Interview with Stones Throw's Peanut Butter Wolf

  • +81 Vol. 18
  • September 10, 2000

Chris Manak/DJ Peanut Butter Wolf started to visit the neighborhood record stores at the age of nine. On the West Coast there were not many independent labels traditionally. He recalls on the label's web site (History of Stones Throw Records) - "Who would ever think a group from San Jose, California could put out their own Hip Hop?" There was a lot of struggle to achieve it, but his philosophy was always "it's only a stone's throw away."

+81: Could you tell us your profile?
Chris Manak: I started to buy records at a reall young age; it was about 1979 or '80. My parents had a pair of turntables but I got my own in 1983. That was when I first started DJing. I was 13 years old. From there, it just kept going. I got a drum machine a couple of years later trying to make beats, and put my first record out in 1990, and started my own label in 1996. I have been doing that for 6 years. So I started as a DJ, producer, and then got more into the business side of it. Starting my own label was my turning point. Before that, I was putting out lots of independent records for other people. I knew so many people who were very talented, and I wanted to work with them and try to expose them. That's what made me start my label. I'm from the bay area where there were many talented people working in an unorganized system. There wasn't much music industry there.

Why did you name your label Stones Throw?
I was in a group with a MC called Charizma in early 90s, and we were signed on record label called Hollywood Basics. Charizma passed away in 1993, and when I decided to start my own label, I wanted to think of a name that had something significant to do with Charizma. So I come up the name of Stones Throw, because my mom used to say, "a stone's throw away," and Charizma and I had a running joke about it. I was thinking that success was within my reach, just a stone's throw away.

What is the concept of your label?
Put out the music I like. It's really simple, you know. I don't really follow sales chart and stuff. I went to college and I got a degree in business, but for my record label, I don't really run it for the turning point. It was just more of a hobby that pays the bills. There are records I want to put out only a thousand copies, though we are just as much happy as the ones who press a lot more. I've been a collector of music years and years, and there are certain things that I like, certain sounds that I like it. it started as a Hip Hop label, but before buying Hip Hop I was buying lots of Soul, Disco and Funk music. So I would like to integrate with to my label.

What are the good things being independent record label?
You can make decision on your own. I work with the artists and I want to make them happy. I work with people who have similar background with mine. I like to work with artist who likes the same type of music that I like. Madlib and I, for example, we are really listening to the same type of music and we got into music in similar time; so it feels like we have some kind of bond.

What are the good things being independent record label?
You can make decision on your own. Of course I have investors to invest me money, but people who I work with believe in me and my vision so I have a complete creative control. I work with the artists and I want to make them happy. I work with people who have similar background with mine. I like to work with artist who likes the same type of music that I like. Madlib and I, for example, we are really listening to the same type of music and we got into music in similar time; so it feels like we have some kind of bond.

What was the hardest thing to keep up your business since you have started?
The hardest thing. There were lots of hard things. One of the hardest things was that maybe my taste of music has been changing a little bit. It is just that the Independent Hip Hop I was into before almost reached a dead end. It's just that music change a lot. I think, even with my label, the last three albums that I put out were not Hip Hop. The Funky 16 Comers, Yesterdays New Quintet, Breakestra, even the 7-inch compilation album that I recently released, were not strictly Hip Hop. I think I'm just trying to maintain the different atmosphere now.

When do you feel most wonderful, excited and happy?
I really like DJing. I like when I'm in front of the crowd, playing songs, people In downstairs having a good time. I got a lot of energy from that.

How do you keep the quality of music on your label?
You have to keep listening and keep your ears to the street. I travel a lot so I get to hear lots of different music. That's the advantage of being a DJ too. I'm not in the office 9 to 5. Whenever I get into a city, you can find me in the record shops meeting people.

Do you try to keep the images of Stones Throw design wise?
I know what I like. I work closely with the designer Jeff Jank. I've known him since we were 15 years, so I've known him more than a half of my life. I am really comfortable with what he does. He makes final decision for design but I work with him on it too.

Do you think the design is important to sell music? Is there anything you tell the designers all the time?
It's very important. You go in lots of record stores, but you can't really listen to it. You have to know who the artist is, but besides that you are looking at a bunch of different things, and it does play a role. There are lots of people say "Don't judge by the cover!" But unfortunately we do, you know.

How do you want to take this label to the next stage?
I think I'm at the next level already! Other labels have to catch up with me!

Could you tell us about your upcoming projects?
There are lots of albums in work right now. I'm very busy working on mix CDs. We are doing the whole series of mixes of other artists and mine, and we are going to continue re-issues of 60s stuff, and we actually have several records to get us back into the Hip Hop field again.