Tipped Bowler Tapes
Originated in Texas but now based in Cambridge, MA, Tipped Bowler Tapes (TBT), is a label on the move, making bigger and bigger splashes with each stone thrown. From humble beginnings as a tape label, main man Bryan B has taken the plunge into vinyl territory and done so with surplus style and a serious commitment to quality. He’s already put out four stellar LPs and an armful of great tapes too. Artists from Finland and New Zealand loom large for TBT, but this is only the tip of the iceberg as far as what’s in store for the future. TBT is also responsible for two of the best LPs in recent years, Li Jianhong’s “Lovers with Coissone Bracelet” and Glory Fckn Sun’s “Spectra”. Thoughtfully paired releases, superb packaging and art, and high quality music from all over the globe are a few reasons why TBT is poised to make an impact. TBT should occupy a position right at the top of your “labels to keep a close eye on” list.
Well, I had been doing a fair amount of music writing for Stylus Magazine (RIP), and I started a little column called Tape Hiss to write about the what-the-fuck stuff that was happening in the cassette world. Since not many people were writing about the kind of music I was into (at least not in more visible outlets), I managed to come into contact with a lot of interesting folks worldwide. I struck up many good relationships and soon decided to get more directly involved. Towards the end of my writing "career", I felt that my critical work was a parasitic load on the folks who really busted their asses--musicians, labels distributors--though my opinions on writing and writers have become much more favorable since I began to focus exclusively on the label.
Haha the name's kind of ridiculous, huh? Oh well, I'm stuck with it now! My original conception of the label involved small-run tape releases featuring a serialized version of a story that nodded to Sherlock Holmes and Lolita. The label name was a reference to the sort of cracked Victorianisms that characterized the narrator and main character. As you can probably imagine, that undertaking didn't always dovetail aesthetically with releases I was lining up. As I expanded the scope of the label, it seemed inappropriate to include the writing. It was a distraction.
I'm still working on the story itself. Eventually I'll post it on the website, but who knows when--I'm a serial editor. Anyone out there with my first two tapes would find very little of that original material in the most recent version...
Well, the label makes me really happy. I'm at a stage in my life where I'm busting my ass "professionally" on stuff that--while rewarding in some ways --isn't much fun. The label anchors me to a different part of myself. Hearing a demo, scheming up art ideas and bringing the finished record to market revives the unbridled, un-self-conscious enthusiasm that 'serious' work tries to crush. At the same time, maybe I'm a proto-capitalist swine, but I really enjoy the small-bore minutiae: pricing, sourcing, marketing, etc.
Musically, I just try to stay true to my own tastes. Honestly, I think it's easy to tell when a label is blanketing artists with record requests and doesn't have a 'filter' so to speak. The label lacks a certain identity, and it's hard for the listener to give a shit about the mediation it provides. As for as TBT's current direction, I guess I'd like to follow two parallel paths, embodied by the first two vinyl releases: 1) projects like Pumice that break down pop forms 2) improvisatory material (like Glory Fckn Sun) somewhere between noise, drone, and Taj Mahal Travellers-style psychedelia.
As for the visual aesthetic, it has become more important to me since I started focusing on LPs. You just can't help but think more deeply about an object that takes up more space.
Basically if 1) I like what's someone is doing, 2) they haven't gotten the attention they deserve, and 3) I have the money and the will, I try to work something out.
I've stopped trying to conceptualize that process too much. Overall I suppose I like to be geographically widespread, though I've been going to a lot of shows in the Boston area since I moved up here and would like to put something together with some local projects. It's a really active place for experimental music.
Really important. What else is there, if it's not your music, you know what I mean? If I didn't focus heavily on the art and paper aspect, I would just be a middleman.
I really like the "batch" aesthetic common among tape labels. For each batch, I use the same stock and only two colors of silkscreen ink (with at least one in common in each record within the batch). i think limitations can help creatively, and the consistency makes each batch feel like a self-enclosed event. To me at least haha.
Things are kind of up in the air right now. the Li Jianhong and Mrtyu records are still fresh, so that's been occupying a lot of my time. The only confirmed release in the near future is an as-yet-untitled record by Jooklo Golden Age. I'm getting close to announcing a series of split LPs too, so be on the lookout for those. A lot of other proposals are on the table, but I don't wanna jinx them by speaking too soon...
Well, I don't really know where I fit in. I don't think I quite fit yet. I'm still feeling my way around. As for the broader question, It certainly seems like online distributors are taking up a big portion of the business. That's a mixed blessing. You get some really cool dedicated folks like Keith at Mimaroglu and Josh at Tomentosa, and of course prices are better because the facility overhead is lower. But nothing beats walking down to an awesome shop. I've been lucky to be within spitting distance of two world-class record stores for the last eight years: 33 Degrees (which became End of an Ear) in Austin and now Twisted Village.
I'm a big fan of the specialty store + website combo. A few places do it really well. Weirdo Records is right down the street from me and it seems like Angela is drumming up a pretty robust online business to help maintain her storefront.
You know that's really difficult to answer. Of course, I have plenty of shared stuff on my computer. With the extreme glut of recorded music, it's pretty difficult to be an avid music fan and not swipe a few records.
The standard response is probably right: download away, but if you like it, buy it. The problem is that idea has become a kind of ritual invocation rather than an actual code of behavior.
I think file sharing increases exposure, but increased exposure doesn't necessarily translate to a livelihood. That should be the goal of every serious music fan--to ensure that he or she as a listener has done what she can to duly compensate the artists she loves. No one in our little corner of the music world is doing it for the money (hell, no one could do it for the money if they tried), but it still sucks to spend a ton of time on something (be it writing, recording, releasing an album, or touring) and find yourself in the red at the end of the day. It feels patently unfair to me that most folks who toil to deliver the music struggle financially while consumers have come to expect total freedom of choice as a matter of right. But of course I would say that as a label guy!
Well in terms of wild, impossible dreams I would love to release dug-up Parson Sound sessions. that band rules so much. In terms of the achievable...hmm...gotta be Kemialliset Ystavat. I cannot believe Jan's music.
A lot of the synth revival stuff has been pretty good. I particularly liked the Bee Mask record on Weird Forest. The new Pedestrian Deposit CD is amazing. I also really dug the Taiga Remains/ RV paintings split on Blackest Rainbow. Record I might've spun the most in the past year--Oneiromantical War by Wrnlrd. Favorite recent label by a mile: Ultra Eczema.
All time classics: Tusk by the Dead C. Every Taj Mahal Travellers recording. Moolah--O Ye Demons Possessed. And man I love me some Mountain Goats.
-- Eric Hardiman (23 September, 2009)