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Dirtnap: An interview with punk rock label owner Ken Cheppaikode

Ken in front of the Gorge, Oregon
Ken in front of the Gorge, Oregon
Kyla Henry Cheppaikode

I originally interviewed Ken Cheppaikode (AKA Ken Dirtnap) in 2004. It wasn't under the happiest circumstances. Most of the band The Exploding Hearts had perished in a van accident the week before. The Exploding Hearts were the star band on Dirtnap Records' roster, and Ken was kind enough to do the interview despite the strained circumstances. Dirtnap has continually put out great punk rock releases, including records by the Briefs and The Marked Men, and newer bands like power pop band The Sugar Stems and surf punk band Guantanamo Baywatch. Ken also runs Green Noise Records in Portland, Oregon, which is currently in the process of finding a new home (still in Portland) as this is being written. Since I am now an Austin resident, the following interview had to be conducted via email.

Jason Gooder: What do you think is the difference in attitude of Portland vs. Austin? What is different about the two places and the music scenes?

Ken Chippaikode: I think attitude wise it’s pretty similar. Both are overgrown small cities with a larger music scene than a lot of bigger cities. No shortage of things going on in either city, although I will admit that I haven’t been to Austin in a few years. Used to spend a lot of time there between the mid-90s and 3 years ago, though. Been mistaken for an Austin local on more than 1 location, which is flattering, I guess! I’m glad I didn’t move there, though. I love Austin, but it’s too damn hot there.

JG: You're from the Midwest. How do you think the punk rock culture there differs from the Northwest?

KC: I love the Midwest (probably a little bit more in retrospect than I did growing up there!) but I haven’t lived there since the mid-90s, so I may not be the best person to answer this question. There have been and still are a ton of classic bands in that part of the world, including a few who have graced the label over the years, like Sugar Stems, Legendary Wings, Goodnight Loving, The Returnables, and more. I am glad I don’t live there anymore, though. I love the Midwest, but it’s too damn cold!

JG: What are the best selling new releases on Dirtnap?

KC: Radioactivity, hands down. New releases by Sonic Avenues and Steve Adamyk Band are also off to real strong starts, though.

JG: What do you think about the culture of Portland?

KC: I like it here, no plans to move. The city is adding density quickly as it grows, though, which is resulting in rapid changes to certain neighborhoods, along with corresponding price increases. I just think that kinda is what it is, but I will be interested to see what the city looks like in 10 years. Love the accessibility to the great outdoors (Coast! Mountains! Desert! Columbia River Gorge!) Here, as well as the relatively affordable housing prices, and the fact that I can run a shoestring-budget business and not get priced entirely out of the city.

JG: Some of my favorite Portland bands are Piss Test, The Chemicals, and Sex Crime. What are your favorite Portland bands?

KC: We must have pretty similar taste, then, cause I like all those bands, too! I also like Lunch, Suicide Notes, Needles and Pizza, Dottie Attie, Summer Cannibals, Eyelids, Bloodtypes, Divers, and probably a bunch more than I’m spacing on cause I haven’t had enough coffee today!

JG: I've liked all of the Marked Men releases too. How would you compare Radioactivity to the Marked Men?

KC: Well, I think it’s about the closest thing you are going to get to a new Marked Men album in 2014! The primary difference is that there’s only 1 singer/songwriter instead of 2, a Radioactivity LP is like a Marked Men album with all Jeff Burke songs, and no Mark Ryan songs. That’s OK, though, cause the Mind Spiders are also on Dirtnap, which is all Mark Ryan’s songs!

JG: How do you think the punk rock and underground rock scene is in Portland compared to the rest of the country and world?

KC: I don’t know, seems like there are a lot of good bands around here, as always, but I am kinda reaching “that age” where I’m not getting out at night as much as I used to. It does seem like things are really fragmented into subgenres right now, seems like there are a million tiny, separate scenes that don’t overlap very much. That’s unfortunate, but it seems like the music scene here is always mutating and evolving.

JG: It seems there's a lot more power pop bands now. Back in 2004 there was the Exploding Hearts and a few other bands, but it seems really big now. Are there more Power pop bands?

KC: Actually, judging from the demos I got in the wake of the Exploding Hearts album, I would think there were more then. I don’t really know, though, I don’t pay a ton of attention to subgenres. I don’t consider Dirtnap a power pop label.

JG: Are you going to sign any more surf bands? Is Guantanamo Baywatch still recording for Dirtnap?

KC: Actually, they are doing their next LP on Suicide Squeeze! That is fine, though, we’re all still friends. No plans for any more surf bands, but ya never know.

JG: Do you think you'll keep having Green Noise? Do you want to move to another part of Portland or start it up in your basement?

KC: We are currently looking at other locations. I definitely would not start up in my basement; rather I would close the store and just run the label/mail-order out of my basement. That is actually been the long term goal for awhile, but I think we’re at least a few years away from it, though. We’ll see what happens!