An interview with Len Neighbors, head of This Will Be Our Summer Records.
1) What was the inspiration behind the creation of This Will Be Our Summer?
Mike Turner (Happy Happy Birthday To Me Records) and I wanted to put out a record together, and I had always been a fan of Madeline’s music, so we decided that “Black Velvet” would be the perfect project for an experiment. It went well, and Mike and I seem to enjoy working together, so we started to put some other projects together. We put out music we both like, so that helps. We both feel that you don’t have to be cynical about the music industry. No matter what people say, there’s a way for records to get to listeners without shorting artists, making labels into miserable factories, and insulting fans.
2) For folks out there who might be unfamiliar with your label, how would you describe the records that have been released thus far?
Mike and I put out records that we both like, and given our tastes, that means we’re not a “genre label”. We don’t just do one thing. The artists on the label occasionally have musical similarities, but what they really have in common is their attitude toward music. They all want to work their records by playing shows, interacting with listeners, being creative with preorders and promotion. All the artists on the label approach their music with great care and commitment, and that kind of artists can be found in any genre. We’ve put out a folky psychedelic record, a punk record, a rock record, and The Bastards of Fate (however you want to label that). We’re putting out a queercore record, and repressing a folkier Madeline record. I don’t expect the label to settle into a genre because there are lots of artists who want to take their records seriously, and Mike and I like all kinds of music.
3) What are your goals for the label?
Right now, we just want to be proud of the music we put out. I know that sounds corny, but I am pretty new to running a label, and I am learning new things every day. I imagine that eventually we’d like to be able to make our livings from putting our records, but that’s more a dream (pipe or pipe-free) than a goal.
4) In five years, where do you see yourselves?
I don’t really have any idea. The music industry is going through some major changes, so we’ll just to see how all that shakes out.
5) What are some of the challenges you face in running a label?
I would say that the physical production capacity for vinyl is a major challenge facing all labels that put out records. There aren’t any new pressing machines being made, and until there are, the production capacity can only go down, while demand increases. There was a big logjam around Record Store Day this year because more people are producing vinyl, and everyone needs things finished for RSD. I expect the demands placed on pressing plants will continue to expand. It is easy to forget that producing records is not only a creative process, but a light manufacturing process.
Everyone told me the challenge would be “musicians”, who apparently have a terrible reputation for flakiness, but so far the artists on our label seem to have it together.
6) What are some of the rewards and benefits to running a label?
I really love getting test pressings in the mail. You get five or so, and they have no middle labels, just white paper. It feels incredibly special to hear it fresh off the hydraulic press. Maybe that will fade, but I absolutely love it.
I’m also a process over product person, on the theory that if you’re doing it right, the end result will be good. The process of putting out a record, from hearing the unmixed tracks to seeing the art concepts to looking at snippets of the video, through the printing and pressing process is a lot of fun for me.
7) Most of the material you release appears to be on vinyl. What made you decide to press records as opposed to cassettes or CDs?
We do some CD, as well. Generally speaking, we’ll do the vinyl and CD, but there are some cases where the CD and digital are handled by another label.
Mike and I both prefer vinyl, though. I grew up with vinyl and cassette, and I prefer the big art on vinyl. I’ve also noticed that when I went digital, it affected how I listened to music. I would be more likely to listen to shuffle, or skip around. I wouldn’t listen to whole records the way I did when I was younger and the music was on different media. Over time, I noticed that I was no longer connecting with bands. My list of favorite musicians had frozen in time, which happens to a lot of folks, but I figured it was a result of the fact that I no longer sat down and listened to any new albums. I miss that part of my life, so I switched back to vinyl. I still have music on my iObjects, but I take time to listen to records and that gives music enough time to grow on me.
8) I know you might get asked this a lot, but what makes Athens, GA a hotbed of musical awesomeness?
I actually just moved out of Athens, and wasn’t ever in a band, so I don’t feel too qualified here.
9) What advice could you offer for folks out there looking to start their own label?
1. Make sure you have enough money on hand for the first record before you even start. 2. Getting the record made is the easy part. Getting it distributed is the hard part. 3. Treat the artists honestly and fairly.
10) What’s your opinion on independent music currently as a whole?
I’m not so good about handicapping the field. First of all, there’s no real way for me to know what’s out there. I can only say that I like what’s been coming through my fingers lately, but that may not be a representative sample.
11) Do you think social media has helped or hindered independent music?
I think it has definitely helped. In many ways, it is just an amped up version of the childhood cassette swapping that happened in my middle school. Our bands use it to real effect, so at the very least it is working for them. I think the critical part is that the actual musicians should be interacting with the actual listeners. Like most things, authenticity is best.
12) How important is it for independent labels to exist?
Culturally, I’d say it is important for there to be outlets for musicians and listeners who aren’t satisfied by music with popularity that has reached critical mass. For us, it is a chance to do work we love.
13) If your label had to pick a mascot, what type would you choose?
It would be a ’68 Mustang Convertible. If you go to the Our Summer site, you’ll notice that each of the blog entries is like a postcard, with a stamp in the upper right corner. If you refresh, the stamps change, so that’s our set of mascots.