I remember meeting Ben Katzman in my dormitory building at Berklee College of Music. He was always an eccentric character with a good sense of humor. After seeing his Power Ranger tattoo I knew this was a cool dude that gave no f***s about what people thought. So it was no surprise to me to see the successful evolution of BUFU records. As soon as I started my interview with Ben, he immediately told me some incredible news about the newest addition to the BUFU family: Japanther. My jaw hit the floor and I immediately freaked out. Unfortunatly, at the time, I was sworn to secrecy and wasn’t allowed to say anything. As badly as I wanted to put it as my Facebook status, I knew it was for the best because BUFU probably had a better way of announcing its eyebrow-raising-cry-laughing-lets-go-insane surprise. Now that BUFU has announced it, I can brag about it all day long and I don’t have to censor 1/3 of this interview. Sorry about this interview being slightly outdated, but my goal was for YOU guys to get a taste of who Ben Katzman is and what BUFU records is all about. Enjoy!
I want to know how you got into music and what inspired you to be the way you are which is really energetic and unbelievably nice.
I was young and I had this like super ridiculous music teacher called Mr. Marinelli in 2nd or 3rd grade and he was just really weird and one time he let play his piano, so I started playing it and figuring the notes out and I just went home and we had a piano and I started playing it. I also remember I was really into TV show soundtracks and then Mission Impossible 2 came out and Limp Bizkit did the theme song. So I bought the CD and I got really into Limp Bizkit and like Kiss when I was around 10 years old or whatever. Then, I got into punk rock when I was 12 or 13 and I remember getting Minor Threat and Black Flag’s early records well, I guess Minor Threat’s only record, but those were like my textbooks for moral groundings because it was all about like staying true and being positive and making the change you want to see in your life. I was like really into watching documentaries on bands and reading books about bands and I was like man if these bands do it and they were all 16 when they started, there’s no reason I can’t start and so I started my own band when I was 13 and we would play house parties and stuff.
What were you guys called?
We were called High Oktane, with a k instead of a c. We were named after the guitar played from KISS ‘cause that was his like nickname who use to get drunk and party and he was called High Octane. Just in high school when I was really into metal I was always playing shows and booking shows. When I was 12 there was like nothing for my friends to do musically, so we booked a bunch of parties and played a bunch of shows in high school. I started going to shows ‘cause I was old enough to go to local venues and stuff, so I started throwing shows myself. It was sick, you were able to book your friends at legitimate rock shows you were also playing and my band at the time did a lot better than I thought we would. We would play big shows and even toured around a little in Florida and um, so, that’s kind of how it got started. I owe it all to Kiss and Minor Threat and Limp Bizkit.
When did your obsession with Van Halen start or why did that happen?
I think it started with like KISS when I was 13 or 12. It was the first rock band I got obsessed with. I was like looking through my brother’s closet for his porno magazines and I saw KISS on a VHS and it’s this movie about these kids trying to sneak into a KISS show and they finally see KISS and I didn’t know what they looked like and all of a sudden they had like these crazy guitars and shit was on fire and I they were spitting blood and so I got supper obsessed with KISS to the point where I only listened to KISS. I was like, ‘Man, this is like power rangers if power rangers were a rock band.’ You know? And so that happened and then I got into metal music ‘cause it was all about being flashy and shredding and Van Halen is like the premier shred metal band so I got into Van Halen. Van Halen was all about having fun and not taking yourself seriously. So, between Van Halen and Minor Threat I met like the middle ground of having fun while being serious. You know?
How did BUFU start? When did you come up with the idea
I was like a freshman at Berklee and I really hated all the music coming out of Berklee. So, I decided to start a zine. I was gonna write about all my favorite local bands and just give them to my friends so they can just check it out. I just wanted to unify my thoughts.
I went home to Miami for the summer and my old band reunited and we played this show and something like over 100 kids came out and the venue was 18+ and all these kids were like 16 and 17 and they got kicked out and there was over $1000 they made at the door so I got into an argument with the bar tender and to get their money back and he was like ‘You either get their money back or you don’t play,‘or something, so I said, ‘If they get their money back, I won’t play,’ and that was the deal. So I got banned from this venue and I was so pissed that a lot of my friends didn’t know how to manage their bands or like do shit like that and I guess I just learned how to do it. It just happened. And that day, I was like fuck it if I had a record label, I’d look more legit booking shows and doing things and instead of just telling my friends about bands, I can put out records and have my friends listen to them. Then that night, I think it was like June 15th 2012, I only know this because I looked it up yesterday, I started BUFU Records and since then it’s kind of ridiculous how like only in a year and a half we’ve put out bands that are getting on like Pitchfork and Stereogun and my favorite bands are being booked through us. It’s kind of cool.
What innovative things have you done to differentiate yourselves from other independent labels in the Boston area?
We’re young and I think the thing about BUFU is that we’re not trying to differentiate ourselves, were just trying to contribute to part of the community. It’s like when we do things we do them ‘cause we want to do them so when there are other labels and other things I’m just like ‘Ok, well, that’s cool. Let me do this and maybe one day we can throw a show together.’ It’s not really like a competition. We just do what we want and luckily were all just really ridiculous people so it always looks like a cartoon show. I think we just try to keep it extremely local and mix our bands with bigger bands and it just took off. We just started a record label not to just do anything different and uh it just works.
Do you think that the BUFU festival or BUFU records could expand more outside of Boston?
Yeah, I think it is. We’re putting out this record for this Miami band and our first release was a Miami band. Every time we throw a show in Miami, they’re always packed. We just signed a bunch of bands from Providence, Rhode Island that are big in the scene and have been on MTV and stuff. It’s kind of weird, every show we’ve been throwing in Boston, even the show we threw in New York had at least like 100 something people and Japather is a big deal. You know, I think it will get bigger. I don’t know if right now in this day and age but one of the reasons we will get bigger is because we’re really adamant about promoting our bands with shows and booking them sick shows and maybe BUFU records will also get noticed as a company that throws sick shows as well as putting out albums. We’re like a collective- everybody helps out, its not just like a I’m-your-boss-I’m-giving-you-this much-money-to-make-a-record label, were like yo-I-love-this-music-lets-get-together-and-fucking-kill-this-shit-cuz-it’s-amazing label.
How do you promote your shows?
There are obvious things like other local entertainment companies or like newspapers like The Boston Hassel that we’re close with that write our stuff up for us. I do send out press releases and hit up blogs and spend all my time sending out emails and getting in touch with other people, so that any time the next release comes out I’m like ‘Hey, check this out too,’ you know? So, I do what I can, but hopefully one day I get to spend $3000 for a publicist because any band that’s big is because they have a good publicist. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. For now I guess I act like a freelance publicist.
How do you raise money for the label?
There are moments when everything pays for itself, but because I like putting out so much music were always at like this steady line where like nothing is being lost but nothing is being made. We’re about to put in another couple grand into the label, probably the biggest for this Japanther record, but usually the label pays for itself.
What has been the biggest event you guys have put on?
We helped book Boston Hassel fest, which is something we didn’t get credit for, which isn’t cool. But that was probably the biggest. We booked like Lighting Bolt as well as all the BUFU bands.
What are the benefits, in an artist’s point of view, of being signed onto BUFU records?
We pay for everything and we do out best to promote our artists. You have these people that really care about your music and really want to help you succeed and even though we’re not the biggest label, we’re gonna help you get your push out there. I think that a lot of kids talk a lot of smack at Berklee saying like, ‘Yeah, were gonna be the band that starts a label,’ but you never see anything. You can just type in any band from BUFU onto Google and the work will show for itself. We’re like your number one fans that help you get things.
How do you feel about BUFU bands play at 939?
I think it’s hilarious. I hate to say it but its great that that place exists. It kind of blows my mind at first. We students look forward to playing 939 but if BUFU bands want to play there that’s cool, it’s another audience. I just wish kids in Boston realize there are more venues than just 939. There are house shows and legitimate venues that throw sick shows. It’s like, a lot of kids and its not just Berklee kids, think that Led Zeppelin was the last good band ever and nothing is ever going to compare, but right now is the best time for music because you have all the sh** from the past and all the new stuff coming out which is sick.
Japanther recently said, “BUFU is the best new record label going.” How does that make you feel and do you have any expectations for the future?
It’s kind of like funny. A lot of people think I act like a 12 year old and I totally feel like a 12 year old when I read that- I can’t take my smile off. I just get stoked. It means that somebody knows we’re not just clowning around and that we’re passionate about what we do. And for the bands that are on BUFU they get excited ‘cause when we get represented, they get represented.
I want people to get sense of what the community is like in BUFU. How would you describe the scene in a sentence?
Chillin’ mad hard and playing no games.