LABEL FEATURE | HARDLY ART RECORDS
Ritual chatted to Hardly Art Records general manager, Sarah Moody to find out the real deal on once of America’s finest imprint labels.
When, why and how did Hardly Art start out?
Hardly Art became an idea in 2006 and a reality in 2007. It was something that the powers that be at Sub Pop had wanted to try for a long time. I had been working in the publicity department of Sub Pop for about a year and a half when I was offered the gig of managing (generally) Hardly Art instead, though that was before it had been named. There had been one previous imprint-type label, Die Young Stay Pretty, back in the 90s, which was effectively a feeder label — if a release performed well, it was likely that the successful band would then be signed to Sub Pop. That experiment didn’t last terribly long, so it was decided that Hardly Art would need to take a different path. It was largely created so that there would be a platform available to smaller bands that perhaps didn’t make sense for Sub Pop’s large marketing staff, and also to try out a different royalty model, amongst other things.
How did the imprint deal with Sub Pop come about and how does it benefit Hardly Art?
We’ve always been associated with Sub Pop. Unlike most labels just starting out, that particular affiliation afforded us the benefit of a lot of built-in or established infrastructure — a la the accounting department, a legal team, and excellent distribution channels to name a few.
What was the first record you released?
Arthur & Yu – In Camera.
2015 was a great year for you with releases from Colleen Green, Protomartyr and Chastity Belt. How has the label and the running of it evolved over the years?
It has gone through a great many phases since the early days. I suppose some of the more significant changes largely revolve around staff — we brought on Jason Baxter to handle publicity in-house back in 2011, which coincided with around when we updated our logo to its current iteration (drawn by Seth Bogart, formerly of Hunx & His Punx). Both of those updates drastically changed our image and general awareness of it for the better. Just last year we hired Matt Kolhede to oversee sales and digital platforms. It’s a small label, so we all wear many hats, and the landscape of what needs attention is always changing. If you think about the preferred outlets for music consumption and promotion between, say, 2005 and now, you’ll understand what I mean.
Another evolution as of more recently is the amount of touring our bands are able to accomplish — La Luz took the cake last year when they toured for six weeks straight right after their new album was released. Most of the bands who released an album last year — Protomartyr, Shannon and the Clams, Chastity Belt, La Luz, Colleen Green — are still touring off of those releases. It rules. It used to be a struggle to have a band make a single run down the West Coast, but these days it’s pretty standard to have solid domestic and international tours set right away, which is incomparable in terms of helping to promote an album. We work with a handful of incredible booking agents that make it all possible, and I’m grateful that it’s a priority for our bands.
And, in more general terms, these days Hardly Art feels like more of its own community than ever — at the office, with our bands, and between the two.
Running your own label, do you feel like a label fat cat OR like a kid in a record store?
Definitely the latter. But that could be because I’m often still in record stores…
How would you describe the Hardly Art ethos?
I like to think of Hardly Art as an outlet for bands, rather than a bastion of self-promotion. We exist by and for the artists that we work with, and typically allow for total creative freedom in that regard. I suppose because of that, we end up working with artists that already have a strong image and sound, and we’re in a position to be able to help them get both in front of more people, which in turn allows them to focus on what they do best.
I remember a certain Jacuzzi Boys video caused some controversy a few years back. Care to retell that doozy for us?
What artists from Seattle are happening right now that aren’t lucky enough to be on Hardly Art?
We certainly can’t release them all, and there are a ton of great bands going right now. Current favourites within the office are VATS, Crater, SSDD, Pleather, VHS, Posse, Boyfriends, Versing, Snuff Redux, Pony Time, Lisa Prank, Display, the list goes on… Matt and I are both involved with record labels outside of Hardly Art as well (he co-founded Help Yourself Records; I own and operate End of Time Records), so it’s a mini-conglomerate around here lately. Still far more bands than labels, though.
Gazebos debut LP Die Alone is out on Hardly Art on Feb 19. Why should we buy it? What is special about these degenerates??
They are a motley group of hugely talented humans who made a fantastic record and I’m very thrilled to be working with them. They have a knack for writing subtly weird, unique, vaguely theatrical pop songs, topped off with Shannon Perry’s dynamic vocal delivery. It’s a band made up of four very distinct personalities, and how that all manages to translate into music makes me incredibly happy. It’s been dubbed “glam no-wave” and I’d say that’s pretty accurate. ‘Boys I Like’ is still my #1.
What other releases can we look forward to this year?
Tacocat’s second full-length with us, Lost Time, is coming up April 1 — it’s their follow-up to NVM, which was released back in 2014. Lost Time was recorded and produced locally by Erik Blood, who has worked with Shabazz Palaces and THEESatisfaction. We’ve got a few more tricks up our sleeve that haven’t been announced just yet, and then we’ll be prepping for a bunch of events next year to celebrate our 10-year anniversary of existence, which is a crazy thing to type. A decade is a long-ass time for anything, let alone a record label. I’m looking forward to it though.
Curated by Hardly Art Records general manager, Sarah Moody