Drag City Records is a must know label. Period. They’ve been so prolific throughout their 25 years of operation, however, that getting to know their extensive and diverse roster can be a disorienting task. Maybe Royal Trux’s Jennifer Herrema got it right when she said, back in a ’93 interview with SPIN, “the odd thing that’s cool is that Drag City doesn’t say, ‘this is what we are.’ It says kinda like, ‘I don’t know what the fuck we are. We aren’t anything.’”
The label was founded in 1990 by then 26-year old Dan Koretzky and 27-year old Dan Osborn who ran it out of Koretzky’s tiny apartment. They scoured Chicago’s underground scene for talent and compiled an amazing lineup of artists such as Pavement, King Kong, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy (then called the Palace Brothers) and Royal Trux. You could say that DC is driven more by a sense of community and an equal respect for fans and artists than by a desire to define themselves.
Since the original lineup, they have expanded in genre and quantity, welcoming folkies like Meg Baird and Joanna Newsom and experimentalists such as Paul Walker and Flying Saucer Attack. The works of comedians Neil Hambuger, Fred Armisen and Andy Kaufman have also found safe haven on DC. And did you see the 2013 documentary on the 70s Hollywood cult, ‘The Source Family’? That was them too.
We spoke recently with head of staff and sales, Rian Murphy, to spotlight their past accomplishments and to catch a glimpse of future releases.
Since the inception of Drag City in 1990, the label has built up an impressive catalog of releases and a diehard following. Can you tell us a little bit about how DC first got started and how it’s changed over the last 25 years?
Despite what you may have heard, the seeds of music are not commonly made into songs and records. The music comes from the goo INSIDE the enlightened musical mind. When this music-mind is green and full, slitting the side will cause it to ‘bleed’ a sticky white fluid that, when exposed to air, quickly turns to song. It’s firm enough that it may be recorded into demos, then master recordings to be pressed into record – but true Drag City music fiends don’t generally have to go that far. They find ways to consume the goo itself.
DC is known for its unique roster of artists. You guys have put out records from artists across the spectrum, from Joanna Newsom to Royal Trux. Can you describe your artist selection process? What are you looking for in newcomers to the label?
We’re selected as often as we are selective, which makes describing the process difficult at best. The screening process is sort of like a nightmare version of “America’s Got Talent” (a double nightmare?) – but we’re the ones breakdancing in front of the judges! When it IS our call, we’re looking for motherfuckers who GET IT. “IT” being extremely subjective!
In addition to releasing new records you guys also put out reissues. What brought that about? Which do you prefer doing more?
The way we see it, reissues are often new music to many listeners, and new records are often future reissues. A true continuum is our heart’s preference!
What record (contemporary or reissue) would you consider your most challenging or ambitious release to date and why?
The challenge remains one of patience with record buyers. We hope we get old before we die!
You guys have a series going now of comedy releases and reissues including Andy Kaufman, Neil Hamburger, and Fred Armisen. How did that come about and how does that fit into Drag City’s overall identity?
It’s good to have a healthful balance in one’s life – though we wouldn’t know much about that – but when seeking equilibrium, we find that the somber tone of a Kaufman, Hamburger or Armisen release helps mitigate the levity of Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, OM, Alasdair Roberts, etc.
What new projects are you working on? Anything you can share with us?
A bunch of new things, which we will share monthly so as not to overwhelm staff and audience alike! Currently topping our charts: Instrumentals 2015, the return of Bristol’s mighty Flying Saucer Attack in a solo-guitar iteration that’s blowing up minds in a whole new way; an LP-only reissue of south Chicago’s hard-rock white hope from the late 70s, Midnight, and their one album, Into the Night; plus an LP of Ghanian Gyil playing from SK Kakraba called Yonye, which is all traditional music played through the sensibilities of a world-traveller (SK lives in California now) with a buzzy, fuzzy sound that you can only get when you hand-craft a xylophone out of wood that’s shaped like a quarter moon in the same way your ancestors did and then load it on a jet plane and fly it around the world! Funky but DEEP.
Cool! Finally, what have you guys been listening to? What’s currently on the office turntable?
Oh, you know, all sorts of stuff – a bit of Joe Albany, some Karin Krog, Lizzy Mercier-Descloux’s Press Color, that Native North America comp – nothing but the newest and the best for us at Drag City!
Aw, shucks! Thanks so much for taking the time, Rian!
Check out all the DC titles we carry here.
Keep up with the latest happening at DC at www.dragcity.com/news.