At the time, Ismist Recordings was
struggling to keep its head above water, having spent most of the past
decade putting out CDs by some of the region's hottest punk acts such as
Urethra Franklin, Frontier Trust, Such Sweet Thunder, Polecat and Wide,
great bands with loyal but tiny followings. It was a distribution deal
gone wrong with Slipknot that eventually pushed Schlissel over the edge
and out of Nebraska. He moved to Minneapolis in 1998, burned out on
regional indie bands and unsure of his label's future.
Then out of the blue Schlissel heard a commercial on the local metal
station for a Lewis Black show at Minneapolis' Acme Comedy Company. He
went to the show -- his first time in a comedy club -- and wrote a
loveletter of sorts to Black, which he tucked into a copy of Wide's Hidden
Agenda CD Ismist had released a year earlier.
"The letter said that I wasn't a nutcase or a stalker, and that I
was giving him the CD to prove that I really ran a record label,"
Schlissel said. "As I was walking out of the club I saw him getting a
drink at the bar. I told him I would love to put out a CD by him and to my
surprise, he said he would love to work with me."
Black had already been turned down for record deals from Comedy Central
and Warner Bros. Almost a year after their first meeting, Schlissel and
recording engineer John Machnik, who had previously worked with Schlissel
on a Killdozer 7-inch, were in Madison, Wis., recording four nights of
Black live on stage. The material was cut down to 75 minutes; Black
whittled it down to the final 50 minutes of pure comic anger.
The White Album was released last October with virtually no
promotion other than a handful of punk 'zine ads. "After eight years
of running an indie label for rock bands in Nebraska, I didn't have a lot
of money left for publicity," Schlissel said. "The account was
In addition, Schlissel was unable to line up a national distribution
deal. Regardless of only being available by order on the Internet and at
shows, The White Album has sold more than 8,000 copies in less than
a year, almost surpassing the sales of all previous Ismist recordings
combined. "It was the first time I ever had to repress a CD,"
He points to Black's weekly appearances on The Daily Show with Jon
Stewart, as well as guest spots on The Conan O'Brien Show and
constant touring for the sales numbers. "Once we get into real
distribution, it'll go nuts," Schlissel said.
His next Lewis-related project is the release of a special edition
vinyl version of The White Album in conjunction with the
anniversary of a Beatles album of a similar name. Schlissel continues to
dabble in the laugh market, releasing comedy CDs by Doug Stanhope and
Jimmy Shubert, while he contemplates separating the comedy titles from his
indie rock label, which he continues to operate.
"I find myself doing more and more comedy and fewer and fewer
bands," he said. "I have five more comedy CDs in the works,
including a second Lewis Black CD."
The advantages over rock 'n' roll are obvious. Working with a comedian
means dealing with only one ego (two, if his agent is a prick) instead of
an entire band-ful. And then there's the advantage of having the artist
actually on the road, selling product. "The fact that these guys are
on tour makes a difference," Schissel said. "Lewis tours as much
as 50 weeks a year."
So is Black as upset as he seems on stage and on TV? "He's like
that character only when something really irritates him," Schlissel
said. "He's pretty laid back and naturally funny. It bubbles to the
surface, especially when he gives me shit, which is fine with me."
Published in The Omaha Weekly Oct. 31, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim
McMahan. All rights reserved.