Label Makers: Hozac Records

Todd Novak of Hozac Records talks about going from magazine to record label and the Chicago scene

A lot of things can change in thirteen years.  Bands can play their first show in a garage, explode into fame and fortune, and crumble into mediocrity all in a short time span.  It’s the natural ebb and flow of a city’s music scene.  And no one has witnessed that better in Chicago than Todd Novak and Brett Cross.  Novak and Cross ran one of the more popular and influential zines in the 90s called Horizontal Action Magazine, which featured some of the city’s hottest underground bands like the Ponys, the Clone Defects, the Black Lips and occasional nudity.  As times changed so did Horizontal Action, and now Novak and Cross have turned their love for music into their own label Hozac Recrods.  We spoke with Novak about the transition, vinyl versus digital, and the modern Chicago music scene.


HEAVE: Hozac Records started after Horizontal Action Magazine ended.  How did the magazine jet set the start of the record company?

Todd Novak: We originally had never planned for the magazine to last over five years but it was incredibly successful and we basically got carried away. But times changed and all the fun ended up running out, and we really didn't feel like keeping the joke going so we decided to launch a new type of website, ( where we could utilize the immediacy of the internet, along with a first-of-its-kind national venue database/show calendar, along with our commentary, and a way to really show off the incredible photos and music, right as it was happening. We killed off the magazine at the 2005 Chicago Blackout Festival, and on that same weekend, one year later, for the very last Blackout Festival, we launched It wasn't until later that fall that we decided to simultaneously start up a record label, which in hindsight was a really good idea. We noticed that the term 'Hozac' which we didn't even originate, but came as an abbreviation for the magazine title, was starting to pop up all over the place as a way to describe the type of music we covered for the eight years the magazine was published, so we felt it was the right time to use that momentum and create something solid out of our residual "influence," and in December of 2006, we released the first two HoZac 7" EPs unto the world.

HEAVE: I think the thing that appeals most to me about Hozac Records is that you put out this very raw style of music that, pardon the term, not to be fucked with.  A lot of people are afraid to put out something that's not overproduced and glossed over with effects and auto-tune.  What encourages the team at Hozac to pick these types of bands?  Do you try to stick within a certain genre or style?

Todd Novak: We mainly just look for the odd diamonds underneath whatever garbage it floats in on, basically. We've grown up on raw punk, snotty rock'n roll and throbbing psychedelia that all comes from the gut, so it may have a shiny outer veneer like Dutchess & The Duke or The Liminanas or it may come in the form of something much uglier, like Wizzard Sleeve, Rayon Beach or Woven Bones, dripping with grime and gunk, but as long as the songs are there, it really doesn't matter how low or high fidelity the music is, to us.

HEAVE: Other than bands on the label, what bands or type of music are you listening to now?  Any bands to look out for?

Todd Novak: We're constantly checking out new bands everywhere, but we're really excited about our first Australian band's album, Super Wild Horses, that we're releasing this month. But sure, we like all kinds of other stuff not on the label, The Ponys, Thomas Function, Oh Sees, King Tuff, Crystal Stilts, UV Race, Frankie Rose & the Outs, White Fence, Slug Guts, too many others to mention!

HEAVE: Hozac releases a lot of new music as 7” singles, a form that I think has lost a lot of clout in the industry.  What's the reasoning behind releasing new music like this (other than it's cheaper)?

Todd Novak: We've always known that a band has to really shine on a 7" record, there's no hiding the good songs, it's immediate and it's usually the first way you get into a new band, historically for us at least. And 7" singles are easier to mail, DJ with, and they're just perfect for bands that really don't have the time or even ambition to release an album, and there's nothing wrong with that. Lots of great bands have never released an album during their existence, just a handful of incredible singles.

HEAVE: Is there something more appealing to you personally about a physical 7” single instead of a digital download?

Todd Novak: Of course. First of all, you can HOLD it, and it actually exists in a tangible form. Sure you can't spill coffee on an mp3, but then again, it's nice to live in a world where you have both. Digital files are really useful too, but when it comes down to "having" the actual music, there's nothing that compares to real records.

HEAVE: Since the label is based in Chicago, what do you think the music scene in the city is like?  Has it changed since the days of Horizontal Action? 

Todd Novak: Absolutely, there's way fewer bands that pop up than there used to be, and believe me, we're looking for them. Chicago still has an armload of great bands, no doubt, but it comes in phases, and it's at a noticeably lower tide than it was in the Chicago hey-day of 2001-2004, but there's still a healthy amount of really exciting newer bands like Mickey, Radar Eyes, Heavy Times, Outer Minds, Tender, Sleepovers, and Brain Idea.

HEAVE: Does the label lean towards signing Chicago or Midwestern bands more so than others?

Todd Novak: Not necessarily. We like to be of the mindset that just because it's local, we don't feel the need to release it, but just because it's NOT local, doesn't mean we shouldn't release it, it's all about the music, of course, and there's just always going to be a solid crop of Midwestern bands, a lot of which, are the best in the nation just by chance.

HEAVE: I read in your interview with NPR that Hozac only has two employees, yourself and Brett Cross.  How do the both of you handle the demand that comes with running a label so efficiently?

Todd Novak: Brett and I do most all of the assembly of the singles, but he's back in full-time job mode, so I’ve been handling the majority of the business end of the responsibilities, but I do enjoy being a part of every step of the process with our label, it's fulfilling in a way I never thought it could be. So for example, one day of the week I'll be doing accounting and inventory adjustment, the next day will be packing distributor orders and designing ads, the next day will be listening to bands we're considering and cutting up cardboard, and then the next day will be sending off 7" or LP artwork to the printer, or filling out pressing forms, so it's a rotating schedule that avoids any monotony, which is nice.

HEAVE: With a vast amount of music websites, blogs, magazines, etc. is there such thing as “indie” or “underground” music anymore?  Has the internet made discovering new music too easy?

Todd Novak: There will always be an underground, it's usually the spot where no one is looking, and that's kinda by definition, where it will always be.

Hozac Records recently started their Hookup Klub subscription series, which delivers 11 7” singles to your door from the label’s hottest bands.  You can purchase your very own subscription through Hozac’s store.

Posted by Amy Dittmeier on Jul 07, 2010 @ 11:23 pm

label makers, interview, hozac records, todd novak, the ponys, victim of time