Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Interview with Shawn Reed of Night People & Wet Hair

Shawn Reed
Night People Records has been around for ten years. Shawn Reed, label mastermind, put out his first Night People release, Raccoo-oo-oon's Is Night People in 2005 and has consistently exhibited, cultivated, and released compelling, invigorating pieces of art since. Though started in Iowa City, Night People has moved, along with Reed, to the Twin Cities of Minnesota as of a couple years ago. The label has a diverse sound, having put out artists like Dirty Beaches, Merchandise, Circuit Des Yeux, Raccoo-oo-oon, Wet Hair, Broken Water, Some Ember, and more. At the point of writing, Night People has put out more than two hundred tapes, CD-Rs, and LPs. Though prolific, the label also bats near 1.00 in terms of good material. I've yet to find a Night People release that I don't like, which isn't to say that I've heard everything the label has done, but I do have a pretty good running collection of its tapes and LPs, at least enough to say I have a fairly informed understanding of its ethos, outlook, and repertoire. And to be impressed.

Shawn Reed, no stranger to the musical underground, has also been active in the creative, auditory side of music. The afore-mentioned projects Raccoo-oo-oon and Wet Hair are both his own, another indication of his tutored, eclectic heterogeneity. He also designs the visual aspect of the label with psychedelic, geometric allure. So he's a man with many hats, but each one fits snug on his head.

The label recently released a new batch of material, including Broken Water's new LP Wrought and offers a deal on their website for the whole kit & caboodle (the first hyperlink at the top). I highly recommend searching the back catalogue if you're a newcomer and, of course, the new releases.

Jordan Reyes: How often (ballpark) do you think you have to explain that people still buy and listen to cassettes?

Shawn Reed: Not often at this point because over the years it's gotten redundant and annoying to try and explain it so I kind of avoid it ,navigate around it, and try not to go into detail about what I do or initially just keep it to the Vinyl and Digital end of the label. It's known again in a bit of a general way that vinyl is around and popular (supposedly) again, so I stick with that angle more. 

JR: Night People is hard to pin down. I'll hear a cassette from a post-punk project in Florida (Merchandise or Ukiah Drag at one point), a synthpop project from New York (Sandy), or a more ambient instrumental project from a not-exactly-tied-down project (Dirty Beaches). How do you meet these people? Who reaches out to whom?

SR: Historically, the label is mostly working with friends, mainly people I met through making music and touring. Dirty Beaches I don't actually remember clearly because it’s been so long ago. I might have just discovered it digging and got in touch with him. I definitely remember hanging out in Montreal and becoming friends pretty quickly from running into each other on the road and then just writing often and having so much in common or just sharing a good vibe. It’s usually been natural like that. With Dirty Beaches, it was just great music and Alex is interesting, charismatic, and to me just such a good person. It was weird his stuff had been overlooked at first. I got to know Merchandise via mutual friends. I was aware of the Tampa scene in general, initially through stuff like Russian Tsarlag and having Carlos be a friend. I started running into the Tampa people pre- Merchandise on the road in different cities, one year at SXSW stands out. Another time in Chicago when Wet Hair was playing some shows with Circle Pit, I ran into Neon Bluhd (a band with Carson and Dave from Merchandise and Zach from Ukiah) at a record store before the show. They had a day off so I invited them out to the show put them on the list. We talked a bunch, and I gave them some records from the label to take home. Soon after that, Carson and I started writing and sending music back and forth. It was really amazing for them to do a record with NP because by the time that record got going, they had so much attention on them. To stick to doing the record on a really small label like NP was really special. I love those guys. I was just down in Tampa recently hanging out with them just to hang out. So it’s usually just things like that meeting somehow and keeping in touch and having things evolve naturally. Sandy is a more rare case - Blanche Blanche Blanche being another stand out in this way - where things get going from getting a demo in the mail. Sometimes I get more demos than actual orders, which is frustrating. I don't have the time to write most back and it’s usually stuff I would never put out. People are often oblivious on how to approach the label - it’s a bit sad and funny. Sandy is that rare case where even through an email or as a package in the mail, it comes across right and the music is great so I get back in touch. Early on I did a bit of digging/ contacting bands I liked but didn't know, though steadily less of that happened as the label has become more established. 

JR: Wet Hair is similarly eclectic. I might hear a synthpop song two or three tracks away from a more kraut-influenced song. I think it keeps things interesting, but a person can run across listeners who rebuke straying from form. With Wet Hair, though, was there a form to begin with?

SR: I’m a bit puzzled on how to answer this question because everything has form. It’s a bit of a bummer if someone listens to Wet Hair at any point in the Discography and just thinks its random and unintentional. I really don't see how that could be possible with the later stuff but I guess if someone has a totally consumer radio/square version of what music is then maybe they could think that. I'll just say this - I'm not a person that is into being defined by one set of things or operates around cliche. I'm not going to ever be one dimensional or express one-dimensionality.  Refining and evolving aesthetics is important to me, but I don't want to be anything in particular. I'm not interested in gimmicks or pigeonholing something for the sake of profitability. If you are talking about form being the imaginary boundaries people put around things to define themselves and what they like in rigid, safe, boring and often times really unintelligent ways, then yeah fuck that. This kind of question is weird to answer because it’s so far away from my life or my brain because I don't see any boundaries. I think about passions/hobbies of mine like playing basketball or lifting weights in the same kind of  intelligent, artistic way I think about music or art. I have a sense of aesthetics, values, ethics etc. I know generally what I'm not interested in or don't like, but the list of likes is way more expansive. I just don't see any purpose into trying to cage myself in. I'm not into hanging out with narrow-minded people so I guess that the label isn't interested in narrow-minded listeners. 

JR: What do you think makes music interesting? Can you pin it down?

SR: Reality isn't something that is easily pinned-down or described, so things like art and music are outlets for expressing experience or culture in a way that is to me automatically interesting because of the relationship between being human and trying to understand really what life is. Music is interesting because of how affecting it can be, how all encompassing it can feel, and how it can change and affect your sense of reality, time whatever etc. There is something special about arranging sounds to create something to have an effect. Even songs created to be consumer and pop-oriented are still abstract if you think about it as related to human and cultural evolution or even the science of sound and time. Getting to the guts of it though, which I think is what you are asking, - what makes me love a song, a band or an album? It’s a whole bunch of factors relative to timing and circumstances, but a lot of it is gut feeling, for lack of a better way to describe it. It’s just feeling the music, and having it sound fresh and interesting. It’s like a point of potential in a lot of ways for me. Something that is still a bit raw, something in a state of flux that isn't fully figured out is what often catches my interest, something that is good on its way to being great. I love that build up of potential. 

JR: Why did you decide to put out your last two Wet Hair full-lengths on De Stijl as opposed to Night People?

SR: At the time it was about just trying to spread it out and hoping De Stijl had an angle, pull or direction NP didn't have, for variety I guess, and it had a majority to do with respect for that label too, feeling honored to be on it. Over time, honestly it’s not exactly a total regret but it is a bit because I think personally it was more about a friendship or relationship with De Stijl working with them, but long-run I don't think it was about that for De Stijl as much, which was disappointing to me on a personal level in the long term and I don't separate those things well.

JR: How’d you get to do that Deep Freeze Mice comp? Is that the first archival release that you've had on Night People?

Is Night People
SR: Yeah it was the first Archival thing. I stumbled on to them via a blog - maybe Mutant Sounds or DIY or Die back in the day, I loved them instantly. That zone of music late 70's early 80's DIY post punk etc. especially stuff from the UK, Australia, NZ  is an area of music I always gravitated towards and loved. I felt like they were an underrated band that not enough people knew about so I got in touch with Alan Jenkins, the leader of the band who had done other cool related bands and kept the albums in print on CD. It was really easy working with Alan and it ended up making sense to do a kind of “best of” for them because they had so much good material and it is all really hard to come across on vinyl. I felt like it needed to happen. I'd like to do more but its really just finding the right thing. A big desire is to do a different new side label that is all 80's Dancehall reissues - it’s something I think about, but is complex and perhaps a bit deeper water then I fully know how to swim in. I'm really deep on historical Jamaican music in general, but 80's Dancehall is my favorite. It's also an area of music I feel to be overlooked a bit. It's just something I wish I could rep or give back to because I have gotten so much enjoyment and positivity out of listening to it especially in the last few years. 

JR: Your first release, at least in catalog #, was Raccoo-oo-oon's "Is Night People." I never got to see you all play, but I know you were in the band. Did the label come out of a need or desire to put out music attached to your name?

SR: It came out of necessity at first because we had no other way to release the music than starting our own label and going from there, especially being from Iowa at that time period making that kind of music. It was also a way to release stuff related to the band but not exactly side projects like things our friends were making that we liked etc. 

JR: You do your own visual art for Night People. It's always striking and often geometric. I know you use screenprinting, but what is the actual process for laying out and putting together the artwork? Obviously the music on a release has a big impact on what guards the cover - are there certain elements of music that affect the art more than others?

SR: The process just depends on the project. For some LP designs, I end up using photoshop a bit in the final stages of coloring and working with transparencies, which is for covers that aren't silkscreened.  The tapes and silkscreened LP's are made by hand, using a light table, and working with xeroxes I collect from man sources, drawings etc. all done in an old school cut and paste way. I consider the music for sure when I am doing the art but the heavier influence is the evolving aesthetic of the label. I tend to work on art in batches, making many tape covers all at once one after the other and then not working on any visual stuff for a bit. I think I just try to capture the mood of the music and the feel, but not anything literal usually. 

JR: Are there many projects from Iowa City that end up working with Night People? It seems that you guys release a lot of music from other places, oftentimes very far away.

SR: I haven't lived in Iowa City for a couple of years now after being there in a very dialed-in way for 10 years, and before that being in orbit of Iowa City, so a lot has changed.  At this point, I have very few ties to Iowa City and most of the people I was close to there have moved on. I have a few friends still there: Brendan O'Keefe who does the Cuticle project being the one in a music context I would rep for the hardest. I felt loyalty to Iowa City when I lived there, but it was more in a way of trying to bring in good bands and put on good shows and put Iowa City on that map with underground music. That didn't translate over as much to releasing music from there because there wasn't enough that would have fit on NP.  Stand outs historically on the label outside of the bands I was in or side projects related to the bands I was in would be Evan Miller, Jeff Witscher projects (Rene Hell) as he lived there off and on for a while and the Savage Young Taterbug who I still work with. Those are stand outs to me. I toured so much that I felt just as much dialed into a sort of international underground thing as I did to Iowa City. 

JR: Asking out of near ignorance so bear with me. To a non-resident layman, are there any projects from Iowa City that you'd recommend?
Wet Hair - Spill Into Atmosphere

SR: In the next few months I am putting out a 12" EP by the Savage Young Taterbug. He lives mainly in N. Cali at this point, but will maybe always be considered an Iowa guy since he is from Des Moines and cut his teeth in Iowa City. The record is his best material so I recommend that and then my good friend O'Keefe and his project Cuticle his new record is really great. Overall though I don't have much of any contact with Iowa City really at this point. 

JR: Have you read any good books lately that you could recommend to someone reading this?

SR: I'm reading all the time with a pretty wide variety. I also keep up with sports, especially basketball and NBA (live as well, being a T-wolves season ticket holder), listen to a lot of sports-related podcasts. I'm also a movie person and, at times, I watch a movie a day. Lately I have been trying to go through and watch every Zatoichi film, which has been fun. Japanese cinema from the 60's and 70's is a passion.  So I am always consuming a lot of information and media between records, sports, books, movies. I'm an information junkie in a way. Historically, I haven't read much fiction but I have been on more of a tip lately reading two books at once, one fiction and one non fiction. I've been on a bit of a pulp western kick, reading a pile of old Louis L'Amour books my grandfather gave me a few months ago. Some science fiction too: Hyperion by Dan Simmons had been recommended to me for years by a few old friends and I finally read that and enjoyed it. I don't feel as confident talking about literature as records, or even visual art or film but am starting to get a little bit deeper with it. I'm often reading books about music. I read anything I can find about Reggae/Dancehall etc. I just got a pile of old Reggae Quarterly Magazines and am going through those. Beth Lesser from Toronto is connected to the mag and she has a lot of great books and photography concerning 80's Dancehall and the people who made it happen. I've enjoyed her pictures and books greatly and am so happy I finally got a hold of the magazines. I read an oral history of Rough Trade recently as well but was a bit disappointing. I am currently reading Last Night a DJ Saved My Life and feel sort of 50/50 on it. 

JR: Any records from this year stick out to you?

SR: Stand outs to me are what friends are making because I guess that is what I am in the most touch with. I ended up in LA in the fall on a trip and did a DJ spot at the Peaking Lights record release and that stands out because I was driving around a lot in LA in the rental car jamming the newest Peaking Lights and Merchandise records. Merchandise had been in the Twin Cities the day before I left for LA so it was nice getting both of those records in the same week and driving around listening to them in LA while going to the beach to go surfing or going out to the hills to go on trail runs with some buddies, blasting around in the rental and jamming new music by good friends. So those two stand out the most to me. I think whatever either one of those bands does next will be even better because both of those bands are mixing it up again. Both of their most recent records were a bit more straight forward, which was necessary from a creative arc standpoint, but maybe also as another way to then step in a different direction. Peaking Lights live really killed it. I don't even think the new record, although I liked it, did justice to the live vibe when I saw them the couple times I did. I mostly hunt for old records and then with the label being invested and interested in what I am releasing, it's hard to catch what is new and absorb it enough to have an opinion. I should mention too that I really love what Duppy Gun is doing - it's a very cool project or series of projects under one bigger idea. Wolf Eyes live at a small gallery was my favorite local show of the year. Those dudes never get old, and always kill it year after year. The show they put on blew me away. I'm still thinking about it, which is impressive because I have seen them play so many times. Another recent one was re-connecting with old friends the Twerps from Australia. It had a been a couple years sense I had seen them. I DJ'd their show here and then they played a late night basement after party and that was great. It was really special and nostalgic in a positive way to me. I Really loving the new LP by them Range Anxiety. It fits with the weather too as it leads into summer. 

JR: Have you seen the new Star Wars teaser trailer? What's your read on the situation?

SR: It’s getting old. Hollywood just keeps remaking things instead of bringing much of anything new to the mix.  

JR: What all is in the future for Wet Hair/Night People?

SR: The future is always right now for NP. It’s hard to know, and it’s such a hand to mouth thing. That isn't the enjoyable aspect but it is a big part of the label, trying to survive, stay afloat, and keep it alive not in terms of passion but just the amount money it takes. I hoped by now after all these years it would be more stable but it’s not and it’s something that takes a toll, but hopefully it can continue. That said, month to month and year to year it’s hard to tell. It takes so much time doing the label. The amount of work is so hands on and it’s just one person trying to do it all.  Right now it's all about this new Broken Water LP called Wrought. It’s a special record by a mature band that has been around a while doing things totally on their own terms.  Some of the songs on the record really hit me: maybe "Love and Poverty" is the standout for me because of the content and feel of the song and how I relate it to own experience. It’s a great record and people should hear it. I'm trying to make that happen. 

Broken Water- Wrought
SR: Wet Hair has one more record sitting in the dark, though it’s unknown if it will ever come out. It’s the final record for the project, and it’s probably the best record we made. It’s my favorite but it's also a record that sits almost too close to me in terms of feeling and subject matter. It’s probably the most directly personal thing I have ever been a part of artistically. There are many sore spots concerning the record for me, though, so it’s hard to visit. The end of living in Iowa City, the end of a major relationship, maybe even the end of the band itself expressed in that record for me. All very big, dense things in my life. I want to put it out eventually but again it’s just having the funds to it. The bass player of Wet Hair and I, after moving to the Twin Cities, had a bit of a falling out as well and that makes the process a bit weirder and it’s touchy: that situation is a bummer, losing such a close friend. Maybe we will reconnect. I hope we do. I think of all the years Ryan and I spent on the road together in Raccoo-oo-oon and Wet Hair and all the time making the music and recording, and how so much of our lives revolved around it. It’s a really dense thing to get into trying to sum up, describe, or even properly process. I've wanted to sit down and write about it all, the tour experiences, the ups and downs for 10 years spent touring and being so deep in the lifestyle of underground music. I haven't made any music in over 2 years. The last thing I was a part of or did was finish that record. I haven't been sure if I could make music again but I'm starting to feel much more inspired and I'm trying to create something in new territory.  It’s an electronic project that uses hardware and mostly vintage gear. I'm trying to get it going with my old friend Jeff Eaton, who is a pretty well known as the vocalist for the respected hardcore band Modern Life is War. So yeah, I think that project will probably be pretty weird and different and I'm really hoping it happens because I think it would be good for my life right now.

JR: Anything else you'd like to say?

SR: Life is beautiful, man, but it’s also a grind. Doing this label all these years has been great but it’s also a grind. I'm not sure the future looks so bright. It’s hard to imagine the label being able to survive maybe even too much longer, but I'm trying to maintain. I just appreciate anyone who supports it. I'm sorry I'm not better at it too, as far as just keeping up sometimes with things like correspondence and mail - it’s a labor of love - records are so big in my life, but they're a blessing and a burden. They really influence what I did and what I continue to do in the world, where I lived, how I moved around. It all boils down to being in love with records.

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