There seems to be a burst of record label activity in Milwaukee these days with Sparkler, Latest Flame and others. One label, No Karma, run by Michael Wojtasiak of the Milwaukee-based band Five Mod Four, has been putting out records by Milwaukee and non-Milwaukee-based bands at a respectable rate. So, why don't we know more about No Karma?
With that question in mind, we posed a few questions to Wojtasiak. Read on and get to know No Karma.
OMC: Can you give us a little background on how the label was started?
MW: OK, I started planning the label at the beginning of 1997 when I was 19. At the time, I was in a band who wanted to make a record. I doubted any label would be interested in us, so I told the guys I'd start a label to put it out. My friends and I weren't really part of any music scene in Milwaukee, so I figured if we all got together and helped each other put out our records, we wouldn't need anyone else's scene.
Most of those bands never put out records, but the end of the year I was meeting a lot of bands around the state (and getting emails from all over the country) so I just ran with it.
OMC: How did you hook up with the bands from other towns?
MW: I met most of the bands via the internet. That year I was starting to work on Web pages a lot, and I wound up talking smack on a lot of Web boards and having arguments over email with people in other bands. Usually, that led to playing some shows with my band, and sometimes that grew into a relationship with No Karma. IfIHadAHiFi and Paris@2am were two Wisconsin bands I met that way.
I was also booking a lot of shows, which is how I met Slackjaw and Urban Legends, who are both from Portland. After hanging out at the show or crashing at my apartment, we stayed in touch, and when it was time for them to put out a new record, I told them I wanted to do it. For what it's worth, the core members of Urban Legends are now in the Thermals, who just got signed to Sub Pop.
OMC: Does the web site sell only NO Karma stuff or are other labels represented, there, too?
MW: From the moment No Karma had a Web site, there were bands we knew and loved that weren't on the label, so we asked to carry their records on the Web site. So, the mail order was always a secondary function of the label. Once I was able to accept credit cards online, the No Karma store quickly outgrew the No Karma label. Now it's to the point where I consider No Karma an online store that occasionally releases a record.
OMC: Because you guys are obviously looking beyond Milwaukee, do you get flak from local bands that think you should be focusing more on the scene here?
MW: I still don't consider myself part of the local music scene. I'm familiar with tons of bands from around here, and most of them at least recognize me if they see me at a show, but I don't have close relationships with many of them. I'm not really sure what they think of No Karma. I have heard through the grapevine that people perceive us as this big company, considering we're "national" and all, but for the most part it's just one guy with tons of records and a little help from his friends.
OMC: How many releases do you do in a year? What's coming up?
MW: We've averaged about five releases a year since we started. Jackie Cooper's "The New Mood" is next up; that'll be released February 4th. They're from Milwaukee; two of them were in Cup 388, who were among the first bands on the label. Jason from JC has been my "second-in-command" at No Karma for the last three years or so.
After that, I'm taking a break from new releases. My apartment caught fire in November, and I lost most of my stock. So that's put me in a pretty tight spot financially, and of course I've been busy settling into a new place and getting all my affairs in order. I hope to assess everything in a few months, at which point I might decide to take No Karma in a new direction. I've learned not to plan too far in advance; that might not be a good way to run a business, but I can only stay sane if I concentrate on what's happening right now.
Of course, I also have a full-time job, do some freelance web design, I'm music editor for ActionManMagazine.com, and I'm helping develop MilwaukeeShows.com, so I've always got a full plate! That makes it even harder to plan anything six months or a year down the road.
For more on No Karma Recordings, visit the Web site, www.nokarma.com.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.