It seems silly to be writing an introduction for Jarret Koral in the Metro Times. Not only does everyone in Detroit's vast music community seem to know the guy, but recent articles and TV spots about Koral and his Jett Plastic record label got passed around on social media so much this year, he might as well be a family of foxes just discovering the joy of bouncing on a trampoline.
Granted, not a lot of 16-year-olds have already spent years writing about music (he used to have his own column in Metro Times and none other than Kim Fowley referred to him as something like ""the Cameron Crowe of Detroit") and running their own record label from their parents' basement. But if that were all there were to the story, it probably wouldn't get so far. He's a sweet kid, genuinely, that you want him to succeed. Koral is lanky, smart, and just a touch sardonic (which is a biological imperative, as the dude is 16). He gets straight As, and becomes super animated and intense when talking about music that he loves — almost none of which you'd have heard when you were his age, but then his dad manages one of the biggest record stores in the region, Melodies & Memories.
As we both flip absent-mindedly through the ample dollar section at Melodies & Memories, Koral generously offers me a flat, long Cadbury chocolate called a Curly Wurly he imported himself from the U.K., via a Detroit rocker who lives there now. "This is the best chocolate you've ever had in your life!" Koral says.
Three years ago, Koral parlayed some serious collector scores into enough cash to start his own label. Jett Plastic is a distinctive little vinyl-only label that's released archival records by Bootsey X and Necros as well as contemporary recordings by the Ill Itches and the Pizza Underground (Macaulay Caulkin's pizza-themed Velvet Underground cover band).
Metro Times: How did you even conceive that having your own record label was possible?
Jarrett Koral: I collected records on independent labels for a few years before I started my own, so doing my own thing just felt like a logical step. I saw other labels putting out records like Infinity Cat in Nashville, so I figured that I could give it a shot. Given that I knew a fair amount about record pressing already, I just decided to jump in and try it. I had no idea I'd have this kind of success; I thought it'd just be a one-time thing.
MT: What do your teachers think of your success?
Koral: I didn't think any of them knew about the record label before the news story broke, so I think it was a surprise to them! I'm not one of those people who brags about everything, so I didn't really tell many of my classmates, either.
MT: Do you think you could have gotten anywhere near where you are if you were not in the Detroit area?
Koral: I really don't think so. I started off the label to release a 7-inch by Greg Beyer's group After Dark Amusement Park, so I don't think I would've ever thought the idea was feasible if I wasn't in Detroit, let alone even think of running an independent label. I am a huge fan of the '90s/early '00s Detroit groups like the White Stripes, Hentchmen, and Von Bondies. And being around the scene really inspired me to jump in and give my own take on it. There are a ton of great bands in Detroit that don't have records out. I want to help remedy that.
MT: Do you have a general philosophy that guides your work?
Koral: I just like putting out records I love. If I like a song or band, I'll try to release it on vinyl — simple as that, really! There's not really an equation to what I do, evidenced by the different genres that the label puts out. Necros and Kenny Tudrick aren't at all alike, but somehow it makes sense. I like most genres of music, but I'm primarily a garage rock guy.
MT: How did you hook up with Necros?
Koral: I knew Todd Swalla for a good deal of time before the Necros release. He was in a blues-rock outfit called Boogaloosa Prayer (I actually interviewed them via email, for Metro Times) who I went to see every time they played in Detroit. I loved them. After a Boogaloosa release never materialized, I approached Todd asking if there was any Necros material he wanted to issue on vinyl. Turns out, someone found a 1/4-inch reel to reel in their attic from a show they recorded in Lawrence, Kansas. So we had it transferred and prepped for vinyl.
MT: What's your favorite release you've done thus far?
Koral: Of course I'm inclined to say "every release!", but the Ill Itches 7-inch was extremely fun to work on. We put together a decoder package where, when the vinyl was placed on top of the bonus poster that came with the record, the lyrics to the song and a secret download code were both revealed. I love having unique ideas that people are excited by, especially because I can have fun with variant colors and alternate copies with collectors, who always eat 'em up!
MT: What is your dream project and why?
Koral: I'd love to work with Ty Segall; he's certainly one of my favorite all-around musicians. A couple of records that I've been trying to do since starting the label — Bantam Rooster and the Buzzards, both due later this year — are finally coming out, and I'm really happy about that. I recently acquired a Wildbunch 8-track, and yes, that's an 8-track only release, which is a complete live show by the band, who later became the Electric Six. From what I gather, very few were made, and it's never been released on any other format. I had it digitally transferred for myself, and I'd love to get that out on vinyl.
MT: Please tell me how you got hooked up with Macaulay Culkin and his band.
Koral: Josh Woodcock of the Ill Itches recently moved to Japan, but before then he and I were joking around one day to come up with a new release concept. He had just wrapped up the Pathetic Sounds of Detroit compilation, a sort of sequel to Jack White's 2000 Sympathetic Sounds of Detroit comp, and he was looking for a second release for his label GranDetroit. One of us jokingly said the Pizza Underground, thinking it funny because it would absolutely never be possible to release a record by them. But we sent them a message over Facebook, and they were excited to be approached for a vinyl release. It all moved so fast, I was surprised it was happening at all.
MT: What's your plan for the next Record Store Day?
Koral: I wish I knew. The Pizza Underground record came to together very quickly, so there's no telling what I'm going to do next year. I have a few things in mind; I'll try and keep the streak going!
Mike McGonigal is music editor of the Detroit Metro Times.