SIX STAR GENERAL
by Eric Baylies
SixStar General has been one of the best New England bands, both live and in the studio, for over a decade. I had the chance to talk to bassist-singer Mark MacDougal aka Slick and guitarist Kyle Jackson about the band and the label Mark has run for many years, 75orless records. The band is rounded out by drummer Dan Ulmschneider.
Noise: Tell me how the band started. Had you known Kyle for awhile? Was this kind of your first band, or your first in a long time?
Mark: Kyle grew up around the corner from me in Warren, Rhode Island and our families were friends. He had moved back home after college and was playing with a drummer. Kyle had 20 songs of his own when he asked me to join on bass. For the first year, I just showed up, played bass, and kept my mouth shut. Then once we knew it was working, I started contributing songs. I had played in some local bands before that, recorded some demo cassettes, played live on WRIU on a Saturday afternoon, and recorded on a Tascam 4 track at my house for a few years. The usual early ’90s loop of local music nothingness. One band I was in did open for Our Lady Peace in 1995 at The Met. It’s been all downhill since then.
Noise: Briefly touch on bands the guys are in outside Six Star General. I know you are all busy.
Mark: Kyle plays guitar with Jets Can’t Land and has a solo studio project called 15er that released a couple of albums. Dan is playing shows with The Callouts, Jodie Treloar, Bob Kendall Band, and The Underwires. Dan also does studio work for most of Kraig Jordan’s music projects out of the Plan Of A Boy studio in Providence, including Jordan Everett Associates, The Bill Keough Band, and Karma Rocket.
Noise: That’s a lot of stuff! What came first, the label or the band, or website?
Mark: The 75orless music review site started in October 2001 and we managed to review almost 2,000 albums over 12 years. The album submissions we were receiving is what gave me the idea for the label. We were getting these great albums in from small town bands, who just like the great local bands around here, had no form of support at all to let people know they existed. So, starting in early 2006, we contacted the best ones and worked with them on providing them CDs and shows if they toured the area. Then, we took our favorite local bands and did the same thing. The first year, the label had a total of 12 albums and then every year after that had close to 20. The review site stopped in 2013, but the label has continued on and we recently released our 230th album. Every band is different. Some need to find a studio for recording or mastering, some need help with manufacturing cds or vinyl, getting shows booked, setting up digital distribution, finding bandmates, borrowing gear, promo places to send their albums for airplay or review, etc. I just try to help with what I can and still have never taken a penny of profit. Many bands can now do this all themselves, but it hasn’t always been that way.
Noise: 230 albums! that is insane for basically a one man operation who also works full time! Thank you from everyone. Let’s get back to the band for a moment. What were you aiming for musically when you started the band? Has that kind of evolved over the years or do you kind of have the same influences?
Mark: We originally just wanted to drink beer, play local shows, not be a cover band, and never go on tour. After a few years, we started throwing some covers in by people like Jonathan Richmond, Butthole Surfers, Cat Power, Sparklehorse, Grandaddy, Daniel Johnston, T Rex, and others. As far as modern influences, Kyle is the one who still keeps up with new music. I have kind of given up, there’s just not enough time any more to keep up, due to holding a day job that has gotten more intense over the past few years. I have had to admit to myself that when a new band cites the bands I was into 15 years ago as an influence, this new band is for the younger people who missed out on the real deal the first time. It’s always a constant cycle and in 15 years, the kids now will feel the same way about the new bands that are coming out and citing 2016 bands as their influences – just like our parents did with Fabian.
Noise: Can you tell me about some of the best and worst shows you guys have done?
Mark: We had about 50 “worst” shows when our first drummer was too drunk to play our songs correctly. After five years, we got a new drummer and have never had a worst show since – unless someone’s gear craps out. I would rate our best shows as opening up for Two Cow Garage from Ohio. It’s an annual tradition that started ten years ago. The locals who follow that band tend to drink way too much and perform some of the worst dancing I’ve ever seen.
Noise: I asked Kyle the same question.
Kyle: My all time favorite place to play was Jake’s in Providence, now its the Parlour and Dusk, both in Providence. We are not playing many shows at the present time. just a few per year.
Noise: Do you guys have any touring plans?
Mark: No, never. None of us have that flexibility and at the same time, we would probably want to kill each other after a few days – and we all get along very well. The key to our longevity is giving each other space and knowing we are never making a dime. We know we will always have day jobs.
Noise: Is the label slowing down or anything?
Mark: In a way, it is. Technology has made it so that bands can do much more for themselves than when I started over 11 years ago. I remember the old days of being stressed out trying to meet everyone’s deadlines, while hand screen printing each jacket for every release. There’s just no time for that now. No one needs to borrow gear anymore. There’s less physical products to make for bands, less money is needed overall. Amazing albums can be recorded at home, no one has to go into debt to cover an outrageous studio bill anymore. Very few bands have the patience to wait for a vinyl release to be created and it has the highest expenses of any format, so the demand is low for vinyl for local bands. I am not going back to the days of cassettes. I lived that life already. It really wasn’t that much fun. Even when I have gone two to three months without a new release, I will find myself getting contacted by bands all at once and will suddenly have five albums added to the upcoming schedule. Even the slowest years have seen a minimum of ten albums released and I am betting that 2017 will end up meeting that same number. 2017 has had a quiet start so far, but now I have upcoming albums over the next few months from High Planes, Monument Thief, Suicide Bill & The Liquors, Stan Sobzac’s new album Stanland, Feng Shui Police’ final album, Bobby Forand’s I Blame the Kennedys book, and the long lost Swampbirds album on vinyl. I still get a lot of emails out of the blue from old friends that start with “Our new album is nearly done, are you interested?” If my first time working with someone was smooth, I will almost always want to work with them again. If it was a pain in the ass, I won’t bother. I have never used a contract and every album is a one off with no further ties. We each have an out that way. If a band is giving away their new album for free online, that is a situation I am going to avoid. I cannot compete with free. Any money I put into a band, I need to be able to get it back somehow, preferably from sales direct from my label website.
Noise: How long can you run it by yourself?
Mark: That is a really good question. I don’t have the flexibility I used to have in my schedule to go check out local bands I hear great things about. Ben from Load Records just announced he is shutting the label down. There is no way I will last as long as Ben did. I guess one day I will wake up and say fuck this.
Noise: Have you tried to get interns from the local colleges or even high school?
Mark: I have had interns in the past, but you know the old saying “If you want something done right…” I really can’t assign someone else to ask my two most important questions of any band I may work with – Is the music weird? Are they nice people?
Noise: I know you guys made at least one video, any others in the works?
Mark: That’s Kyle’s department. Nothing planned right now. We eventually will record our tenth album, but have yet to practice any of the new songs. I have a pile of notes and simple demos recorded. I am in no rush and am enjoying just helping other people get their albums out for now.
Noise: Thank you gentlemen, and I use that term very tightly. But what do they know? How do we know they are being honest about the band? Are they really any good? To get an outside, fair perspective, I asked outsider music expert and WUMD 89.3 dj Sahugy aka Sara Shaughnessy , what’s up with these guys?
Shaugy: I’ve been watching Six Star General since they were a wee lass of a band. I first met Mark at the radio station when he came on the Local Anasthesia show to talk about the first compilation that 75orless was putting out. Since then I have booked them at several hole in the wall clubs, and they have all been fun. They are a fun loving group. Don’t let the music fool you!
Noise: I won’t! There you have it, ladies and germs, check out one of the most consistently good bands of a generation, and one of the most diverse labels around.