This is the first of a series of interviews I’ll be doing with different artists, musicians, artistic institutions etc. in Buffalo. So if you like art and music and cool people, you should read this. If you don’t like any of those things then I don’t know…throw your computer in the garbage?
This first interview is with Stephen Floyd of One Percent Press, a small press publisher and record label he runs with his buddy JP Coovert. I met Stephen at the Buffalo Small Press Book Fair where he showed me some of the fantastic stuff they’re putting out. Here’s what he has to say about One Percent Press:
1. First, would you mind telling me a little about yourself and your business partner, JP Coovert?
One Percent Press is an independent small press publisher and record label with an unexpressed focus on comic books and music. There are no aesthetic guidelines associated with the label but I’d like to think there is sort of a directness and earnestness that tethers everything together. I think everything we put out is made with a ton of care and hard work, but I would say as a point of pride that perhaps none of it is very cutting edge; which I feel is honest because JP and I are not very hip people. I think there is value in art that is understated or controlled.
2. How did One Percent Press get started? Was it something you had always planned to do or did it come about spontaneously? How did you come up with the name?
The label is essentially built around JP and I maintaining a friendship and having something to do together. We met at a friend’s going away party right after high school ended and we’ve never lived in the same town. We started the label around 2004 when JP Coovert and I were like 19 or 20 and I was living close to Atlanta and he was living in Savannah, which is like four hours away, and we would talk on the phone all the time about comic books and like the bands we were into and that sort of thing. So after a few false starts of my own wanting to start a record label / publishing imprint we made the decision to put out the stuff we were working on together. Having this project has helped keep us connected and at the very least given us something to talk about and has helped keep us in touch for about a decade! I recommend it.
The name came about from riffing on something called Sturgeon’s Law which is sort of about how 90% of everything is garbage. I was also super into “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and all of the ideas about the “metaphysics of quality” the book introduced me to, which should give you an idea where my head was at the time. We were goofing around and talking about how really it’s not 90% of everything that is garbage, but 99% of all the music, comics, movies, food, people, etc that are truly awful! But as we joked we discussed how even though it’s only the 1% of life that is excellent, and not terrible, it is somehow nourishing enough that it is empowering and keeps you going. So we called our thing One Percent Press as a play on that. That explanation, unfortunately, can come off as a little snobby or negative but our spin on it is this: that hopefully the positive encounters with life trump the negative ones and even if you have to dig a little bit to find the good it is truly rewarding and worth doing the work. Does the fact that most music is awful make you not want to listen to music? Hell no! It just makes the good stuff even more valuable. It gains value in that context. That sort of relates to a huge part of what punk means to me. That there is value in digging deeper, in defining and re-defining, in pushing against…
Did I mention we were around twenty when we came up with this name?
3. Do you draw direct inspiration from Buffalonian culture and community in the way you run One Percent?
Well JP lives in Minneapolis and I moved here for good in 2010. I came up one summer in like 2007 to do an internship for Art of the Underground, which is a cool Buffalo record label run by Alex Kerns who is the drummer/co-songwriter of Lemuria. I really liked Buffalo and I felt like I did better in a smaller city where my actions seemed to have more of a direct consequence than living in Atlanta where things felt very transient. I don’t know if any of that is true but the perception of that is what gave me confidence to really pursue my aspirations. I mean, the reality is that Atlanta rules and I just sucked at living in Metro-Atlanta. I think some people are really electrified by being in “The Big Pepper” or “The ATL” or wherever and it helps them get up in the morning to feel apart of this giant, pulsating organism but I felt sort of overwhelmed and paralyzed by the scope of it…
Whereas in Buffalo, I immediately was able to be a part of what was going on and found everyone to be really accepting and accommodating. There is a great basement punk scene in Buffalo, I’m really inspired by Sugar City people, a lot of great visual artists, and I’ve always been aware of the poetry scene here but I’m just recently digging in a little more and I’ve been very moved by some of the stuff I’ve seen. There’s a lot going on!
4. Can you tell me a little bit about some of the artists and musicians on your roster? Is it mostly friends or do you seek people out from all over?
Yeah I usually don’t work with anyone without having some sort of connection with them. Being in bands and going to comic shows are weird because you can have these fleeting, usually intense conversations that can lead to a real human connection so I sometimes I feel like I really know and care about people who I don’t actually know all that well! So if I like a band or a comic artist a lot I will usually try and just hang with them for a little bit and see how it goes. I talk a lot so I mean that just comes with territory.
But I guess that’s a drawn out way of saying I’ve never worked with anyone based on like a demo submission or anything like that, but I would if it felt right. There’s no plan with this stuff it just sort of has to happen organically. It just feels better when I have spent time with the actual human or humans making the work.
5. What’s on the horizon for One Percent Press? Any new and exciting projects?
Well we are starting a subsidiary record label called “Radical Empathy” and it will focus on releasing records for bands we lovingly refer to as “free punk” bands, but I guess it’s for bands that are a little more intense or difficult than some of the stuff we normally release. The first thing on that label will be reissuing the first Downtown Boys album on vinyl/cassette/digital. We’re also doing an LP for Alpha Hopper from Buffalo and why+the+wires from Ithaca.
As far as comics JP Coovert will have Simple Routines # 20 out for the Small Press Expo in Bethesda and we are re-issuing Cathy G. Johnson’s book “Jeremiah” and Alexis Fredrick-Frost’s “The Aeronaut”.
Comic projects are a little harder to talk about because they take so much time and I don’t like to commit to a project until it’s finished, but I’ve got a couple of things I’m really hopefully about that will hopefully see the light of day next year. We just released an English version of Max de Radiguès’s book “Rough Age” and that’s been doing really well. We released a comic book from local artist and photographer Emily Churco and I hope she does something for us again.
I’ve been working towards starting a music fanzine and while I’m aware that the world might not need another one I’ve always wanted to do one so I’m on some sort of bucket list thing with this. It’s gonna be called “Gutter Pop” and I’m hoping to have the first issue out this Fall.
So far we’ve released over 50 comic books and over 25 albums in 10 years so that’s pretty good as far I’m concerned. We’ve maintained a slow and steady pace and I’m pretty happy just riding that out for the rest of our time working on the label. Hopefully it will ensure that we can keep doing it for as long as we want to.