Name: Brad Lee
Occupation: The Album Leaf Member, Eastern Glow Label Manager
Recommendations: Former TAL drummer Tim Reece passed away after a battle with cancer earlier this year, but he left us with an amazing record and accompanying book of poetry under his solo moniker Mass Praktikal. The album is entitled “To plan is a luxury – to dream, a birthright.” The book of poetry is entitled “1,000 Loves on Time”. They are both beautiful.
Website / Contact: If you enjoyed this interview about Eastern Glow Recordings, visit their website for current updates and music.
When did you start with your own label - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
We’ve been working on starting the label for most of this year (2017), and officially launched in October. Both Jimmy and I come from extremely DIY backgrounds, Musician run independent labels have been an integral part of the underground / punk / indie / experimental scene since the beginning, so this is all very familiar territory. It’s fun to return to our roots and launch this new operation on our own. It’s a natural extension of everything we’ve been doing for the last (almost) 20 years of touring and putting out music.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as a label curator and the transition towards your own approach? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
We’re still learning some things on the fly here, but for the most part, putting out records isn’t rocket science. Music + artwork + packaging, set a release date, and tell people about it. I think the real challenge will be navigating the ever changing landscape of streaming royalties and physical distribution. Luckily we have a lot of friends in both bands and labels with tons of experience, so we can always pick up the phone or shoot off an email to someone who has been through it before when we have questions.
What were your main label-related challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
The main challenge out of the gate was the amount of work getting 5 re-issues together all at once. There are a lot of details that need to be pulled together from a lot of different places. Developing a system to keep things organized, and learning how to work with our new distributor were the biggest learning curves.
How do you see the role of labels in the creative process? What is the scope and what are the limitations of what you are capable of doing?
Being musicians that run our own label is really the best case scenario in terms of creativity. For better or worse, we can literally do whatever we want.
Whom do you feel your obligation to – the artists, the buyers, your own demands in terms of quality?
Again I think we are really just beholden to our own ideas and standards. We want to give fans a high quality product, something that we would love to own ourselves. We’re really excited about the vinyl ideas our designer (Alex Deamon) put together. Starburst vinyl with die cut covers. I’m just as excited to get my own copies (any day now) as I am to get them in the hands of our fans.
What are the most important conclusions you've drawn from the changes in the music-, music-PR- and music-journalism landscape? How do they affect labels in general and your own take on running a label in particular? What role do social media play for your approach?
There are a few positives to focus on. First, being able to release and promote things digitally has never been easier. We could record a song this morning, have it available online by lunch time, and then let our fans know instantly. We’re excited to expand our digital catalog moving forward, as it is a very low risk and fun way to release singles, collaborations, and leftover b-sides from years past.
The other positive of course is current demand for vinyl. It’s a riskier proposition on the front end, but we’re lucky enough to have a solid TAL fan base that supports our vinyl pressing endeavours.
Social media itself is of course useful, but time consuming, and increasingly more expensive. We do our best to maintain the many sites and platforms available to bands and labels these days, but it’s a lot of work!
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
The ability to release music digitally, and reach a large audience without leaving your studio or creating a physical product is pretty amazing. But nothing will ever replace the experience of going to see a live band, and coming home with a t-shirt you can wear and a record you can throw on your record player.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives, including the artists on your label?
We’re not exactly sure what collaboration will look like going forward with the new label, but it’s an inextricable part of any creative project. We have friends around the world who have helped us in more ways than we can count. Whether it is music, design, touring, or just a ride to the airport, we rely heavily on our friends, family and fellow artists.
Can you take me through your process on the basis of a release that's particularly dear to you? How do you decide to release it, what did you start with, what sources did you draw from for all tasks related to it and how did the finished product gradually take shape?
The whole impetus for launching the label was to re-issue the first two TAL records, An Orchestrated Rise to Fall (EGR626006), and One Day I’ll Be On Time (EGR626007). The music already existed of course, so the main challenge was getting the design together. Our UK based designer Alex Deamon came up with the idea of the die cut leaf cover, and the starburst vinyl. Both Jimmy and I loved this idea from the get go. There were several steps of proofs in the design process to make sure we were on the same page with our production team. And then it was tracking down all of the various numbers and codes from the previous versions of the release. Luckily, the original labels TAL worked with have all been super helpful in providing us the information we need to move these releases into our catalog.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do the label and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
My wife and I are both lucky enough to be self-employed and mostly work from home, so we try to start each day with some family time. Our mornings usually involve coffee, breakfast and an episode or two of Sesame Street with our 2 year old son. From there I head into my office (the garage) and get to work.
In addition to managing the label and playing in TAL, I run a small merch company out of my garage, as well as a recording studio in San Diego. I try to meld all this into a semblance of normalcy, but for the most part it is pure chaos, particularly when I have multiple projects and deadlines happening at the same time.
I pack orders for records and shirts every morning, and then work on emails for an hour or two. From there I either head down to the studio for a session, or hang out with my son while my wife works.
All of the various jobs I do (label – merch – recording) are centered around music, so they complement each other well. But it is definitely a challenge to be constantly switching gears and wearing so many different hats.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Between kids and the constant ping of new emails that need answering, it can be hard to focus on the art. It’s all about setting aside some time, and having your workspace ready to go. I am very lucky to have a fully functioning studio I can escape to when I need to work on music.
How is listening to the actual music and writing or reading about it connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
I usually find the most compelling writing to be about an artist’s creative process, or the things that were happening in their life during the recording process. I am constantly fascinated at the wide array of experiences people have, and how those are translated into song.
There has been an exponential growth in promotion agencies and there is still a vast landscape for music magazines. What's your perspective on the music promo- and journalism-system? In how far is it influencing your choice of artists, in how far is it useful for potential buyers, in how far do you feel it is possibly undermining your work?
It is impossible to keep up with all the changes on that front. Luckily we have a great publicist who helps steer us in the right direction when it comes to promoting our label and band.
There are so many niche bands and labels right now that have a small but dedicated fan base, and we definitely fall into that category. It’s a blessing in that there is more music than ever to find an enjoy, but a curse when it comes to trying to rise above the noise and be an artist that gets noticed on a larger scale.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art?
I think the best art is personal, and honest. It is informed by the world around us, but is more a reflection of ourselves than of anything external. If you’re trying to write a “hit”, or trying to write music that other people will like, you’ve already lost.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of labels still intact. Do you have a vision of labels, an idea of what they could be beyond their current form?
I don’t think we need to re-invent the wheel when it comes to the basics of running a label. Labels find bands they like, and support those bands in their quest to make music and reach an audience. Avenues of distribution are constantly changing and will continue to do so. It’s our job as a label to forge a path forward through the ever changing landscape, while doing our best to protect and support the creative vision of our artists.