Amy Fleisher Madden, better known to South Florida's punk scene as Amy Fiddler, began a strange journey into self-publication and independent record label operating at the tender age of 16. Her fanzine, Fiddler Jones was indicative of the pop punk '90s with a Cometbus-styled bend that balanced band interviews, reviews, and personal musings with humorous anecdotes about the scene strewn about for good measure.
From the fledgling upstart, undoubtedly fabricated during the heydays of the Office Depot "honor system," Fleisher went on to found Fiddler Records in 1996 that released records by local favorites the Vacant Andys, Milkshed, and the Agency as well as national heavy-hitters like New Found Glory, Dashboard Confessional, and Juliette Lewis & the Licks.
It's been many years since her hectic teenage years as an entrepreneur and Fleisher has reinvented herself first into the world of advertising and more recently back into the world of publication -- armed with her first novel A Million Miles. We had a chance to discuss her past and the book. And while she might no longer be a local resident, this local girl done good, is proud of her South Florida roots.
New Times: Let's start at the beginning. How did you manage to make South Florida a viable punk rock option when you were only 16 years old? To a certain degree, your parents had something to do with that, no?
Amy Fleisher: My parents were (and still are) extremely cool. To this day they stay out later than I do. So, when I started getting interested in music, they were incredibly tolerant. Like, they let my friends come over and use spray glue to put liberty spikes in their hair before shows. And growing up in South Florida I didn't know that our city didn't really have a thriving punk scene, I thought it was amazing. We all just made the best of it and I loved it.
What was the original goal of Fiddler Jones? And what gave it enough chutzpah to achieve a legacy out of 8 ½" by 11" folded?
I would love to tell you that I had major goals... But at 16, I just wanted to do what the older kids were doing. For some people that meant sneaking cigarettes and beer, but for me that meant following Tim Far Out and Chuck Loose around and getting all of the information I could out of them. I don't know if it was chutzpah, although my grandmother would have been thrilled to see that word in print. It was more like an obsession. I just loved everything so much; I wanted to be around music all the time.
That aside, what went through your mind once those initial signings began making waves in the mainstream?
I was both excited and confused. The excitement comes from an obvious place, but the confusion came from the feelings that we all built our own scene, and I thought that we were building things so we wouldn't need the mainstream culture to be involved. So it all felt backwards. Like, why were we doing this if everyone just wanted to leave?
Things can get confusing when the checkbooks come out. And then I realized that a lot of indie labels were just a means to an end for the bands that were breaking. That's when I knew I needed to work with a major label if I wanted to keep up.
How did you manage to retain composure? As an incredibly young businesswoman and fan of the music, if it's not too much to intrude upon, how did you balance life at that point?
I didn't. Or maybe I did? You should ask my friends. I realized at some point that my label was like a bizarre roommate. It was this thing that I lived with and it was always there, filling my house with bands and boxes. But really, I started doing the label at such a young age that I didn't really know any different. I was always driving to shows to see bands and when it actually became my real job, it was incredibly natural because I'd already been doing it for so long.
So now you've been a few years removed from the record label business. What prompted you to leave and choose to go into advertising?
I would love to say that the label went on to achieve great success and we all lived happily ever after... But that didn't happen. After two (or three?) distribution deals gone horribly wrong, and a few too many bands leaving for greener grass, I couldn't keep up. The recession was on the horizon and it was time to change gears.
The label had prompted me to drop out of college twice, so I never really had a normal college experience. And when it was time to figure things out I realized I had always loved the design side of the business as much as I loved the music. I initially started looking around for graphic design programs, but once I went in for an interview at Art Center (in Pasadena) they thought I'd be a perfect fit for advertising, and they were right.