CCS: Chicago Crowd Surfer
MB: Matt Bradford
SP: Steve Polutnik
On February 2nd Chicago saw the premier of a new vinyl pressing plant on its Northwest side. That plant of course is Smashed Plastic! I covered their big opening party for ISSUE #47 at Workshop 4200, during which I was able to catch up with two of the organization's founders, Matt Bradford and Steve Polutink. They agreed to an interview and so we sat down for a chat in their brand new listening room to discuss how they got their hands on a brand new vinyl press, their unique approach to running the plant, and some of the records they were looking forward to putting out this winter. Below is a condensed transcript of our conversation, edited for succinctness and clarity.
CCS: Smashed Plastic seems like it is off to a great start already. Let’s go back to the very beginning though, where did the idea to open a vinyl pressing plan come from?
MB: It all started with Andy Webber and I drinking in a bar in New Orleans talking about how great it would be to start a record label. But then we got on the topic of what the Chicago really needed right now, and that’s when we decided to open our own pressing plant instead. That was three years ago.
SP: Andy and my kids go to school together and we’re both avid runners. One day while we were running together, Andy brought up that he was looking into starting his own pressing plant. He tried to warn me that it was in the early stages and that it might not actually happen like he expected, but it didn’t matter, I was immediately interested and said I wanted to help out however I could. The next day Andy followed up with a phone call, and that was that, I was in!
CCS: Sounds like there are a number of key people involved? How many owners does the company have?
SP: There are 4 business partners. Myself (Steve Polutnik), Andy Weber, John Lombardo and Matt Bradford
CCS: Where did the name Smashed Plastic come from?
SP: The name came from Andy. I think he used a record store in Omaha, Nebraska as his starting point, Drastic Plastic and kind of went from there. It is a pretty fitting name considering that is what we are doing every 30 seconds or so.
CCS: As I understand it, vinyl presses are in short supply these days. How did you decide on the model that you have and how did you go about acquiring it?
MB: Old presses are not reliable enough for the type of business we wanted to run. We needed a modern press that could consistently turn out small batches of 200-300 records for local artists who would struggle to get their records pressed at larger plants. We see ourselves as members of the Chicago music community and that’s who we want our plant to serve, the local community.
SP: Right. This is Chicago. We have a great music scene that is good about supporting its members. We’re also a major city. One of the main drivers of getting our plant up and running was to address the fact that we don’t have the means to make our own records here despite being so huge. It’s kind of ridiculous when you think about it. I mean, why the hell doesn’t Chicago have a pressing plant? (Laughs).
MB: It is weird. There is such a need for it. We kept thinking someone would scoop us but then they never did.
SP: I think part of the reason no one else has opened a plant is because of Chicago’s bureaucracy. There are a lot of requirements to operating any type of manufacturing facility in the city. At first we thought we were going to have to purchase a boiler for the press which would have required regular inspections and for the machine to be maintained by a certified contractor. But then we connected with Viryl.
MB: Yeah, Viryl were key. The press that we have through them allows us to operate reliably without a boiler. Instead of steam, which is typical for these machines, ours actually uses hot water. It’s the first steamless press operating in North America.
SP: Right. We are actually using a prototype machine. Using a prototype allowed us to purchase a machine at all. We don’t mind being the guinea pigs. (Laughs) But we definitely didn't get the press for below market. I would say using a prototype made our build out less expensive but I wouldn't call it cheap by any means.
CCS: You’ve mentioned a few times that you want Smashed Plastic to be a part of the music community here in Chicago. How are you going about accomplishing this goal?
MB: One of the main things we offer is our listening room. Jon (Lombardo) used to run a label and he has horror stories about sending money and a master to a pressing plant and praying that he would get a record back that he could sell. Larger plants don’t give a lot of thought to quality when it comes to small releases.
SP: We want to help prevent local artists from experiencing this anxiety.
MB: Exactly. Our listening room gives artists a chance to listen to their records after the first test pressing so that we can address any issues before we do the full run.
SP: We are in contact with Carl Saff at Chicago Mastering Studios so we can bring them in to our space and listen together to help figure out issues that may arise in pressings. Our listening room is also a gathering space. We’re in talks with bands to run promotions to make each of their releases a special event.
MB: Labels, too! There is a label that wants to use our space for a whisky tasting.
CCS: Very cool. So who are some of the local artists you are excited to release records by?
SP: We’re releasing FACS next album, which were are very excited about. We also just pressed Serengeti’s Kenny vs Dark Web.
CCS: I thought Dave was done with Kenny Dennis.
SP: Apparently not. I’m not entirely sure if the record we pressed is continuing [Kenny’s] story or accompanying Dave’s latest graphic novel. But it has something to do with Kenny Dennis and we’re proud to have pressed.
CCS: So why did you choose Workshop 4200 as the home for your plant?
MB: Having our plant in a studio space is an important part of cultivating the community mindset that drives the project. As you can see, everyone is mingling and talking to each other. It’s pretty cool.
SP: Also, this building used to be a Hammond Organ Factory. There is so much history here. We wanted to tap into that.
CCS: Thanks for taking time out from the party to talk to me guys. Congratulations on the opening!
If you missed the Smashed Plastics Opening hootenanny you can purchase a pressing of the direct-to-board recording of all the performances through Bric-A-Brac Records. At $20 a piece, it's not a bad deal.