A guest blog post by Jagjaguwar alum Simon Joyner:
I haven’t participated in the running of a record label since 1997, when Chris Deden and I stopped releasing music on Sing, Eunuchs! Records. We found that the main problem running a small, independent label was that the majority of independent distributors refused to pay us after they sold our records, despite numerous phone calls, faxes, and threatening letters. There was an understood convention of withholding payment on sold goods until the label released another title the distributor wanted to carry. It seemed criminal and against the spirit of the whole independent music ethos but it was how things were done. Bigger independent labels could afford to subsidize their distributors by waiting on funds until the next record came out but we actually needed the money from the previous release just to fund the next record. It was a dispiriting, debt-ridden situation and when we hung up our hats after five years I vowed never to run a record label again unless I could circumvent what I considered an unfair distribution system.
With my friend, Ben Goldberg (the man behind Ba-Da-Bing Records), I’ve found a way to release music by artists I love again. This year we started Grapefruit Records as a subscription-only label, dealing directly with fans of the artists and not distributing conventionally. Our model is simple. We put out four records a year, all vinyl-only, limited to small pressings, and we sell them through subscription, either full (all four LPs plus a hardshell box to hold them) or half-subscription (any two records from the series). We release the records quarterly and mail them to the subscribers as they come out. Sort of like the Sub Pop Singles Club but with full-length records (and no Rollins Band!)
Grapefruit’s inaugural series includes exclusive LPs in pressings of 300 by Lambchop, L. Eugene Methe, 200 Years (Six Organs of Admittance’s Ben Chasny & Magik Markers’ Elisa Ambrogio), as well as my former Jagjaguwar label-mate, the mercurial and brilliant Richard Youngs, who has given us “Long White Cloud”, one of the most gorgeous albums of his inspiring twenty-plus-year career.
Youngs calls Long White Cloud “a New Zealand record” and says he traveled New Zealand a few months before the big earthquake there, absorbing the landscape and the people and the culture and he came to really love the place. He then returned to Glasgow and recorded Long White Cloud on a four-track reel-to-reel, another nod to the New Zealand music scene spotlighted finally during the 90’s lo-fi movement. Although inspired by New Zealand, he says he hasn’t set out to make a record that sounds like the Clean or the Dead C or Alastair Galbraith or Peter Jefferies but he did try to create a song-cycle based on his observations and experiences there. The LP sides are “North” and “South”, for the North Island and South Island and the music and thematic constructions seem to reflect the unique qualities of the distinct areas, much like the Flying Nun and Xpressway record labels based in the north and south reflected these distinct sides of New Zealand life. The whole record sounds to me like a love letter to the natural world so New Zealand’s beauty clearly made a serious impression on Youngs. It is also not surprising that side North seems to contain the poppier songs (relatively speaking) and sounds more peopled while side South gurgles with geological formations, and incorporates what sounds like a native Maori chant.
I’m releasing the record so perhaps it’s not appropriate for me to be the one reviewing it but I do believe it’s a great work of art and all Richard Youngs fans should be aware of its release, which is why the kind folks at Jagjaguwar asked me to blog about it here.
Youngs calls Long White Cloud “a meditation on native birdsong, Maori place names, the pacific ocean, satellite navigation, and clutch failure in Wanaka.” It is all that and more. Existing fans know that Richard moves effortlessly album-to-album from some of the most emotionally compelling to repetitively transfixing to sonically aggressive compositions anyone is likely to create. As a songwriter, I’m forever inspired by Richard’s rigorous devotion to his voice and his craft. Like getting the occasional postcard or email urging me to keep writing, I listen to Richard Youngs and find reservoirs of strength to keep making my own music my own way.
To subscribe to Grapefruit Record Club, go to grapefruitrecordclub.com. We have already released Lambchop’s “Turd Goes Back: Essential Tracks from Secret Secret Sourpuss and Big Tussie”. Richard Youngs “Long White Cloud” is next and it will ship to subscribers in late August. We take subscriptions all year long and simply bring subscribers up to date by shipping out whatever LPs subscribers have missed once they subscribe. These LPs are limited to 300 with no re-pressings so if you want this Richard Youngs record (and you do), it really is a matter of acting fast.