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Wednesday, December 13

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Feature Thu Sep 14 2006

Smog Veil Records: The Cleveland scene finds its (green) home in Chicago

It was just before closing time last Thursday at The Note, when THOR (a former bodybuilder who, just moments before, broke a tooth while attempting to bend a steel bar with his teeth) was brought back to the stage for an encore by Frank Mauceri, owner of Smog Veil Records — home to the rock warrior and recent arrival to the Chicago's healthy community of indie labels.

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Frank Mauceri of Smog Veil Records

Since 1991, Mauceri has been running Smog Veil for the most part out of a home office, releasing a catalog that covers Northeastern Ohio's seminal punk and garage scene, with releases from the area's most notable exports like Rocket From The Tombs (perhaps known for Pearl Jam's cover of its "Sonic Reducer") and Pere Ubu, as well as its more obscure, as in the case of The Balomai Brothers, which in its press pack lays claim "to have been making music on the West Side of Cleveland for the last 25 years and have sold a whopping seven records!" But the label also extends beyond its regional niche, working with artists like Unknown Instructors (featuring Minutemen's Mike Watt and George Hurley) and, of course, the former Mr. Canada himself, THOR.

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THOR (photo by Mark Gronvall)

Likewise, the label later eventually relocated from Cleveland to Reno, but in late 2005 it made the cross-country move once again, this time landing in Chicago. It was a decision made after living in what Mauceri felt was a "music industry vacuum" for 10 years. "Reno is a great place to grow your business anonymously. No one bothered me there," he said. "But I really missed being bothered and seeing people in clubs and just hanging out and actually seeing bands perform live again."

Not wanting to move back to Cleveland, Mauceri chose Chicago, where he felt he could have the label grow — "I feel that I'm not confined here to traditional rock-and-roll," he said. "I'm comfortable here releasing just about anything I'd like."

The move to Chicago also provided a new opportunity to build a sustainable office space for Smog Veil's headquarters — aided by the city's expedited permitting process for green remodels, Mauceri set out to create a space powered completely by solar and wind energy, using recycled and reclaimed materials to renovate his Bucktown live-work space. Mauceri was also given a grant from the City of Chicago to develop a rooftop yard (or a green roof), as a place to kick back in nature besides the public park, since his building has no outdoor space.

"My goal is to set an example for the music industry that you can maintain your business, even grow it, by instituting sustainable practices," Mauceri said. "My sustainability goal is more than the space though — it's many things from reducing the amount of jewel cases we use, to silly things like reusing shipping materials. If you don't have to buy boxes or electricity, that leaves more profits to make more records or do more tours." He hopes to have the new space open by next July.

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So, what's next for Smog Veil as the renovations continue?

As it wraps up its 15-year anniversary, Smog Veil will unveil (erm, sorry) a new release from Unknown Instructors, as well as a retrospective of Rocket From The Tombs and Pere Ubu co-founder Peter Laughner, which is in the works for next year. "The retrospective we're working on will be a revelation to people. [It's] a heartbreaking loss that he is gone," Mauceri said. "You'll cry when you hear it."

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Pere Ubu (photo by Lex Van Rossen)

And, in a nutshell, that's why people like Mauceri start record labels — there's that revelation out there waiting to be discovered and released to the masses.

It was towards the end of law school at Ohio State, Mauceri decided to start Smog Veil records, as he discovered a 60-hour-a-week lawyer lifestyle just wasn't for him. "The funny thing is, I ended up working the 60 hours a week, just for myself though," Mauceri said. "The thing with running this label is that it's 12 hours of rock-and-roll paperwork everyday, but I can't imagine doing anything else."


An Abridged Smog Veil Discography: Three Albums to Hear

Rocket From The Tombs, The Day The Earth Met … (2002)

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One of the greatest albums compiled for one of the greatest proto-punk bands. Before Pere Ubu and Dead Boys, there was the band that spawned them both: Rocket From The Tombs. Formed in Cleveland the mid-‘70s by two rock writers, David Thomas and Peter Laughner (who, after the split of the group, would go to start Pere Ubu, only to have Laughner die soon after of liver failure at age 25), RFTT was short-lived, but in its brief time produced a brilliant document of life in the crumbling industrial city — desperation fueled its sound, while the songs, like "Life Stinks," were the jaded calls of the city's anti-heroes.


THOR, Best of THOR: Vol. 1 (2005)

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Calling himself one of the "true originators of rock theatre," Vancouver's Jon Mikl Thor (aka THOR) really is best experienced in a theatrical setting, as his discography is like listening to a B-movie — it's all low-budget production and clumsy storylines. That being said, it's hard not to enjoy the joke in songs like "Thunder on the Tundra" or "Let The Blood Run Red." And you definitely can't help but love THOR's backstory: a former bodybuilder who was the first to hold both Mr. Canada and Mr. USA titles, THOR made his national TV debut on the "Merv Griffin Show" (YouTube clip!), with his Las Vegas lounge act that featured physical feats still used in his live shows today, and own brand of "muscle rock" that was more Herb Albert than hellraiser (a role he plays out in his later albums as Thor Rock Warrior!). The album's an iTunes exclusive.


Pere Ubu, Why I Hate Women (2006)

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Next week, this seminal Cleveland band (headed by its only remaining original member, David Thomas) releases its (scarily titled) 15th album and its first in nearly four years. If 2002's St Arkansas is any indication, Why I Hate Women should prove while some bands may fade after more than 25 years on job, others will never tire.


For the complete Smog Veil catalog, visit their website
-JP Pfafflin

 
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sean / January 18, 2015 2:43 PM

Hi Frank,its your old pal from Euclid,
Sean Carravine(formerly Owens). Gotta cool band,and i'd like permission to send ya sum music.I'd like to get sum input. Send me an email. Also,i work with your cousins,the Sevillos,lotsa fun! Hope to hear from you.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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