Label spotlight: Aphonia Recordings
Aphonia Recordings has been around for a couple years now and has emerged as one of the most exciting digital labels around as of late. Run by two dudes up in Seattle, not only have they unleashed some killer releases from the likes of L.A. Lungs, Dokuro, Paintings for Animals, and Amy Denio, they also keep a regularly updated blog as well as doing one of the more unique and interesting podcasts on the web. Once you really dive into their site, it's easy to get lost, but that's a good thing... a very, very good thing. They may not have physical CDs or LPs for the object fetishist in us, but that doesn't take anything away from the great music they're offering up to the world.
Ben: Andrew & I started Aphonia Recordings in late 2006/early 2007 as a means to release our own work & the work of an extended network of friends, new & old. Historically, challenging music & music of genuine integrity & purpose has often been fairly inaccessible to a large public; due in no small part to the economic constraints associated with producing physical media (CD’s, LP’s, etc..) & the increasingly insular & capitol-driven demographic policies of distributors (including some “indie” labels). Basically, since we were/are too poor to release CD’s cataloguing all of the wonderful work our friends were producing, we decided to use digital distribution (MP3, AAC, etc..) instead.
Ben: According to the Webster’s definition: Aphonia [ey-foh-nee-uh] is “…the loss of the voice resulting from disease, injury to the vocal cords, or various psychological causes, such as hysteria.” Actually, Aphonia is one of those more or less obscure, flipping-through-a-paperback-dictionary-on-rainy-day kind of words that just sort of stuck around in my head for about two years. Both horrific and somewhat ironic, the definition seemed quite appropriate for a label founded on the notion of releasing “hidden” music.
A: Wow, that’s cool, I guess I thought Ben had just been fooling around on the internet or something and stumbled across it. We also have this thing about Braille which is pretty subtle to our design aesthetic – our logo for example is actually in Braille as it represented pictorially.
Ben: This label is as much a swift kick in the ass to be aurally creative, as it is a means to archive work that we think is worthwhile. On a personal level, operating Aphonia Recordings is particularly motivated by a need to nurture a consistent community of musicians, composers, & sound artists who perform, release material, and collaborate on a regular basis.
A: That and success, of course! This is a loose term but really what it means is that if our artists are doing well, writing new music, getting reviews and generally doing well for themselves, touring and such, that is what keeps us going. I want our artists to be as successful as possible – I always have that dream of quitting the day job to do it fulltime – the more successful the artists are, the closer that goal seems. I want them to find an audience and all that.
Ben: As Andy is the meat-and-potatoes of our web distribution & the unlucky recipient of every technical disaster associated therein, I will refer this question to him. ……..two words: WEB HOSTS!!!!!!!!
A: Well as our website says, it is the digital noise. What I mean by that is the sheer number of online “netlabels” or indie rock labels. Everyone has their niche, you know. But what I see us doing is having a reliable and constant stream of interesting music that is consistent to our label. The challenge is to keep all the financial, legal and technical things in line so the whole process is transparent to the audience and the artist – difficult to pull of some times. That and webhosts which are notably difficult when it comes to designing your own download distribution for a myriad of reasons I wont bore everyone with here. This is unique to us and the industry in general. Figuring a way to have people download directly from our website was and continues to be one of the most complicated and technically challenging parts of running the label.
Ben: Recently, I spoke with Bill Horist about the prospect of releasing a series of live recordings. Bill’s work for prepared guitar is pretty astounding, so it would be a treat to have him on the label. A close tie would be re-releasing all of the random 7-inches from the 1960’s that Ian Ackerman (Problems, The Strangers, Romanteek) brought home from Egypt.
A: Eyvind Kang. I have met him several times and seen him live many times as well. I took a composer workshop with him at the Evergreen State College. He is always metamorphizing himself. I know of no other person that has the same kind of eclectic tenacity and is so successful, say at one moment squelching and belching out violent poetry and the next giving you a whiff of the most elegant, languid viola you’ve ever heard – that makes you want to cry.
A: We will pretty much listen to anybody. It’s just about time limits. I have listened to far more unknowns and new folks sending us stuff in the past year than I have already established groups. I have been on Myspace listening to many hours of new or unreleased artists. But for a policy we just ask people have something completed, I don’t care if its just one song. Some folks send us stuff that was recorded live in someone’s basement – which, by itself isn’t wrong or anything – its just when the sound quality so compromised that I can’t hear what is actually happening then it makes it virtually impossible hear what is going on. I would say try to give something at least a spit shine before sending it along.
Ben: To echo Andy, we will listen to anything that time allows. However, we tend to release & promote groups or individuals who demonstrate evidence of significant, regular activity (performance, recordings, research, etc.), personal integrity, & a genuinely unique character in what they do. As a general rule, we have very little interest in releasing bands whose primary goal is a flawless reproduction of indie genre A, B, C, or D. If you choose to describe yourself first as a _________ band or a crossover of _______ & ________, then we are probably NOT the label for you.
A: Well I want to do more interviews with our artists. I think that it’s a rare thing to have such an open pipeline to the artists through the label. I want to expand our podcast with this in mind and create more online media such as music videos to make our website the destination for our artists work. I also want to continue to elaborate on our showcases that we have been doing over a year now – one every month. I want to continue establishing what I see as our “scene.”
Ben: Again, Andy about sums it up. Besides a ton of new releases (LA Lungs, Amy Denio, Dokuro, Mood Organ, Paintings for Animals, Mangled Bohemians, Nucular Aminals), we’re looking forward to hosting more events in 2009. In addition, I will be opening Aphonia Recordings’ branch office in Spokane, WA.
Ben: It’s very difficult to decide on a single favorite record for 2008. However, probably one of the most amazing listening experiences I’ve had in the past year was listening to an unidentified Egyptian cassette tape in the parking lot of Dick’s Hamburgers in Seattle.
A: I really liked the Boxhead Ensemble’s “Two Brothers,” it’s a few years old but I hadn’t heard it yet since about a year ago or so. I am in love with it now. At the moment I am listening to “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today” by Brain Eno and David Byrne – it may be the most fun I have had recently with a pop record – wanting to listen to it over and over again.
A: I am not sure what to say about that. A friend of ours from Oly asked how we started the label and I think we just started explaining to her that you need a business license and you should probably be an LLC versus a sole proprietor and blah, blah, blah. I have also had other folks ask us, you know, how does getting stuff on iTunes work or do you need to have a studio – I guess really anyone who wants to do this just needs to have the desire to want to do it. There are days that I definitely wish I didn’t have to do stuff for the label and then I remember, hey, its better than not doing it at all. So I guess, just do something productive– it’ll make you happy.
-- Brad Rose (17 December, 2008)