In honor of Independence Day, KEXP is saluting some of our favorite indie record labels who’s DIY-spirit helped revolutionize the music industry. As an independent radio station ourselves, KEXP is thrilled to give a 13-gun salute to these pioneers with a series of label spotlights through the Fourth of July.
So, yesterday, I implicated myself in stalking — I mean, told the story about how I took a pop pilgrimage to the east coast in search of Teen-Beat Records back in the ’90s. Well, the trip didn’t end on the curb of Wakefield Street in Arlington, VA. I then took the Metro out to Vinyl Ink Records in Silver Springs, MD, where a young Mike Schulman worked behind the counter, and later began the pinnacle of indiepop, Slumberland Records.
Y’know those t-shirts that say “Ask Me About My Grandkids”? I feel like I should have a t-shirt that says “Ask Me About Slumberland Records,” because I will embarrassingly rave about this label to anyone who will listen. I don’t think there’s a single band on their roster that I don’t love: Black Tambourine (the Slumberland “house band,” featuring Schulman himself on multiple instruments), Aislers Set, Rocketship, Lorelei, and my favorite, Velocity Girl. I have a lyric from The Ropers engraved on the inside of my wedding ring, for crissakes.
And the list of bands doesn’t stop there: the label was quiet for a while as it relocated to Berkeley, CA, but then in 2006, they started putting out new music from The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Crystal Stilts, Veronica Falls, Big Troubles, Allo Darlin, Terry Malts, and so much more.
Mike Schulman has an impeccable knack for discovering really, really perfect pop music, and I am so, so happy that Slumberland is going strong. He was nice enough to chat with me over email about the label:
What initially inspired you to start an independent label?
Around 1987, some friends and I were in a bunch of primitive, ramshackle bands inspired by punk, post-punk, no wave, etc. but also Creation, Postcard, C86. We were really total neophytes, most of us (including myself) had never even picked up an instrument. We had gotten to the point where we were gigging a little bit and realizing that we were doing something pretty different than other local bands. Not being sure where it was headed or how long the bands would last, we decided in early 1989 or so to document what we were doing. Someone bought a 4-track cassette recorder and all the bands got down to recording.
At the time I was working at a cool indie record store in Silver Spring, MD called Vinyl Ink. Archie Moore from Velocity Girl worked at another MD store, so we had some idea of how distribution worked and a vague idea of what labels did. The indie 7″ scene was really booming at the time, with a lot of cool labels like K, Bus Stop, Treehouse and loads of others. Our music seemed so weird and atypical, and the scene was so receptive of new DIY labels, that starting our own seemed like a totally natural thing to do. And so we did.
What is your favorite part of running an indie label?
Probably being so close to the bands and to the fans. I really feel like the bands are friends, and sometimes it seems like I know every one of our fans personally!
What is your least favorite part of running an indie label?
Not having enough resources (time and money, mainly) to really get our story and point of view across. To some extent we release our records into a bit of a vacuum, and the arc and intention of what we’re doing with the label can get a little lost. There are all these silly ideas about us being twee, or shoegaze, or retro or C86-obsessed or whatever that are really absurd if you pay attention to the releases, but as a small label it can be difficult to communicate that effectively. This is especially the case in an environment where press (ie blog/internet) fashion moves fast and a lot of people (reviewers and the punters) either don’t have or take the time to listen to records all the way through and make their own judgements.
What is YOUR favorite independent label, besides your own?
My favorite indie label ever is probably Postcard. A small selection of brilliant, un-categorizable pop records.
It’s hard to choose but I’d say my favorite current indie is Honest Jons. Their taste is impeccable, the records are mastered and produced really well, and even though the catalog is very diverse, you get a sense of a consistent point of view.
Somebody stop me before I post more videos…