Matt DeBenedictis is the mad genius behind Safety Third Enterprises, publisher of such fine chapbooks at The Serial Rapist Sitting Behind You is a Robot and He Is Talking To The Fat Lady. He’s also a tremendously talented writer and music journalist. Â I had the opportunity to sit down with DeBenedictis and interview him about Safety Third Enterprises and its future.
I didn’t want to wait that long (I’m still ill and laughing at medical bills that come to the doorstep rubber-banded together). This is why I chose Safety Third as the name. I wanted to have some fun, work with artists I love and admire, and just not care if it was the safest decision in terms of money and timing. Safety Third is also a great Melvins song.
2. One of the awesome things about your chapbook, Congratulations, There’s No Last Place If Everyone Is Dead, was the way it was packaged (the chapbook, a cd of some of the pieces, a pack of instant coffee, a YO! MTV Raps card, and a note explaining the project). Â You’ve carried over this care of packaging to the books on the Safety Third label from layout to the way the reader gets the copies in the mailbox. Â What influences this sense of care in packaging and presentation?
Well I’ve always been a big vinyl collector and in the past ten years smaller DIY labels have gone all out creating packaging that is truly crafted to create an experience and attitude for the LP. I wanted to do the same thing in the realm of literature.
Ever since I discovered chapbooks I’ve had a love affair with them. Maybe it’s my growing up in the zine madness of the ’90s Â that birthed it, but I love the format. Writers are able to experiment in ways they normally don’t do in longer forms and the designs also get taken to a new level—in ways that cater more to the tried and true fans rather than trying to get new curious readers. I love a chapbook press that creates an ascetic, whether it is from release to release or as the entire press itself.
The Congratulations chapbook came simply because I was blown away by the idea of having not just fans but people who believed in my writing enough to actively want more.
In an interview with Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips he was asked about the band’s shift from noise rock into electronic psychedelia . He said knowing people believed in him inspired him to go farther. I had quit submitting to journals (out of the process boring me and not having time) and people were asking me when I had new words coming out, so I did the chapbook on my own. It was my way of saying thanks to those that have supported me and showing them how much they mean to me.
3. You frequently collaborate with Brian Manley (funwithrobots.com) in designing your chapbooks and Safety Third’s chapbooks. Â How did you meet him and what attracts you to his design aesthetic?
I actually met Brian a few years ago. It turned out we had a lot of similar friends here in Atlanta and back in Ohio. Brian is able to capture a lot of different styles, all while putting his very photography based fingerprint on it. I’ve seen him design clean but cutting work for corporations as well as do an album layout like Manchester Orchestra’s Mean Everything to Nothing where he layered polariods creating a grand vision fitting of the themes of the record.
When working together we tend to both come up with over the top design ideas that will ensure large amounts of money get lost. Over numerous conversations we get more and more rational and come up with a design that fits the piece and the budget. (Congratulations, There’s No Last Place If Everyone Is Dead design and packaging was a first idea conversation and I lost a lot of money on that, even though I stole a lot of the packing material needed for it)
The initial idea for xTx’s He Is Talking To The Fat Lady was to play off the visual of some obese jelly lady eating food in the park. We tried to find a liquid that could rest into the cover paper well enough that it would feel and look like grease and the books themselves were going to be wrapped in fast food wrappers with the STE logo on it. I would have had to charge $10 apiece just to break even.
4. When putting together a Safety Third book, what is your preferred mix that you listen to?
Well when doing the layout I like to listen to something that really fits the mood and attitude of the text. For xTx’s I was listening to the new Grinderman record that had just come out at the time. Nick Cave’s lyrics makes you feel like you’re only hearing part of a grand and fucked up story. It really marries itself to the words of xTx very well. Sometimes I would yell out lines from her chapbook in a bad Austrian-like accent to the music.
Cave sings: “I keep hanging around your kitchenette/And I’m gonna get a pot to cook you in/ I stick my fingers in your biscuit jar/ And crush all your Gingerbread Men”Â
xTx writes, “Let me get pregnant with your baby so you can kick me down the stairs. I will bounce down the stairs and break my arm and my wrist. The baby will die inside me and I will bleed it out between my legs as you sit on a middle stair marveling at my numb aberrancy. Isn’t it amazing how I can’t feel a thing?”
5. How do you choose your Safety Third Enterprises authors (employees)?
I like to work with friends, or people I could be friends with. I want putting together a chapbook vision to be fun as well as inspiring — people who get the chapbook know if it was created with that kind of love. If someone made this feel like a pressing job there’s no reason to do this. I’d rather hang out with my wife or watch the tap-dancing hooker on Memorial Drive.
6. I saw on Big Other about the demand for a digital version of xTx’s He Is Talking To The Fat Lady after it sold out in 31 hours, a very impressive feat. Â Will Safety Third make digital versions of the label’s chapbooks?
Actually yes, I’ve always wanted to go into that realm but I wanted to make sure there was a sort of demand for it with STE. xTx’s should be released digitally with an audio version by/or around December 10th with your chapbook (The Serial Rapist Sitting Behind You Is a Robot) to be released soon after. The digital versions will be available on the STE site only.
7. Where do you see Safety Third Enterprises heading? Â Where would you like to see it go?
I’d like to see what other ways writers can explore. I’d like to one day do art prints with very short prose on them. I mean I’d love to have something like that in my office — a silk-screened collaboration between a writer and designer meant for a frame. Don’t know if anyone else would, but we’ll see.
A lot of people complain about how “indie”Â lit, or whatever, seems to be just people writing to other writers, which I believe can go farther than that, but I also think that’s a great thing. Let’s have some fun. We’re not bound by routine and comments from a legal department; let’s keep pushing farther.