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.
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.