In the deep south of Oxford, Mississippi, tucked away among the weeping willows, humidity and sleepy wrap around porches, lives Fat Possum Records. Fat Possum’s longevity is due to more than just the artists it’s signed. It’s a label that’s got guts, sweat and a commitment to putting out great records from bands who know how to deliver live.
The Eyes Behind: Fat Possum Playlist
Honing in on the everlasting spirit of the label, Steven Bevilaqua’s taste has kept Fat Possum’s raw intuition of what makes good music alive and well. Bevilaqua recently took the time out of his busy day (made even busier by a recent move to Los Angeles) to sit down and tell us all about the best venues in Oxford, his favorite moment with Iggy Pop, and why he wanted to be a part of such an eclectic and influential musical family.
What’s the music society like growing up in Mississippi?
I was fascinated by anything musical. I didn’t actually grow up in Mississippi; I grew up all over America, but I spent the most childhood time in Arkansas. The only music I heard was in church until I was about 10 or 11, but also that’s when I first heard Nirvana, White Zombie, The Beastie Boys, The Offspring, Dr Dre … blah blah blah. My crazy and amazing Uncle Bob introduced me to bass heavy music that said “motherfucker” and “cocksucker.” He also had some Nirvana in there somewhere. There was always “local music” around, yet I didn’t know about anything local. I was too busy listening to the radio and watching MTV. We would also drive down Dickson St in downtown Fayetteville so I was completely obsessed by all the freaks. Little did I know they were just art students at the U of A.
Thinking about it now I realize I just missed any good local stuff because I was so concerned with finding what else was out there. I was always looking out the window and really felt like I was stuck inside the glass. We were constantly driving “the bus kids” home from church and I just wanted to hang out w/ all the freaks.
Intro to You See Me Laughin' Fat Possum's documentary on the blues and soul artists of Mississippi
What artists inspired you early on to work in music?
The Beastie Boys, White Zombie, Nirvana, Epitaph Records and pop culture in general, too. All of that changed my life, kept me alive and opened up a window of culture that I didn’t realize existed until I heard or saw some of it. All I had was the Bible and all the maniacs at public school or christian school, whichever I was in at the time. I could tell it didn’t add up. Content and chaos are our guiding lights. I finally spiraled into the obvious stuff until Bowie, Johnny Cash and Isaac Hayes sounded like brothers. That’s probably when it congealed for me.
What first attracted you to Fat Possum? And how did you become involved with the label?
Hearing Fat Possum’s version of blues just flipped everything about my idea of what blues music was capable of; I didn’t realize how truly punk and fucked up it could be. T-Model, R.L. Burnside, Junior, etc, it was just mind blowing for me and the fact that it sounded like The Rolling Stones AND The Cramps was a major selling point, too. Bruce and Matthew did an incredible and completely “disrespectful” job recording and marketing all of that early Possum stuff. It was a fully realized package. To me it was a local Sub-Pop or Epitaph … I had no idea they were working with Epitaph while I was listening to Rancid and The Offspring.
Typically… it’s pretty boring to even talk about. I’m on a phone and a computer all day if I’m not at meetings. I’d hate to bore anyone with those day-to-day details but I will say the days when we do a lot of brainstorming about who to sign, how to sign them and how we can add to what they’re putting into the world can be pretty thrilling. We are busy as fuck, but again, we are at desks half the time.
What are some artists on the label you’re listening to on repeat? Any upcoming releases you’re particularly excited about?
Rather than play favorites with recent signings, I’ll just say that I’ve listened to The Stooges, Spiritualized, Junior Kimbrough and Modest Mouse thousands of times throughout my life. Hopefully, down the road, some kid will say the same about some of the new bands we are signing now. I believe in all of them because they believe in themselves. That’s the most important part of being an artist. It’s a true recognition that your eyes don’t belong to you. You just write down your personal history and hope that someone listens. When they actually do it’s an added bonus, but the smart ones find a way to make it relevant to all of us.
Iggy and the Stooges transition back to the indie label lifestyle with Fat Possum
How has being based in Oxford Mississippi affected the direction of the label?
I think it’s pretty obvious if you know much about us or if you’re familiar with the catalog. It started as a proximity based relationship and now it’s just a love affair that none of us can verbalize. Weird considering my recent move to LA.
Where are your favorite places to hang out or see live shows in town?
The Dude Ranch, Lamar Lounge and Proud Larry’s in Oxford. Wherever our friends are hanging out.
Modest Mouse "White Lies, Yellow Teeth"
It’s clear that each release at Fat Possum comes with a lot of care and consideration. What are some of the ways you make the little shit better?
All credit to the bands. We make suggestions every once in a while but we try to find bands that have their own strong aesthetic on every level. From there we try our best to make it as practical as possible without dumbing it down. Their vision precedes our logistics, but Patrick, Bruce and Matthew all know how to put a record together in a way that’s visually great as a package. That’s an undeniable necessity for any record label. We are also massive fans of pop music and pop culture … that’s very informing.
Can you tell us any “pinch me” moments that you’ve had? Any stories you think people will find specifically surprising about the job?
I don’t think this will be surprising at all, but Iggy Pop is even more amazing than he seems.
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