To celebrate the launch of our collaboration with Poison City Records, we caught up with Andrew and Sarah to talk about the Poison City community, the Melbourne music scene and how they got to become a globally recognised record label and store.

Can you tell us a bit about yourselves and how you got into the music scene?

ANDY - I grew up in regional Victoria, not far from coastal towns of Portland/ Warrnambool. Despite being a small regional area, we were lucky enough to have a decent little surf/ skateboard/ music scene with plenty of the great early 90’s Australian bands coming though in my early teenage years, mostly playing All-Ages shows. Some of my earliest memories of seeing live music were bands such as The Meanies, Magic Dirt, Damaged, Fireballs, Tumbleweed playing tiny community hall shows in our region. I guess it was in my later high school years where I was messing around playing in local bands and helping with events & gigs that I really started becoming pretty immersed & obsessed in underground/ alternative music of the day - punk/ rock/ metal, anything that would annoy my parents as a general guide!

Although I grew up in a country town, I was grateful to have had a couple influential older friends that turned me onto everything from 80’s metal, to Black Flag to Mudhoney and also took me skateboarding to our local high school on the weekends. Homemade mixtapes, Slayer posters on my bedroom walls, a bad teenage undercut and being 1 of about 3 skateboarders at my first high school - all in all, it was a great time to be alive! I eventually moved to Geelong in the mid-90’s and continued playing music and booking local shows.

During that time, we’d regularly head up to Melbourne to play or see hundreds of shows at Punters Club, Arthouse, The Tote or various DIY gig spots - while always hitting the good record stores on the way home. From a long way back in my music obsession I’d always dreamed of having my own record store and label. Still pinching myself that somehow I’ve been lucky enough to turn a teenage dream into a job for almost 20 years!

SARAH - I grew up with musical taste that was a bit all over the place for a small kid - I was heavily into Kylie Minogue but also obsessed with Kiss and Anthrax and Guns N Roses. It was the era of Rage and radio so I made a lot of mix cassettes and VHS tapes and then sorted through those to pick out what I thought I liked, then went down record store rabbit holes from there. I spent a lot of time in independent record stores as a teenager asking a lot of questions and hanging out on the listening stations which I’m sure was a pain in the ass. I started working in one of the stores I frequented a lot in Brisbane city when I was 18, and at that stage had been messing around with bands for a couple of years. The combination of working around people who genuinely loved what they did in the day, and spending my nights playing or attending shows became the norm and I guess it accidentally set me on the path (almost 20 years later, still working in record stores / for labels and playing in bands).

What is the history of Poison City Records?

Poison City began life in 2003 as a DIY record label & mail-order run out of a little suburban apartment, eventually establishing an independent record/ skateboard store in 2007 on Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. Since then Poison City’s store has become a world renowned, welcoming hub for all things indie-garage-punk-rock and skateboarding in Melbourne. Poison City’s prolific and diverse record label is currently home to artists such as Cable Ties, MOD CON, Camp Cope, Flyying Colours, Body Type, Lou Barlow (Dinosaur Jr), Swervedriver, HEXDEBT, Sebadoh, Michael Beach and Harmony.

What kind of music does Poison City Records focus on?

While we always aim to stock and support a diversity of sounds at Poison City, generally there’s always been a heavy focus on underground/ independent guitar based music. Everything from garage, indie, weird folk, punk, 70’s-80’s-90’s rock with a sprinkling of experimental, noise & metal. This is the broad world of independent/ DIY music that both of us have grown up playing and being involved in for many years. But that’s not to say we don’t also enjoy some classic radio pop hits after hours!

What does a typical day at Poison City Records look like?

Poison City HQ is home to our record store, label office and online pick & pack so there’s always something going on! Most days are quite different depending on customers coming through the store or bands dropping past to visit and chat over release and tour plans. If we have a new album out on the label we’ll be busy shipping orders or working out how to stack up 20 boxes of records where only 5 can fit! We source vinyl, skateboarding and t-shirt stock locally and internationally so there’s always logistics of ordering and buying new stock weekly.

How would you describe the Melbourne music scene?

We’ve both travelled overseas a bunch and toured extensively with bands over the years and can honestly say that Melbourne has one of the greatest music scenes anywhere in the world! Not just in our world of rock/ guitar music - but across all genres and intertwined scenes. Along with high calibre of bands and the density of venues, bars, rehearsal spaces, record stores and independent record labels across the city, I think it’s also crucial to look at the importance that community radio plays in our fair city. RRR and PBS are truly the lifeblood of Melbourne’s vast music community, along with fantastic smaller stations such as SYN and 3CR. Over the past few years COVID has tried it’s best to ruin this great music eco-system we have in Melbourne….but we’re not going anywhere.

What’s the best thing about running a record store/independent record label?

ANDY - for me I think it’s still the interactions when customers are seeking recommendations based on other albums/ bands they dig…..especially when it’s younger folks. Unlike our teenage/ formative years, people can now walk themselves through whole record label discographies, multiple genres, music scene history and sample thousands of albums with the click of a computer button.

So with that in mind, I still get a buzz out of people wanting to come and hang out in an actually independent store, browse records & hang out for a chat. I feel like it makes people’s enjoyment of discovering a new favourite band/ album all the more special and personal. Much like the great memories I have of spending hours at stores like AuGoGo and Missing Link when I was younger.

With our record label, I just feel lucky to be teaming up with such talented people everyday! I still get genuinely excited when we finally get the first vinyl pressing for a new album and when the band can commence touring/ launching their new music. Those moments feel like the real celebration of all the hard work that goes into song writing, recording, making a release plan, booking shows, promo, distribution & the list goes on - it ain’t that easy kids!

SARAH - On the label side of things, it makes me happy to be able to put all the knowledge I’ve learned over the past 18 or so years into helping out young bands and just kids in general who wanna get started in the industry. It’s a strange place and for the most part there’s no set rule book to follow. It can also be a bit of a daunting industry when you first start out - it’s good to be able to remind people that you can do whatever you want, and do it however you like.

How would you describe the Poison City community?

We feel super grateful to have the support of such a diverse community of people both locally, around Australia and overseas. It’s an ever evolving cast of creative, spirited & good music loving characters from all walks of life - just how we like it! Without our amazing customers and music community more broadly we wouldn’t have survived for almost 2 decades in such a niche little business….and we certainly wouldn’t have survived these last 2-3 very unsettling years with Covid destroying many aspects of our music and creative worlds.

Why did you decide to collaborate with Neuw Denim?

We really loved Neuw Denim’s concept of undertaking a virtual World Tour of independent record stores, helping to shine a light on little stores like Poison City, Almost Ready, Repressed, etc. From working with Neuw on this co-lab we can also sense a common love of good music, taking influence from a variety sub-cultures, art and generally trying to inject good soul and creative community spirit into everything we do.

Last thoughts?

Want to give a big nod to our friend Hayden Burgess in New Zealand who’s done a bunch of original artwork for Poison City Records over the years - and the person behind our much loved Desert Hippie design being featured on this collab shirt. Also to local legend/ artist Steve Cohen who cooked up our new Preston store logo.

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