April 7, 2015
By Ken Waxman
Vienna’s punk-noise scene of the’90s with underground clubs, fanzines and tape labels did more than advance the career of avant-rock bands. Trost Records was nurtured in that DIY atmosphere so that nearly a quarter-century later it has become a major presence in jazz, releasing discs by the likes of Mats Gustafsson, Peter Brötzmann and Ken Vandermark. This happened because a university student/journalist, working part time at one club, plus a couple of friends, felt the city’s musicians needed more exposure. “There were so many great young bands but basically only two labels in Vienna put out punk hardcore or gothic/rock. No one released weird things, noise, mixed genres,” recalls Konstantin Drobil, Trost’s owner. “But I wanted to put out music that touched me in a certain way, no matter what genre.”
Around 1992 he got involved with two guys selling band tapes in clubs. Although “trost” means “comfort” in German, they decided on the name after seeing the word emblazoned on a giant construction crane. Digging into the scene with the same tenacity as the crane, they pooled their savings and Trost`s first release was a punk singer/songwriter – 300 tapes, long since sold out. “Tapes were not so expensive to make and they sold quickly,” remembers Drobil. Within a year musicians wanted different formats and by 1995 tapes were phased out. “Since tape quality is not that good. I am not so fond of tapes for releasing music”, admits Drobil. “Today I would prefer to make all releases on vinyl, although some sessions are too long. Plus CDs are still necessary for promotion.”
Around that time, Drobil’s apartment had become a spot where people came, listened to music and bought new releases. But by 2001 it was time to open a real store. Today, Substance, managed by Thomas Gebhart, is a music lovers’ hang out with magazines, books and records available. It’s also where Trost’s warehouse and distribution arm is located. Distribution was established to help finance the label; and a music publishing firm will soon join the mix. “It was always my goal for the label to finance itself and to release records I like,” notes Drobil. “I’m very happy that this is working today.” That goal is also why he’s now Trost’s sole owner. Others involved, saw the label as a hobby not an “alternative business”.
This business became even more “alternative” in 2011, when Drobil began an association with free jazz. Distributing reissued CDs by Brötzmann and other seminal European jazzers drew Drobil to the music. “Of course I knew Peter because I listened to Massaker, his son Caspar’s band. With the Atavistic Unheard Music series though. I heard Brötzmann, Joe McPhee, Vandermark etc. I read about Brötzmann, liked what he did, what he stands for, his grumpy, undeterred, yes, sometimes stubborn, image, having strong political ideas, and not afraid to voice them.”
Introduced to Brötzmann and FMP’s Jost Gebers, Drobil suggested Trost create vinyl reissues of some of Brötzmann’s important sessions. “They liked the idea, but were very careful too,” he recalls. “They had heard many proposals by labels, ‘managers’ whatever, many were hot air, and they rarely saw money in the end. After I released a couple of records and they received their share, they started to trust me. Now Brötzmann tells me when he has new recordings he wants to release or suggests an old session that he would like to put out with Trost.” Related to revolutionary politics, Cien Fuegos, Trost’s vinyl-only reissue label, is named for Cuban revolutionary Camilo Cienfuegos (1932-1959).
Due to changing tastes, Drobil wouldn’t release the sort of punk sounds he began with, he admits, although some indie-rock bands like Valina continue to record for Trost. No matter the genre though, Trost usually pays all mastering, pressing and promotion costs.
“Aside from the work with Brötzmann, Trost has been documenting the work of my group Made to Break since Cherchez La Femme in early 2014,” notes Vandermark. “Konstantin’s starts with his passion for the music and respect for the artists who create it, and puts this attitude towards finding the best ways to create, market, and distribute recordings. His goal isn’t just sustainability but constant improvement, to go forward with focused energy and to bring everyone who collaborates with him along on that creative journey. I’ll be working with him in the future as much as I possibly can.”
Another new initiative for Trost is overseeing The Thing’s own label. “The band has artistic freedom, Trost pays expenses and we share the profit” states Drobil. “They have full information as to what’s going on, what has to be done and what’s sold. In 2014 we started the same kind of deal with Radian for their special releases. Right now I think Radian and the Thing work fine and are enough; but you never know.”
Says Gustafsson: “I love working with Kon and his amazing colleague Thomas. Kon is still DIY. He uses all networks and contacts from the rock world and deals in a professional way.” The saxophonist and Drobil met initially when CDs Gustafsson was involved in such as Snore and Fake the Facts came out on Trost.
The Thing label was born, recalls Gustafsson, because “we really wanted to start our own label. But we needed help with distribution and practical matters, as well as someone with whom we could share our thoughts and distorted ideas. “Trust” is even Gustafsson’s own translation of “trost”. He elaborates: “Kon and Thomas have my deepest respect. It’s joy to work with people that are really excited about the music and also wants to improve the business side.” Characteristically Gustafsson says he has “shitloads” of future releases planned.
One circumstance Trost has to deal with now though is the cost and availability of vinyl. The label’s sales are about 50-50 LPs-CDs, and with vinyl popular again; the firmer one-month turnaround has ballooned to three weeks for a test pressing and about twice that length for finished product. “If you do 1,000 or 2,000 LPs you have to wait till the major label with a 10,000 pressing is ready,” reveals Drobil. Still while he admits LPs’ “coolness” factor may disappear again, “I don’t see vinyl disappearing. The vinyl freaks are here, and will stay,” he jokes. His conviction is such that Trost now is releasing 45s by the likes of Christof Kurzmann and Gustaffson. “We like 45s a lot even though they don’t sell so well. We want to emphasize that it’s a great format,” Drobil explains.
Besides an upcoming 45 featuring McPhee on one side and a rapper on the other, future Trost releases include LPs/CDs by Made to Break; Gustafsson/Chippendale/Pupillo; Nilssen-Love/Arto Lindsay plus a CD boxed set from Gustafsson’s 50th birthday celebration. Vinyl will include reissues of Nipples and Orchester 33 1/3 plus an unissued Brötzmann album. Meanwhile Substance will soon have a special “diskaholics” corner with second-hand rarities for sale, hand-picked by Gustafsson.
All this gratifies Drobil. “I’m doing what I want, I’m able to meet many great artists, travel a lot, have friends all over the world and listen to intense music all the time.”
—For The New York City Jazz Record April 2015