Other Music, located right in the heart of NYU, has long been one of the best stores in the city for finding rare underground and experimental music. They do not specialize in any one genre and on any given day you can buy a whole stack of old Krautrock records and even pick up that new Solange album everyone has been buzzing about.
The Other Music Recording Co. is a logical extension of the store. A new label birthed from the store, it has already released music by New York bands Ex-Cops and Nude Beach as well as Japanese artist Shintaro Sakamoto. VICE spoke with label and store owner Josh Madell about the materialization of the label and what he has in mind for the label’s future.
VICE: I read that you had been planning on doing an Other Music record label for sometime, but was there an exact moment when you finally decided, “Fuck it, I’m doing this?”
Josh Madell: The exact moment was basically when we started our relationship with Fat Possum. It’s sort of an obvious extension of the work we do as a store. And we always wanted to do it, but we never felt like we had the money or the time that we thought we needed to do it and to do it the right way. We didn’t want to just put out a couple of 7 inches, we thought we should really like...
Like, go for it, you mean?
Yeah, just go for it. Really try and sell some records for people. We just started talking to Fat Possum at some point and were like, “Hey we’ve wanted to do this for a while can you guys help?”
Did you seek out Fat Possum personally for distribution?
We’ve had a relationship with them for a long time just because for the past few years they’ve been putting out some really big indie records that have been doing very well for us so we just kind of dealt with them more and more over the last few years and developed a friendship with some of their people. We eventually just asked them, “Hey we’ve been thinking about starting this label, would you guys be interested in maybe helping us out with it?”
They just stepped up right away and offered to help us put the whole thing together in a way that seems almost too good to pass up. They sell a lot of records, and they just have the whole infrastructure needed to start a label. So we can focus on the A&R side of it and marketing and finding the bands we want to work with. Fat Possum handles the distribution. They’ve made it a lot easier to us to work with bands closer than we could have had we been working on this label on our own.
So what was the process of deciding to become a record label, establishing the label, and then finally releasing the Ex-Cops 7”?
I mean we started to talk about doing this with Fat Possum. And we started to work out the details of how it would work and what kind of label we would have. We then all just started looking for and listening to new artists that we might want to throw on the label. Ex-Cops had come in to the store before. Brian who’s in the band is friends with a couple of people who work at the store, and he was just in the process of self-releasing an EP. I knew then that this was a band that I had wanted to work with so we ended up putting out that 7”.
Was it important for you to release an album by a band that you were both friends with and liked the music of?
Well, no. Obviously there is sort of a network of friends that we have through the store. I mean as far as people who shop at the store. We have so many musicians who either work or hang out at the store, and people who are out in the music media. That’s one of our strengths is that people are bringing in their friends and introducing their friends’ music to us. It takes a lot of energy to put somebody’s music out and working with people that you have some kind of a personal connection with, it can make a huge difference. Obviously you have to care about their music, but you also want to feel like you can have a real give and take relationship, there is a lot of collaboration between the artist and the label. But that wasn’t something we planned on doing.
Yeah I’ll just throw out a compliment, out of all the really great record stores in New York, you guys have by far the least pretentious staff, so I can see how it’d be easy to make connections.
Yeah, I appreciate you saying that. I think that’s hard to maintain, people do have bad days. The reason to come in a record store is to talk to the staff or talk about music and be apart of the music community. But we aren’t always perfect.
Is Ex-Cops’s sound something you’d like to see the label be associated with?
Of the three records we’ve put out they really couldn’t be more different. There’s the Shintaro Sakamoto.
Yeah I haven’t heard that, is he Japanese psych?
Yeah. He was in a very well-known Japanese psych ban,d and he started a solo career. I don’t know if i'd describe it as folk-pop or psychedelic folk, it’s hard to describe. Then we did Nude Beach, which is really like power pop with a classic rock edge to it, just straight up rock 'n' roll. And then Ex-Cops is like an indie-pop thing.
But what we’ll be putting out in the spring is going to be a little more experimental. Our store has always been a little different than other indie stores in that we don’t have one style that we adhere to. And that’s what we want to do as a label too.
Would you ever go as far as to release a hip-hop album?
Yeah, I mean if it was something that we liked then yeah, we would for sure. I think traditionally it’s been hard for indie labels to do really good and relevant hip-hop.
There have been labels that do that, I think Sub Pop has been doing an amazing job of it. The Shabazz Palaces and THEESatisfaction records are both really awesome hip-hop records that found a great home on Sub Pop.
We all listen to a wide variety of things, whether it is electronica or hip-hop or whatever.
I wanted to ask you about the re-issues. Do you have like a top three to five albums that you’d be really proud to re-issue?
Yes, there are a few records that I have been looking into getting the rights for. Some of it is really obscure, and some is better known but it has just been unavailable.
So you aren’t trying to be a New York label, you are looking for bands from all over?
Yeah. I mean the indie bands we have signed so far are New York bands and we definitely see a lot more New York bands. Because we are a part of the New York scene, and we have a lot of connections here. But it is not our goal to be a New York label.
As a store we have been bringing in imports for a long time. We can bring records in from all over the world and see how they connect with customers. We’re definitely not intending on being a New York label, but we do want to maintain a New York edge to our marketing. But we intend to work with artists from all over the world. That’s our goal.
What about like showcases? Any way we could expect an Other Music CMJ show?
We did do a North Side showcase last year. That was a lot of fun. We did something at Union Pool that Ex-Cops and Nude Beach played at and a couple others bands that we are into.
We’ll do more of that. I mean we have a small roster right now. You know it depends on who’s around, and we like eclectic music. Not all the bands fit together, you know?
Ex-Cops is going to be out at South by Southwest. There’s a Fat Possum showcase that they are going to play at. We love live events, and we’ve done stuff like that at the store, and we want to definitely try doing some showcases but don’t have any planned at the moment.
When I first came to the NYU campus for orientation last summer I remember walking in the store and just being psyched on the selection. I bought the last Killer Mike CD and two Can vinyls, I’m really excited to see what the label puts out.
And it sounds like you are our perfect customer, someone who doesn’t limit himself to one genre. Those are the people that have thrived at our store. People who like interesting underground music from all corners of the globe. And that’s what we want the label to do. It’ll be our strength and struggle to bring these people in.
A lot of labels that have come from stores didn’t have a strong and singular vision for the type of music they want to put out. That isn’t the case for us. We have broad tastes and a broad roster but still know what we want to put out. You take the early days of Factory or Merge that had a particular strand of music and really ran with that and did a great job of getting it out. We have more modern tastes in that we all listen to a wide variety of stuff and I think we can use that taste to find music from all over the world and put it out on the label.
OK, Josh, that’s all I need, thank you and good luck with the label.
Yeah, thanks a lot.