Living to Lathe: Interview with Resident Artist Mike Dixon of PIAPTK Records

For this celebratory first week of the summer exhibition, The Record, record guru Mike Dixon will be in-house at The Henry!

Mike will be cutting a series of very limited edition silkscreen lacquer recording blanks with music by Joe Plummer, Grand Archives, and Fruit Bats. These records will be cut in the Henry’s test site TODAY [7/18], TOMORROW [7/19], and FRIDAY [7/20].

Dixon is the proprietor of PIAPTK Limited Edition Vinyl Recordings and Handmade Music Artifacts, a vinyl- and digital- only record label based in Olympia, WA. PIAPTK specializes in handmade record cover art and bizarre record formats (see the photo below of a record cut on a picnic plate!).

I visited Mike today to take some photos of him in action and ask some questions about his art and his production process. Take a look!

Mike Dixon of PIATPK at The Henry
Mike’s collection of vintage vinyl “ephemera” on display in the Henry Test Site
Apollo Audiodiscs provided the vinyl and needles for the project at The Henry
Mike cut this record on a picnic plate (!!!)

Special edition PIAPTK silkscreened record for this residency, cut with original music by Joe Plummer

The Interview: 

How did you start the PIAPTK project?

When I first moved to Olympia, I met Lance Hahn from J Church at a show, and told me about he would get a small amount of records cut in New Zealand by a guy named Peter King. Peter would cut just 20 records if you wanted. I’ve been a vinyl fan since I was a little kid, and I thought it would be great to release short run records for my friends’ bands. And if I don’t have to invest in 500 copies, then I could make more releases and spend more time on the packaging.

What’s the process in which you work with musicians with PIAPTK? Do you contact them or do they contact you?
I pretty much just work with my friends and bands that I really like. I’m pretty fearless about approaching any band I like, regardless of size. I’ll ask anyone. I’d ask Radiohead to do a record. The majority of them say no, but some bands that I never thought I’d be able to work with have said yes. Half of them never came through with any tracks, but they at least SAID yes! Generally, because the process’s output is small, larger bands don’t want to give tracks to a project that only makes 50 records, because they have thousands of fans to cater to. 
 But when you get bands that are pretty well-known and very prolific, like Jad Fair (of Half Japanese), Wooden Wand, R. Stevie Moore, etc, they are into it because they like the fact that I try to make interesting, unique objects.

What is a record you produced that you are really excited about?
I’d say one of the coolest-looking records that I made was a 6xLP 
 Wooden Wand box set in hand-made, stained, silkscreened wooden boxes.  I am always trying to to make weird formats and objects, trying different things, just to keep myself from getting bored.

Why is the Pacific Northwest a good place to have an independent and small record label?
I think the fact that during the fall, winter, and spring, you need to be inside most of the time, gives you time to work on things. It also fosters a lot of creativity with the bands because they’re all inside playing music, instead of being outside. There is also a long history of independent bands here, and in the recent past, a large DIY scene and “punk” ethic here.

How important is your personal imprint in each record for PIAPTK?
For me, it’s very important. I loved buying things that were handmade, being able to look and something and see that this didn’t just roll off an assembly line. This was printed by someone that actually cares: it has finger prints and smudges, so you know they did it the hard way, you know? It has sweat equity involved. Also, if you do things yourself, you can do them on a smaller scale and make it much more interesting. I have access to a lot more materials that can be used to make 50 records than I vould if I was making 500 of them. I like things that are a little weird, 
 things that people look at say, “HUH? This is a record?”  My biggest joy is having to explain how something that I made works multiple times because it’s such a foreign concept that people have a hard time grasping it.

How did you feel about putting this medium of art into the context of a museum?
I think its great! There are so many aspects of vinyl records that people don’t know about, especially the history. Its nice to be able to put it out there and let people realize that it goes far beyond the standard record player that your parents had… there’s a pretty rich history. I have a collection of vinyl-based toys, short lived formats, novelties and ephemera [on display at the gallery], and its nice to have these things that the general public didn’t know existed, and can now enjoy.

What do you expect with this residency?
The only expectations I have are being able showing people what I do and love and answering their questions. I am pretty outgoing and I love to talk and love to share ideas and inform people. I also really love cutting records and talking about cutting records, so I’m excited to get somebody in here that has no idea how a record is made, but wants to listen to me jabber on about the process.

Unable to make it during the week? Mike will also be at The Henry on Saturday for a final lathe-cutting project, where he will cut a record of your choice!

Read more here!

Signing off,

Olivia Olive