When one thinks of pastoral Northern Michigan, one does not usually conjure images of radical queer-punk art icons, European free-jazz maestros and globetrotting skateboard prodigies. However, pick up the latest issue of Copper Press, an impeccably assembled magazine springing from no less a thriving burg than Acme, Mich. (a “suburb” of Gaylord), and that’s exactly what you’ll get. Each issue of the mag, which debuted in 1999, bursts forth with features, interviews, fiction and other verbal and visual treats from more than a couple dozen writing, design and photography contributors covering the independent culture that’s always percolating below mainstream awareness. Pick up any of Copper Press’ 11 issues and you’ll likely make a discovery that’ll change the way you see and hear the world (yes, the world). Publishers Steve Brydges and Royce Deans’ approach marries writing that makes no apologies for its fandom with the idiosyncratic eclecticism of journals such as Your Flesh and the attention to detail of an art catalog.
Issue 11 (on store shelves now) includes a sampler featuring music from the duo’s record label, 54°-40’ or Fight!
From just outside the tip of the mitten, Brydges took a few minutes to answer some pesky questions about Copper Press and more.
Metro Times: How and when did you and Royce become involved in DIY culture — if that’s how you would characterize the magazine and label endeavor?
Steve Brydges: I wouldn’t characterize the magazine nor the label as a pure DIY endeavor, because we rely upon the assistance of so many others to bring each album and issue to completion. Where Copper Press is concerned, yes, we’re behind everything, but we’d be even more swamped than we are without the generous aid of our contributors and distributors and our printer, Hignell. As for 54°-40’ or Fight!, we’re not making homemade cassettes with hand-painted covers and passing them to friends and well-wishers; we’re paying for albums to be recorded, mastered and manufactured, so we can sell them to people. That’s hardly DIY.
Royce and I met and got our start in publishing around 1993, when we collaborated with our mutual friend Eric Campbell on a snow/skate/sound print publication called Pok [pronounced Poke] Magazine. We had grand designs, but reality kept getting in the way. That’s the short answer, anyway. Royce and I wanted to continue working together; the idea for Copper Press was germinated shortly after we ceased publishing Pok.
Metro Times: What was your initial vision for the mag?
Brydges: Our dream of publishing a magazine on subjects we loved turned into a mission to see if we
couldn’t make it a full-time gig. And I’m not ashamed to admit that.
There are clusters of bitter pills stuffed deep in the pants pockets of indiedom who want you to swallow their idealist poison, who admonish those who publish and who release records to do it for next to nothing. As though someone who labors to produce something they love should feel guilty for trying to earn a living from it. It’s absurd.
Metro Times: Does it pay for itself?
Brydges: Yes. Has since issue 1. I’m an assertive ad salesman. Plus, we’d like to think the finished product sells itself.
Metro Times: Are most of your writers from Michigan?
Brydges: We have no writers who reside in Michigan. Of all of our contributors — photographers, graphic designers and writers — I’ve met eight of them, and three were good friends before we started Copper Press.
Our opportunities to meet most of our contributors are limited, and surprisingly, not many of them make the sojourn to Northern Michigan to meet us. I would think Gaylord would be their mecca. I’m kidding, of course.
Metro Times: Do bands get up to Northern Michigan very often?
Brydges: Ha! Ah, no. Despite being split in half by I-75, Gaylord is not frequented by many noteworthy bands. dilute, a band from just outside of San Francisco who are on our label, did play Gaylord last fall, however. They had an extra couple of days between stops in Detroit and Chicago, so they drove north to stay with me. They ended up playing an open-mic night at a tiny coffeehouse to about six people. Two songs, 34 minutes of amazing music, and the best Gaylord could do was six people.
There’s a record store in Traverse City that stocks a few indie titles, and one of its employees has a serious Bluetip/ Dischord fetish, which I applaud, but the pickings are slim. The local bands are, um, not good. I don’t go out much.
Metro Times: How is it harder or easier to create a self-sustaining venture (label, magazine, band, community of interesting-and-tolerable-if-not-like-minded folks) outside of a major city?
Brydges: Thanks to e-mail, it’s not really that difficult, at least for the magazine. I do most of my communicating with labels, snowboarding companies, bands and contributors via e-mail.
The cost of living is cheaper outside a major city, which makes sustaining a home office easier. The label might have more of a presence, were it in a major city.
Metro Times: Why did you start 54°-40’ or Fight! and what are your goals for it?
Brydges: I’ve always wanted to start a record label, ever since I got into music. Over time, Royce began to share this interest. We’ve always wanted to branch Weatherbeaten & Bound, Incorporated — our official “evil corporate conglomerate” name — beyond the magazine into other creative areas, like a label, book publishing, fight clubs, etc.
Our label goals are simple: Release great music by bands we love and to grow the label as large as we can while never losing sight of why we started it.Chris Handyside writes about music for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org