Matinee Records has been my favourite label for nearly a decade now, with consistently wonderful releases. Founder Jimmy Tassos answered some questions for me whilst he was flying to Washington. How modern!
How are things going for the label at the moment? Have you changed the way it’s run since having children?
Everything’s great with the label, thank you. We seem to have struck gold with our most recent signings (Northern Portrait, The Electric Pop Group, Bubblegum Lemonade, Strawberry Whiplash, The Hermit Crabs and Math and Physics Club) so the release schedule is active and exciting. I don’t think too much has changed since we started our little gang of indiepopkids except now I have the added element of seeing how 2 and 4-year olds react to new bands. Some recent favorites for the preschool set include ‘In Bohemia’ from Would-Be-Goods, ‘Just Like You’ from Bubblegum Lemonade, ‘I Don’t Know How’ from The Hermit Crabs, ‘My Day Today’ from Strawberry Whiplash, and ‘Crazy’ from Northern Portrait. It’s amazing to watch kids react to music.
Have you noticed an upsurge in interest in indiepop music over the last couple of years?
Absolutely. Many of the new labels and zines and blogs are fantastic and it also seems as if the music is reaching a broader audience so something is happening. Before having the indiepopkids you mentioned in the previous question I used to travel to Europe a few times a year to meet with bands and it seems since my last trip over that the UK has sort of exploded with a new indiepop renaissance which is excellent. There is a San Francisco Popfest in the works for this May and we’re planning to bring a few Matinée bands over for that which will be really nice. California is happening again with the resurgence of the mighty Slumberland Records in the Bay Area and the exciting new Yay! label down the road in Oxnard plus some good bands and club nights around Los Angeles. We have more than just glorious weather and beaches to offer here so come on over!
How do you go about choosing what records to release?
I have pretty specific taste in music... lyrics and melodies are key and I am a very harsh critic of vocals. I could name a dozen bands that might be on Matinée if they had a different vocalist.
Is there any money in running Matinée?
I try to run it at breakeven whenever possible as I’m in a fairly undesirable tax bracket from other endeavors and don’t want to hand over too much to the federal government. What this means is calculating roughly how much money the label has made at the end of the year and writing royalty cheques to bands on December 31 to bring the 'profits' down to zero. The label could probably be run as a proper business but that would take the fun out of it really and I don’t have loads of extra time to grow it much beyond its current size.
What's been your favourite Matinée release over the last year?
That’s a little like asking me which of my children I like best isn’t it? Can I tell you my favorite song from each of the nine 2008 releases instead? From the singles: ‘Summer’s Day’ from The Electric Pop Group; ‘Crazy’ from Northern Portrait; ‘Susan’s In The Sky’ from Bubblegum Lemonade; ‘Sporting A Scar’ from Northern Portrait; and ‘I Don’t Know How’ from The Hermit Crabs—and from the albums: ‘Enemies of Promise’ from Would-Be-Goods; ‘I’ll Never Be Yours’ from Bubblegum Lemonade; ‘Up with the Sun’ from The Lucksmiths; and ‘Dead Hour’ from The Guild League. Several of those are available as free mp3s on the Matinée sounds page (you allow shameless plugs here, right?). Northern Portrait and Bubblegum Lemonade would probably battle for song of the year honours, although Would-Be-Goods might just take it in the end.
And what's your favourite ever Matinée release?
I’ll dodge this one too, despite keeping regularly updated lists of this sort of thing. Some songs I am thrilled were released with a Matinée logo include ‘Wallflower’ from Brighter, ‘Untidy Towns’ from The Lucksmiths, ‘Love and Remains’ from Sportique, ‘Train Not Stopping’ from Harper Lee, ‘Summer Snow’ from The Windmills, ‘California Morning’ from The Young Tradition, ‘Citronella’ from The Guild League, ‘Graduation Day’ from Math and Physics Club, ‘Feel Good Factor’ from The Hermit Crabs, ‘Temporary Best Friend’ from Would-Be-Goods, ‘Crazy’ from Northern Portrait, ‘Susan’s In The Sky’ from Bubblegum Lemonade…. I’m getting myself in trouble now. Harper Lee take this one hands down, as ‘Train Not Stopping’ still kills me every time I hear it.
Do you still handle all the artwork yourself? Is this something you insist on?
Not always, although I have a hand in everything to some extent before it’s finished. Many of the bands I am working with now have impeccable taste in artwork. A few examples from the last year demonstrate some diversity in the label art—from the Warhol-inspired artwork of Bubblegum Lemonade to the Smiths-like Northern Portrait sleeves to the stunning silhouettes of the latest Would-Be-Goods album. I often take images supplied by the band and turn them into something. If I had my way all the record sleeves would be inspired by Eames or Warhol or 1950’s Arts & Architecture magazines but that might get a little boring so the bursts of design for which I don’t have as much involvement add some nice variety.
Which band haven't you put a record out by who you'd like to?
Current bands I love include Days, Camera Obscura, Bricolage, Clearlake, Glasvegas, Cats on Fire, The School, The Radio Dept…. Some of these bands are suitably situated with one of our indie brethren or significantly too big for Matinée but all would still be exciting. Note to others: let’s talk.
Any Matinée-related regrets?
Not really. I nearly signed Cats on Fire two times in the past but the stars misaligned each time. They sent me a demo that took me ages to listen to and by that time they had just signed with Marsh-Marigold in Germany. A year later Marsh-Marigold asked us to co-release their debut album but the timing was bad as we were having a baby the next week and we were also just starting on a massive rebuild of our house in Santa Barbara so I knew the subsequent 12 months would be a bad time for bringing on new bands. I also infamously passed on Camera Obscura back in 2001 which was a misjudgment on my part but I think they’ve done quite well since then with Elefant and look set to rule the world now with 4AD.
And how long do you see yourself committed to putting pop records out for?
As long as somebody is interested in buying them I suppose. We are very excited with the new bands and have a few others that may appear on the Matinée discography in the near future. This year we’ll be releasing albums from Northern Portrait, The Electric Pop Group, and Math and Physics Club and probably singles from Strawberry Whiplash, The Lucksmiths, Clay Hips, Math and Physics Club, and Bubblegum Lemonade at minimum. The death of the label will undoubtedly be caused by one of those insane blogs that consider it their mission to post whatever indie release they want for anyone to download for free. They seem to think we’re a major label and don’t realize when they post an album for downloading and the file is accessed 500 times in a day or two that this significantly hurts the band and their ability to continue recording and releasing new records. I’m not suggesting all 500 of those downloads would have resulted in sales but if even a few did it helps the band to break even and continue recording. Until they drive us away, though, you’re stuck with us.