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!
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?
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!