latch onto immediately.
Do you see the influence of that record creating a ripple effect?
I think people definitely latch onto that one pretty hard. I also think their work ethic and the way they present themselves and the way they tour as hard as they can … Pile very much likes to do things on their own terms. That sort of aura has certainly rubbed off on a lot of people.
You mentioned before that Exploding In Sound initially began as a blog and then pivoted into becoming a record label. Do you feel your site Post-Trash is getting back to your roots in a way?
I don’t really tie it in with the label so much. For me, there is so much music I like and so many artists I care about and want to support. It just got to the point where there were so many releases I just genuinely loved so much that I wasn’t seeing any coverage for anywhere.
It was either, I write about this or no one is going to write about this. So I thought, “Why not start up a new site?”
What has been the biggest challenge of running a label during the pandemic?
Well, we put out very few releases last year. I think we usually average between something stupid like 12 and 16 releases a year and last year we put out five. For us, that was an extreme difference. We had a very full year of releases planned prior to the pandemic but the good majority of those releases have still continued to not be recorded. Because bands were unable to get together and go into the studio.
A lot of our releases that were going to be at the tail end of last year ended up sliding into this year. Partly because of the pandemic and partly because of how long record pressing is currently taking as a result of the pandemic.
Also, there’s little things other than the obvious stuff like there’s no touring, which I know is obviously affecting everyone — the bands especially. We’re selling more records online than usual because people aren’t going to shows and they’re not going to stores. It’s been a harder thing to do in my case because I’m one of those weirdos who doesn’t drive. Our records are all in Brooklyn and I live in Jersey City. Because I don’t drive and I haven’t been taking public transit due to the pandemic, I try to take as many records as I can from our storage space to our apartment for shipping. But then someone will order that one record I didn’t grab and then it’s like, well now I have to wait until my wife is nice enough to drive me to Brooklyn (laughs).
It’s just those little things that add up and compact.
Do you have any visions of the future of live music once things open up?
I think once shows are a thing again, it’s going to go right back to normal, if not more so, because people are so anxious to get out and do their thing. I just think it’s going to be awhile before venues are opening. Because no one is going to go to a loud rock show to stand in their little zone. They are doing that now because it’s a special instance. But once people deem them safe to come back, it’s going to come back full force.
I have this strange feeling that with a lot of small DIY spots being forced to close its doors, where we are going to see live music happening in places where it normally would not. Like a small cafe hosting a bonkers punk show.
I could see that for sure. I do agree, a lot of the old DIY spots may not reopen their doors. But this may be oddly optimistic of me, I think a lot of new ones will open as a result. One, because people are so anxious for it. And two, if you drive around New York and Brooklyn there is so much commercial space that is no longer in use. Finding the spaces for a venue, even with all of the unique challenges, might be a lot easier than it’s ever been.
The weird thing, when you think about it, prior to the pandemic there weren’t a whole lot of DIY venues left! We were already dealing with an extreme shortage compared to the recent years before.
I kind of think generally the Brooklyn scene is due for a resurgence of DIY spaces. I feel like when shows are a thing again, it’s the time.
This interview was edited down for clarity.