Slumberland Records Interview

slr badge

badge photo from Unpopular’s flickr

Nineteen years ago Slumberland Records set up shop in Silver Spring, Maryland around the peak of the Washington, DC hardcore scene.  At the time the label was like this little beacon of light that soon became much brighter. Kids who read the UK music weeklies and bought a lot of imports from labels like Creation, Rough Trade, Sarah, and Flying Nun discovered this new US label that was releasing records that could have easily been on any one of those labels. Early singles by the Swirlies, Honeybunch, Small Factory, Lorelei and Whorl were soon followed by albums from the Lilys, Stereolab, Sleepyhead and Boyracer.  All of sudden Slumberland was on par with the labels that had influenced it.  During the past 19 years Slumberland has been run by one guy, Mike Schulman.   The history of the label is an interesting story, starting on the east coast and then relocating to the west coast.  It also went through a mysterious dormant phase where there were a few years that went by without any releases.  A lot of people assumed that Schulman had decided to put Slumberland to rest.  But like a phoenix from the pyre, the label has been reborn in recent years.  It started as a trickle with a couple singles in 2006 and then an album by the Lodger last year and now it’s a full-on gusher with numerous singles and albums this year including some of the year’s best like the Crystal Stilts, Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Sexy Kids.  Next year promises to be just as good with eagerly anticipated albums from Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Bricolage.  No doubt about it, Slumberland is back and better than ever!  What brought on this resurgence and what was behind the dormancy at the beginning of this decade?  I was curious about all of this and I figured a lot of other people were as well.  I emailed Mike and he graciously agreed to answer some questions.

Back in 1989 in DC, and the rest of the US for that matter, there were very few labels putting out music that was influenced by the UK. I know my record buying habits around that time consisted of a lot of UK imports. What was it like back then as far as the DC music scene for bands like Velocity Girl and Black Tambourine as far as getting gigs and putting out records?

Let’s just say we were fighting an uphill battle to get stuff accomplished. We never tried to do too much with Black Tambourine since it was kind of a side project for everyone but Pam, but Velocity Girl and Whorl were quite active, and it was something of a challenge early on to find some sort of a niche. We were all into UK and NZ imports, and there were some really good shops in the area handling that stuff so there were other people that shared our interests, but not a lot of fellow bands or labels that into that stuff. Hardcore and post-hardcore was still pretty happening, and there were a fair few bands that were kind of straight-up college rock who were looking to break big. The fact that both Whorl and VG started out being noisier bands influenced also by NYC noise/lower east side stuff probably helped us ease in with people a bit. There was really only one club, DC Space, that would consistently book our bands, but boy did they. I’m very grateful for the support Cynthia Connolly there gave us; I’m not sure the label would have happened without it.

When you started Slumberland nearly 20 years ago, was it just you or was it more of a group effort? How was Vinyl Ink owner George Gelestino involved?

It was more of a group effort when we started, but the other folks who helped out were mostly in Velocity Girl, so when they got bigger and were on the road a lot, I kind of absorbed most of the work. By the time I moved to California I was pretty much doing the label by myself and so there’s wasn’t a lot of discussion about whether I’d continue doing it.
George wasn’t directly involved with the label, but he was EXTREMELY supportive and gracious about letting me do label work on his time from the shop, and did lend me some money on occasion when things were tight. He really liked the bands and his general desire to support music he liked and educate customers (and his employees!) did a lot to help us build an audience and broaden all of our horizons about music.

What was the impetus to move out to the bay area from DC?
At the time I moved all of my bands had kind of stopped playing and I didn’t really have anything cooking so the idea of moving *somewhere* seemed appealing. I considered Providence and NYC pretty seriously, but I made a trip out to Berkeley to visit and ex-girlfriend and immediately decided on the Bay Area. No regrets whatsoever – it’s great out here!

In 1996 you started another label called Drop Beat which focused on drum n’ bass and techno music. This seemed to roughly coincide with Slumberland’s release schedule slowing down. Were there any life changing experiences that caused the shift in focus or just a need for something different?

I don’t think there was any real connection between the two. I’ve always been interested in lots of different kinds of music (and have the ridiculous record collection to show for it), but in the early-to-mid-90s i did get totally turned-on by developments in techno (especially Detroit techno) and jungle. The store that I worked at in Berkeley (Mod Lang) was really resistant to moving in that direction, so another employee there (Ryan Cone) and I decided to go out on our own and focus a shop and label on that music. Around the same time, a lot of Slumberland bands were breaking up or taking breaks (The Ropers, Henry’s Dress, Lorelei) or moving on to bigger labels (Lilys, Sleepyhead) and I found myself with not much to put out, and I wasn’t hearing a whole lot of new stuff I was really fired up about. So I guess it was sort of a perfect storm that all of this happened around the same time, but I wouldn’t say that doing Drop Beat in any way diminished Slumberland.

Slumberland has kind of gone through a resurgence in the last few years, what was it that seemingly got you interested again in indie music?

Basically it stems from hearing a lot of new bands that I really like. I went through a pretty long period of being burned out on the label and all the work involved, and also just not hearing a lot that got me super-excited. Then in 2005 and 2006 I started hearing bands like Cause Co-Motion!, The Lodger, Good Shoes, Sarandon – really great guitar bands with an exciting take on the music I liked. I had the Crabapples and How singles in the can for a while and wasn’t able to get them done for personal reasons. So mid-2006 I decided to do those singles and make a new website, and response was very positive! So I decided to maybe try and do a few other records. I loved The Lodger’s “Let Her Go” single and wrote to see if they’d want to do a single for us. They offered us the compilation album, and that just got the ball rolling again. Now we are unstoppable!

Geography aside, technology today gives everyone the same tools for finding new bands to release. Are there ever any indie label bidding wars for bands? Or do you have any juicy stories about ‘signing’ (or not signing) a band to Slumberland?

I’m sure some bigger labels do end up in bidding wars, but I don’t participate in that sort of thing at all. I only want to work with bands who share our ideals about the DIY spirit and community, and who want to be a part of the Slumberland community specifically. So the bands that are interested in joining us generally are pretty down with what we do and aren’t looking for a pile of money. There are some notable examples of having talked to some pretty well-known bands about doing records and not having it work out for various reasons, usually money, but I don’t think I can share any names. There are also some funny examples of discovering demo tapes in our stacks from bands who went on to be really big – Sigur Ros sent Drop Beat a demo, Devendra Banhart sent SLR one, and there’s more. Not that I necessarily would have released records by those bands, but it’s just sort of funny to see my “i don’t have time to listen to demos” policy backfire like that.

Slumberland is you putting out records you like. Everything on the label has a similar aesthetic, has there ever been a time where there’s been something that you wanted to release, but didn’t because it didn’t really ‘go’ with what Slumberland is about? I guess you could say that was the reason behind Drop Beat, but are there any other genres of music you’ve considered starting another label for?

When we started the label the bands were much noisier and more abstract, and I always think about broadening out more in that direction again. It’s really hard with a label as small as SLR, people (press and fans) get to expect a certain sound from a tiny label and any deviation is punished. And that’s understandable in a way – small labels usually have a pretty specific aesthetic and rely on hewing to that niche to find an audience. Nobody expects labels as big as Merge and Sub Pop to put out stuff that all sounds the same, but a label like ours releasing something like No Age would just be baffling to most observers. I’ve seen a lot of that with the reaction to the Crystal Stilts record. Now, that is not an indie-pop record – the people in the band may be conversant with that kind of music, but I just don’t think they make indie-pop themselves. But so many of the reviews come at them from the angle that Slumberland is “twee” (which is a ludicrous idea), or that we’re somehow following in Sarah’s slipstream, so therefore Crystal Stilts must be twee. Or indie-pop. Or something. Pretty funny stuff.

I’m constantly amazed at the sheer number of quality bands today. How would you compare the current indie pop scene with the one in the late 80’s and early 90’s? Is it easier or harder to find stuff you want to put out?

Oh, i think it’s about the same. The hard part is narrowing down all the possibilities and just focussing on a few bands at a time. Long ago I realized that I just can’t put out records by all the bands that I like, so I have to choose bands that really hit a special chord with me. Now with new ways to find bands like MySpace, it’s even harder to keep things manageable. It’s a good problem to have.

I know that you have a music blog, offer mp3’s for download of bands on the label, and do podcasts on the Slumberland web site. What is your opinion of the music blogosphere and what is you philosophy on people posting mp3 and sometimes the entire album? In other words, is there no so such thing as bad publicity or is there a point where it’s counterproductive?

I freely distribute MP3s to blogs and other web sites – I think it’s a great way to reach potential listeners and much more concrete that just having someone post a review. i think that letting punters hear some of the music before buying is the best way to get across what a record is about. That said, I’m a little less than thrilled about people just posting up whole albums, especially before release. I think that makes it too easy for people to indulge in their more unsavory urges. I know that people who want to download an album for free will find a way, but as an album-blogger don’t tell me that you’re helping me in some way by posting my albums to your blog, especially without any context. review or link to purchase.

This is my record geek question about the Slumberland catalog. Whatever happened to the McTells’ Smash Up/Cut Up ? Did that ever get released anywhere? I loved the stuff that they put out on Vinyl Japan.

Both of the albums came out on vinyl – “Smash Up” on Frank and “Cut Up” on Little Teddy (I think, working from memory here). That project just kind of petered out for some reason. I was waiting on some artwork, then one of the guys moved and my letters didn’t get forwarded, and we just lost track of each other. I love those albums, I wish the comp had worked out.

Catching Up: Minisnap


Minisnap’s appropriately titled Bounce Around album is another one of those records that has been neglected on these pages this year, but certainly not on my stereo.  I meant to write about it in March when I bought it from Rough Trade, but again I profess a lack of time and my slow writing skills as pathetic excuses.  Back in March and even now I couldn’t believe that Kaye Woodward had been holding back so many great songs over the years. Especially when you consider that during the 10 year break that the Bats took from 1995 to 2005.  I figured, like everyone else, that we would never hear from her or the Bats again.  I guess I should back up a bit for those of you wondering what I’m rambling on about.  Minisnap is essentially the Bats without Robert Scott, and replacing him with Marcus Winstanley on guitar.  The Bats are considered by many, myself included, a seminal New Zealand band that put out many great records on Flying Nun beginning in the late 80’s on into the mid 90’s.  Bat’s front man Robert Scott was also in the Clean, the band that really put the New Zealand indie scene on the map so many years ago.  So the Bats without Scott may seem like a non-starter, but as you hear the first notes of New Broom you realize that Robert Scott is actually only one fourth of the Bats.

In the Bats, Kaye Woodward sang lots of harmonies and maybe lead on an occasional song, but it was always Scott that seemed to be leading the charge.  This is not the case with Minisnap, Woodward has written 12 songs that easily rival anything in the Bats catalog.  The band employ that trademark jangle that was so familiar on the classic early Bats albums like Daddy’s Highway, Law of Things and Fear of God and which they seemed to so easily resurrect on 2005’s comeback At the National Grid.

Minisnap, though sounding like a Scott-less Bats, do stretch out in different directions.  For starters, Woodward casts a more upbeat sunnier disposition with her bright voice, and the band come across a bit more laid back using brushes on the drums and even employing a ukulele-like charango on opener New Broom.  But don’t let me kid you, if you like the Bats, Minisnap will do quite nicely.  Not to worry either if you thought this marked the end of the Bats, they are just about to release a new album next month.  For those of you not as impatient as me, Portland’s Magic Marker has put out Minisnap’s Bounce Around in the US, so you can order it directly from them for a much more reasonable price than I paid, and they’ll probably even through in a badge for you in the process.

And if one Minisnap album isn’t enough for you, you’re in luck because Cloudberry has just released a new Minisnap 7″ with two brand new songs.  Whew!  How’s that for a dose of New Zealand jangle!?

mp3: Minisnap – New Broom (buy the album Bounce Around)

mp3: Minisnap – Crooked Mile (also from Bounce Around)

mp3: Minisnap – Whistler (from the Cloudberry 7″)

New New New…and New!

Back in February I got all excited about A Sad Day for Puppets.  Eight months is enough time to cool off and regain my bearings, but I’m still smitten with this Swedish band.  If you haven’t heard their Just Like a Ghost ep yet then you may not know what I’m talking about, but the band are giving you another chance because they’re about to release an album.  It’s beautiful, fragile music that will leave you wanting to move to Sweden, if not only for the chance to see them live and in the flesh.

mp3: A Sad Day for Puppets – Little Light (buy Unknown Colors)

Back in May I was all full of vitamin C and Bricolage was just one of many Orange Juice influenced bands that I was digging.  Well it seems that these Scots have gotten around to putting together an album.  It’s set for release this week on Creeping Bent.  In case you have missed out on their sporadic singles to date, all of them are contained on their self titled album.  I hear rumors that it may even get released in the USA on Slumberland!  In the meantime check out a song that isn’t on the album.  If this is an outtake, the album must be pretty damn good!

mp3: Bricolage – Lucinda Said (pre-order their self title debut album)

With all the excitement and bits being spilled over the Vivian Girls you would think that they were the only all girl band carrying a torch for 60’s girl groups, the Flatmates, or the Shop Assistants.  Well, Liechtenstien are here to tell you that is not the case.  Not only can they play their instruments better, there is less feedback and more Spanish horns!  These Goethenburg ladies have only released two singles to date, but these five songs are enough to get quite a few people excited, myself included.  You can read an interview with the band over at the excellent bog All That Ever Mattered.

mp3: Liechtenstein – Security by Design (by their singles)

Okay, I know you can only take in so much new stuff at one time, but I must include the new Bubblegum Lemonade album that has just been released by the history in the making Matinee record label.  Bubblegum Lemonade are a one man band consisting of Lawrence “Laz” McCluskey who also fronts another band Strawberry Whiplash.  Both bands are certified C-86 with credentials like McCluskey playing a 12 string and his adoration of Tallulah Gosh, Teenage Fanclub and the Razorcuts. After putting out two 4 song eps, he’s just unleashed Doubleplusgood on Matinee records.  It’s a study in the pop rush with hooks and pop goodness washing over you  like a California coastal break.

mp3: Bubblegum Lemonade – Penny Fountain (buy Doubleplusgood)

I was going to stop here, but I can’t.  I’m obsessed with the three minute rush of a classic pop song and the Hi-Life Companion have produced one that is essentially undeniable.  This came out on Cloudberry a little while ago so it’s not really that new but it’s since sold out, so it’s rare (or something). Fear not this Bristol, England band are just about to unleash an album upon the world.  They’re harmonies can recall the Beach Boys at times, but they take it a bit further, latching onto an atonal groove and combining it with a catchy melody at the same time.  They may have stumbled upon the perfect prescription to write their songs into your brain waves, permanently!

mp3: The Hi-Life Companion – Time Table

The Lucksmiths Are Back With First Frost

The Lucksmiths are back with their first new album since 2005’s sublime Warmer Corners.  It’s not like they’ve been away that long though.  Last year they opened the vaults with a career spanning double cd called Spring a Leak that was one of the best stop gap releases in the history of such things.  The band  even made the trek over here to the states for a tour last fall.  So they haven’t exactly been missing in action, but it has been some time since their last album of all new material.  The new record which has been christened First Frost was apparently recorded in a run down shack in Tasmania, where they had to fight with mice to get all of the songs recorded.   You can read all about their recording adventures down in Tasmania from Marty Donald’s recording diary.  Chris Townend, who has worked with Portishead and former label mate Darren Hanlon, is did the honors of producing the album.  So what does it sound like?  The band have put up a trio of songs from the new record on their MySpace page.  The whole thing hits the streets at the end of this month.

Order: First Frost (in the US | in Austrialia | in the UK)
mp3: The Lucksmiths – Good Light (originally on Matinee Hit Parade, also the second track on First Frost)

ATLK Track Nineteen: Wimp Factor 14 to Creeping Weeds

Song 19 of 19 in the …One Last Kiss retread, otherwise known as After the Last Kiss…

Wow, we actually made it to the end of the cd. I’m glad this was a single disc unlike the Pop American Style compilation that March records put out a few years later. Not that I didn’t enjoy doing this series, it just ended up being more time consuming than I initially thought it would be. Without further ado, the final song on …One Last Kiss was courtesy of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania band Wimp Factor 14. Wimp Factor 14 aren’t the type of band you would expect to hear coming out of the steel town. They had a slightly awkward sound, that always reminded me of Nothing Painted Blue mixed with Firehose. The lyrics always had a geeky bent to them, over a bare bones arrangement. The band produced one album, Ankle Deep that came out on Little Teddy. It was produced by Rob Christiansen of DC band Eggs. They also put out a handful of singles that appeared on Harriet and Four Letter Words. Main wimp Frank Boscoe went on to form Vehicle Flips after the demise of Wimp Factor 14 and guitarist Gary Miklusek moved to Seattle and started Tullycraft with ex-Crayon guys Sean Tollefson and Jeff Fell.

mp3: Wimp Factor 14 – Change of Address Kit

If I were going to pick a city to move to solely based on the music scene, Philadelphia would be a very strong contender with the likes of Brown Recluse Sings, Scary Monster, Surefire Broadcast, and Creeping Weeds. Creeping Weeds have a similar reedy sound to Wimp Factor 14, but a bit looser. They have a decidedly lo-fi sound with singer Pete Stewart sporting a warbly voice that slips into a nice falsetto every once in a while that seems to make the choruses even more catchy. The band released an album early last year and are in the midst of putting together their second. They recently posted a couple new songs to their MySpace where conseqently you can hear their cover of BOAT‘s I’m a Donkey for Your Love. They are also wrapping up a short east coast tour with BOAT, if you live in Pittsburgh or Chicago you can still catch.

mp3: Creeping Weeds – Eternity is a Long Time (buy the album We Are All Part of a Dream You’re Having)

Here are the two remaining dates of their tour with BOAT for you people in Pittsburgh and Chicago:
Aug 22 @ Brillobox w/BOAT and The Harlan Twins – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Aug 23 @ Schubas w/BOAT – Chicago, Illinois

ATLK Track Eighteen: Black Tambourine to Vivian Girls

Song 18 of 19 in the …One Last Kiss retread, otherwise known as After the Last Kiss…

Black Tambourine was, in hindsight a kind of indiepop super group. At the time they existed they were just a bunch of anonymous kids in Washington, DC. The band counted as members Archie Moore and Brian Nelson who both went on to Velocity Girl, Pam Berry who went on to be in the Belmondo, Gloworm, Shapiros, Castaway Stones, and the Pines (wow, she’s been in a lot of bands). She also co-founded Chickfactor magazine with Gail O’Hara, and she had the honor of having a Shins song named after here. Mike Shulman, the drummer went on to play in Whorl and found Slumberland records. The band are credited with being one of the first to employ a combination of C-86 and British dream pop in their sound that so many other American indie bands would mine as well. They managed to be influential without actually releasing an album. All of their output is compiled in one place and still available on a Slumberland cd called Complete Recordings.

mp3: Black Tambourine – We Can’t Be Friends

The Vivian Girls sound like they are direct descendants of Black Tambourine channeling the sounds of the Shop Assistants and holding dear the Motown girl groups and the Phil Spector wall of sound. Currently they seem to be one of the it bands residing in the New York City environs. They are at the center of a scene that includes like minded NYC bands the Crystal Stilts and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Being an it band, doesn’t mean they’re huge, but they have created a buzz among music geeks. Mention the Vivian Girls to your mom and she’ll look at you cross eyed. It’s not like telling her about the Fleet Foxes, who’s she’s probably heard of, at least if your mom lives in Seattle. So the Vivian Girls have a lot of buzz an album that’s currently out of print and a few singles.. Their out of print album will be reissued on vinyl and compact disc this fall courtesy of In the Red. In the meantime you can buy some of their singles over at their myspace.

mp3: Vivian Girls – Where Do You Run ( from the S/T album, soon to be reissued on In the Red)

And their on the road too:

Sept 2 Brooklyn, NY – Death by Audio
Sept 6 New York, NY – South Street Seaport
Sept 12 Swarthmore, PA – Swarthmore College
Sept 19 New York, NY – Cake Shop
Sept 20 Princeton, NJ – Terrace Club
Sept 21 Philadelphia, PA – Danger Danger Gallery
Sept 24 Nashville, TN – Exit/In
Sept 26 Memphis, TN – Hi-Tone (Goner Fest)
Sept 29 Knoxville, TN – Pilot Light
Oct 1 Baltimore, MD – Ottobar
Oct 3 New York, NY – Rocks Off Concert Cruise
Oct 12 Boston, MA – Great Scott
Oct 13 Danbury, CT – Heirloom Arts Theatre
Oct 15 New York, NY – Bowery Ballroom
Oct 16 Brooklyn, NY – Market Hotel
Oct 17 Baltimore, MD – Sonar
Oct 18 Philadelphia, PA – The Barbary
Oct 19 Washington, DC – Rock and Roll Hotel
Nov 8 New York, NY – Bowery Ballroom
Nov 10 Boston, MA – Paradise
Dec 2 London, England – Brixton Windmill
Dec 3 London, England – Old Blue Last
Dec 4 Nottingham, England – The Social
Dec 5 Liverpool, England – Club Evol
Dec 6 Glasgow, Scotland – Captain’s Rest
Dec 7 Leeds, England – Cockpit
Dec 8 Coventry, England – Colosseum
Dec 9 London, England – Madame Jojo’s – White Heat
Dec 10 Manchester, England – The Deaf Institute
Dec 12 London, England – Vice Kills Proud Galleries
Dec 13 Bristol, England – Club Kute at Cooler

ATLK Track Seventeen: Lilys to King of Prussia

Song 17 of 19 in the …One Last Kiss retread, otherwise known as After the Last Kiss…

The Lilys initially were influenced by My Bloody Valentine as is evidenced by their track on …One Last Kiss and their first album In the Presence of Nothing. Their album was recorded by Jay Sorrentino and had backing vocals provided by Beth Sorrentino both of Suddenly Tammy! I think In the Presence of Nothing was the first album put out on SpinArt, it was a co-release with Slumberland. The one constant in the Lilys is Kurt Heasley, and that is really it, because not only do band members revolve, but the sound of the band is aslo in constant flux. After In the Presence of Nothing, A Brief History of Amazing Letdowns dropped the MBV fixation and went for straightforward pop, then Ecsame the Photon Band slowed everything down to a Spacemen 3 pace and drone to amazing effect. Not one to rest in a comfortable spot Heasley moved the Lilys on to mod, looking to the Who and the Kinks for inspiration. Here is where the band took off in popularity, A Nanny in Manhattan was used in Levi’s commercial over in the UK and the album got a fair amount of play on the radio. It also lead to getting signed to major label status and another album of mod-ish pop songs called the Three Way on Sire. Heasley and his band went on to record an album of electronica and then he kind of disappeared for a while. There have been two albums in the 00’s, 2003’s Precollection and Everything Wrong is Imaginary which came out a couple years ago. It’s a varied and interesting career that started with fascination with MBV, you could always be reassured that if you didn’t like the current taste of Heasley the next album would be completely different.

mp3: Lilys – Any Several Sundays

Instead of taking several albums to come to a psychedelic pop sound, Athens, Georgia band King of Prussia arrive sounding fully formed with just such a sound. Even more amazing is that the band recorded their album in bedrooms into a portable eight track recorder. Save the Scene at seven songs is somewhere between and album and and ep, but at any rate, it’s lush, melody filled psychedelic pop. The band are on the Kindercore label which has recently come out of hibernation. It’s a great pairing, with King of Prussia sounding like a second generation Elephant Six band, employing the bright sunny pop sensibilities of that scene with a more classic 60’s vibe of the Byrds or Beatles.

mp3: King of Prussia – Spain in the Summertime (buy Save the Scene)