From Pennyblack Magazine, January 2004.
Alan McGee, Mike Alway, Matt and Clare, Calvin Johnson, Jenny Toomey, Mark Robinson, Roger Shepherd, Gerard Cosloy, Mac McCaughan, Mike Schulman. These people have probably released or had a large influence on at least 80% of the pop/rock records and CDs I own. Adding the name Jimmy Tassos to this list could possibly account for the remaining 20%.
It was during a period of time when my interest in indiepop had waned to a dangerously low level that Jimmy Tassos decided to release a 7 inch or two and thus formed Matinée Records. I’m not sure which Matinée release I heard first, but the Lucksmiths’ “Untidy Towns” (release #4) is a good candidate. And I do remember seeking out the “A Smile Took Over” double 7 inch (release #5) at a time when seeking out pop 7 inches was something I didn’t do very often.
Building on the strength of those initial singles, Matinée has managed to establish itself as an indiepop label one can trust. An international roster of bands that include bits of indiepop’s past, present and future has certainly helped matters, but as the label has essentially been a one-man-show, much of the credit has to go to founder Jimmy Tassos.
Pennyblackmusic first spoke with Jimmy back in 2001 and since that time the label has continued its string of strong releases. The start of a new year seemed to be a good time to catch up with Jimmy to find out what he thinks of the current state of indiepop and what’s in store for Matinée in 2004.
PB : Last time Pennyblackmusic spoke to you, you were in Washington, D.C. and now you’re living in Santa Barbara which has been better known for supporting acts like Oingo Boingo and Jack Johnson than indiepop. So how did Matinée end up there???
JT : It’s all my wife’s fault. Mary was offered a great job here and after 10 years in DC a change sounded good to us so we packed up and moved across the country. I do affordable housing consulting work in addition to the label so I can work from nearly anywhere and Santa Barbara is about as close to paradise as you can get. There is no real indie scene here but we are close to Los Angeles and San Francisco and we have an airport so I can fly anywhere in the world. Santa Barbara is an extremely expensive place to live, but I suppose that’s the price for paradise.
PB : I think it’s fair to say that Matinée has become one of the premiere indiepop labels over the past few years and with that the label has been compared to Sarah and Creation by a number of people. How do you feel about those comparisons?
JT : Thank you. When I started Matinée I wanted it to become a badge of quality so people would learn to trust us and try out new bands that they may not otherwise hear. Growing up I had this reaction to labels like Creation and Sarah, but also Postcard, Summershine and a handful of others so in that respect I think the comparisons are flattering. Matinée has worked with several artists who formerly recorded for Creation and Sarah so there are some similarities in sound. There are differences too though, because we are a bit quieter than Sarah about our politics and we do not have major aspirations for world domination as Creation did…and no bands with leather pants!
PB : In the past I always got the impression that Matinée was pretty much a one-man operation. Is that still the case or are there Matinée employees?
JT : No, it’s still just me. It’s difficult with an independent label to employ somebody, because I would rather fold any profits back into the label and future releases. Luckily I don’t need much sleep. One benefit of staying a one man operation is consistency in the quality of releases. There is a growing number of fans who want to collect everything on the label and they can be assured that the next 80 releases will be as good or better than the 80 released so far.
PB : Would you like to see the label grow into a larger entity or do you feel that keeping it relatively small is better for the label?
JT : I don’t think it will grow anytime soon. We are currently working with 20 bands so bringing on new ones would necessitate spending less time promoting the current roster. If somebody wants to step in with financial backing and a better business sense than I have I would entertain the possibility of growth but I can’t see that happening. I enjoy having personal contact with all the artists and spending time on artwork and promotion, and I suspect if the label grew any bigger I would have to cut back on these activities.
PB : Many smaller labels struggled in 2003 and some shut down. How was the year for Matinée?
JT : It was our best year to date in terms of sales. This is particularly true of our website sales which nearly doubled over the past 12 months. Distributors seem to be selling fewer copies across the board but the Matinée website has made up for a lot of this thankfully. Artistically I think 2003 was the best year to date as well with 17 releases that all still make me smile.
PB : File sharing was often cited as a reason for reduced sales. Do you think it has been good or bad for business?
JT : I don’t know much about file sharing because I don’t download anything myself. I may listen to a song on a website but I never save anything because if I like it I would rather buy the record than clog up my Mac’s disk space. Chris from Indiepages encouraged me to add the sounds section to the website and at first I was not hip to the idea but he convinced me it was a good one. The site currently offers about a dozen mp3s from new releases and over 100 real audio files from back catalog titles. These are meant to encourage listening and hopefully buying, but I recognize that some people just download the mp3s and never buy anything from the label. I suppose these are people who will probably not buy anything in any event, so giving them a freebie is at least providing some exposure for the bands. A lot of people tell me they first came to the site because of one particular band, but after listening to some soundclips they end up buying several other releases so in the end I think the soundclips are good for business. We just started a new website feature called Artist of the Month and among other things, we are planning to have exclusive mp3s available each month of the year on the sounds page. This month the track is from Simpático, but look for web-only songs from other Matinée bands soon.
PB : Do you think indiepop of the sort released by Matinée is gaining in popularity, declining, or staying about the same?
JT : I think it is gaining in popularity but the majority of the gain is in countries other than the US and the UK. I currently sell more Matinée releases outside the US then here at home, with a large number of fans in Sweden, Spain, Germany, France, Italy, Greece, Japan, Singapore, Philippines, Australia, Brazil and beyond. This makes promotion more difficult because I have to constantly seek out new promotional avenues and in many cases work through language barriers.
PB : Last year there were many TV commercials featuring songs from indie artists or older artists who influenced many indie bands. What did you think of that?
JT : Love it. I was a teenager in the mid-1980s and it is clear that the creative directors of most advertising agencies are my age because the music on TV commercials is perfectly suited to my age group. Whoever does ads for Target is a genius. I suspect this will change in the next five years so I will enjoy it while I can.
PB : Belle & Sebastian, Polyphonic Spree and a few others have gotten some hype in the larger music media sources. Do you think an indiepop band can “make it big” this year?
JT : We can only hope.
PB : When you first started the label you had a few 7 inches that you wanted to release. Last year saw 17 releases from Matinée. Did you ever expect things to get to that point and where do you see things leading to in 2004?
JT : I never thought it would get to this point but I am delighted it has. 17 releases is probably a few too many for one year so you may see it scale back in 2004 and the future. We will probably release closer to 12 new ones this year but it all depends on artist creativity and sales so stay tuned and we may surprise you.
PB : How did the re-release of the Brighter songs come about and are there plans to re-release any other Sarah or other bands?
JT : Keris Howard from Brighter is also in Harper Lee, with whom we have been working since 2000. I received a lot of requests from Harper Lee fans to reissue songs from the out-of-print Brighter catalogue, and when Keris was playing shows with Trembling Blue Stars he heard from fans hoping for the same. I am in touch with Matt and Clare who used to run Sarah Records so we asked them if they would cooperate with us on a Brighter compilation and they agreed. The CD is a wonderful collection and I think everyone involved is happy with it. Now that the singles are reissued, people are asking for a reissue of their ‘Laurel’ LP so there could be another Brighter CD in the future. Aside from this, there are no plans for any reissues because I would rather concentrate on the current bands instead. I could reconsider, however, if the Bodines or James Dean Driving Experience or East Village came knocking!
PB : Is it true that the Brighter CD was the best seller for you last year? If so, do you think that reflects badly on the current state of indiepop?
JT : Yes, the Brighter CD was the top seller for the year but I don’t think it necessarily reflects badly on the current indie scene. We knew it would be a popular release and in my view, every release in the growing catalog helps to promote the rest of the bands on the label. The Matinée 50 compilation sold nearly as many copies as the Brighter CD and after hearing the 20 bands involved on that compilation a lot of people turned around and bought back catalog releases from the participating bands. Hopefully buyers of the Brighter compilation will check out other bands on the label too. We have seen a surge in Harper Lee sales since release of the Brighter CD so if the sole benefit of the Brighter reissue were increased awareness of Harper Lee, then I think we have accomplished something.
PB : What releases are you looking forward to in 2004?
JT : From the Matinée roster, watch at minimum for new releases from the Liberty Ship, Pipas, the Fairways, The Snowdrops, Lovejoy, Harper Lee, Would-Be-Goods, The Young Tradition, and Pale Sunday, plus a few compilations. In the real world, I look forward to new releases from Morrissey and Trash Can Sinatras and The Radio Dept.
PB : Was it your idea to do the Smiths cover album and have you heard any cries of “blasphemer!!!” ?
JT : When I was in Spain last February with Lovejoy and Harper Lee, Dick from Lovejoy played a version of ‘Everyday Is Like Sunday’ by Morrissey and it was really good. We got to talking about a possible Lovejoy cover of that song but the concept quickly evolved into a tribute album to mark the 20th anniversary of the Smiths (my favourite band of all time),so Lovejoy decided on ‘Girlfriend In A Coma’ and I invited eleven other bands to round out the album. The record is just out so the cries of blasphemy are thankfully not loud yet, but I suspect the album will meet with some opposition. The Smiths have a very devoted fanbase and some fans inevitably think it is blasphemy to record a cover version of any Smiths song so an entire album will surely be too much for them. So far the reviews have been positive and I hope that will continue because it is a great release. We created the album as a sincere and passionate tribute to the band and hopefully this comes through in the recordings.
PB : Matinée has quite an impressive roster of bands from all around the world. How often do you talk with people from the bands?
JT : It depends on the band and the release schedule. Some people I talk by e-mail with nearly every day and others I may only hear from once a month. When we are working on a new release and finalizing artwork I may correspond with a band five times a day but inbetween releases it is generally less frequent. I have met nearly everyone on the label and count most of the artists among my good friends so our correspondence is often more personal in nature than business.
PB : Any new bands out there that have you excited?
JT : Our latest signings – Pale Sunday, the Young Tradition, and the Snowdrops – all released great singles last year and they are all working on debut albums which I find exciting.
PB : Do you listen to many non-indiepop bands and if so who / what type of music?
JT : Yes, my wife lived in Brazil for five years so we have a good collection of classic bossa nova and modern Brazilian records on the turntable at any given time. She is also a fan of indie music so at any given time you may hear Astrud Gilberto and Caetano Veloso and Gal Costa and Elza Soares cavorting with the Smiths and Jesus and Mary Chain and House of Love and the Colourfield.
PB : Favourite albums of 2003?
JT : Being a habitual list maker, I can report that the ten best records not released on Matinée in 2003 were:
1. The Radio Dept. – Pulling Our Weight EP (Labrador)
2. The Radio Dept. – Lesser Matters (Shelflife/Labrador)
3. Pipas – Golden Square (Annika)
4. The Lucksmiths – Naturaliste (Drive In/Candle)
5. Clearlake – Cedars (Domino)
6. Camera Obscura – Underachievers, Please Try Harder (Elefant)
7. The Legends – Up Against the Legends (Labrador)
8. Ballboy – A Guide for the Daylight Hours (SL)
9. The Pines – True Love Waits Volume One EP (Foxyboy)
10. James Kirk – You Can Make It If You Boogie (Marina)
…so get going because these labels need your support!
PB : Thank you.