Night People: A Bad Vibes Label Profile
Shawn Reed is one of our favorite people, not content with making music with Wet Hair, he also runs 'Night People' - an almost complete DIY record and tape label operation in Iowa - a label which has consistently put out and introduced some of our favorite bands. We had no choice but to ask Shawn to participate in our first label profile, a series of questions devoted entirely to inspirational record labels with strong aesthetics. Who said the Internet killed the good record label? They haven't. The Internet only killed the bad ones. Night People are very much alive. Read on for Shawn's passionate treatise on Night People (and download a Night People compilation).
What are the secret origins of Night People?
I'm not sure if its very secret, but the label naturally grew out of a prior band I was in Racc-oo-oon, us wanting a place to release side projects, extra material, friends material both locals and bands we were meeting on the road. It started out as a collective but when Racc-oo-oon decided to call it quits I took the label on full time and started putting out vinyl and even more tapes then we were already doing and I tried to push it as an everyday part of my life as opposed to a hobby I did with friends.
Does the name Night People have any special significance or referential meaning?
Andy Spore came up with it, he is an old and dear friend and was in Racc-oo-oon and was a major contributor and creator in the labels early stages. Racc-oo-oon was a special group of friends, we spent alot of time together, practicing, staying up late watching movies, goofing around, talking about what we were interested in (art/music/film/culture), so I think the name was just simply about what kind of people we were and our development, those connections being made hanging out late at night. I think it also related in that the label is really connected to the process of correspondence and travel, it specifically kind of grew out of touring and meeting new people on tour. On tour you stay up late and hang out all night often so to me that is part of it as well. I like getting up early but its hard going to bed too, I take awhile to wind down and seem to never really want to turn it in that bad.
What do you try and achieve with the aesthetic of Night People?
When I took the label over full time I wanted to create a label that didn't need a logo, a label that had an evolving aesthetic that could change but was always going to stay consistent. I wanted to create high grade physical objects that had a bit of the hand in every individual unit of every release but still maintained a very professional feeling, releases that were well constructed and considered, something unique. Its always been about a certain sense of creative control and doing as much of the work myself as possible. The only thing I don't do is press the vinyl, but if I could I probably would, I'm either that stupid or crazy. I've called on friends more lately to help me get the printing and mail done its pretty out of control and alot to take on being one person. Andy and Daren from Racc-oo-oon helped shape it and Ryan Garbes who was in Racc-oo-oon and who is also in Wet Hair with me has had a big hand in it and continues to contribute often doing design work etc. Overall its been a way to combine my visual artwork on a prolific level with my record nerd tendencies. I like to collaborate with people and hopefully help the bands get a bit more attention or more audience from a release an the solid foundation of reputable output I have tried to establish.
Do you try and develop a running theme with all the covers of Night People? The covers are fantastic? What inspired you?
The only theme is that everything is silkscreened with some xerox mixed in as well sometimes. I see the artwork as a sort of stream that changes over time. You can definitely see changes over time in specific elements, styles, and subject. In example their used to be a lot more drawing, lately its been more about collage, image sources change, the drawings I tend to make change, but at the same time, its all coming from me and I've been doing it long enough now where its not hard but I work hard at it, in other words I have my voice visually I know how I work, I know the process and it flows easy once I get it going which usually involves sitting at a light table with tons of xerox copies of drawings I've made and images that I find, with some pens, glue, razor blade etc. The influence of my friends and collaborators has inspired me the most, like Ryan Garbes who I work with alot collaboratively not only on music but visual artwork as well he's been a huge influence and some of the tapes designs he has had a big hand in. We do all the Wet Hair art together including a recent book Not Not Fun put out. Besides Ryan, Andy Spore, Aaron Wilson and Tim Dooley (former professors I am close with who are really supportive), Jeff Witscher (Rene Hell), Seri Pop, Robert Beatty (Three Legged Race), Andy Roche (Black Vatican) Joe H. and Justin T. (Goldendust), people who I met on the road too over the years like Chris Forgues (Kites,Power Masters), Carlos Gonzalez (Russian Tsarlag), Naked on the Vague etc. all friends who cross the gap between visual art, music and performance. I've been into punk and underground aesthetics for a long time, the xerox machine is a big tool that I use constantly and always have, it translates well into silkscreen, I use the computer very little, hardly at all for Night-People material but sometimes for Wet Hair artwork, I make everything cut and paste, drawing with pens etc. Old books, Art in general, Art History I source alot, Design History too, the history of Pop Culture and Rock N" Roll is in the images as well. Crass was a big influence, probably my favorite album artwork and packaging. Labels and bands that had a real identity visually as well as musically I have always looked too. Record artwork in general, I have alot of records in the collection that I could just sit and stare at the cover and think about the design and get wrapped up in that.
What has been the most shocking success of Night People thus far?
That I can do it at all and continue to make it work somehow. The labor aspect of the label takes alot of time, I print everything by hand, dub all the tapes on this crazy dubing system I have etc, it takes alot of time to do the label at the level it is at now as far as volume and hand making it all, but it still doesn't pay well, so I barely get by, but just getting by doing this, making art everyday, having the creative freedom in life I do, I know it is a very very rare gift. I also know it might not and probably won't last forever, a certain reality might kick in, its stressful, its a hustle game sometimes, I always hover on the edge of barely paying the bills, saving enough to survive etc. People get upset I can be really slow, but its not because I am lazy, I am always working, but its just so hard to keep up with it all and keep track of everything, I get depressed about it, letting people down, but at the same time sometimes I get upset that people expect it to be like Insound or something, like a big label or distro with a team, I'm just one dude in a small house with no funds and no computer skills doing shit DIY style by hand, it looks like what it is, so people should expect that, not something slick or business minded. I wish I had more talent with the business side of it I just don't. So at some point I might have to do something else. Its also surprising that I could be from a small town in Iowa, still live in a relative small town in Iowa and find all the connections to make things work to the level that they have especially at an international level. I guess the last thing would be that anyone gives a shit about it, or that it would influence anything or anyone. I feel lucky.
Do you feel there is a detachment when you are releasing Wet Hair on the record label? Is there any division within yourself when releasing your own product?
No detachment, its just good for Wet Hair to mix it up, its good to work with other people who have other ideas, options etc. We can expand our aesthetic more, like the 7" we did with Not Not Fun recently that came with a pro printed 20 page art book. Its all full color stuff, made with collages, photo's etc. it looks similar to the Night-People stuff but with another aspect to it. Same thing working with Destijl recently, Clint who does the label is just a good person to work with because he has other ideas and connections we don't have necessarily, insights into what we do as well. Having the right kind of outside help is always good. If things become to hermetic and insular it just looses something, too much starring in the mirror talking to yourself.
Do you think Night People would have existed without the internet?
Yeah I think it would have, but its kind of impossible to say since the internet is here and has been. When I got into music in the mid 90's I didn't have the internet and didn't until college basically, and even then it was different and pretty primitive it was still about zines and mail. For a long time actually the internet had no part in my creative life, I wrote letters, sent people mail, made tapes for people, ordered through distro catalogs by mail, collected fanzines to learn about new bands, made phone calls etc. We booked the first Raccoo-oo-oon tour by sending tapes to people asking for shows, the internet seemed to impersonal, to easy, fake almost.
Do you feel Night People has given people cultural inspiration within the Midwest? Was that an aim of Night People?
In the midwest in general, I have no idea. I always hoped that if I could be successful, that maybe other people that grew up in some no name small town in some state people generally don't see as having much or any culture coming from it, could see that maybe they could create something too and get it out in the world. I know I have had some impact in Iowa City with the label, the bands, and the shows I have booked over the years, but honestly I don't sell anything here, I give the stuff to a few friends, but their is very little interest overall. Wet Hair recently had our home town record release show over all these years of playing here and we sold maybe 4 records. This new record that just came out called In Vogue Spirit means alot to us so it would be cool if more people locally heard it, we worked really hard on it, in a way this record is the culmination of almost 10 years of Ryan and I playing music and making art together, we work at what we do, its taken that long to make a record like this that we think is really good. Its depressing in alot of ways, to rep this place traveling etc since not much comes from here, especially things not associated with the college, to actually try to create some kind of community here and never really have it materialize is unfortunate, but its weird, its very much a college town and people don't stick around for very long so its hard. Alot of people are younger too, so that makes things awkward, and people move away quickly. I'm just going to be honest about this, I'm cool with my life, but I do have bitterness about where I live, because its not a place with much community or real creative push and its frustrating sometimes to have more interest elsewhere then at home with what we have been working hard on. its easy to live here, its cheap, and thats why I am still here, so I can work on what I want without having a real job eat up my time. But its cool, interest elsewhere takes you to new places and thats been a blessing and that was the real ultimate goal anyhow to get to see the world and meet people and thats worked out. If just a few local friends get it and thats it forever thats fine I can live with that just fine. I'm generalizing a bit, there are good things going on as well, and I don't expect everyone to be turned onto what I am involved with either, and thats totally fine.
What do you feel is the narrative of Night People so far?
I've never thought about it in the way of a narrative. Honestly its something to do that I enjoy doing and as long as I can do it I will. I hope maybe it represents something physical something hand held but in your ear at the same time in an era of things being very digital and more and more immediate, I hope Night-People is looked at as something that was considered of itself with some time behind it, I hope old school hand done effort is still appreciated. I just hope people find something previously undiscovered with the bands, the selection, and the art.
Do you find it ironic that most record labels try to shut down the internet, whilst other smaller labels, have found success in using the internet for good and not evil?
The internet is tricky in my mind, I have mixed feelings about it, it leads a lot of information to someone easily, I like that. You can find other people and stay in touch with them easily as well, I like that too. Something is lost with the internet however, I feel like it has sped up culture to the this weird point, where like with music, the shelf life for things is to short, or it has been allowed to be too short, so its more about quantity then quality right now, thats a problem. Like most blogs they just show you something they don't provide enough content to tell you something, alot of music right now feels so tied to the internet that it seems to have a thin content and quality to me, like a remix by someone new for some other new band that just popped up all over the web but has never played a show or left the house, I just don't give a shit. Some things take time and experience and I think with the culture moving so fast with the internet some of that time and experience is lost. The way hype functions with the internet is very new and different as well, it moves so fast which creates more artificiality. Maybe its just at an awkward point and some of the kinks will get worked out, like the haircut that has to grow out a bit to look good? I don't know. In general I want more content then I am getting right now from most of media related to music etc. A bit to much control too with certain media outlets/websites as well, a bit to much sway, you can see it in the "indie" music business pretty obviously in my opinion. I still don't listen to digital music either, I have to have the physical thing if it is at all possible to have. I enjoy the process of getting something, waiting for it, trying to find it, getting to listen to it, the process of the needle dropping, hitting play whatever and sitting around listening to it doing not much of anything else. I wish I had more time for that actually, not rushing. Taking some time in general usually makes it have more value, you appreciate something more if you have to work and wait for it. But like you hint at, its cool I can connect with all these other people around the world doing interesting things, stay in touch with them, have people who enjoy the music I put out, the visual art I make be able to get ahold of it easily, thats been rad obviously.
What records/bands should we be checking out?
Its been a prime time for reissues, bands like Phantom Payne, Charlie Nothing, John Bender, Scrotum Poles, Chrisma, Ruth, Deux, Les Rallizes Denudes, The Sky records stuff coming back out on Bureau B... killers that came back out in the last year, records I thought I would never own. Rene Hell is killing it right now, Ela Orleans is great she should be world renown but isn't yet. Check out Ryan Garbes new solo record. Drip House (aka Daren Ho) is nearing a peak, underground Australian bands- just dig a little bit their are so many good ones, Rat Columns new stuff out of SF, Goldendust one of the best new midwest bands, Sore Eros from Western Mass, anything associated with the Pheromoans, Blanche Blanche Blanche from VT, and the Resonant Hole Lexington KY axis. All good!
Download a Night People compilation