Could you briefly summarize Matinée Recordings history? How and why did you decide to set up the label?
In 1997 I was running a pop mailorder company called Roundabout Records that distributed records from about 50 international indie labels. It was great fun but it was growing out of control and I found myself spending most of my free time in the post office mailing parcels. At the time I also had a serious dayjob working with the US Congress and the 50 states on tax legislation to encourage the development of affordable housing for the poor. I studied architecture and city planning in college and as much as I liked my job I needed a more creative outlet so I formed the label to release 7″ singles as art statements. The first releases came pretty quickly over the next year…four brilliant 7″ singles from Sweet William, Ego, Bella Vista and the Lucksmiths. The label quickly became my primary obsession and the next year I phased out the mailorder to focus my free time on the label. By this time I was traveling regularly to London and had released records by a bunch of English bands including Sportique, the Windmills, Lovejoy, Harper Lee, and the Visitors. At the beginning of 2001 I left my dayjob to concentrate on the label full time. This allowed me to significantly expand the release schedule to the present level of 15-20 new releases a year.
All the Matinée albums I listened to are really emotionally involving but each album has its own personal sound and atmosphere evoking different pop sounds and references (might it be British pop sound for a band like the Lucksmiths for example, or somewhat American emo-core sound for a band like Sportique). Which is the ‘red thread’ unifying all Matinée releases in your opinion?
The unifying thread among the releases is that I have to be 100 percent behind each of the songs. Hopefully after 50+ releases there are people in the world who have come to trust my taste and now see the Matinée imprint as a sign of quality. I always find it difficult to describe the type of music played by Matinée bands…I suppose they could all be classified as pop bands but pop means different things to different people. Some unifying things would be guitars, often of the jangly variety…melodic songs…meaningful lyrics… There is enough variety among the bands though that I hope the label does not appear too homogeneous. All of the Matinée artists are very creative people and I am honored to work with every one of them.
I was positively impressed by the releases’ layouts. In most cases pop records are always presented in a ‘trendy’ way (which in pop music world it might mean even falsely ‘shy’ and ‘introspective’ ones sometimes). Matinée imagery instead seems to be studied and honest at the same time. Would you like to say something about it?
Thanks! I know to many people the design of a record is not nearly as important as the music, but I think design is an important tool in helping to market each release. I collaborate with the bands to develop the artwork for each record, and usually agonize over little details until I finally force myself to send everything off to the printer. I am a big fan of old photographs so you may notice several releases using imagery from the 1950’s and 1960’s. It’s really nice when people notice the artwork and thankfully many people comment on it.
What do you take into account when you decide to release a new band or a new artist?
I have worked with 26 bands to date, and 17 of them are still active which means I am usually working on several things at once. At the beginning it was fairly easy to manage a modest release schedule of a few releases a year, but in the past two years Matinée has expanded to release about 20 records a year. I have also significantly increased promotional activities, which means I am working on behalf of all of the bands even when they do not have a new release out. I like to continue working with a band past the initial release when at all possible. My decision to work with a new band involves a commitment to stand behind them with new releases and promotional activities, and because of this I have had to recently say no to some very good bands – including a few that are quite well known. I listen to every demo I receive, though, and the ones that receive repeat listens are those with strong songwriting, good lyrics, and nice melodies. I am also a sucker for a trumpet!
Would you prefer your label being recorded in the future as a really famous one or a sort of ‘cult’ label for ‘connoisseurs’?
After five years I fear the possibility of becoming a really famous label is rather slim, but I’d rather it be remembered as a cult label anyway! Matinée fans are definitely connoisseurs and also quite resourceful because it can still be difficult to find the releases in some countries. Most people in the world are too lazy to search out something different…instead they are content listening to the overproduced dribble pumped through their radio every day and downloading mp3’s of the songs they like. People who buy Matinée releases are searching for something different and thankfully we provide it for them. If I had millions of dollars I would mail everyone in the world a Matinée sampler CD hoping that some people would prefer it to the horrible music that passes as popular these days and eventually providing the bands the credit they deserve.