Label Spotlight: Handmade Birds
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I've had some intense email conversations with R. Loren, whose musical projects have included Pyramids, Sailors with Wax Wings, and White Moth. On the song-to-sound spectrum, I'm on the song end, and he's on the sound end. But there's room for overlap. When he started a new label called Handmade Birds, I paid attention. Sure enough, some acts are up my alley (Blut aus Nord, Celestiial), some are one turn away (Blood of the Black Owl, Servile Sect), and some I'm discovering via the label sampler mixtape he's provided us below. Handmade Birds does music how it should be done: for the love of it. Packaging matters, curatorship matters, and, really, everything matters. It's a refreshing approach in a time when the "industry" aspect is overrunning music.
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INTERVIEW W/ R. LOREN
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Why does Handmade Birds exist?
The recording process for me has become a physically straining process. In a way I can't quite explain, the emotion associated with music has manifested in taking a physical toll on me these last couple years. I still intend to continue recording, but slowing way down, and focusing on my family within which we have a brand new addition that needs tending to. In my own work, I have become so inspired by collaboration that I thought a label would be a perfect outlet for my obsessive musical energy. I can still "collaborate" with artists I enjoy personally and romanticize about my daughters growing up surrounding by great music and the ritual of packing orders. It just feels healthy for me right now.
Why the name "Handmade Birds"?
I had a long list of potential names, which at some point was reduced to "Handmade Books" and "Birds of Color". I wanted to create a connotation that tied directly with the vision of smaller pressings and variations of color. Tanner of Celestiial, whose music inspired me to put this label into action, actually suggested combining the aforementioned into Handmade Birds. It was a quick email sent in passing, and I am not entirely sure he even remembers sending it!
What labels, if any, have inspired Handmade Birds?
Obviously, working closely [as Pyramids] with Hydra Head has been a good influence. I also really like what labels like Crucial Blast, Profound Lore, Kranky, etc., are doing. But I am determined to create a more balanced roster in terms of not doing things that are solely indie or solely metal, but building a roster organically that is a balance of both dark and light, yet texturally similar. To me, there is a direct sonic link between bands like Blut aus Nord and His Name Is Alive. That makes total sense to me, and I think it makes sense to the people already collecting Handmade Birds releases. I am really interested in properly archiving great artists, old and new.
What do you look for in a band or release? Can artists submit music to you? If so, how?
The music has to somehow initiate a visceral reaction in me. Something just clicks, and it has to be across the board - the music, the aesthetic, the name, the attitude of the artist. A personal pet peeve is when the name does not properly do a given artist justice. I am always open to hearing new music, via handmadebirdsrecords at gmail dot com. I thought I was done with my already aggressive pipeline, and was contacted by Bryan of Gates, which I immediately clicked with and had to add onto the roster.
What's your "Dark Icons" series about?
Dark Icons is taking a Criterion Collection approach, where dark artists - usually those I feel are just plain underrated but have been incredibly influential to other musicians - are documented properly with special collections or releases. Blut aus Nord, Der Blutharsch, and The Rita are examples of this. Then there are highly innovative artists like William Fowler Collins, who I would say is to my Dark Icons Series as Wes Anderson is to Criterion - "new" in a general sense, but incredibly ahead of his time and worthy of being archived with respect.
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What don't most people know about putting out a vinyl release?
Where do I begin? Let's just say if a label prints too many of a vinyl release, they are accused of being too commercial, and if the label prints small runs, it costs a fortune and people complain about the price. Either way, it is an extremely tricky process. The great thing about us is that my wife and I both have normal day jobs, and never intend for this label to be a source of income. So we can dabble in small runs with the goal to break even, and not worry about a given release paying for office space rent or staff. This puts more work on us, but we do it because we love it.
It may sound silly, but I truly believe that cassette culture is completely valid, and that in the age of downloading, cassettes are very similar to vinyl in that they provide an experience that can't quite transfer on the digital plane. There are opportunities to get creative with packaging (labels like Dead Accents are brilliant with this), and it is fascinating how the digital age can actually resurrect the charm of what has long been considered a primitive medium.
Your label is very young, and already you've signed over 30 artists. Can you even tell them apart?
When I referred to myself as having obsessive musical energy, I meant it. This is never more evident in the fact that I can't stop getting involved with artists I love. Concurrently I have the philosophy that if there is an artist I want to work with, we can be in the planning stages for months if need be, even into next year, and I can still announce them as part of the roster. So the roster looks rather deep, but in actuality I have simply just locked myself into the end of next year. Also, some artists like Hostage Pageant and Swamp Horse are part of the cassette series, and those are really inexpensive to press. So there are ways to negotiate such a tangled web, I suppose.
What are your upcoming releases? Why should we care about them?
August will see a new Circle of Ouroborus LP entitled Eleven Fingers. For what my opinion is worth, it is my favorite album in a decade, and showcases true reinvention of music. Following that will be an LP from Crooked Necks, who are charting much of the same territory as CoO in terms of texture, but the songs are just refreshing and get me excited about music again each time I hear the record. Blood of the Black Owl's Light the Fires! will be arriving soon as a split release between Bindrune and Handmade Birds, and that will be a jaw-dropper as well. We have been spinning that one here for about a month now.
If you could get any artist(s) to record for you, whom would it be? And if that recording could have an unlimited budget, what would it look like?
There is one band in particular that I have been in touch with on and off for the last three years that I want to work with more than anyone, but I fear I may jinx it by even mentioning who they are. Other than that, of course, doing a Prurient record would be great, and in the metal realm October Falls... If I had an insanely unlimited budget, I would talk to David [Tibet] about a Current 93 mega-release!
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HANDMADE BIRDS: LINKS
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HANDMADE BIRDS: LABEL SAMPLER
1. Servile Sect -Tremendous Stillness
2. Der Blutharsch - Untitled
3. Evan Caminiti - Heavy Whisper
4. Celestiial - Haunting Cries Beneath the Lake
5. Gates - They Hide in the Shadows II
6. Key - Through the Silver Skin
7. Hostage Pageant - Resemble Human Form
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HANDMADE BIRDS: VINYL GIVEAWAY
We are giving away a package of beautiful Handmade Birds vinyl: the Key 3x10" box set, Celestiial's Desolate North LP, and Servile Sect's hot ticket Trvth LP.
To enter, simply list in the comments below one artist that Handmade Birds should sign. You must include one (and only one) link to a page with streaming audio, e.g., Bandcamp, Soundcloud, or MySpace. Entries listing multiple artists or lacking links to streaming audio will be disqualified. Whoever submits the most promising artist to R. Loren's ears will win the vinyl package. International entrants are welcome. The deadline for entry is midnight PST a week from today, Thursday, July 28, 2011.
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