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February 20, 2016

Justin Bieler (I Had An Accident Records)

Justin Bieler (I Had An Accident Records)
Photo by @c_allison

After 10 years of running the indie cassette tape label, I Had An Accident, Justin Bieler is stepping down and passing the torch to a new owner. We’ve once again partnered with Vladimir Shcheblykin (of Russia’s ahhmusic.ru) and spoke to Justin about his past, present and future plans.

Vladamir: Can you tell me about your first memories of music?

Just recently I started playing Raffi for my son, who is 6 years old. He absolutely loves the songs and likes singing along… its through this that I have rehashed my memories of listening to Raffi when I was about the same age. That’s my first experience with music… also my first concert.

Vladamir: Do you remember the first music that strongly influenced you? How many years were you then?

It was when Vanilla Ice came out that I realized my dream was to be a performer and song-writer. It didn’t really pan out the way I hoped. That’s just grade school stuff though. Our dreams are huge when we are young. I used to listen to a lot of cassettes on car rides from Ohio and Illinois to Indiana when I visited family. Salt N Pepa and Garbage were two of my favorite tapes to listen to. Weird how we get older.

Vladamir: What is music for you?

Music is something that passes the time. Something that makes me feel. Its all about trying to make sense of this weird world we are living in, and how some songs will bring out certain emotions or feelings.

Vladamir: Tell us more about your label I Have An Accident. Why did you decide to establish a cassette label?

Back in 2006 I moved from Massachusetts to Chicago and then to Oregon… three moves in one year. My best friend at the time stayed behind, the label was just an excuse for the two of us to stay in touch. We intended to just release our own music or music of close friends. It was a way to relate to one another, to make physical pieces and have fun. I don’t know I think in about a months time that all changed and soon after we parted ways. I was too practical and he was too idealistic. So we officially started in 2006 and we started releasing only cassettes in 2009. It was a decision based one a few things, love for the physical product, the decline of CDs, and the nostalgia around cassettes. I love how cassettes look and feel, and bringing us full circle here for a moment, its how I grew up listening to music. It all made sense.

Vladamir: Vinyl records promptly returned to fashion, CDs are obsolete, sales are down. How are things in the tape industry? Can it be said that it’s back in fashion or is it just a fetish?

I’m so involved in myself at this point I haven’t a clue how the industry is. I have been improving my sales over the past few years, so I can say I think its more than just a fashion or fetish, but there is some actual interest in the product. With that said, and working exclusively with cassettes, I think we have some fans of the music that are just as confused now as many where 6-7 years ago. When you agree to release something on cassette you have to understand there is only so many people that will buy it… and there are people that will question your decision. It works out for me, it helps me stay small and viable. I can do 100 – 200 run releases. If the demand were higher I would have trouble keeping up.

Vladamir: Tell us about the positive and negative aspects of your work.

Its always easy to list the negative aspects. The time it takes, the drama with certain artists, the hardship in marketing… getting art printed but the print shop cuts it wrong so you have to redo it all… money. Sometimes it just sucks. Deadlines. The positive aspects are the outcomes. Looking at a finished project, being able to talk to amazing people, and experiencing the music on a different level than just a listener. The thought that this is real is a positive aspect.

Vladamir: What is an inexhaustible source of inspiration for you? What could have a negative impact on you, on your mood?

The fact that people keep buying these tapes is the inspiration. If that ever stopped I’d have no problem packing it in and walking away. And my mood is based on sales, when we have a bad release date I’m all down and wanting to just give up. Somehow I keep going. Something amazing always happens, ropes me back in…

Vladamir: What does family mean to you?

Family is everything to me. I’m constantly balancing the label with my family. I’m choosing my family first. I’ve tried slowing down my input here to make sure I have enough time and energy for them. My son. He has very simply taken over my entire heart.

Vladamir: Is there anything that you regret, and that would like to change in your life?

Everything happens. I’m sure I’ve made mistakes along the way. I always think moving to Annapolis was a “regret” except it led me to this amazing woman and eventually the most beautiful child… so that kinda makes this move more important than I realized. I regret my laziness, I think I probably could have been an important banker with lots of money if I wasn’t so into my own time.

Vladamir: In your opinion, what is the biggest achievement in your life?

Besides raising a child… I guess getting 10 years in on this tape label thing. I am not sure if I have any glowing achievements outside of surviving.

Vladamir: Can music change the world?

Music can change anything as long as its played for someone that wants it to change something.

Vladamir: How difficult is to make money with music?

I haven’t made money yet… so I’d say pretty damn tough.

319: In a label spotlight interview we did with IHAA back in 2010, Julia LaDense described IHAA as a two person label. Is that still the case or when did that change?

Julia LaDense is a character embodied by many… it was more of a concept than a person. Back in 2010 it was just me running the label… In 2006 the label was me and Seamus – but 2007 it was just me… its been just me since then.

319: 2016 marks the ten year anniversary of IHAA, a huge accomplishment considering how fickle the music industry has been. How do those early years running the label compare to IHAA right now?

The early years were extremely different. The label began more of a noise label that would be an outlet for myself and Seamus to mess around and pass music back and forth to create different music. Pussy Willow by Julia LaDense was the first thing we created together. The core of the label in the very beginning was home crafted artwork with extremely limited runs. Seamus and I were into different philosophies and spent a lot of time theorizing the concepts of the physical product in music and sound – and how much representation meant – it was really interesting and I think our first few releases shows that… I ended up working with a few other friends, the direction of the label went into numerous directions and I think I got lost for awhile. It was really about releasing friends music – regardless of genre. It was cool – we’d do a release or two here or there… very minimal. It wasn’t until 2009 that things started to pick up – I took it more seriously – I graduated grad school and had more time to dedicate to it. Somewhere along the way I started releasing 2-4 albums a month. I am not sure how that started, or why I thought it was a good idea – but it defined my life for many years after that. Eventually it became too much. At the same time, that devotion and passion was what really kept the label alive. It often felt like a person (i.e. Julia) outside of myself.


319: You’ve recently made a big announcement that you’re going to be leaving IHAA after all these years. Tell us about the decision to step down.

You do something for 10 years and you have an opportunity to look back and you have to ask yourself… why is this still happening? I think since 2011 I’ve been saying “thats it I’m done” – but it seems like whenever I have said that something happens, and I’ve been roped back into it full throttle. Recently I had developed anxiety issues and as I took a long look at my life, who I was, how I was, I realized that the blood and sweat I poured into the label was draining me in so many ways. I’ve loved doing the label – and love the friendships that I’ve created through this… it seems crazy to me to think people like Ceschi or Bleubird know who I am… and graced me with the ability to work with them. Things like that really make decisions to step down extremely difficult… but in the long run I know that my happiness, my passion has become exhausted. I was thinking of ending the label – “you have to destroy it to save it” kept running through my mind. I had a conversation with this dude Damien from Spokane. If you don’t know him – his IG account has photos of just about every amazing release that exists that he has purchased. His devotion to the craft, the love of music, his ability to create- he is going to take this label places I only dreamed. Its super exciting to see what Damien will do – and its so amazing to know something I created will go there with his leadership. Late in 2015 he was making a few beat tapes and involved me in the process of manufacturing… and he was asking me all these questions, making it clear to me that he wanted to start a label – and I was thinking more and more how I needed to move on – and it just made sense that someone as amazing as him should just take over I had An Accident instead of create something else. So that is how we did it – and April 1st I will technically be only the store manager for the label until Damien returns from a vacation to Arizona… I think he gets back like April 10th and at that time he will take over full ownership of the label. Its going to be great.

319: Do you foresee any big changes in the post-Justin era of IHAA? Who’s going to be running the show once you’ve officially left?

So I guess I touched on this already a bit – but Damien will run the show completely. I’ll be here if he has questions – but ihaa will be his and his alone. I know he is going to be doing a release with maticulous and I know a Skrapez tape is in the works too. Outside of that I am not sure exactly who else he will be working with – I’m sure some of the same people, but also some new ones as well. He will bring some big changes as he personalizes the label.

319: Are you really leaving music all together?

Its kind of a weird place to say it – but at this time, as I step away from the label – I am also, in turn, working on starting a new label. Not that the world needs another tape label, but I wanted to continue my connection with music, but I just cannot keep up with the I had An Accident pace, so I decided I would start a little collective label dedicated to just 2-3 releases a year. Just allow me to continue to enjoy the love of cassettes without having to go crazy like I was. The slower pace will be easier for me to manage. This probably won’t roll out until June of 2016. The label will be called “Some Tapes” – info will be eventually posted at facebook.com/sometapes

Its been a pleasure – thank you to everyone that I’ve worked with. Everyone.