Satisfy Your Soul

THEESatisfaction

“We’ve got jams on deck, it’s all about piecing the right songs together to make the project sound cohesive. We try and keep it fresh for our devout listeners.”

The duo of Stasia Irons & Catherine Harris-White, aka THEESatisfaction, are back with a second album for Sub Pop. EarthEE features guest appearances from Shabazz Palaces, Meshell Ndegeocello, Porter Ray and Taylor Brown. We caught up with the duo last week to see what they’ve got going on for 2015.

BC: For the most part you’ve self-produced, self-written, and even self-released a lot of your music. What has hooking up with Sub Pop changed about the way you work, and what are the doors you are most excited about the label opening?
STAS: The process of releasing music has changed but we still make jams all the time. We don’t let anything deter or overstimulate our work ethic. We love that Sub Pop is able to get our music out further than we could’ve ever done ourselves. Everyone is really active about making sure our needs are met. We love it.

BC: What is the latest with your Black Weirdo events and blog postings? And, if you don’t mind us asking (since we’ve only ever seen you ask other people), why do you consider yourself Black Weirdos?
CAT: We still do our Black Weirdo posts and events on our tumblr: uniquenoir.tumblr.com. We are about 60 Weirdos deep and it’s an amazing community to watch grow. I am a Black Weirdo because I am uniquely me. I understand my blackness. I’m strange and I like to dance by myself and people may think that’s weird. Oh, and because I love to watch Red Dwarf and DS9 (Star Trek).

BC: Tell us about working with Meshell Ndegeocello—dream come true?
CAT: We did meet in a dreamy way. Our friend told us Meshell was a fan, so we reached out on social media and met through the interwebs. Sent her our album and she vibed out. It felt so familiar, very kindred. I love what she did on the record.

BC: The “Recognition” video is really striking. Can you tell us about the making of, and coming up with the concept behind it?
STASIA: Recognition was conceptualized by Tiona McClodden. She’s been a part of the growth of THEESatisfaction for quite some time. The song resonated with all of us in the sense that we wanted to really honor black artists who’ve come before us and who are also our peers. Making the video was spiritual. We felt good vibes and moments where we felt that what we were doing was on the right path. We got to visit the homes and spaces where black excellence happened.

BC: In addition to your full-length releases, you crank out a lot of beat tapes. Do those stem from a sudden burst of inspiration? And which beat makers do you admire?
STASIA: We’ve got jams on deck, it’s all about piecing the right songs together to make the project sound cohesive. We try and keep it fresh for our devout listeners. I admire Shabazz Palaces; no one is making music like theirs.

BC: Musically speaking, what do you feel has changed between awE naturalE and EarthEE? Have you improved on the craft of making music? Are you spinning new yarn?
CAT: Stas and I had been working on awE naturalE since we started the group in 2008. Once that came out, we weren’t sure what the next record would sound like but we continued to create. We put out a few mixtapes, together and solo, while piecing together EarthEE. In that time we learned more about our instruments (voices, gear) and ourselves. It was an evolution of sorts.

BC: Is Seattle a supportive place for you to create and spread your music?
CAT: Most definitely. It takes time to establish yourself, but once you do, you have a dedicated community who will support you.

BC: Can you recommend a couple of other acts that have caught your ears recently?
STAS: MNDSGN out of Los Angeles is a master on the production tip. Been listening to his wave a lot lately. Also Norvis Jr. has been killing the game. He’s from Dallas and his music is very advanced, unique & undeniably jammy.

BC: Aside from earthEE, what else can your fans expect in 2015?
CAT: We are going to be heading to SXSW for a few showcases next month, as well as hitting the road for 20 dates with Sleater-Kinny in April. More Black Weirdo parties, more music, and more DJ sets.

In case you missed it, THEESatisfaction dropped a tasty mix on an episode of the Bandcamp Weekly show about a year ago.

25 Years of Relapse Records

25 years of Relapse Records

Relapse Records celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary this year. What began as an excuse, for a young Matt Jacobson to release grindcore 7”s, has grown into one of metal’s biggest and certainly most respected labels. They’ve had an incredible run, and boast the kind of discography that other large-sized indie labels might only dream of. Commited to extreme music, in all its myriad forms, Relapse has followed its black heart for over two decades – avoiding trends, but partaking in tons of mosh, plenty of (grind)core, and a whole lot of fun.

Signing to Relapse Records is still a career-making move for many bands, and working there is a valuable feather in the cap of any music industry hopeful. I was first employed at Relapse as an intern, when I was eighteen, writing for their now-defunct Resound mailorder guide, and stuffing envelopes alongside a garrulous Prince acolyte named Bob Lugowe. Nearly a decade later, Lugowe still works there, as the label’s head of promotions and is also a label owner in his own right (Brutal Panda). Meanwhile I’ve spent years touring with Relapse acts, including Savannah’s most powerful trio, Black Tusk, and I still occasionally handle PR for select Relapse releases. There’s a familial vibe that comes with working for the label, which is probably why so many people in the business still have such fond memories of their time there. When my editor (at Bandcamp) asked me to put together a piece on the label’s legacy, the hardest part was deciding which moments to focus on; when a label’s put out as many killer record as Relapse has, it’s a formidable task to narrow them down into any kind of ranking. Its Singles Series alone boasts a dizzying array of quality cuts, and their roster’s continually expanding, too, as veterans like Obituary and Ringworm join fresh meat like Usnea, Nux Vomica, Mortals and Gruesome.

I gave it the ol’ college try, though, and have wrangled a list of twenty-five of the label’s most important releases. The following records barely scratch the surface; there are literally hundreds of others who have had massive impact on heavy metal and extreme music, and undoubtedly, even more of them to come.

Incantation – Onward to Golgotha 1992

Incantation

Incantation’s Entrantment of Evil 7” was one of Relapse’s first releases, and marked the beginning of a relationship that would produce the band’s most vital recordings. Onward to Golgotha is hailed as a death metal classic; the murky, claustrophobic horror of songs like “Devoured Death” has inspired wave after wave of younger bands to try to emulate the masters, but there’s still only one Incantation.

Amorphis – Tales from the Thousand Lakes 1994

Amorphis

This 1994 full-length remains Amorphis’ finest moment, and a masterpiece of melodic death metal; shades of traditional Finnish folk and progressive rock leanings add color, and intrigue, to an already rock-solid base, and resulted in something magical.

Neurosis – Through Silver and Blood 1996

Neurosis

Neurosis is one of heavy music’s most important and influential bands, and their early partnership with Relapse resulted in some truly classic records, starting with 1996’s mammoth Through Silver and Blood.

Brutal Truth – Sounds of the Animal Kingdom 1997

Brutal Truth

Grindcore OGs Brutal Truth may have recently thrown in the sweat and blood-stained towel, but they’re leaving behind a damn near untouchable discography. Their twisted take on extreme sounds, along with their outsized personalities (think of Kevin Sharp’s cowboy hat, and Rich Hoak’s deranged drum faces) were a perfect match for Relapse’s own eclectic take, and the band spent the vast majority of its career releasing aural mayhem like 1997’s manic, intimidating Sounds of the Animal Kingdom under the Relapse banner.

Exhumed – Gore Metal 1998

Exhumed

Has there ever been a more fitting album title than that of death freaks Exhumed and their LP Gore Metal? The masters of splatter’s gleefully disgusting 1998 Relapse debut marked the beginning of a long and bloody partnership that has come full circle with a just-released, re-recorded version, of that early classic, christened Gore Metal: A Necrospective 1998-2015.

The Dillinger Escape Plan – Calculating Infinity 1999

The Dillinger Escape Plan

There are two eras in the American hardcore/math rock scene: pre-Calculating Infinity, and post-Calculating Infinity. Much like Converge’s Jane Doe, this record was a total game-changer, and served as a springboard for the band to go on to bigger, weirder things. Relapse’s roster has always made plenty of room for left-field technicality and experimentation, and DEP’s complex intensity fit right in.

Today is the Day – In the Eyes of God 1999

Today is the Day

Steve Austin’s apocalyptic visions and Today is the Day’s jarring amalgam of noise, grind , and prog have won them a devoted cult following and resulted in a handful of wonderfully weird Relapse releases; most notably 1999’s critically-adored In the Eyes of God.

Dying Fetus – Destroy the Opposition 2000

Dying Fetus

Dying Fetus joined the Relapse family fifteen years ago, and never left. Their relationship is so solid that, when former ‘Fetus members started the sociopolitically-minded Misery Index, Relapse welcomed them aboard, too. Technical skills, headbangability, and most of all, brutality are all critical to the Dying Fetus experience, and 2000’s Destroy the Opposition has all three in spades.

Pig Destroyer- Prowler in the Yard 2001

Pig Destroyer

Pig Destroyer’s take on grind is so cerebral, chilling, and perverted, it’s scary. Prowler in the Yard was the world’s first real introduction to the combined genius of core duo J. R. Hayes and Scott Hull (who also plays in Agoraphobic Nosebleed, and has gone on to engineer a copious amount of Relapse releases).

Nile – In Their Darkened Shrines 2002

Nile

No, they’re not actual Egyptologists, but the ax-wielding history buffs behind Nile did bring a very real, very ancient, evil into the early 2000s death metal arena with foreboding documents like In Their Darkened Shrines. Nowadays we’re used to atmospheric, occult-obsessed death metal, but back then, Karl Sanders’ subterranean roar, sinewy Eastern melodies, and arcane lyrics made Nile seem positively diabolical. Relapse will be reissuing all four of Nile’s most beloved LPs in April—pre-order Amongst The Catacombs of Nephren-Ka (1998), Black Seeds of Vengeance (2000), In Their Darkened Shrines(2002) and Annihilation of the Wicked (2005) here.

Pentagram – First Daze Here: The Vintage Collection 2002

Pentagram

For the longest time, Pentagram was a cult favorite, a bunch of could’ve-beens who’d never gotten their due. That’s obviously changed over the past decade, but Relapse was the first heavy-hitting label to take a real interest in dusting-off their discography and resurrecting the legend. The compilation First Daze Here: The Vintage Collection gave Bobbly Liebling and the boys the rockstar treatment they’d never gotten in their prime, and launched a renewed wave of interest in the doom godfathers’ output, so much that they went on to tour, play festivals, and release a solid new album.

Suffocation – Souls to Deny 2004

Suffocation by Scott Kinkade
photo by Scott Kinkade

Frank Mullen is probably the best frontman in death metal, and Suffocation are one of the genre’s most reliable old warhorses; still churning out bulldozing riffs and terrorizing audiences over 27 years after the band’s inception. They’ve got a litany of classics under their belts, but 2004’s semi-comeback joint Souls to Deny was an excellent reminder to fans, and foes alike, that Suffocation definitely haven’t lost their edge.

Nasum – Shift 2004

Nasum

The career of Swedish noise-peddlers Nasum was cut short in 2005 by the tragic passing of guitarist/vocalist Mieszko Talarczyk, but they left one hell of a mark in the extreme metal history book. Shift is one of modern grindcore’s greatest triumphs, spotlighting Nasum’s mastery of the genre and willingness to push it further forward.

Mastodon – Leviathan 2004

Mastodon by Jimmy Hubbardphoto by Jimmy Hubbard

Signing Mastodon, and steering their meteoric rise, signaled a subtle shift towards a slightly more accessible direction for the label. While the band has since moved on (to the majors), their relationship with Relapse spawned some of the band’s most important releases: from their groundbreaking 2002 LP Remission to 2004’s burly epic, Leviathan—the record that first hinted at what was to come. It’s worth noting, too, that Brann Dailor and Bill Kelliher, of Mastodon, played on Today is the Day’s In the Eyes of God.

Necrophagist – Epitaph 2004

Necrophagist

Onset of Putrefaction put Necrophagist on the map, but the follow-up to that 2004 tech-death masterpiece Epitaph (talk about another fitting title…) has turned into the Chinese Democracy of heavy metal; hell, Chinese Democracy is OUT and we’ve still not seen hide nor hair of any new Necrophagist material. Whatever he might be up to now, mastermind Muhammed Suiçmez’s clinical, dazzling guitar wizardry inspired a whole new generation of shredders, and the ensuing popularity of tech-death (ripples of which can be seen in other Relapse affiliates Obscura and Abysmal Dawn).

High on Fire – Blessed Black Wings 2005

High On Fire by Robin Laananen
photo by Robin Laananen

If anyone can truly save heavy metal, it’ll be High on Fire. Matt Pike, Des Kensel, and Jeff Matz have distilled the essence of blood, thunder, and distortion down into rumbling perfection, and their rabid fans still cry out to hear the title track off 2005’s Blessed Black Wings. The trio of albums the band made with Relapse stand as their rawest, most aggressive material to date.

Disembowelment – Disembowelment 2005

Disembowelment

In 1993, these Australian death/doom legends to be, released their sole full-length, Transcendence into the Peripheral, not yet knowing what they’d unleashed upon an unsuspecting world. It was an instant classic, and became the blueprint for any band that dared strive towards their crushing blend of darkened death metal and crippling doom. In 2005, Relapse gathered together Disembowelment’s debut LP, their 1992 Dusk EP, and their handful of demos into a huge 3xCD discography compilation. 2012 also saw the release of Dusk/Subside, the first EP from Inverloch—a new band featuring the majority of Disembowelment. The past is alive.

Toxic Holocaust – An Overdose of Death… 2008

Toxic Holocaust by Scott Kinkade
photo by Scott Kinkade

Toxic Holocaust’s Joel Grind minted his reputation in the underground, releasing a ridiculous number of killer black/thrash splits, demos, EPs, and albums by himself or with other DIY labels before he took the leap to Relapse. He first crossed paths with Relapse in 2007 with a split 7” for their Speed’n’Spikes Series, but his debut for the label, An Overdose of Death… instantly elevated Toxic Holocaust to new heights, singlehandedly introducing legions of impressionable young thrashers to the sound of real evil.

Baroness – Blue Record 2009

Baroness by G.L. Johnson
photo by G.L. Johnson

Baroness is arguably the biggest band on Relapse’s current roster, and one that has been with the label for the vast majority of a long, colorful career. Their sound has evolved mightily over the past dozen years, gradually moving away from their crusty roots towards more progressive, melodic rock and breaking into a whole new audience along the way. The Blue Record is a far cry from Onward to Golgotha or Destroy the Opposition, but its inclusion goes to show just how committed Relapse is to keeping its roster current, diverse, and interesting. At this point, Relapse has become more than “just” a metal label, a fact in which it will revel for the next few years.

Agoraphobic Nosebleed – Agorapocalypse 2009

Agoraphobic Nosebleed by Josh Sisk
photo by Josh Sisk

As if Pig Destroyer wasn’t intense enough, Scott Hull conjures up even more chaos in his insane noisegrind project Agoraphobic Nosebleed. 2009’s Agorapocalypse was a landmark release for the band, as it not only featured the debut of vocalist Kat Katz (formerly of Salome), it also features songs—as opposed to the band’s usual minute-or-less blasts of aural psychosis made infamous on 2002’s Frozen Corpse Stuffed With Dope. Is Agoraphobic Nosebleed growing up? Only time will tell.

Red Fang – Murder the Mountains 2011

Red Fang by James Rexroadphoto by James Rexroad

A decade ago, it would’ve seemed utterly bizarre to find a Relapse label on a Red Fang CD, but now, the Portland heshers’ good time hard rock’n’roll fits right in next to Nux Vomica and Weekend Nachos. Like Mastodon, Baroness, and newer signings Torche, Red Fang’s continuing success proves that Relapse has no problem with flipping the script once in awhile, and that metalheads are willing to branch out alongside them. Bolstered by the viral success of hilarious videos like “Wires” and “Hank is Dead,” 2011’s Murder the Mountains was a breakout success, and Red Fang’s latest record, Whales and Leeches, is doing even better.

Death – Sound of Perseverance reissue 2011

Death

Relapse’s vinyl reissues of a series of revered Death albums came as a result of a partnership with Perseverance Holdings Ltd. and the Schuldiner family, so fans who’d been born too late to grab the first pressings finally had a guilt-free means to own Leprosy, Human, Spiritual Healing, Scream Bloody Gore, Individual Thought Patterns, Sound of Perseverance, and almost the rest of their back-catalog, on glorious deluxe vinyl, and double, or triple, CD, too. Reissues are typically a dime a dozen, but these…these were special.

Windhand – Soma 2013

Windhand by Tony Lynchphoto by Tony Lynch

Windhand is one of Relapse’s latest big success stories. The Richmond doom collective features current and former members of Cough, Alabama Thunderpssy, and Facedowninshit (all of whom have released albums on Relapse!), and powerhouse vocalist Dorthia Cottrell is also about to release her own stunning debut solo album via Forcefield Records. Soma saw the band garner comparisons to Electric Wizard, which ain’t bad if you’re playing low, slow, and drenched in smoky distortion. Much like their RVA bros Inter Arma, who have also seen amazing success for 2013’s incredible Relapse-released Sky Burial, Windhand is yet another band that seems poised to break into bigger things.

Nothing – Guilty of Everything 2014

Nothing by Shawn Brackbill
photo by Shawn Brackbill

Nothing’s signing came as a surprise to some, but made perfect sense to anyone who’d paid any attention to what Relapse has been doing for the past twenty-five years. Their brand of heavy shoegaze is lush, ambient, and, like so many of their other labelmates, it’s intense – there’s a darkness simmering beneath the surface. Relapse’s own Bob Lugowe name-checked Guilty of Everything as one of the label’s most important recent releases.

Obituary – Inked in Blood 2014

Obituary by Ester Segarra
photo by Ester Segarra

After Obituary launched a successful crowdfunding campaign to record their ninth album, Relapse snapped up the rights to release the album, Inked in Blood. It proved to be a good bet for everyone involved, and a new beginning for these Tampa legends. As forward-thinking and challenging as Relapse’s artistic vision remains, it’s still nice to see them circle back towards their bloody roots, and embrace classic death metal once again.

Audio Diary of a Mad Scientist

Jefre Cantu Ledesma by Shawn Brakebill

“I didn’t even know what the fuck I was doing until maybe two weeks before the record was ready. I was like, OK, I’m done, that’s it, no more recording; I just gotta throw it together now. It’s in there somewhere.”

When it comes time to recap the year in breakup albums, Björk’s Vulnicura will almost certainly top the list. But save some room for Jefre Cantu-Ledesma’s A Year With 13 Moons. While entirely instrumental, the New York musician’s album is also about picking through the rubble of a failed relationship—albeit in a more abstract way. Described by the artist as an attempt to engage with memory in an “unsentimental” way, 13 Moons is a kind of audio diary that is almost sculptural in its proportions.

A longtime resident of San Francisco, Cantu-Ledesma moved to Germany in 2011 with his wife, a German citizen who was having visa problems in the United States. By early 2013, he was back in the Bay Area, alone. “It was a really difficult time in my life,” he says. “When I moved to Germany I was married—I was ready to live there, you know, and stay there, and I definitely didn’t suspect that things would go the way they did.” As luck would have it, however, his return to the Bay Area coincided with the acceptance of his application, alongside the filmmaker Paul Clipson, for an artistic residency at Headlands Center for the Arts in Marin County.

Jefre Cantu Ledesma by Shawn Brakebill

Tucked into the hills between Bonita Cove and Sausalito’s Rodeo Lagoon, Headlands is a former military base that was taken over by the National Park Service in 1972. Today, its bone-colored wooden structures house a rotating crew of artists of all stripes—writers, painters, filmmakers, musicians, architects—who live and work on the premises. Among the thousands of musicians that have held residencies at Headlands over the years are Carl Michael von Hausswolff, Marina Rosenfeld, Will Oldham, and Kaffe Matthews—a list as diverse as it is esteemed. “People come from all over the world,” explains Cantu-Ledesma. “You have a studio space and you live there, you eat there, you sleep there. Paul was making films and I was making music, so we had this big studio and that was about it. It’s right on the water, so I’d walk by the ocean all the time. The room we were in was surrounded by eucalyptus trees. There were wild turkeys and at night, you’d walk outside and hear owls hooting. It’s really pretty idyllic, really quiet—you just sit outside and watch birds and shit. ”

The resources, meanwhile, were minimal, but Cantu-Ledesma made the most of them. The most important feature of the studio was its size: some 2000 square feet, he estimates. “It was a barn,” he says, laughing. And, crucially, it was a space where he could be as loud as he wanted. “So I borrowed a PA from a friend and set those speakers 20 feet away from me on either end of my table, and I just fucking cranked it every day. I just wanted to be bathed in sound, you know?”

The process of recording was naturally colored by the emotional circumstances. “It felt wild and a lot more fucked up—just, like, cathartic—than ‘I’m sad and I want to play acoustic guitar and get a woman with a French accent to sing,’” he explains. “But I was definitely in a bad place emotionally at that time. There were days when I just wanted to play guitar and kind of be in another world, and I didn’t really care what things sounded like too much. Going into the studio became more of an escape, in a way.”

Jefre Cantu Ledesma by Shawn Brakebill

At the same time, that escape was a kind of research-and-development process—the opportunity for Cantu-Ledesma to completely reinvent his approach to making music. “There’s definitely some mad-scientist element to it,” he says. In Tarentel, his long-running post-rock band, “I was always the guy that had a reel-to-reel tape machine, and I was bringing in record players, just trying to create a new palette I could work with.” At Headlands, the intense focus of his three-month stay allowed him to delve deeply into a relatively stripped-down kit: laptop, modular synthesizer, guitar and an array of pedals, and three different tape machines. The work that resulted was less like songwriting than sculpture or painting.

“My process is unclear even to me a lot of the time, and it would change from day to day,” says Cantu-Ledesma. “Some days I would just record a bunch of stuff to tape and I would play it back at a different speed and record over that digitally—like I’d have the tape going through my modular and play guitar over that, and then record that onto an Edirol [portable digital recorder].” When the tape was full, he’d transfer it digitally to his laptop, and at night, he would listen back to the day’s work, deciding what to keep and what to scrap. Like an ambient rendition of Jamaican dub, the music bounced through a maze-like signal chain until its ideal form finally revealed itself. Cantu-Ledesma’s raw sketches from the period—his diaries, essentially—are anthologized in the seven-part Music from the Headlands Center for the Arts series of CDRs, totaling nearly five hours of experiments in drones and rumbling abstractions.

“When we listen to a record, there’s a presumption that someone must have created something as a body of work from beginning to end, and that was so not my process,” he says of the shape that 13 Moons ultimately took. “I was creating tons and tons of music. I was at the Headlands for three months, so every day I was going to the studio for hours on end, which I had never really done before, in that amount of time. So when it got to the point to make the record, it was all just edited together, and then all of a sudden there was this record, rather than, like, ‘Oh, I need to make a record that has this kind of structure’—I didn’t even know what the fuck I was doing until maybe two weeks before the record was ready. I was like, OK, I’m done, that’s it, no more recording; I just gotta throw it together now. It’s in there somewhere.”

Perhaps ironically, given the creative maelstrom that characterized its creation, 13 Moons contains some of Cantu-Ledesma’s most song-oriented work. It’s instrumental and his melodies are corroded with distortion, but they’re still recognizable as melodies; there’s a clear kinship with the clean lines of Vini Reilly and Durutti Column. “When I was at Headlands, I was having a really hard time figuring out what I was doing,” Cantu-Ledesma admits. “I was talking to Pete Swanson one day and he said, ‘Dude, you’re just being a fucking idiot, you should just be writing pop songs!’ And I was like, maybe you’re right, I’ll try it. And then all this stuff, like most of what came out on the record, happened my last month at the Headlands. The first two months was just me getting stuff out, not even thinking about wanting to make something. And then towards the end, I was like, ‘Oh, I guess this pop thing, it feels good, you know?’ So I went with that and wrote a bunch of those songs.”

Jefre Cantu Ledesma by Shawn Brakebill

Perhaps the song most indicative of that approach is “At the End of Spring,” the album’s penultimate track—a gorgeous, ruminative song that could almost be an instrumental outtake from Cocteau Twins’ catalog. It’s immediately followed by “Remains,” a minute-long sketch for feedback, spring reverb, and the ache of electricity running to ground. Stylistically, the two songs are miles apart; the fact that they work together so effortlessly underscores what a remarkable album this turns out to be. Whatever he does next—among other things, he says, a new collaboration with Alexis Georgopoulos, his bandmate in the Alps, is on the horizon—13 Moons feels like a milestone in Cantu-Ledesma’s career.

Editors note: Jefre Cantu-Ledesma’s 13 Moons is one of many albums now available via the awesome Mexican Summer label on their brand new Bandcamp site, featuring music from artists such as Connan Mockasin, Best Coast, and Kurt Vile.

Below, Cantu-Ledesma discusses several more recent recordings from his burgeoning archive, all of which can be found on his Shining Skull Bandcamp page.

“Faceless Kiss” / “Blut Mund”

“At the end of Tarentel, we got a different drummer. He was extremely dexterous and played really hard and was really into Faust, so it had that driving drum thing. I was making a lot of ambient music by myself, and at some point I was like, I gotta switch it up. I’m not a drummer, so a drum machine appealed to me because it has this straightforward quality. You just turn it on, make a pattern, and you’re ready to go. I’ve always been drawn toward repetition and things that are loopy, so a drum machine is just perfect for that. I love how dry and flat the LinnDrum sounds. The 808 has too much reference to it, in a way. Not that the LinnDrum doesn’t, but I guess I don’t mind what the LinnDrum brings out for me. It has this dryness that can really cut through everything.”

Songs of Remembrance

Songs of Forgiveness

“These are two tapes that came out last year. Remembrance came first and was compiled from recordings as far back as 2012 that I made in Germany, up to the making of the tape. It’s a lot of stuff that I liked but didn’t have a home for. I approached it a bit like a sketchbook or journal; it includes recordings that I made during my residency at the Headlands, as well. Songs of Forgiveness I made all at once last winter. I wanted to get deeper into pop-like sounds but throw out structure altogether. Each song is made of loops (guitar, drums, synth, etc.) that are not synced.”

Devotion

“This was completely recorded in Germany. I had planned for these songs to be my next record, but then felt like I was just sort of repeating myself and making Love is a Stream part II. I like this stuff and have gotten a lot of nice feedback, but I wanted to push somewhere else—I knew this wasn’t quite it yet. Released only on Bandcamp.”

Conversations with Myself

“This was the last recording I made in San Francisco before I moved. It was commissioned by SFMOMA for a one-day lecture/dialogue; they wanted music that could be in the background on loop for the whole day. So, again, it’s loops out of sync, but just guitars. Liz (Grouper) is releasing this as a double LP later this year or early next on her label.”

Music from the Headlands Center for the Arts

“I started recording so much music while at the Headlands that I thought I should do a series of tapes to help document it and to help me get my head back into editing and creating. I wanted to make choices very quickly—not stress over small details, but let the music make itself, in a way. I made all of these at night after spending the day in the studio. I would just go over the day’s recordings and start to put together things that made sense. This would take anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of evenings. I didn’t do any overdubs or additions to the music, just edited. This is the approach I used on 13 Moons—culling from three months of recordings to find what made sense together—and it was so helpful to get out of a really big artistic funk I was in. It was really hard at the time, though! These recordings are all over the place—from deep drones to drum-machine pop.”

Photos by Shawn Brackbill

Epitaph: 10 Questions

Epitaph Records

Epitaph has ridden many musical waves, from early days in 1980, when it simply served as a P.O. Box for Bad Religion, to championing the SoCal punk revival through the following decade, and developing sister labels that have delved into musical styles way beyond the label’s roots.

Recently, Epitaph and sister label ANTI- made an insanely eclectic selection of music available on Bandcamp for the first time: from Baltimore-based, post-hardcore act Pianos Become the Teeth, to Malian Tuareg master Tinariwen, and certified legend Tom Waits. The labels are also developing fresh-faced acts, treading new territory with Philly soul man Son Little and alt-rockers The Sidekicks. Thirty-five years in, the Epitaph family of labels is still independent and is still DIY-ing it as they have since day one.

Pianos Become Teeth

Jon Strickland has held down the VP of Sales role at Epitaph Records for 10 years. In that decade his job description has changed a lot, as physical retailers like Tower have come and gone, and new outlets in the digital realm have risen in their place. In this first in an occasional series of record label spotlights, we asked Jon 10 questions about the past, present, and future of Epitaph.

Bad Religion
Bad Religion, circa 1980

Bandcamp: The early days of Epitaph were synonymous with the SoCal Punk scene and, more generally, the 90s punk revival. Did the label have a role model back then, and is that era an inspirational touchstone for everything the label does now, or do you feel like the label has evolved to be the hub for something else?

Jon Strickland: The early years of Epitaph still inform everything we do today, because we had so much early success with Offspring, Rancid, Bad Religion, and that period was very “make-it-up-as-we-go-along.” But the things we learned about fans, marketing, retail, radio – every aspect of the business – we are still applying today, albeit in a different environment. I’m not sure there was a specific role model when Brett (Gurewitz) started the label, but I don’t think you could be in SoCal and not be amazed at the stuff that labels like SST were doing. That label is a model for me personally – such amazing A&R, great design, and of course, run by musicians.

BC: What role does Brett play at the label these days? And, as a former band member, what qualities/attributes do you think Brett instilled in Epitaph over the years?

JS: Brett is as involved, if not more involved, than at any time in the history of the label. Chiefly he’s signing bands and doing A&R in the traditional sense — not just finding bands but working with them on production, songs, image. Of course we have lots of bands that don’t need that, but Brett is a great mentor to a young band looking to navigate the business.

Brett’s great motto is that the artist is always right. We work with so many artists who have very defined ideas of what they want, and Brett has been on the artist end of those discussions with labels enough times to know that we never want to tell those artists, “This is the single.”

Tom Waits by Michael O'Brien
photo by Michael O’Brien

BC: Tell us about the sister labels, when did they come along?

JS: ANTI- and Hellcat are the official sister labels. Hellcat is Tim Armstrong’s label, so apart from Rancid, it has been a home for bands like Dropkick Murphys and Tiger Army, and also – very proudly – the last, great albums from Joe Strummer. ANTI- came along in 1996 as an imprint to release Tom Waits’ Mule Variations and blossomed from there. Then of course there’s dBpm, Wilco’s label. We also have a close relationship with Burning Heart Records from Sweden, and we’ve put out Refused and Hives releases with them, and just put out a new Raised Fist album. And then we have some up-and-coming friends like Autumn Tone, and some other relationships that will roll out later this year.

BC: Specifically, what is the idea behind ANTI-? It boasts an enviable and eclectic roster. Was it always supposed to be that way, and how has it evolved since inception (in the late 90s)?

JS: ANTI- very quickly grew from being a label to put on a Tom Waits album into an idea, which was to work with artists who were mavericks – be they heritage artists like Mavis Staples and Solomon Burke and Merle Haggard; or rising stars like Neko Case and Jolie Holland; or newcomers like Saintseneca, William Elliott Whitmore, and Sean Rowe. We had some huge early successes with Tom and Merle and Solomon, and that brought us the reputation of being a place where artists could come and be themselves and be supported. That Brett Gurewitz aesthetic definitely carried over into ANTI-.

Mavis Staples

BC: What are the best-selling releases for either label? And have there been any disasters?

JS: The Offspring’s Smash was really the album that broke Epitaph and that second wave of punk wide open. I’ve heard some different numbers, but that album has sold at least 12 million worldwide. It was and maybe still is the best-selling indie album of all time. For ANTI-, Tom Waits’ Mule Variations was a career album for him, a gold album, and a great way to start ANTI- off.

We never have disasters. Seriously, it is hard for bands associated with a certain youth scene to evolve into their next phase, and we’ve had some hits and some misses there. I think a band like Title Fight is doing an amazing job of morphing with each release, while still keeping to core musical values.

BC: How many records do you suppose Epitaph and ANTI- will release in 2015? Is that up or down from prior years?

JS: We are pretty big for an indie; we do around 40 records a year. I’m not sure that will be going up this year, but it certainly won’t be going down.

Joyce Manor ny Dan Monick
photo by Dan Monick

BC: Can you describe where Epitaph and ANTI- are currently headed, musically speaking?

JS: Because of the diversity of both rosters, we are always heading in a lot of different directions. I think we continue to see, in younger fans, that the old tribes that defined scenes are falling away. We’ve been working on that idea since we worked with Atmosphere on Seven’s Travels, and we put him on Warped Tour. Everyone said Warped kids would never accept him, but he went over amazingly well with huge crowds. That shift continues. I think we see that with bands like the Sidekicks and Joyce Manor, which can appeal to indie fans and hardcore fans and it’s the same fan.

BC: Who are the latest signings to each of the labels?

JS: On Epitaph, we have a new roster of bands who are bridging the post-hardcore world and a more indie scene, bands like Pianos Become the Teeth and Joyce Manor, and we just signed Desaparecidos, who put out one album back in 2002 and are working on an amazing new album.  We also signed a great band from Kansas City, Beautiful Bodies, who will be on Warped Tour this summer, and have their debut album out late spring.

Son Litt;e by Todd Cooper
photo by Todd Cooper

On the ANTI- side we are really excited about Son Little, a songwriter/producer/multi-instrumentalist who comes out of the Philadelphia hip-hop scene. He’ll have his first album out late Spring and in the meantime, we have an EP from him already out. He’s also working on an EP with Mavis Staples that really blends a lot of new sounds with her great soul-gospel style.

BC: What makes a band attractive to your labels?

JS: I think we look for the same things on both labels: bands and musicians who aren’t following in a row that’s already been plowed, who have their own vision. We don’t look for a single or a certain image, although we work with bands that live in that world. Other than that, it’s a pretty eclectic roster on both labels, but on the ANTI- side, we are always looking to put together artists who don’t have obvious things in common. Or we mix generations, like we are doing with Son Little and Mavis.

BC: What are the biggest challenges and most exciting opportunities for a label like Epitaph or ANTI-, given the current state of the music business?

JS: In ten years I’ve seen a lot of change in how people listen to music. The exciting change is how many new places, like Bandcamp, have come along to give people really easy access to music at all levels — from artists recording at home and putting stuff straight out into the ether to labels like us, who still make CDs and LPs and cassettes. With fans having so much access to music, the challenge now is to provide a forum where they can find music at the level of curation they want. If they are huge music heads and know exactly what they want, great. Or maybe it’s some kid who has just discovered Tom Waits and wants to hear more music like that. (Sorry, kid, there’s really no one else out there like Tom.)

Follow Epitaph’s founder, Brett Gurewitz, on Bandcamp: https://bandcamp.com/brettgurewitz

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