YEP ROC TURNS 20: An EXCLUSIVE Q&A with Yep Roc co-founder Glenn Dicker

STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Before starting Yep Roc, were you an avid music collector? Were there any particular genres that you focused on personally?
GLENN DICKER: I would say that I was very much a music collector since I was a little kid. I got very interested in collecting 45’s when I went around to garage sales with my parents and as I got older that spread to full albums when I could afford it. Early on I was into ‘60s music, mostly what would be considered classic rock these days like The Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks, etc. But as I got a bit older I got caught up in the punk rock thing, mostly the English bands. My favorite was The Jam. When I got out of school and went to work for Rounder Distribution, I got turned onto so much more that really opened my mind to all kinds of great stuff that I had previously only dabbled in like World Music, Blues, Jazz, Folk, Bluegrass, etc. Once I get into an artist, I usually want everything.


The Jam

SPAZ: What inspired you to start up the label? Were your initial goals for Yep Roc inspired by a label that you admired?
GLENN: The label started as a companion to our distribution company, Redeye. Redeye kicked off at the end of 1996 and the Yep Roc came in 1997. My partner Tor Hansen and I both were passionate about the idea of having a label which would enable us to work with artists and music that we really loved but also it provided Redeye with a label that would consistently put out records. When it started, we were only a regional distribution company (selling to stores only in the southeast), so the label focused only on regional music (mostly Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Durham, NC at first). So the goals were to do music we dug and to have something that Redeye could really get behind. No allegiance to genre, we did everything that we thought was great in the area- indie rock and pop, roots, garage, etc.


Slim Gaillard

SPAZ: How did you go about picking the name of the label?
GLENN: Tor and I had both worked at Rounder and we distribute a label that put out a live record by an artist called Slim Gaillard. We had no idea of who this cat was, but when we listened, we were blown away at this music. It was really fun stuff and quite original we thought. Slim was doing his own Jazz act but played with some other Jazz greats of his time as well such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Slim came up with his own sort of lingo- a kind of jive talk. And this was brought into his music as well. He’s likely most know for “Flat Foot Floogie (with a Floy Floy)” (a song about a prostitute with the clap). He also had a song called “Yep Roc Heresy,” which is where we took the label name. I’ll never forget when we told Neil Brockbank, Nick Lowe’s producer, the label name, he simply said, ”Brilliant.” Before him, there weren’t many others that knew what it was all about!

SPAZ: Yep Roc seems to be the perfect balance between the focused roster of a label like Rounder and the eclectic catalog of Stiff Records. Has your initial Yep Roc vision evolved over time?
GLENN: I think initially we were really trying to bring the great music of our region to a larger, national audience. But things quickly accelerated as the roster expanded to include more national and international artists and we shifted more to what we’d like to think as a label for authentic artists – people that you couldn’t imagine doing anything but music – and providing them a home that enabled them to explore their own creative vision with a team of people dedicated to helping get more attention to their art.


Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin

SPAZ: What draws you to the artists that you sign? Yep Roc’s roster has been varied over the years but every artist seems to have been either directly or indirectly inspired by American roots music dating back to the ‘40s and ‘50s. Dave Alvin may travel a different musical path than Robyn Hitchcock but they aren’t that different when you break them down to their core influences.
GLENN: I would absolutely agree with that. I believe that there is a core thing to great music that connects it all in a way. Just as Tor and myself grew up listening and learning and getting inspired by what we heard and dug into, I think that all real music fans have a broad appreciation for many things musically and can easily make the leap from one genre or style to another.

SPAZ: Is there a particular artist (or artists) out there that you would love to have on your roster?
GLENN: Well, I wanted to work with Ray Davies from a very early stage. I even had conversations with various of his managers over the years. Unfortunately, I’ve never met the great man, but who knows…..

SPAZ: How do you view the idea of a future filled with streaming? Don’t you feel that collectors will always want to physically own the music that they purchase?
GLENN: I have conversations every day about this very thing with so many folks. I believe in the access model assuming artists and labels are fairly compensated for their work. There are ongoing issues in this area that need to be ironed out, and it will take a great deal of diligence and effort to do so. But I do think streaming is good for the business and I think we’re seeing positive results. That said, I also strongly believe that there will continue to be a component of physical product that will be a way of super serving the hardcore fans of artists who have the interest to dive deep into the album format and hold something beautiful in their hands.

SPAZ: As a collector and music lover, how do you view the current music scene in general? Most of the ‘Americana’ artists out there seem to be more Country than popular Country is these days!
GLENN: I think overall there is a lot to be excited about with music. I continue to be amazed when I meet young people who have way more knowledge of so much music than I did at their age and I think we’re beginning to see the fruits of this play out with artists today. I’m very excited to hear interesting things come from the electronic and world music areas, especially when combining elements into a new thing altogether. That process has always been evolving, but it seems to be happening faster now. Lots of experimentation. As far as Americana goes, I look to what younger artists are doing, such as Mandolin Orange, and I am extremely confident in where things are going. There’s a strong respect for the traditions and roots of the music along with a continued focus on songwriting and gorgeous harmonies coupled with a youthful exuberance that really connects with new generations. I love where things are headed.

SPAZ: How do you feel about the resurgence of vinyl? Do you think it will be a valid format again or is it just a fad?
GLENN: For us it is already a valid format. As a label, we always put out vinyl by certain artists, including 45’s. But now it’s not just a specialty thing, it’s an extremely viable format that continues to take hold. With kids buying more and more turntables, I think we’re in it for the long haul with vinyl.

SPAZ: At the end of the day, do you have a particular personal favorite album amongst your own label releases?
GLENN: That is super difficult as I really love so many. But if I had to pick one, I’d go back to Nick Lowe’s THE CONVINCER. Perhaps this is part sentimental given Nick really helped legitimize Yep Roc by signing with us and this was our first release with him, but I just think the album is absolutely brilliant and will stand up as a true classic.


SPAZ: What would you like people to know about the label?
GLENN: I guess I’d people to know more about the depth of the artists’ music that we work with first and foremost. There’s a great variety within the label, but I think that all of it has a lasting quality to it that deserves further deep dives. Some of it is immediate, sure, like all the great Fleshtones records and you need to keep playing for the value of the rock that comes out of those things, but so many other artists, need multiple plays to really dig into it. And with so many distractions, I know how hard it is to give things multiple listens. But I’ve also found that giving that extra time always uncovers new revelations and inspiration.

SPAZ: What’s next for Yep Roc?
GLENN: I’d say more of the same I hope. More great stuff from your fave artists but always something new around the corner. And surprises. Always surprises.

SPAZ: What are you currently listening to? (can be old or new)
GLENN: I’m reading Robbie Robertson’s book, TESTIMONY, right now. So I’ve been listening to more of The Band and some of the things that he talks about along the way. Oh, and Otis Redding too. Digging back into the Nick Lowe reissues as well. And then there’s Wand’s release, PLUM, on Drag City. I’ve also been grooving on 1982 by Liima coming out on City Slang in November. Killer.


Thanks to Glenn Dicker
Special thanks to Steve Dixon and Dave Rayburn


List of YEP ROC artists (past and present):
American Princes
Amy Farris
Aoife O’Donovan
Bell X1
Big Ass Truck
Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys
Billy Bragg
Bob Mould
Born Ruffians
Caitlin Cary
Chatham County Line
Cheyenne Mize
Chris Stamey
Chuck Prophet
Darren Hanlon
Dave Alvin
Doyle Bramhall
Drink Up Buttercup
Eleni Mandell
Fountains of Wayne
Fujiya & Miyagi
Gang of Four
Golden Suits
Golden Suits
Greg Brown
Heavy Trash
Heloise and the Savoir Faire
Ian Hunter
Ian McLagan[6]
Ian Moore
Jim Lauderdale
Jim White
John Doe
Jonah Tolchin
Josh Ritter
Josh Rouse
Jukebox the Ghost
Jukebox The Ghost
Ken Stringfellow
Kim Richey
Kissaway Trail
Kristin Hersh
Laika & the Cosmonauts
Liam Finn
Los Straitjackets
Mandolin Orange
Mercury Rev
Nick Lowe
Paul Weller
Peggy Sue
Peter Case
Radio Birdman
Reckless Kelly
Robbie Fulks
Robert Skoro
Robyn Hitchcock
Rock Plaza Central
Rodney Crowell
Ron Sexsmith
Simple Kid
Southern Culture on the Skids
Spencer Dickinson
Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3
Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers
Thad Cockrell
The Apples in Stereo
The Autumn Defense
The Bigger Lovers
The Butchies
The Cake Sale
The Comas
The Fleshtones
The Go-Betweens
The Gourds
The Iguanas
The Kingsbury Manx
The Mayflies USA
The Minus 5
The Moaners
The Old Ceremony
The Relatives
The Reverend Horton Heat
The Sadies
The Soft Boys
The Soundtrack of Our Lives
The Standard
Tift Merritt
Tony Joe White
Trailer Bride
Tres Chicas
You Am I