From his new home on the West Coast, Matador founder Lombardi talks to Ian Roebuck about getting a little perspective
June 4th 2013 and Queens of the Stone Age release their sixth studio album, ‘Like Clockwork’. Just one week later the Palm Desert band hit number one on the US Billboard 200. 91,000 copies were sold giving the independent Matador their first chart triumph, but label founder Chris Lombardi was left numb. “I remember I flew into New York and when I landed I was told the record was going to be number one and a group of people were gathering to celebrate. When I got there everyone had already been into a few bottles of champagne and whatever and I wasn’t… it was hard for me to be celebratory. I told Josh [Homme] congratulations on the number one but I felt a little bit lost. Sure, it was an incredible achievement to hit number one, but at the same time you could only go down.”
A year later and I’m talking to Chris at his LA home. The born and bred New Yorker is more up than down, having fled west to nurture and grow his label of 25 years. “Well, Matador’s hub is still New York,” he says. “I have been here for five years and LA is a more meditative place for me. It is where I can think about the big picture shit, which is what I do.” He sounds relaxed and content. I ask how it compares to where he grew up: 80’s Manhattan.
“New York is an entirely different city. When I grew up there were still neighbourhoods from the turn of the twentieth century, immigrants, so you had the Jewish community and you had the German town area or little Italy and Greenwich Village was kind of hippies and poets and stuff, and, you know, Harlem was African American and soul food and there was a lot of poverty and a lot of wealth – they were neighbourhoods, but they’ve changed dramatically in an instant. So New York is a wonderful playground; it’s a great place to be.”
Inevitably, that playground would go on to shape Lombardi’s musical tastes and the future of a record label he founded in 1989. Aged 10, though, his first love was for classic rock, as the pre-teen would attend shows by Queen, Led Zeppelin and Kiss. He laughs at the confession. “But then I got interested in New Wave and stuff like the Clash and the Jam, and then I started getting into more of the punk aspect kind of things.”
It was an unassuming record store located at 118 West Third Street in Greenwich Village that would hold sway in Lombardi’s formative years. “My musical discovery really started when I was going down to Bleecker Street at 13 and visiting Bleecker Bobs and buying the Melody Maker and NME and getting UK imports and stuff, when they came out. The English music papers would come out Thursday so I would go down there after school to get them straight away. That’s how you learnt about it, there was no Internet.