From Pennyblack Magazine.
In recent months Matinée has become the most popular record label on the Pennyblackmusic site . It is easy to understand why. Whereas many talk of some kind of guitar-pop crisis, Matinée release guitar-pop records that are of a consistently high quality. It would be fair to say that if you like one Matinée release you will probably like them all. Concentrating on indie-pop from its inception, Matinée was first formed in 1997. It began by releasing the brilliant “Dutch Mother” EP by Sweet William and since then has gone from strength to strength! The year 2001 has probably been the most exciting in the history of Matinée and has seen the release of the first material from (ex Sweet William singer/songwriter) Jason Sweeney’s new project Simpático. There have been also successful releases by the British groups Airport Girl and Harper Lee and the French band Ego, and by the end of this year Matinée is looking to have released over twenty new records.
Jimmy Tassos, the owner of Matinée, is based in Washington D.C. Indie-pop or C86 (whatever you call it!) has a reputation as being stereotypical British music, but Matinée, as well as releasing records by British and American bands, has also released indie-pop music from France and Australia.
It is rapidly developing a reputation as a label you can trust , and a Matinée logo on the sleeve is fast becoming a sign of quality. It could be credited as an essential resource tool for British music fans, who can feel safe buying albums that they might have otherwise ignored. Despite this, however, Matinée unfortunately has not been able to win a lot of response in Britain from the national music press. There are signs though that this is at lasy beginning to change . Airport Girl have received some promising reviews after a support slot on a recent British tour with The Aislers Set and their album “Honey I’m An Artist” has been chosen as one of John Peel’s albums of the month on the Radio One website. The new Matinée album from Sportique also looks set to continue this success.
In between a visit to Brazil and working on a Lucksmiths (an Australian band perhaps responsible for Matinée’s finest release – the “Staring At The Sky” mini-album) tour of Washington DC, Jimmy Tassos answered some about the label’s past activities and also its plans for the future.
PB : The label was formed after you heard Sweet William. Did you decide right away to release them or was it more a case of realising that you should release one of your favourite bands long after you first heard them? Did the band have to beg you to release them?
JT : It was very much an immediate reaction. The first song I heard from Sweet William was “Lovely Norman” and I thought it was brilliant so I wrote them a quick and enthusiastic email asking if they’d like to release a 7″ record. Astonishingly I received an equally enthusiastic email the next day and they said yes. Since “Lovely Norman” had been previously released on an Australian compilation CD, we opted for the three songs on the “Dutch Mother” EP as the first proper release of the band. At this point, I had no idea what releasing a record meant, so I spoke to some people to learn how things are done, all the while trying to keep the band from realising I had no idea what I was doing.
PB: When you first started the label what plans did you have for it? Did you ever expect itself to establish itself in the way it has?
JT: It began very suddenly after the Sweet William correspondence, but as I was working on that release I thought it made sense to have a few other releases planned – both to give the label some legitimacy and also to put my new-found record releasing knowledge to work. I had heard a few Ego songs on French cassette compilations, so I dashed a letter off to France asking if they would like to be part of the newly formed Matinée Recordings. Around the same time, I went to a club here in Washington to see the Castaway Stones and Aden, and when I walked in there was another band on stage and they were doing a cover of “Beautiful Morning” by an obscure English band called the Snowbirds. Shocked that there were people out there who actually knew the Snowbirds, I immediately took notice and watched with great interest as Bella Vista played their second ever live show. Needless to say, I went up to speak with them after their set and a few weeks later I had not one but two forthcoming releases on the busy Matinée schedule. As far as the label establishing itself, I really had no expectations at this point. I was truly excited about the three records and wanted to continue the label but I had no idea where I would go next. Undoubtedly the label has grown quite a lot since then…one release in 1997, three in 1998… and I’m on pace for over twenty releases this year.
PB : Matinée seems to concentrate on releasing indiepop music? Would you ever consider releasing a great punk or alt.rock band, or is it a strict line of the label to only release indiepop?
JT: I release records I like, and the fact that I listen to mostly indie music suggests that my releases would fall within this genre. I did go through a punk stage in my youth, but I never was a fan of rock music in the traditional sense. My three brothers were into classic rock so they found it strange when I would bring home records from the Smiths or the Jam or Orange Juice. I suppose I never had to worry about anyone borrowing my records! Despite my indifference to most traditional rock music, I think there is a variety of sounds among the label artists. Bands like Sportique and Airport Girl and the Windmills certainly rock when they want to.
PB: You are based in Washington D.C. but feature bands from overseas such as Simpático and The Lucksmiths from Australia, and Harper Lee and Airport Girl from England. Do you have to hunt high and low for bands or do they just write to you?
JT: I used to do a lot more hunting, but now I receive a fair number of demos from bands and some of them are really quite good. Lovejoy, Slipslide and Harper Lee are three examples of bands that contacted me with a letter or demo that resulted in our working together…proving the power of a decent demo. I started working with the Lucksmiths, Sportique and Airport Girl because I loved their music and knew people from other labels who had released their records (Candle, Drive In, WIAIWYA, and Fortuna Pop!). I did seek out a few bands, such as the Windmills and the Siddeleys, but the last time I contacted a band directly was for the Edson single last year.
PB: This year has seen brilliant albums from Harper Lee and Airport Girl, plus Simpático’s tremendous debut E.P. Do you agree that the quality of releases on Matinée is getting better?
JT: While I still love all the early releases, I agree there is an increase in quality because I tend to continue working with bands whenever possible and they are all progressing. The current singles run (Simpático, Slipslide, Windmills, Lovejoy, Lucksmiths, Snowdrops, Would-Be-Goods, Harper Lee…) is absolutely classic and only looks to get better with releases planned for the autumn. Sophomore albums from Sportique, the Windmills, and Lovejoy are also in the works and all demonstrate tremendous artistic progress.
PB: What bands not on Matinée would you love to release at the moment?
JT: I would release a Clearlake record tomorrow, if only to help them shed the dreadful Pink Floyd comparisons they tend to receive. For all I know, they probably love Pink Floyd but their records are still brilliant in my book. Tompaulin is another excellent band that deserves to be huge and would be soon if I could help it. I’d also love to locate a German band called Saving Graces who broke up several years ago but recorded five of the finest songs in existence. One of the band members currently lives in England so hopefully he’s a regular reader of your magazine!
PB: Are there any record labels that you see as a major inspiration?
JT: The best label of our time is (was) arguably Creation, and while I have no aspirations of finding the next Oasis, the quality of releases and the overall aesthetic from the early days of the label are surely something to strive for. Current labels with which I identify in terms of style and approach include Marsh Marigold, Shelflife, Drive In, Fortuna Pop!, WIAIWYA, Summersound, Firestation Tower, Track & Field…all labels that you can trust to deliver a new release just as good as the previous one that’s still sitting on your turntable.
PB: What are the next plans for the label? On average how much music can you expect to release in a year?
JT: The Lucksmiths 7″ and Siddeleys CD are already now out, so the next batch of releases include singles from Lovejoy, the Snowdrops, Would-Be-Goods, Slipslide and Harper Lee and albums from Razorcuts, the Windmills and Sportique. There are also new releases in the works from Airport Girl, Melodie Group, Simpático, and much more including a debut from a band called Pipas and two compilations. I am taking the entire year off from my traditional work (helping to provide better access to affordable housing for the poor) to focus on the label so I am able to accomplish a greater number of releases this year than I could in the past. The number of releases you can expect from Matinée in any given year is directly proportional to the number of our records shipping from the Pennyblack warehouse so once you have completed a thorough reading of this excellent magazine get right over to the orders page!
PB: The initial Sweet William singles were released on 7″ only, but the Simpático EP was, among others, released on CD. What format would you prefer to release things on yourself?
JT: When I started, I wanted to release 7″ singles as art statements and the thought of releasing CD singles would make me laugh. Now I see things a bit more clearly, and for particular releases by some bands a CD single is the best format. I still love 7″ singles and will continue to release them as long as bands and the public are interested in recording and buying them. Releasing a single on any format is not exactly a money-making endeavour but they are a perfect way to gain exposure for a new band because they are cheap and people will usually take a chance with them whereas they may not with a full length release.
PB: Have you ever released music that you don’t think is up to much? Would you ever veto the release of everything?
JT: With limited time and finances, I’d be crazy to release something that I don’t absolutely love. I hope that the Matinée label on something assures the listener of a certain degree of quality and trust that if they enjoyed previous releases on the label they might just want to take a chance on a new one.
PB: How much of an influence do you like to have on what is finally released? Would you ever alter the tracklisting? On the early releases you talked about stopping designing fantasy sleeves in your bedroom. Do you design the sleeves now?
JT: It varies with each release. I don’t play around much with album tracklistings but I frequently suggest songs to use as singles and I am without question involved in the artwork. Some bands know exactly what they want and either send a mockup or occasionally a finished file. Others provide no ideas or perhaps just a photo they like so I get to have fun with these. Sometimes I will design five or six different sleeves to give the band some options, which means there are countless rejected designs out there. All of the sleeves have involved a collaboration of some sort and I am happy with the results so far.
PB: How should bands get in contact if they think you might like to sign them?
JT: My email address is email@example.com and the postal address is P.O. Box 76302, Washington, DC 20013 USA. Demos (cassette, CD, minidisk or DAT) are great but I won’t listen to mp3’s so please don’t bother because I am a luddite with a dial-up connection.
PB: And finally what are your top 5 favourite albums?
JT: An impossible question, but today I would give the nod to:
1. The Smiths – The Queen is Dead
2. The Bodines – Played
3. Razorcuts – Storyteller
4. Orange Juice – You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever
5. Jesus and Mary Chain – Darklands
I tend to think more in terms of singles than albums though, so in addition to the ones above I’d have to nominate Brighter, Biff Bang Pow!, House of Love, Aztec Camera, Adorable, the Colourfield, and East Village for some sort of accolades.
PB : Thank you