Between bouts of cutting, pasting, and photocopying artwork for tapes and zines, label founder Amanda Mills took some time out to talk about why she does what she does, the Atlanta Zine Library, and how Riot Grrl zines blew her mind.
Chad Radford: Are you the sole proprietor of Big Blonde?
Amanda Mills: Daniel Deckebach is involved too — from the Sunglasses and God’s Balls, and a few other projects. We’re dating, but I started the label myself. I’m also the president of Faces of Feminism, Georgia State’s undergraduate women’s studies program. We were given a sizable budget last year and I didn’t know what to do with it — you have to spend it or you’re not going to get as much next time. So I was trying to think of what would be fun for me to put my time and energy into, so I put together the F-Word comp., which was Big Blonde’s first release: It included twenty four local bands, and each one did their own page in a full-color art zine. I bought a tape duplicator off of Craig’s List and found places where I could buy cassettes and get zines printed. It was so much fun — that was the beginning of the label.
When all was said and done, I had a tape duplicator, and we’d raised a bunch of money to donate to some other feminist groups in the area, so I wanted to keep with it. The second release was by Savant. I wanted to do something with God’s Balls and Jewish Supremacy, then I asked Daniel if he wanted to help with the label and he was excited to do it. It’s cool to have a project like this to work on with someone you’re with that’s not just like going on a date, or watching TV. We’re creating together, and while that does come with some frustration in working out each other’s roles, we’ve been at it long enough to have figured it out. We’re supportive of each other, and there have been releases that he’s been the main one behind, and there are others that I pretty much did myself. As far as e-mail, the website and the online store go, I handle that, but he has a lot more local music connections than I do so we’ve benefitted from that.
How old are you guys?
I’m 24 and he’s 23.
A zine/cassette operation like what you do is rooted in a late '80s/early ’90s aesthetic. …
I was definitely influenced by that era. I grew up in Atlanta in the ’90s, and my mom had me when she was 20. I was the daughter of an ex-generation twenty-something while Nirvana and all that was happening. She would take me to Little 5 Points every weekend, and her common law husband was a roadie who worked for Variety Playhouse and the Point, Lakewood Ampiheatre and the Tabernacle, so we would go to shows every week when he was working, even when I was in elementary school. I made my first zine when I was in fifth grade, and my mom would take me to Criminal Records to buy zines. In 6th grade I was introduced to Riot Grrl zines — I know, I was such a late bloomer, but the concept of it just blew my mind. The Georgia State Women’s Dept. was new then, and there were women putting out zines there, which was kind of my introduction to feminism. So it sort of feels like I've gone full-circle to be the president of Georgia State’s women’s studies program now.
I also went to a Catholic school, and was home schooled for a while because of illness, so I spent a crazy amount of time alone. My mom was a computer programmer, and we had a PC and the Internet, so I would go through online distros, like Pander Zine and Grrlstyle, and Quimby’s in Chicago to order zines and have them mailed to me.
This is how you started the Atlanta Zine Library?
Yeah, my parents moved me to Denver for high school around 2002, I think. I went to this outward-bound school, which was like an alternative school, and every Thursday we were supposed to volunteer somewhere. That same year the Denver Zine Library started. Back then it was in a shed in someone’s back yard. Now it’s downtown and is a little more legit, but I was their first volunteer. Then I moved back to Atlanta, and was surprised to find out that there wasn’t anything like that here. Stewart Harding started something with WonderRoot, and there was Madrats for a while. Some things like it had sprung up here and there, but I wanted an official Atlanta Zine Library. It’s still in the construction process, but I see it as a long-term thing, and it will always be evolving. I want to see it become a community resource that's there for anyone who wants to use it. It’s at MINT Gallery now in the Sampson St. Lofts, and I’m really glad to be there.
Is it an Atlanta-centric collection of zines?
No, I have donated about a third of the collection that we have. Most of the ones that were donated by other people are local, though. There are some from the Atlanta hardcore scene of 10-15 years ago. Then some that people are doing now — local artists, like Allen Taylor and Erin Bassett. I want this Library to be around so people will know that there are other people making zines in Atlanta.
Zine culture kind of took a hit when blogs came into being.
Yeah, but I try to get people from FOF to make zines — I say 'if you have a blog just take something from the blog that you really like and use that.' I’m not one who laments the end of print media, and I don’t feel threatened by one or the other. Mp3s reign when it comes to music, but some people still want tapes, and we’ve done some tapes with download codes, which is one way they can coexist. Plus there’s a collecting and archival aspect that you get with tapes and zines and vinyl that will never go away, and you can use words like library when you’re talking about zines, because it is an archive.
Getting back to the label, tell me about the name Big Blonde.
It’s a story by Dorothy Parker. She wrote short stories and was very much a feminist who wrote a lot about female sexuality in a very rich and cosmopolitan way — smart and funny. The story itself is about a woman who is a Marylyn Monroe kind of character — “big blonde” meaning busty — and it doesn’t portray her very well. I’m not trying to say I'm like the character, but I like the alliteration of the name, and I like Dorothy Parker. ... To be honest it just sounded sexy and cool.
How many tapes have you released so far?
These will be 8 and 9 on Wednesday; in less than a year. Obviously I don’t make any money off of Big Blonde — it’s not how I pay my bills. It’s just a fun project for me and part of it is that I want to be supportive of the local music scene. When I moved back from Denver I found that being a pre-teen in Atlanta is a lot different from being in your twenties here. When I came back it seemed like everyone was so involved and had such a history with the local music scene. Big Blonde is a way for me to be involved and become more knowledgeable and supportive of the local music scene. Some people think there is a glamour aspect to running a tape label, and it certainly is fun, but there’s a lot of administrative work to be done: You have to go make copies, and order things, and deal with cutting and pasting, and printing. It’s a very involved process, there's a tangible reward, but you have to be dedicated to it.
Also, people say ‘you should use this printer that I know in Tennessee …’ But I wouldn't want to outsource it to someone else. They might have a warehouse and can print on the cassette so it looks truly ’90s, like you bought it at Sam Goody. But why would I want to do that? I want to be at Office Depot making copies, and peeling off stickers for the labels. If a band does want printing directly on their cassette, I support that, but it’s not what I want to do with my label.
You want the tactile relationship.
Yes, and the fact that I’m making tapes and zines is totally related, it’s the aesthetic that I’m going for.
Do you have a blog?
No, not at all. I had a live journal when I was in Middle School.
Earlier you mentioned that Daniel is opposed to working with a lot of technology.
… He’s resistant, willfully and blissfully ignorant to a lot of it.
Are you the same way?
Not at all. I’m all about accessibility, which is one reason why I have the Atlanta Zine Library. If you met a diehard zine fanatic, they might be opposed to the idea of a zine library, and that for zines obscurity and a fleeting nature is the point — maybe something like graffiti that shouldn’t be permanent and housed somewhere. But I like making things accessible to as many people as possible.
I’ve written about a lot of cassettes over the last few years, be it the Selmanaires' tapes, or any of Pink House tapes, and some people get just plain upset about tapes. Have you encountered any criticism over running a cassette label?
Yes! When I was buying my tape duplicator, I didn’t know much about tape duplication so I called a lot of music warehouses around the city to ask about prices and specs and things like that; doing research. I called one place and the guy was furious at me. He literally told me it was stupid and wanted to know why I would put out a tape. He was angry about what I was doing, angry and insulting, and it was so weird. I didn’t call to say "Hey, I’m starting a tape label …" I just asked if he had a duplicator, and it set him off. Everyone else has been pretty supportive, and virtually every band that I’ve approached has wanted to do it.
The reaction to tapes is strange.
What gets me is the aggression. If I had a garden and, even if it was the shittiest garden ever, but I worked on it every day and it was just my thing, I don’t think anyone would be angry about me not going to Publix and buying vegetables. I don’t understand the animosity. I think because it’s subversive and independent, and there is a lot of power that comes along with it, when someone takes a "Fuck it, I don’t care if I make money" attitude, and does it anyway, it becomes an anti-rock star ethic that doesn’t make sense to some people.
Sounds pretty punk rock to me.
Yes, it’s incredibly self-empowering and fun, and the pointlessness of it can simultaneously be the point. It must anger people who respect structures of power and capitalism, or something. I feel like it’s very much an anti-business thing. Obviously things need to be bought and paid for, but no one is getting rich off of this thing, which is how I want it.
God’s Balls, Big Werm, Manic, and the Sunglasses play 529 Wed.,March 21. Free. 9 p.m. 529 Flat Shoals Ave. 404-228-6769.
Nashville has more dive bars than ATL now that sucks. tbh i think that new…
*Christ, Lord sorry
"Punk" style like this seems like it is the polar opposite of punk. Bradford Cox…
They're kind of starting to look like a joke of themselves. Song's good though.