You might not have heard of Thrill Jockey Records, but you'll certainly have heard of some of the artists on the label - Tortoise, TransAm, Freakwater... in the UK they're mostly distributed through City Slang, but they were all discovered, signed up and released first in the US by Bettina. Stuart McHugh quizzed her mercilessly, as ever...
So, what do we call this new sound that is Tortoise?
I'm not entirely sure I would call the music of Tortoise a new sound - more perhaps a refreshing approach to rock music, one that incoroprates elements as diverse as African mbira and kalimba music, modern composers, electronica, The Minute Men, Steve Reich and has an affinity for dub and its approach to composition and recomposition.
The Sea and Cake also - without wishing to pigeonhole the label, would you say they fit in with this sound?
The Sea &Cake don't "fit in" per ce, but I would say that they share an approach to music: being that they too take elements from a wide array of influences such as Brazilian artists like Jao Gilberto, Joyce and George Ben, soul artists like Al Green and Marvin, and again modern classical composers.
Do Freakwater (countryish faves of Andy Kershaw) redress the balance a little?
Freakwater's traditional country approach certainly has nothing to do with the rock'n'roll of Gaunt. Rome's abstract instrumental music is more aligned with dub, Oval and Microstoria could easily be played at a techno party.
Gaunt and TransAm are maybe closer to 'rock' - do you like to vary the styles you work with ?
I don't choose to work with any group as part of a larger scene; it is purely music that I enjoy and hope that others would find at the very least interesting.
Are you in danger of getting a reputation as a prog/math/avant garde label?
I'd say I'm in danger of a lot of things but as far as having my label labelled I would prefer if people approach the bands as individual musical entities.
Does this make marketing the label harder?
I don't market the label at all - I work hard at getting press and retail visibility for each band, though the culmination of the efforts on individual records has an obvious effect on the profile of the label.
So how did you get started anyway?
I started the label with some money I had saved from my record company jobs at Atlantic and London records (and a bit of help from my grandmother). Needless to say I left these jobs out of disgust with the business of music. I respect the independence of Touch and Go and Dischord and especially their approach to bands.
The bands - are they all your choice and do you put out anything you feel may be successful (commercially that is)?
All the bands are purely personal choice. Success is measured not by record sales but by the artists' satisfaction - I pay bands 50% of profits, they have full control over the content and packaging, and even if they choose, the ads, etc.They are in full control of the way their art is dealt with and I don't bind them to future records by contracts. My artists remain, I think, because they are happy both financially and artistically with the work we do together. For example - Dolomite is not one of my bigger selling bands, however their Gift Horse record is a beautiful disjointed delight. I would like to bring them to the public awareness level of Tortoise or Sea & Cake, but even without I view that record as a success. I'm more interested in putting out consistently interesting and challenging music.
What else is up and coming?
Tortoise 12" of remixes by U.N.K.L.E. of Mo'wax, Aphex Twin, Oval, Luke Vibert and more.
12" 'Beware Bodysnatchers'- a collection of ROME remixes
Microstoria - Init Ding - Markus from Oval and Jan from Mouse on Mars, abstract electronics with a deep groove.
lp's from Rome and A Minor Forest by Autumn.
In the works - Bundy Brown solo records (Bundy was in Tortoise, Bastro, and Gastr Del Sol) - he's recording with Doug Scarin (of Rex, late of Codeine). And Eleventh Dream Day, the Sea & Cake and Trans Am will all be recording soon.