Welcome back to [under_], the column dedicated to providing a large-scale platform to DIY and independent labels from across the globe. Last time around we spoke to Kevin Greenspon, head honcho at LA's Bridgetown Records. For [under_] #2, we're heading inland to Oklahoma, home of Digitalis Recordings.
Digitalis Recordings is based in Tulsa and is run by Brad Rose with help from his wife Eden. I chatted with Brad about the label's formative years, how an average week pans out and got some advice on how budding label owners should go about getting started. Brad was also kind enough to talk me through the mp3s he provided, all of which are seeing the light of day for the first time on here on Epitonic.
Okay Brad, so tell me about the very first scraps and scribbles of what has now become Digitalis Recordings.
Well, the beginnings can be traced back to my teen years. In the mid 90s, before my 16th birthday, I started a (mostly) tape label called Cactus Gum. It had a really good run for a few years culminating in a massive 27-band CD compilation called Whiskey, You're the Devil. Then I went off to college and the label died a quick and easy death. But it was always something I absolutely loved doing so when the opportunity presented itself in 2003, Digitalis came into the world kicking and screaming. Early on I was just releasing my own projects, but in 2004 we really expanded our scope and started putting out limited run releases from a number of bands from all over the globe. The first official Digitalis release was a solo album from yours truly (that I like to pretend doesn't exist). The first release of note was "Antimony" by Steven R. Smith.
Sixteen is mighty young to be setting up a record label. Most kids that age are still deciding what music they're even into, let alone selling it. Do you have a musical background?
Not really. I mean, some of my best and earliest memories are from pretending I was sick so I could stay home on Sunday mornings when I was little and hang out with my Dad (my mom always made my sister and I go to church. My dad couldn't be bothered), listening to Beatles and Beach Boys records. My dad always had a large (and killer!) record collection and before I was even old enough to really understand what records were, I was always in awe of this cabinet full of them. So that's where it all started. When I was a teenager, I was in plenty of shitty bands and we would make tapes. Eventually I decided "Hey, I'll put a record label name on them and then I'll have a label. It will be awesome and maybe K Records will put our tape in their catalog!" (They didn't). Despite a good deal of the music being terrible (though not all of it was -- there's still some old Cactus Gum releases I listen to regularly), it was a blast and allowed me to connect with all sorts of like-minded weirdos from all over the planet.
Okay, so when and how did Cactus Gum become Digitalis?
Well, Cactus Gum continued on until 1997 and then died on the vine when I went away to college. I didn't do anything label-wise until May of 2003 when I decided to start Digitalis to release a (not very good) solo album I had just completed. I met Eden in late 2002 and she was an integral part in convincing me that if I missed running a label so much, I should just start a new one. And thus Digitalis was born.
You run Digitalis Industries on your own, right? And that includes Foxy D., Digitalis Limited and Digitalis Recordings. What's your working week like?
Ha! Well... it's not very glamorous. Lately I've been working day jobs/odd jobs a lot more just to make ends meet, but typically I spend an obscene amount of time on my laptop, writing emails. Foxy Digitalis does a marvelous job of running itself for the most part, so most of my time is devoted to working with artists on their projects for us, promoting records and tapes we've recently released, designing art for covers, mastering audio if needed... all of which is, generally, done in front of this computer.
I also listen to an obscene amount of music in the process, always looking for a new project to work on or something that is going to blow my mind. Eden helps out a ton with logistical things (especially orders) and honestly the whole thing would probably drown in the bathtub if not for her!
Digitalis is now one of the most respected independent labels operating. You know (and release) pretty much everyone worth their salt. What's it like to be in a position like yours -- and what would you say to anyone starting out?
I don't necessarily feel like I'm in any real position of authority, or at least it's not something I think about. I'm still approaching things as I did from the beginning; I just want to put music out there that I think is important and that I think more people need to hear. It really is that simple. And that's my advice to anyone starting out: don't worry about any bullshit trends or anything like that. Just put out music you like and want to share with a wider audience. If you think you're going to get rich or anything dumb like that, don't start a label because it's never going to happen. You have to be passionate about it and the idea of spreading the word about it and exposing more people to this music has to be a reward in and of itself.
Finally, tell me a little bit about the songs you've chosen for us and what you have planned for Digitalis in 2012.
So these mp3s are a peek into some forthcoming Digitalis records.
Paco Sala started out as a second solo project from Konntinent's Antony Harrison, but after we put out the project's first tape he started working with a vocalist named Leyli and Paco became a duo. The results pretty much speak for themselves. Their début LP as a duo, Ro-me-ro, will be out in April and is a smashed-up combination of electronic pop, hip-hop, and techno. Right now I feel like they're the UK's best kept secret but let's hope that changes.
The Slaves are a duo from Portland, Oregon who have done [just] a handful of small releases up to this point, but I'm utterly obsessed. They sound like a stretched-out, doomed-up version of Mazzy Star or something to me. They make music that is simple and, in the true sense of the word, epic.
Ricardo Donoso shocked people with Progress Chance in 2011, totally changing things up from the ambient soundscapes he was known for and [embracing] beatless trance. But it was only the beginning and really only scratched the surface of the ideas he wants to put forth and explore. The next step will be the follow-up to that album: a double LP entitled Assimilating the Shadow. The compositions are more complex and the concepts even deeper.
SEEKERSINTERNATIONAL is the newest Digitalis signing and hails from Vancouver, B.C. His début record The Call From Below is an intensely personal album. I won't go into details, but it was born out of tragedy and the intense emotions [that inspired] the album shine through. It's a meditative and methodical record built around short samples from obscure live dub recordings and minimal, funk-infused synth passages. SEEKERSINTERNATIONAL will blow your mind.
Your playlist is lookin' mighty bare, hoss.
Click the '+' and add some tracks.
Click the '+' and add some tracks.
Empty (add some tracks!)