I must’ve been around 16 when I cranked “Street Survivors” by Lynyrd Skynyrd in my room and my father came in, requesting (and he really could request…) to turn the volume down stating “that I should start doing something worthwhile, coz I would never make any money with music anyway…”. It is things like that that one never forgets. Unfortunately my dad did not live long enough to see me driving a Jaguar…
A few years later I decided to publish a fan zine at a time when there where only a few of those fan magazines around (Bucketful Of Brains, Comstock Lode, Ugly Things come to mind). In typical last minute fashion I titled it The Glitterhouse, because it was yet unnamed and I had a record by a UK funk band called Medium Medium on top of my record pile. And that record was titled “The Glitterhouse”. So actually when one considers the fanzine as the starting point (which it actually is) we are a little older, but 20 years ago we let the IRS know and officially started the company. The bookkeeping was still a shoe box mess for at least another five years…
So the fanzine was 24 A5 pages, usually copied at the library in Göttingen. That made me the arch-enemy of all students, because in the early 80s copiers weren’t equipped for double sided copying and when I left the premises the janitor usually put an “Out Of Order” sign on the machine.
Issue one was published in a print-run of 25 copies and included stories about The Associates, Josef K. and other UK guitar bands. Around issue #2 Rembert joined the party, left for a while and after a few years of unsuccessful studying came aboard again. He is still with us and an important pillar of the Glitterhouse. Wulf was also added to the small company early on and he too is still working here. Around issue #4 the fanzine went to A4 size, had a cool graphics guy (Kurt Petry R.I.P.) who was heavily influenced by Rick Griffin/Kelly & Mouse and quite a handful of contributing writers. We still featured bands like the Feelies, Bongos and Go-Betweens as well as new and old punk/garage-rock from Radio Birdman to The Wipers, from Gun Club to The Fleshtones. Although we always tried hard to publish the magazine regularly (every two months was a goal for a while) we never managed more than 2 issues a year.
In the meantime I took a few hundred of my records to Helmut Faber at Second Hand Records in Stuttgart and bought a ticket to Australia for the cash he forked over. As I was heavily into Australian guitar bands of that era (Eastern Dark, Stems, Trilobites, Lime Spiders etc.) I visited John Needham of Citadel Records for an interview and came home with as many Citadel 7”-es as it was humanly possible to carry. That was the official start of our mailorder.
Through the fanzine we came into contact with guitar/garage bands from all over the planet and most of them had a 45 or even an album (strictly vinyl, of course) out that nobody really wanted to distribute. So we imported and offered them through our skimpy little mailorder newsletter and ads in the Glitterhouse fanzine (whenever it was published).
Around that time we also formed a band – The Chosen Monks. The day Rembert and I bought electric guitars and amps our third band member confessed that he is going to Berlin to study. Well, he succumbed to the nightlife, started a tour-agency called Sooma (which stood for “Shit out of my ass”, I kid you not) and finally founded City Slang. However, The Chosen Monks soon found adequate substitution and our first gig was on the day after Christmas eve (my birthday), about two months after we learned the first chord. Christof was still around and to fatten the sound he played harmonica through a Wah Wah Pedal and announced each song with the immortal words: “The next song is called Isolation!” It was a smashing success.
By that time we had a few issues of the fanzines published and knew every 60’s style garage band in Germany. Time to start a label, we thought, and soon compiled tracks by the likes of The Blackberry Jug (later Broken Jug), The Hipsters, Shiny Gnomes and of course The Chosen Monks plus others. “The Battle Of The Bands” was our first release and came as a C-60 cassette that we copied at home with two recorders hooked up to our primitive stereos. If I remember correctly I was in the USA when Rembert called to tell me that Hans Kesteloo at Rimpo Tübingen just ordered 200 copies…
A few 7”-es followed and release #4 was yet another compilation called “Declaration Of Fuzz” – this time we took the garage-band idea world-wide and bands from the USA, Germany, Italy, France and Sweden (a hotbet of cool sounds) participated. That album (vinyl, of course) put Glitterhouse on the label map once and for all!
So we soldiered on and after 30 releases I had a brilliant idea. I had just bought EP’s by Green River and Soundgarden, two bands from Seattle, whose primal garage skronk excited me like nothing else at that time. So I wrote a letter to their label Sub Pop and voiced my interest. It was holiday time anyway so my next trip actually took me to the Northwest to visit Bruce and Jonathan, the label owners. We struck a handshake deal and some really exciting times unfolded. Green River’s “Rehab Doll” was catalogue number #31. Mudhoney, Blood Circus, Tad followed and someone in the UK invented the term “Grunge” – and we were in the eye of that musical hurricane. Still those were tough times and I clearly remember the T-shirt the Sub Pop guys printed: “What part of WE HAVE NO MONEY don’t you understand?!?”
It was a lot of fun to work with Jonathan and Bruce, two great individuals who had a vision that finally paid off with Nirvana. Although we were the first to release a Nirvana track in Europe (on “Sub Pop Rock City”) we never had a slice of that pie. Too bad. The cooperation with Sub Pop came to an end when the brothers Warner took over, but I still fondly remember the good old times with B&J (thanks guys, it has been a great trip).
To tell the complete story I have to come back to the Glitterhouse fanzine for a second. Due to the amount of work involved in a magazine like that the gaps between issues became bigger and bigger. Out of the blue I received a new fanzine called “TNT” by some guys from Munich. They dealt with music as well as with movies (the splatter variety being their faves) and had a handful of great and enthusiastic writers. I was as impressed with them as they were with us, so we stopped both Glitterhouse and TNT and gave birth to HOWL – an A-3 size beast of a fanzine that also came with a free vinyl 7” (that was relatively new at that time). It was an exciting period and with a print run of over 5.000 copies it sure was successful. Again after a few issues the work involved became unbearable and as a few key people stopped studying and had to work to make a living the fanzine was put to rest in peace. One important friendship sprung from it, which adds to the positive memories of those days.
Back to the label: About 30 cataloge numbers past Green River we started to licence records from another great US label – Amphetamine Reptile Records from Minneapolis. Discs by Helmet, Boss Hog, Tar, Cows, God Bullies and other wild and metallic acts were released. I will never forget the European package tours like “Ugly American Overkill” when we squeezed 5 of those weirdo bands into one nightliner – those were really wild times.
Again I had the most fun with the label owner – another great human being by the name of Tom Hazelmyer. An ex-marine with the greatest sense of humor I ever witnessed in an American citizen. He also had a few weird hobbies, like packing the trunk full of weaponry and head to the shooting range. Or like starving all day and then go to a 5 Dollar “All-U-Can-Eat” joint at night. Or buying a house built by Frank Lloyd Wright. A tough guy on the outside, a gentle soul inside. He gave up the label a few years ago and now owns a couple of sports bars in Minneapolis if I’m informed correctly. I would love to have a few beers with him.
We stopped working with AmRep when our German distributor EFA showed less and less enthusiasm for those releases. During one of our visits in Hamburg one of their head-honchos opened the doors with the famous words: “Gitarre ist tot!” That was around 1994. By that time we had 360 releases under our belt.
GRCD 361 marked the dawn of a new era. During the Sub Pop and Amphetamine Reptile years we kinda neglected the Glitterhouse imprint as well as the mailorder. We were just too busy cranking out numerous releases, the singles usually in 3 formats (though as catalogue numbers they count as one). We signed hot rocking guitar bands Monster Magnet, Bullet Lavolta and Sister Double Happiness, but with #361 we changed the course of the Glitterhouse ship drastically: “Silos And Utility Sheds” was a compilation of singer/songwriters we signed around that time. A combination of folk, country and Americana, it was the direction most of the forthcoming releases on Glitterhouse would take.
After our split with Sub Pop we inherited The Walkabouts, who over the next years helped us tremendously by releasing a string of great records and by functioning as some kind of talent scouts. They usually ended up as the studio band and producer for their various friends and enlisted some of the more prominent Seattle musicians (like Eddie Vedder) as guest musicians. At one time we actually considered printing a sticker saying: “NOT featuring Peter Buck!”
Somewhere during all this activity we moved the offices from the ex-living room of my former girlfriend in Lauenförde to the current premises at Grüner Weg 25 in Beverungen. That actually wasn’t much of a distance, because both towns are just seperated by the river Weser (and different countries, just like Texas and Louisiana). If you drive down the B 241 it looks like one town. The run down villa that is our headquarter is nicely situated near that river, but as there is a factory and a few silos surrounding it nobody wanted to own it. Good enough for me I thought and bought it.
Looking for new ways of additional income we revitalized the mailorder department. Lutz, who is with us for close to 15 years now, had kinda diluted the programme by offering New Kids On The Blocks sleeping bags and Bros (anybody remember them?) bandanas. When I went into the mailorder room one day to look for a record I could play in my office and found nothing to my liking I told myself that it’s time for a change. Lutz was promoted to Head of International and he supervised the non-German Glitterhouse sales for years to come. To our utmost satisfaction I have to add.
To cut a long story short I took over the mailorder department (some of my colleagues thought it wouldn’t last long) and – I am proud to say – published an ever growing catalogue on a monthly basis. Always on time, never missed a month. Yes! So if you are not already a mailorder customer you should ask for one…
Bringing the mailorder back to life also meant that we had to employ a guy to run ship. Enter Archie. Archie and his friends used to visit me in the early Lauenförde days to have a beer and buy some records. Which led to a friendship and a job as the man who gets the orders processed. He just celebrated his fifteenth year at GH. Three years later we added Christof to our mailorder team. He worked for a competitor who did not recognize that there was a diamond who just needed a little polish. Christof developed into a guy with many talents and whenever he takes a rare holiday the company just stops like a derailed train.
For a few years we released records by the likes of Gary Floyd, Larry Barrett, Terry Lee Hale and a handful of other Americana-styled singer-songwriters. Enough to be pigeonholed for the next five years. I remember when Grunge was over for a few years and we at Sub Pop released a great variety of different artists and styles the (especially UK) press still wrote: “It doesn’t sound like a typical Sub Pop record.” Time to wake up. Anyway, when we entered the new millennium we tried to diversify the music we released and I think we succeeded.
The story of our empire would not be complete without having mentioned our little festival: A few years ago we had the idea of throwing a party in our company garden. We wanted to invite our mailorder customers and Glitterhouse fans (so they could touch us! Ever touched somebody from amazon?), have a few of our artists play in the background while we and the guests would have a BBQ and a few cold beers. At the last minute we called the event Orange Blossom Special (just like The Grateful Dead found their name by pointing on a sheet full of words. Theirs being a dictionary, ours a Johnny Cash boxset). Rembert and his trusty chainsaw paved the jungle in our backyard and despite heavy rain and few other fuck-ups like a leaking stage roof and a few power-failures the first OBS was a lot of fun. In the meantime we have a real 4 x 6 meter stage with a solid roof in our backyard and which other label can say that? 2010 saw the 14th Orange Blossom Special which by now has grown into a 3-day/20 bands event that is great fun although a little different from what we originally envisioned. It still takes place in our company garden (each year around early June) and the 1500 tickets sell out quickly.
But Glitterhouse would not be complete without the interns that devote 6-12 months of their young lives to the company. Not only do they a lot of work for next to no money, almost all of them have proven to be great human beings with a good (in cases amazing) sense of humor. A thousand thanks to all of you!
Back to the label... After our old distributor told us about the imminent death of the guitar it was easy for other companies to lure us away, especially as better money was involved. Our new German distributor was called TIS, which was a small but important part in the WEA/Eastwest/Time-Warner-conglomerate. The head of TIS was a great guy named Wolfgang Johanssen (Wojo) who renewed our faith that there are still people in the business who care. He sure did care big time and saved our ass more than once. For that I am eternally grateful.
When TIS was rationalized away by the WEA powers in London we struck a deal with Indigo. Some of the guys owned a part of EFA once and looking at their roster of labels now it was probably that same “Gitarre ist tot” statement that made them form their new company. We have a good home there and as Indigo even has a few people who are as cool as the aforementioned Wojo I hope we can stay there as long as we are releasing records.
Which if you believe some of the so called insiders will not be for that long, as they insist that CDs and vinyl are a thing of the past and invent scenarios that in just a few years you can wear your record collection on your wrist. You don’t even need headphones as you have a little chip implanted in your ear that is in direct contact with your brain so you can hear all the greatest music in 4-dimensional Hi-Fi–whatever. Maybe you don’t even have to listen to it anymore, as you’re getting a Total Recall-style recollection…
I personally am not so sure. The guitar is still alive and I actually bought two new vinyl decks (actually three, but one high end shitpiece was a nightmare to assemble, so it’s still boxed up) a few years ago to play some of the cool new stuff I bought on 12”. I still love to look through my sizeable record collection, I love to stumble across something I have forgotten for a while and I love the excitement to rediscover it. I still buy tons of records and CDs and after being a music addict for more than three decades I am still soaking up new and old stuff like a big dry sponge. May it never stop!
I will not go too deep into details about the years 2005-2009 other than they were very tough. However, we were lucky, because an angel descended upon us to save Glitterhouse from this misery. That meant a complete restructuring of the company. As George W. Bush put it: “We will prevail!”
- Reinhard Holstein, July 2010
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Vita Bergen · DE - Rostock - Helgas Stadtpalast
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