Captured Tracks: A Bad Vibes Label Profile

In our continuing series of Label Profiles, we hooked in Mike Sniper to ask the important questions regarding the aesthetic and manifesto of Captured Tracks, the 'up start' label for 7s which has quickly become a definable presence on the music scene. In an internet-saturated world, Captured Tracks' strong idealism sets it apart as something tangible. As Sniper said: That's the ideal. To be an identity but not limited in sound or in scope. I think there's a ton of people who don't know/care what label their favorite record was on last year. That's kind of weird, right? I gotta say he's correct. It is weird. We had to get him in and discuss how he is keeping the art of the record label alive...

What is the manifesto of Captured Tracks?

There never really was one from the start, but I guess recently with the decision to only sign artists without a major release or an already built-in P/R machine (i.e., they’re all over the internet but are unsigned) has become a clear part of our ethos. While it’s always first about the music, we think the idea of the relevancy of a label is constantly being questioned. It led me to thinking of what made Creation and Factory and old 4AD great. All of their major artists were with those labels from the start. Or, in the case of Creation, discovered by Alan McGee and then pilfered.

But if you think back, I mean, even the majors were more daring in the 60’s and 70’s than a lot of “indie” labels are now. Look it 60’s Atlantic, or late 70’s/early 80’s Sire. Yeah, it was a different era, but at least they bothered to find new talent, not wait for pre-Pitchfork/NME approval (or the equivalent thereof) and take some chances. If Echo and the Bunnymen came out now they’d be on something like Underwater Peoples for a record and then all the major indies and Columbia would bid the fuck out of them, ignoring the Smiths and Jesus and Mary Chain demos they’re being sent because they’re unproven.  Plus the original label in this fictitious scenario would struggle to develop because all their talent is cannibalized. I’m sure Underwater Peoples is doing fine, by the way, go buy some of their records, they’re one of the best. I was just using a current relevant label who finds bands to prove the point.

Do you feel the record company, or the whole notion of a record company died sometime in the 00s?

I think in the past 5 years it’s gotten ridiculous because a lot of labels aren’t trying to cultivate an artist by their own tastes, you know?  Daniel Miller is one of my heroes, and all he once said that Mute was a good label because it’s a reflection of the tastes for the people who work for it and therefore should reflect those who trust the label. The interesting thing about that is that he put out things as different as Depeche Mode and Erausre but also Non and Diamanda Galas. That’s the ideal. To be an identity but not limited in sound or in scope.  I think there’s a ton of people who don’t know/care what label their favorite record was on last year. That’s kind of weird, right?

I enjoyed some of the manifestos - especially the recent one where you point out the lack of ‘A&R’ in some recent ‘hip’ record companies, do you feel that record companies are becoming more manifestations of ‘blogs’ and rather than ‘classic record companies’?

I don’t blame blogs at all. In fact, a lot of these record labels owe Pitchfork, Gorilla Vs. Bear, 20 Jazz Funk Greats and Stereogum a salary. If they find music and are enthusiastic about it, there’s nothing to complain about there. But, yeah, if that’s your A&R policy, waiting for one of those to react, you have a real problem. That’s why I said they should just eliminate A&R and just have an accountant work out a deal for them to slap their logo on. There’s nothing wrong with doing that once in a while, of course, I don’t think my policy should be across the board. But no first releases at all? 90-95% of your label roster are bands whose first LP you didn’t do? Come on…

I always felt that ‘Captured Tracks’ was a great name for the 7’s vibe you originally had.  Why the name?  How did it reflect on your musical choices?

I kind of said it out loud and my girlfriend at the time just kind of said “that should be the name.”  At the time I had no idea how far the label would go, so it wasn’t a very deep, thorough battle with names.  It was more of “Ok, that’ll do.” All I knew is that I didn’t want it to end in “Records.”

What do you feel is the ultimate aesthetic of Captured Tracks?

You know, I’m not sure we’ve quite defined it 100%. We like our bands to come to us with an identity already.  Musically, I think there’s a case to be made that the same person could like everything on it besides me, but not many.  Soft Moon sound nothing like Wild Nothing who sound nothing like Soft Metals who sound nothing like Tim Cohen, etc.

Visually, coming from an art and design background, at first I toyed with doing a systematic formula where I designed everything, kind of like Factory. But Sacred Bones was already sort of doing that. Actually, I developed that LP format with Caleb, when I released an EP on Caleb’s label. I think it’s cool he followed along with something we mutually designed (it was based on a classical record.)  Last year when that Zola Jesus record I was like “whoa, that Blank Dogs EP design we did together is still going strong!”  I’m going off on a tangent here, but, with C/T, ultimately I decided not to go that route and I’m glad I did because I don’t want to constrict my artists into my aesthetic, though I definitely have opinions with art when it’s submitted. No knock on Sacred Bones there, I’m a fan and I like the look.

I’ve been enjoying your reissues.  Do you feel within internet culture, that the introduction and release of a reissue could be, if not as much as, viable as a ‘new band’?

No, because a large part of new listenership is only interested in current music, and that’s nothing new, that’s been around since the 50’s, basically and it’s really a positive thing, actually. The reissues we do are definitely related to our current roster for sure, but we don’t try to push them in that regard. Having formerly worked at and currently owning a record store, I understand the reissue market a bit more.

We were pressured a bit to start a new label for reissues but I thought that was a disservice to both the current and older bands. We’re just going to pretend this stuff didn’t exist and put it on another label?  That’s just stupid. All of our artists are doing their own thing and none are total revivalists, but they don’t ignore their influences.  Sure, progress for progress’ sake is great but it’s something the visual art world dealt with already. Things moved very rapidly in visual art until you got to Minimalism in the 70’s,  where do you go from there? That’s why visual art has since returned to re-investigating past ideas and the idea of craft because we’ve since realized that just because certain things have been investigated already doesn’t mean we finished the investigation. I think music writers are still struggling with that. They’re too ready to pigeonhole and be dismissive.

What do you feel has been the most shocking success of Captured Tracks?

The Soft Moon. I mean, I loved it, obviously. But I was thinking, “Hey this is great, we’ll probably sell as many as 2,000 copies!” But, it really took off, which is amazing. Because I remember not that long ago when there was NO place in mainstream indie for that kind of thing and I’m really happy for Luis we could help make that happen for him.

Captured Tracks has really embraced ‘the internet’ - with the mixes etc on the site.  Do you feel that working within internet culture has been able to sustain your label?

Yeah, of course. We’re not going to ignore the benefits of technology. We’re not Pete Seeger pulling the plug on Bob Dylan at Newport or anything. When a label or artist tells me “We don’t DO digital!” I just say “Why not?” It’s a pretty simple question and I have yet to get a good response. Digital technology didn’t kill the physical format, the major labels did. And if someone really wants to buy your record, they still will. I think a lot of people underestimate consumers. People want to support artists and they do want something to have if they appreciate the effort put into it. And people who pay for digital are a part of that. Just because they don’t have a record or CD player anymore, you want them to steal your songs someone ripped on Mediafire as their only choice to get it? Give people the opportunity to support you.

The UK seems to be at a standstill at the moment with regards to music, and up and coming bands, and yet US, seems to have a plethora of pretty exciting stuff happening - why do you think that is?

I can go on for a really long time about this, but being American I’m not on the ground floor and I can’t really say I have a truly informed opinion. I will say that in the UK, as opposed to the US and Continental Europe, Japan and Australia, there’s no real sense of legacy. At least not as much. I think it’s the way the press operates there, where it seems harder to sustain any kind of momentum there without a lot of non-musical hijinks or whatever.  It’s like a more refined vacuum sucking up and spitting out whatever’s new because it’s smaller and just devours and obliterates everything really fast.

It’s weird, because, despite France and Germany having close to or almost the same market as the UK, they’re still in a lot of ways dictated by UK press. A US band needs to break in the UK to do well in the continent, with some exceptions of course (thank you Spain, Italy and Sweden) and I don’t understand why the Continent doesn’t develop it’s own press cycle. I’d support that.

There’s also a built-in structure in the UK where bands there seem to be DYING to get a manager before anything else. I think a manager is something you should get when you actually have things that need managing. We get solicited from UK managers all the time, but the last thing I want to do is sign an unknown band with a manager. It’s 2012, you know? Look at some graphs at record sales, you need accounting on your 7” or something? I don’t get it. I’m not anti-manager, but it should come at the right time. Just record songs, play gigs and talk to labels on your own first. Wait until you have enough going on that a manager needs to prove to be an asset, don’t let the manager try and prove he found you your deal. That’s just an opinion, bands can do whatever they want, but I’m not in a hurry to deal with managers when a band doesn’t even have a 7” to it’s name.

The whole thing is really a shame because in the past, the UK’s worldwide influence on all sub-genres of modern music is undeniable. I think in the 90’s in the US with Nirvana and all that (which is really ironic considering every UK bands seeming obsession with them) kind of made that “big drum” and metallic guitar sound so popular it kind of killed off UK influence on American guitar-based indie rock for the most part. It became almost more metal over here. I guess when more melody-based bands like Blur, Suede and Pulp were kind of ignored here in comparison, it kind of created this more interior outlook on music press in the UK which it hasn’t really come back from despite Britpop being long gone. I don’t know if there’s anything to that. Like I said, I’m American, I have no idea.

What records/bands should we be checking out?

Off label? There was this great self-released LP by this band called The New Lines in 2011 that no one seemed to care about but I love it. They’re pretty reclusive. Other than that, I’m unsure. Everything else is all around out there, isn’t it? I’d love to hear a new punk band that was good. PUNK, not hardcore. And not obvious punk either, but just, aggressive. I’ll know it when I hear it, someone out there should make it. But, I don’t know, lately all I’ve been listening to is 50’s and 60’s jazz.**

**This email was lost to the gmail Gods, and suddenly they returned it back to Bad Vibes.  Just a note: Captured Tracks have since signed and found their PUNK band ‘The Holograms’ ...