Off The Record: An Interview with Couple Skate Records

Hey all!

The time has come to conclude the exhibition The Record: Contemporary Art & Vinyl.

For the final interview connected to this exhibit, I spoke with Andrew McKibben and Ian Judd of Couple Skate Records. As personal coworkers and co-community members of these two for several years through Cairo, I was very excited to (lightly) interrogate the men at forefront of producing Seattle DIY music and culture.

Many thanks to the boys for the interview, and to all of you who have followed these posts!

Andrew McKibben and Ian Judd @ Cairo

The Interview:

How did you get started working in independent music? What was the impetus for this label? 
Ian Judd Well, since growing up and going to highschool in Spokane, Washington, I was involved in a lot of DIY culture. I started booking shows myself when I was 15. It just kind of happened out of necessity. When I was 18 and moved to Seattle, that interest I had was a little more refined and a little more mature. I built up a lot more momentum, and got more involved in music community here. I started booking shows, playing in bands, and starting a music label  was sort of a product of that journey. I got involved in DIY music communities because I wanted music to be more accessible for myself, rather than just listening to it.

Andrew McKibben I’ve never been a “show booker guy” or anything, my involvement has always been as a musician. In terms of independent music, I really got my start was in highschool as a volunteer at The Vera Project downtown. A lot of good times there. I was going to shows, seeing bands, and getting involved in other DIY spaces in Seattle. But I wasn’t super involved in the music scene  in Seattle until I moved back when I was about 19 or 20 and started playing in bands. The label kind of came out of that for me.

What was the impetus and drive for starting a label?
AM My band M Women really wanted to put out a record, we had plans to record and had songs written, but we didn’t really know how to approach the music business.  We just decided we’d start a label and put it out ourselves. We got Ian on board because he’s good at that kind of stuff.

IJ We also wanted to have a way of documenting music that we love, and our friends’ bands. Every record label has some sort of narrative that tells you about was this label is about…or at least every label thats doing it right. For us it’s fun too, because we get to curate.We had so many friends in bands that didn’t have a connection or know-how to get their record out to people, so what we try to do with Couple Skate is to create a model and a platform for a lot of our friends’ bands.

AM It’s not just about our friends’ bands, it’s also about bands in our community and the people we’re connected to. Not every band is your best friends’ band, it’s more about the community.

Do you each have individual roles in running the label? 
AM We vaguely have roles–Ian is good at press, PR, internet, social networking kind of stuff, and I’m on the ordering and production side. That’s very general.

IJ Andrew is the “shrewd businessman”, but we both have to do the packaging.

Do you let the musicians choose the album art, or does the label have control
AM The album art is part of the album; we would never try to tell the artist what to do. The only thing we ask, because we’re such a small label and we have limitations as to what we can financially do, so if someone is dreaming real big, we would have to sort of curtail that.

IJ So far the artists that we’ve worked with have had a heavy unique visual element. We wouldn’t want to impose on that at all.

Where did you get the name? 
IJ I don’t remember. It’s a term that denotes that time on the rink when no one can be alone–everyone has to find someone that they have to chill with, skate with. It could be romantic or platonic. It just sounds good. Jessie Brown made the logo, so that really tied it together.

Why is Seattle a good place to have a record label? 
IJ There is already an infrastructure  set for musicians to get the props they deserve, and for their bands to have some sort of complete local exposure. There are so many opportunities for bands like KEXP, The Stranger and Seattle Weekly…

AM Also, there are independent record stores that will carry records released on your tiny label. Even though SubPop is the big boy in the room, I feel as though it sets the tone for the independent labels in the room here in Seattle.

IJ Ideally, one would start a label in an enormous city like NY or LA–Seattle has always been a “provincial backwater” city up to this point. But all the rules have changed over the past 20 years, with Sub Pop being such a heavy hitter in the music industry.

What makes your record label specifically northwest? 
IJ The artists. I don’t think we are going for a “timber-flannel-microsoft” vibe. Haha. We are influenced by the ethos of K records–we are all about bringing people together through the music we release.

AM For us, it’s about trying to build a community, as opposed to climbing a social latter. That’s sort of our goal, is to try to build something here for ourselves, instead of taking to something national and getting rich and famous. I don’t know if that’s specifically northwest, but it’s definitely small-community oriented.

Do you have any production idols or labels that you looked up to most? 
IJ I always liked Factory Records in Manchester. They were just so good at documenting everything. They did a lot of extra-curricular stuff, like owning a club and hosting shows. Each of those shows were documented. I think that’s really inspiring. The guy who owned Factory Records had the Factory label on printed on his coffin.

AM I think a more recent label that I have been really interested in is PPM (Post Present Medium) out of LA: they do a really good job of documenting the downtown LA music community. It’s cool because they don’t have an aesthetic that is super consistent, but because the bands are all in the  same community, they have a very similar and consistent vibe. They put out pretty killer records too.

How would you describe your label in three words? 
Couple.Skate.Records. (laughs)

Thanks to Ian and Andrew for this final interview!

Signing off (forever),

Olivia Olive

Last chance to see exhibition ‘The Record’ & Fall Fête!


Hey friends!

It’s hard to believe, but this weekend, SEPT 21-23, is your last chance to see The Henry’s summer exhibition, The Record.

THIS FRIDAY, come join us at The Henry for Fall Fête, where students are invited to the Henry for an evening of live music, dancing, food, and activities inspired by the exhibition The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl. Come check out Seattle DJ OC Notes spinning a mix of hip-hop, soul, jazz and house, and Rainy Dawg DJs Bennett Schatz and Vlad Sepetov. Walk through the museum’s galleries, explore The B Side at the Test Site, and sample delicious food from Molly’s Cafe. Kick off the new school year by getting acquainted with your newest old friend, Hank, and don’t miss this final opportunity to see The Record!

Click here for an interview with DJ OC Notes!

See you this friday and welcome back to school!

Off the Record: Interview with Record Appreciator Rachel Kessler

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel Kessler, 1/2 of the poetry & science team Vis-a-Vis Society. Rachel will be giving a lecture on THURSDAY at The Henry, in conjunction with the current exhibition, titled The Record.

Rachel gave me sneak peek into the content of her lecture, as well as talk about Seattle school districts, the disconnect of being a food critic relying on food stamps, and the importance of the “cranky socialist” persona.

Read Rachel’s interview below, come see the lecture on Thursday, and make sure to check out other works by the Vis-a-Vis society!

Nelson (left) and Kessler (right) of the Vis-a-Vis Society.

The interview:

You plan to discuss your appreciation of records, what are you going to talk about?
The first thing I thought about discussing was about my childhood experience with records. When I was growing up my dad was a musician and very obsessive. Particularly with me, since I was the oldest, he would sit us or lay us down in front of those giant 1970s speakers, in the middle of the floor in the living room and have us listen to certain songs and the specifics of each song. I just sort of picked that up from him, and didn’t realize until much later than not everyone does that. I continue to do it. I have a prayer rug that I like to sit on when I listen to records.

I was also going to talk about to that sort of mediative listening that occurs particularly with vinyl. I think the format of the album helps with that, since the album is so large. I feel like I am predominately a writer and poet, and when I think about books of poetry, I feel the same way about it. I was going to talk about the relationship of books of poetry and whole record albums versus anthologies or singles, and how import it is to put something in the context of the whole. I was thinking about liner notes, too. It’s important to do something with your eyes when you listen to music.

I have records from when i was little when i was like 5 that i was going to bring in. like Havin’ Fun with Ernie and Bert–it’s really interactive. It has informed my art so much. Everything I’ve ever done comes from that album. The other record I listen to most is Peter and The Wolf, narrative by Leonard Bernstein. The different instruments represent different characters; there is a definite story telling element.

At some point in my childhood, my family became Born Again Christian. Before this time, we had a garage that was converted into a listening room, full of records. Then when we converted my father got rid of all of those records. They were replaced with Christian music and gospel records, so I’ll bring in some of that to share as well.

How distraught were you when that happened?
We still listened to just as much music after the conversion. There was a lot of Christian rock happening in the 70′s that was very controversial at the time. Kind of when Bob Dylan had that converted record. My dad couldn’t stay away from it, so when my mom was gone we would listen to secular music on the radio, and in my own time I would listen to this Cyndi Lauper tape. I got caught in middle school.

How do you bring these experiences to your poetry and writing?
It has had a lot of influence on me. Sierra Nelson and I made a record and album together, sort of a workbook with guided meditations and listening experiences. The idea was that it would not be a “headphones” album, but a “listening together out loud” album, kind of inspired by those interactive children’s books–you know where Tinkerbell would make a noise to indicate you to turn the page.

Tell me about Vis-a-Vis Society, your ongoing project with Sierra Nelson?
We’re poets–poet scientists. Poetry and science use really similar muscles in the brain, and they have a lot in common. For Sierra and I, its very important that we are explorers of the world around us. We are fascinated by poetry and science in the mundane and everyday things. When you look closely, you can see that something really beautiful is going on. The Vis-a-Vis Society a very interactive experiment that was born out of a piece we were working on with (previous artistic project) The Typing Explosion, where we surveyed people. Its always fun to take a survey–it’s really relaxing. We did this piece where we built a song off of audience response, and it was so much fun. For this project, we decided to incorporate the scientist personal as well, where we could kind of hide behind of goggles anda lab coat. From there,  we started to really explore the forum of the survey, while being inspired by natural sciences also the poetry forms and scientific structure. For example, looking at how the scientific method could be used in poetic form. 

Many thanks to Rachel for the interview & sneak peek. See you all on Thursday!

Signing off,

Olivia Olive

Off the Record: Interview with Highfives and Handshakes’ Peter Lowe

Peter Lowe is the man behind Highfives and Handshakes, a Seattle-based record label that started nearly a decade ago.  Under this moniker, Peter has promoted, produced, and toured with numerous bands from the northwest since he was 15 years old. A Pacific Northwest native, Peter has immersed himself in the underground and independent music world since highschool, and now seeks to find the happy medium between punk, DIY, and professionalism in music.

For most of the year, Peter tours around the country show managing various film festivals (SIFF, Sundance), and runs the record label and tours with bands during the festival off-season. Read Peter’s interview to find out how he started the label and his plans for the future.

Highfives and Handshakes logo

The Interview:

On northwest music: 

I just like it up here. There’s a lot more, well, I don’t want to say vibe, but, vibe. Just has more creative energy. When I go to NY and go to see shows, it kind seems like people are trying really hard. They want to be in a band that everyone likes, whereas no one cares about that here. It’s not that they don’t care, they just want to make really challenging music. Or something that conveys emotion that you can actually call art. You can see something and it makes you feel something. It’s not just a traditional rock format. People are making challenging music here, and I like that. Also, there isn’t a huge national scene here, so people don’t feel the need to play to a national audience. It’s much more community driven, especially in Seattle.

What makes your record label specifically northwest?

Which one?

Highfives and Handshakes.

(laughs) I think I have only put out northwest bands. All the bands sound like they’re from here, to me at least. They all have a Seattle sound, but I don’t look at it as a regional label. When I’m looking for music that I want to put out, I look for people who are making  music that I struggle to compare to something else. Like when you get a press release and it says “recommended if you like…”, if I struggle to fill in that blank, I know that’s a band I want to put out. Somebody that is making music that don’t sound like anything else.

Why is Seattle a good place to have a record label? 

The location and the cost of living are definitely a struggle. I mean, running a record label out of Nashville, or Memphis would be way better on a budget. You could go pick up the records at the pressing plant. Your cost of living would be so much lower, you could have a label and not do something on the side. Its rare, but I know people produce music and support themselves on it.   Living in Seattle makes it hard–all the costs increase here. But there are also things people are willing to spend more money on here–people will spend 15-20 dollars on music these days.

How did you get started working in independent music? 

When I was 16, I decided I wanted to start a record label and I wanted to put out my friends CD, just as a trial. I had been booking shows in downtown Olympia for a year by this time, I think. I was in a band, a crappy noise rock band and I was getting more and more involved with music. It started as a way to put on shows, like “Highfives and Handshakes presents!” and I started doing a lot more shows around town. And then it sort of rolled from that, I would share music with people and they would share music with me, a lot of times bands don’t have that drive to record their music and put out into a world. It’s definitely been a learning experience. But now, Megan Birdsall, who started Don’t Stop Believin’ records, and I are starting a label. We have had mutual friends for a long time, and didn’t realize that we both started our labels not really knowing what we were doing. We look around at other labels and really like the uniformity. Like when you pick up a Sacred Bones record, and you immediately know that it is. Or the Sub Pop logo–just having that continuity. So we started a record label called Trenchart: it focuses on experimental metal, and hardcore. I really focused on packaging, we have released short run cassette tapes and will be releasing an LP soon. We really look up to and have a lot of labels who have a cool style that is recognizable.

How would you describe your record label in three words? 

Punk.

Where did the name come from?

Well, I had originally named it Bicycle Records, but this guy named Bob in Olympia had just started a record label six months earlier with the same name. The idea behind Highfives and Handshakes was kind of like a contract between friends. We work with friends and people I liked. I tried to do something a little more professional, but its not necessary. Sometimes I feel like I need to be writing a contact, but it’s just not needed.

For album art, do you choose or does the band? 

I give total creative control to the bands, but I’ve definitely said no to stuff before. Usually the band has a concept or idea or an artist that they want to work with.

What is next for you? 

Working hard on Trenchart…got a lot of exciting releases with that. I’ve been doing a lot of management and booking. Highfives and Handshakes is kind of falling under that umbrella these days. I am managing band and a touring with the band Christmas, they’re new record is almost done, and I’m helping produce it. Hopefully we are touring Europe next summer…Gotta figure that out. And we are mixing and producing the new MTNS record right now. It’s are fucking awesome.

Are your parents proud of you? Do they want you to go to college? 

Yeah. I’m a college dropout. By the time I was 16, I knew what I wanted to do. I didn’t think it would be through film festivals and running a record label, but its all just show managing. If I went to college I would take four years out of my life experience, when I could be working and learning and building contacts. Just doesn’t seem like a realistic move for me. maybe when I turn 30 I’ll go back to school. People do that all the time.

Thanks again to Peter for the interview.  Until next time!

**Interested in hearing some of the bands on Highfives and Handshakes? Look no further than The Henry’s test site, featuring several 7″‘s and LP’s from the label on display for your listening pleasure!

Signing off,

Olivia Olive

Off the Record: An Interview with Curtis Knapp of Marriage Records

I recently contacted and interviewed (via the interweb) Curtis Knapp, co-founder of Marriage Records based in Portland, Oregon. Marriage is known for producing local and global acts big and small, ranging from Dirty Projectors and  tUnE-yArDs, to Lucky Dragons and YACHT.

Marriage Records prides itself on the community aspect of their organization. In a previous interview, Knapp stated:

“The label learned everything and grew through its artists. It wasn’t the other way around. This place–the community of music here; Marriage Records is totally a function of that.”

The B-Side at The Henry features numerous Marriage records, come in and listen today!

Marriage collage

The Interview:

What was the impetus for starting this record label?
Adrian Orange was making tons of music as Thanksgiving.  He was 16 at the time.  He and I started it as a way to get his records out into the world.  We set out to publish all kinds of work via the label.  We mounted the label as a document officiator of our time and work together, and of our friends.  Thus the name Marriage Records.

What is your production/distribution process? How has this evolved since the economic downturn?
It’s case by case and depends, obviously, on the medium and the artist.  Our production has slowed during the downturn.  Though this has more to do with internal factors than any national trends.  And thankfully so!  We were at a fevered pace for many years.  The bad part was not being able to continue to employ Jordan Dykstra.

Production/distribution costs can be anywhere from zero to $10,000 per release for us.  And have ranged from digital only releases, to tapes, CDs, vinyl, DVDs, T-shirts, posters, objects, books, prints, events, packaging in house or outsourced, tour management, promotion, advertisement, vans for bands, help getting SSI, interviews, etc.

What makes this record label specifically “northwest”?
The fact that we operate out of Portland and most of our connections are here.  Is the music itself tied to the landscape?  Globally less so, since the beginning of recording technology, I’d say.  Though certainly songwriters like Adrian would have to be considered in the Northwest context.  And White Fang, for the matter.  They were also born here.  But both their influences come from records from everywhere.  I think K records can lay claim to a large part of the popularization of independent record labels.  Is that they are in the Northwest significant?  Is it an inheritance of the pioneering spirit?  The fecundity of the less ruined forests?

What is your favorite record of all time?
Whoa.  I used to have a tape that someone copied for me from the library.  It had different funeral songs from all around the world.  I probably listened to it thousands of times in my Ford Aerostar before I lost it.

How do you decide what bands to work with?
It’s nearly always based on personal relationship.  I tend to have relationships with people who, above all else, are dedicated to their work.

Do you let the musicians choose their album art, or does the label have control?
Fantastic at times and unfortunate at others, the musicians have complete control over their artwork.  Sometimes this means they have me do it, also for better or worse.

What is Marriage releasing that you are excited about? 
Unkle Funkle.  Caspar Sonnet.  Little Wings.  White Fang.  Rob Walmart.  I should also mention Adam Forkner somewhere.

 

Thanks again to Curtis for the words.

Until next time!

Signing off,

Olivia Olive

Off the Record: Interview with Joel Leshefka of Cairo Records

Aimee Butterworth and Joel Leshefka co-run local Seattle art space Cairo, located on Capitol Hill. With a focus on live music, vintage, silkscreening, and visual art, it seemed only natural for Cairo’s eclectic brand to branch into music production. Since the inception its record label, Cairo Records has released numerous compilations, 7 inches, and LPs, while simultaneously hosting weekly music shows and seasonal music festivals.

I recently interviewed Joel on what it’s like to co-run Seattle’s “tiniest empire”, and what makes Seattle the perfect nest in which to hatch a small independent record label. As a native Pacific Northwesterner, Joel has an inherent understanding of the independent arts scene that he is immersed in: “Those of us trying to create and build now have the benefit of this network that has always existed in Seattle, and continues to grow.  When I was a kid, it was clubs like The Velvet Elvis, and The Showoff Gallery, labels like C/Z, Esturus, SubPop, K Records, Kill Rock Stars, and record stores like Fallout and Orpheum.  They built what universities like to call “Institutional Memory”, and whether we know it or not, a lot of us are learning and growing from their legacies.”

Many thanks to Joel for the words. Continue below to see the full interview.

 

photo by Krysta Jabczenski

 

What was the impetus for starting Cairo records?

The label started like many things start at Cairo, in that there was a perceived gap that seemed appropriate for Cairo to help fill.  We had been hosting shows from the days of being a “gallery only” space, and a few people including Robin Stein, had approached us about parlaying some of the energy and positive vibes being manifested as a music space, into a record label.  With Robin on board, Aimee (Butterworth, co-owner of Cairo) and I felt like it was a good fit.  Cairo has always existed to help promote new and interesting artists of all genres within Seattle, with the hope that such a platform will assist in propelling those artists more regionally, and even nationally.

What is your production/distribution process?

We’ve focused on the northwest thus far for distribution…most of the bands we work with haven’t even done a full US tour, so the idea of trying to push this stuff nationally is a little difficult at this point.  The goal is to continue to release strong compelling music, working with like-minded bands in an effort to increase the potential of spreading and growing what we believe to be the “Seattle sound” further and further into the ether.  To do this is a symbiotic relationship, it takes effort, and time to grow something that can truly last.  When we first started, I think we wanted everything to happen right away, but lately it’s been really satisfying to understand it as an organic process, and one that starts from the same small solid 900 square foot home base that is Cairo, and grows as the artists and individuals grow around and with it.


What makes this record label specifically “northwest”?

We really believe the northwest isn’t as known as it should be for creating interesting, slightly more experimental sounds.  So much good happens here, and much of it goes un-noticed by the national press.  I’m always quite amazed and perplexed by what ends up being touted on the big national music blogs from the northwest.  Not that those bands and artists showcased are not worthy, quite the opposite, but that so many artists and musicians are missed in that process.  Part of that comes from being geographically isolated, but part of that is I think the nature of the “northwest”.  We are a DIY type of scene, always have been.  I think Cairo follows in the footsteps of some incredible models for northwest labels; we are just doing whatever we want, and not worrying about whether it’s “the right thing to do”. But we are still hoping that people are paying attention to what we are curating, and find the same satisfaction and pride in what gets created in this infernally dark and dank place.  To do so does feel very “northwest” to me; it’s almost in the absence of national attention that truly incredible and unique art can be created.

What is your favorite record of all time?

Wow.  Can anyone answer that question??  Can I answer in 3 ways?  The first album that inspired me to think differently about music:  Treepeople’s Something Vicious for Tomorrow/Time Whore LP (C/Z records).  I heard Treepeople (Doug Martsch pre-Built to Spill) on KUGS 89.3 in Bellingham while I was in middle school and it changed my music preferences for life.  The album that will forever be in rotation: is likely Milk Music’s EP, Beyond Living…that might sound nuts to say, but I haven’t stopped listening to it since it was released two years ago, and I don’t think I will…. also anything by Brian Eno or Arthur Russell rates pretty high.  Nirvana’s Nevermind….people love to hate on this album, but all I can think of is riding the city bus home as a kid in the middle of a snow storm, listening to that album on tape over and over again. The album I wish Cairo could have released: Wet Paint DMM.  Those guys weren’t around long enough, and made me fall in love with music all over again, a full length from them would have been amazing…

How do you decide what bands to work with?

It’s usually a really natural extension of the show space.  Ian Judd has been killing it since he took over booking about two years ago.  The Cairo Tape Club is a series of live shows recorded at Cairo, and was pitched by Ian and Dylan Wall (who records and masters all the tracks).  It was a “no brainer” to start producing this series. We felt like the space was capturing all this great live energy, and showcasing interesting young bands. The series is allowing us to experiment with placing more nationally known artists (Mark McGuire, White Rainbow, King Dude) with artists just starting out, or for whatever reason haven’t gotten a ton of attention…placing them on the same platform.  We believe them to be equal, or complimentary artists, and we hope through the series, others will pick up on that too.

In short, if you end up on a Cairo release, it’s probably because you are hanging out at Cairo a bunch.  We are very much about building and participating in good communities.

Do you let the musicians choose the album art, or does the label have control?

Usually they do, unless it’s a compilation, which actually I guess is most of our releases at this point… for the Flexions album we asked Strath Shepard at Land Management to build us an interesting template, and we asked Flexions to pick the back and front photographs.  It turned out gorgeous; we were super psyched!


Why is Seattle a good place to run a record label?

I think for a lot of the reasons already mentioned. Seattle probably has more musicians per square inch in this city than almost anywhere in the US, save for the obligatory NYC reference.  Beyond talented artists though, Seattle has built a strong support system.  There are tons of places for people to play in this city right now…from large bars, to small bars, to all-ages spaces, art spaces, secret places, and house shows. People really come out for music here; it’s a source of city pride. This piece of the puzzle is important when you start thinking about a record label, which records, produces, and ultimately to sells it to people.  It doesn’t happen in a vacuum, nobody is making bedroom music (solo/alone), and sending it to record labels in LA, or SF, they are out, playing shows, engaging people, building and honing their sound, then taking the time to record and release it.  Once it’s released, it lands in one of the many amazing independent record stores Seattle has: from the super small and select Wall of Sound, to the larger stores like Sonic Boom & Easy Street Records—they are all very interested in supporting and cultivating not just “music” in Seattle, but really “good, interesting, unique music”.  All of these things have to work together to create what we have in Seattle, which is a really rad, positive scene. It’s a network, and no one part exists without the others, they all work in unison.

What is next for Cairo Records?

Laser Discs.

Stop by Cairo at 507 E Mercer, check out their blog, and keep your eyes peeled for their next release!

Signing off,

Olivia Olive

Off the Record: An Interview with Sarah Moody and Jason Baxter of Hardly Art Records

Seattle takes pride in its independent music scene, and local record label Hardly Art has gained national and international recognition for having a good ear for catchy Northwest bands. Birthed by independent music colossus Sub Pop Records less than a decade ago, Hardly Art  is orchestrated primarily by three people with big ideas in one little office. With west coast favorites such as Grave Babies, Broken Water, and Hunx & His Punx, this label is defining indie music one garage band at a time.

I recently caught up with cool friends Sarah Moody and Jason Baxter of Hardly Art on the inner workings of independent record labels in the Pacific Northwest. Check out their ideas and music favorites below!

 

Image from one of Hardly Art’s music samplers.

Sarah’s E-mail Interview:

What was the impetus for starting this record label?

Hardly Art was founded in early 2007 by Sub Pop Records. The impetus was twofold: first, to have a way to work with and offer a platform for smaller or brand new artists in the northwest and beyond; second, to implement a different, more malleable business model and see how it works. (We operate on a net profit split, as opposed to royalty-based accounting.) Without having the same history and size as a label like Sub Pop, in addition to generally lower overhead, we are more free to try new things and take chances on unknown bands.

What is your production/distribution process? How has this evolved since the economic downturn? 

We are distributed by ADA/WEA and Sub Pop domestically, and via Sub Pop internationally. We’ve had to cut back a bit on physical product since our first years, but that could be due equally to the economic crisis and the overall increase in digital sales.

What makes this record label specifically “northwest”?

Aside from it being where we exist, we’ve made a point to support a great number of local artists, almost exclusively in our early days – we released debut records from Arthur & Yu, The Dutchess & the Duke, The Moondoggies, Talbot Tagora, and many more. We’ve since expanded to all parts of the country, in terms of our roster, but still keep an ear open to what is happening on the local scene and try to support it as best as we can. We also try to collaborate with local institutions such as Sonic Boom, Easy Street, KEXP, and others, whenever possible.

What is your favorite record of all time?

 This is an impossible question, but after many years, I still can’t beat the feeling I get from listening to Is This Real? by the Wipers, The Moon & Antarctica by Modest Mouse, EP +2 by Mogwai, the self-titled LP by Rites of Spring, and The Boatman’s Call by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. That’s just the tip of the musical iceberg, though.

Jason’s Phone Interview: 

How do you decide what bands to work with?

There isn’t one specific way; we have signed bands in different ways. For example, when we decided to sign Seapony, Sarah and Ruben (of Hardly Art) saw them at their first Seattle show and were blown away. They approached them immediately to work together. I think that is a more unusual example; most of the time a band gets signed that you already are familiar with, or that you’ve heard about through friends or other bands.

Do you let the musicians choose the album art, or does the label have control?

Sarah will lay all the artwork onto templates, but we give the bands pretty much free reign to do what they want with their album. We like to let them curate the look of their own record.

Why is Seattle a good or bad place to have an independent record label?

It’s a great place to have record label, just because there is so much music diversity in the area. A lot of independent labels. I think it’s also an advantage that Subpop and Hardly Art are not located in one of the traditional hubs for music…you know, LA or New York. By not being in LA or New York, it distinguishes the label, which is helpful. Also, Seattle has a really good infrastructure to help set up enterprises like ours, for example the Seattle City of Music initiative. It’s clearly something Seattle takes a lot of pride in. There is a lot of support in the Seattle music scene for record labels as well as musicians.

What records are you most excited about? 

Definitely the new Deep Time record. I am super stoked on the Seapony record that comes out in September, 2012 as well.

Do you have a favorite record of all time?

Oh man. I’ll say Brian Eno’s Ambient 1.

Many thanks to Sarah and & Jason for the interview. Stay tuned for the next one!

 

Signing off,

 

Olivia Olive

Off the Record: An Interview with Emily Pothast of Translinguistic Other.

Emily Pothast is 1/2 of local record label Translinguistic Other, 1/6 of psych band Midday Veil, and 1/2 of the experimental performance duo Hair and Space Museum. If you think that sounds like a recipe for a creative powerhouse, you’re spot on.  Her intuition and instinctive knowledge of the universe generate a curatorial idea that is unparalleled in the Seattle music scene, and Pothast uses her ideas regarding space, spirituality, and interconnectivity to readjust and realign psychedelia in local music.

We sat down recently for coffee to discuss the ins and outs of running a record label, and three refills later, we had passed through the subject infinite sadness, through modern-day music hustlers, all the way to nihilism for artists. She has an inherent understanding of her surroundings, with translates into every facet of her art.

This woman is truly an artist, and musical curation is only one of her many mediums.

Read. This. Interview. You will not be disappointed.

Emily for Midday Veil’s “Subterranean Ritual II” release

What was the impetus for making a record label? how did you get started? 

We started because we had some of our own music that we wanted to put out and we really didn’t know where else it would fit. We just didn’t know people that would have put it out. The friends we have with record labels supported experimental noise-based music and DIY punk, but we were doing something with a slightly different focus. So we put it out ourselves, and then we realized no one is ever going to care about this if it’s just our weird vanity record label with just our music on it. I was involved with Portable Shrines at the time–I helped put on their festival for three years, so the first release we did that wasn’t our own music was a Portable Shrines compilation with 18 bands on it, and that was a way of doing something big and getting our label out there.

How do you decide what bands to work with now that you’re an established label? 

Are we established? We are about to put out our 10th release. The smaller set releases have really built the momentum. We have a lot of tape releases, which is cool because there are a lot of people that collect tapes internationally. People order our stuff on the internet.

Although, I feel like I’m kind of getting back into the other direction now. We’ve always played shows, but Midday Veil  has never played shows as much. But I’m working on ways to play more often. It’s important to grow tentacles out to blogs and people in the world that you maybe never meet face to face, but who care about what’s going on in Seattle and will promote it to the rest of the world, AND be at the grass roots level where things are coming up, because if you don’t pay attention and 6 months go by, thousands of bands have come out of nowhere.

Although the scene is really fragmented, I think things mingle freely a lot and bands play lots of different kinds of shows with different kinds of bands. But at the same time, if I’m putting music out [on my label], I try to narrow the valves to not necessarily everything I like, but somethings I like that fits into this curatorial mission.

How do you decide on the album art? 

I got a little ahead of myself… there is a vast difference between [TLO bands] Swahili and Geist or Fungal Abyss. First and foremost, I found out about those bands through their live experience. All of those bands have an audio/visual performance of creating a sound environment to interact in, to engage in larger systems outside itself. That’s what I’m interested in, the intersections of those systems. So in general, all of the bands that we have spoken to have artwork, because they’re visual artists too.

What is your production/distribution process like? 

We get the cassettes made at a secret locale. Haha, almost everyone who is getting cassettes made is using the same manufacturer at the moment, this place in Missouri that has American flags on their website. It takes months to get tapes now because there is a resurgence of the medium. Digital music can be instantly copied and distributed everywhere, and music is everywhere, and you can get it for free. The LPs and cassettes are objects that have their own aesthetic their own connection with the history and form of medium. The reason they are a great subject for an exhibition at The Henry, for example, is because a record, versus a CD or Mp3, implies a ritual. You know, you take it out of the sleeve, and there’s this giant piece of art work for you to contemplate while you’re listening to the record and put it on the turn-table, and you can’t really go too far away from the stereo to hear it, so everyone is sitting around listening to this record. The medium dictates the way you have to experience it, in a more clear way than any other music format. That’s a big reason why people are so attracted to it. Also its kind of hardcore if you cart around a ton of records. Records are a commitment. Every time  you move, you are a to slave your collection.

Has your distribution and production changed at all since the economy crashed?

We kind of started in 2009-2010, so I don’t have any experience in what things were like before, but I know that nobody buys music anymore. I appreciate the institution of record stores, especially places like Wall of Sound, but a store, for a store’s sake, may not be economically viable. New things are happening, distros are the new music stores. You have to get your records into a bunch of distros, which will sell to record stores. Distros act the way indie labels used to, and indie labels are acting the way that artists used to. Everybody is taking on the work of a higher level organization than they used to have to do. In the good old days, Faust would live in a castle with a sound engineer who would just sit there with a mic for every time they felt creative, you know? Nobody has that anymore. There will never be another Beatles. There will never be the infrastructure to facilitate the necessity and expense for the marketing and production on that level. If you are going to do anything on that scale you have to do that for yourself. Everyone is DIY. Everyone is DIY and then some.

What do you think makes your record label specifically northwest? 

I have been here for 8 years and every winter I get closer and closer to the edge. There is a real, palpable connection in the northwest with the cycle of the seasons and with death and resurrection. Ancient shamanism is super present in your immediate experience in the northwest. You go through the winter and live in Hell with Hades for more than half the year, and then are reunited with Demeter in the spring. You live in a wet cave. It’s so depressing. Everything is dark, and at the same time there is life growing everywhere. Mushrooms growing onto of mushrooms, and moss on top of that. There are things dying but something is growing on top of that. I think that natural landscape is really inspiring, and a lot of the bands we promote have a forest element to their work.

Seattle is a really weird town, there are a lot of intellectual people that eventually move to NY or LA or Portland, and Seattle’s personality is sort of neurotic and self-effacing and self-questioning a lot. I don’t think it really needs to be, I think people are too smart and over-think things. I think Seattle’s identity incorporates an awareness of the whole thing, this idea of constantly devouring itself and making something new. I think the bands that I’ve been working with so far all have that sense about them. They are all using old and new technologies together that doesn’t sound like anything I’ve ever heard before.

Do you have a favorite record of all time? 

Oh boy. It depends on the day your asking me. Today? I think my favorite record of all time is a tie between two Leonard Cohen records. Songs of Love and Hate. Having lived in the northwest for any length of time, who can’t identify with what it means to be beatifically depressed? The contours of infinity come out of the darkness and you have this glorious experience where even damnation is poisoned with rainbows. You know?

Leonard Cohen reinforces his poetry with music. A close second is Laurie Anderson’s Big Science. She is the smartest person in the world. She is brilliant. Her thoughts about art–I just wish somebody would have told me that stuff when I was first starting out. I could have saved a lot of time and money instead of figuring stuff out for myself and reinventing the wheel.

The psych scene is not as present in Seattle as in other cities. Do you look at this as incentive or a hindrance? 

People have diverse ideas about what psychedelic means, what we’re doing is a little different than most. I think that the music that we put out is influenced by every single thing that came before it. Its about interacting with or interfacing with something outside yourself something larger than yourself; the system that created you. To say it is spiritual is pretty vague, and a lot of people don’t know what that means, but to me it means interacting with the system that created you, and feeling larger than yourself, reaching outside yourself. Erasing the boundaries of being part of nature, part of the death and resurrection. This scene is perennially underground; its always a little weird to identify yourself with it, because there are so many ways you can become a new-age caricature of yourself, or a totally uptight, narrow-minded person that thinks that everyone needs to see the world the way they do. You know, purpose-driven Buddhism, or whatever.

**TLO records are currently on display at The Henry’s Test Site for The B-Side, and are available for your listening pleasure through October 7th.

Signing off,

Olivia Olive

Living to Lathe: Interview with Resident Artist Mike Dixon of PIAPTK Records

For this celebratory first week of the summer exhibition, The Record, record guru Mike Dixon will be in-house at The Henry!

Mike will be cutting a series of very limited edition silkscreen lacquer recording blanks with music by Joe Plummer, Grand Archives, and Fruit Bats. These records will be cut in the Henry’s test site TODAY [7/18], TOMORROW [7/19], and FRIDAY [7/20].

Dixon is the proprietor of PIAPTK Limited Edition Vinyl Recordings and Handmade Music Artifacts, a vinyl- and digital- only record label based in Olympia, WA. PIAPTK specializes in handmade record cover art and bizarre record formats (see the photo below of a record cut on a picnic plate!).

I visited Mike today to take some photos of him in action and ask some questions about his art and his production process. Take a look!

Mike Dixon of PIATPK at The Henry

Mike’s collection of vintage vinyl “ephemera” on display in the Henry Test Site

Apollo Audiodiscs provided the vinyl and needles for the project at The Henry

Mike cut this record on a picnic plate (!!!)

Special edition PIAPTK silkscreened record for this residency, cut with original music by Joe Plummer

The Interview: 

How did you start the PIAPTK project?

When I first moved to Olympia, I met Lance Hahn from J Church at a show, and told me about he would get a small amount of records cut in New Zealand by a guy named Peter King. Peter would cut just 20 records if you wanted. I’ve been a vinyl fan since I was a little kid, and I thought it would be great to release short run records for my friends’ bands. And if I don’t have to invest in 500 copies, then I could make more releases and spend more time on the packaging.

What’s the process in which you work with musicians with PIAPTK? Do you contact them or do they contact you?
I pretty much just work with my friends and bands that I really like. I’m pretty fearless about approaching any band I like, regardless of size. I’ll ask anyone. I’d ask Radiohead to do a record. The majority of them say no, but some bands that I never thought I’d be able to work with have said yes. Half of them never came through with any tracks, but they at least SAID yes! Generally, because the process’s output is small, larger bands don’t want to give tracks to a project that only makes 50 records, because they have thousands of fans to cater to. 
 But when you get bands that are pretty well-known and very prolific, like Jad Fair (of Half Japanese), Wooden Wand, R. Stevie Moore, etc, they are into it because they like the fact that I try to make interesting, unique objects.

What is a record you produced that you are really excited about?
I’d say one of the coolest-looking records that I made was a 6xLP 
 Wooden Wand box set in hand-made, stained, silkscreened wooden boxes.  I am always trying to to make weird formats and objects, trying different things, just to keep myself from getting bored.

Why is the Pacific Northwest a good place to have an independent and small record label?
I think the fact that during the fall, winter, and spring, you need to be inside most of the time, gives you time to work on things. It also fosters a lot of creativity with the bands because they’re all inside playing music, instead of being outside. There is also a long history of independent bands here, and in the recent past, a large DIY scene and “punk” ethic here.

How important is your personal imprint in each record for PIAPTK?
For me, it’s very important. I loved buying things that were handmade, being able to look and something and see that this didn’t just roll off an assembly line. This was printed by someone that actually cares: it has finger prints and smudges, so you know they did it the hard way, you know? It has sweat equity involved. Also, if you do things yourself, you can do them on a smaller scale and make it much more interesting. I have access to a lot more materials that can be used to make 50 records than I vould if I was making 500 of them. I like things that are a little weird, 
 things that people look at say, “HUH? This is a record?”  My biggest joy is having to explain how something that I made works multiple times because it’s such a foreign concept that people have a hard time grasping it.

How did you feel about putting this medium of art into the context of a museum?
I think its great! There are so many aspects of vinyl records that people don’t know about, especially the history. Its nice to be able to put it out there and let people realize that it goes far beyond the standard record player that your parents had… there’s a pretty rich history. I have a collection of vinyl-based toys, short lived formats, novelties and ephemera [on display at the gallery], and its nice to have these things that the general public didn’t know existed, and can now enjoy.

What do you expect with this residency?
The only expectations I have are being able showing people what I do and love and answering their questions. I am pretty outgoing and I love to talk and love to share ideas and inform people. I also really love cutting records and talking about cutting records, so I’m excited to get somebody in here that has no idea how a record is made, but wants to listen to me jabber on about the process.

Unable to make it during the week? Mike will also be at The Henry on Saturday for a final lathe-cutting project, where he will cut a record of your choice!

Read more here!

Signing off,

Olivia Olive

 

The Record, Released.

The Henry’s summer exhibition, The Record, was released on Friday night! What a success!

Many thanks to everyone who attended the opening!

Slashed Tires

Slashed Tires

The Hive Dwellers

The Hive Dwellers from the PIAPTK booth!

Didn’t make it on opening night? The Record will be on display at The Henry until October 7th, giving you plenty of opportunity to see the exhibit. See you soon!

Signing off,

Olivia Olive