The latest label to get the spotlight from thefourohfive are the rather fantastic Asthmatic Kitty Records
.Â I remember the first time i came across Asthmatic Kitty Records, i must have been about 18 and it was around the time i got into SufjanÂ Steven'sÂ music to an almost obsessive level.
After spending months listening to any Sufjan track i could get my hands on i decided to research more into the label, because surely a label that had such a great talent on its roster would harbour even more unique talent? and god damn i was right. Everywhere i looked i was confronted with bands that all sounded different to one another but still managed to hold aÂ commonality, they were quite simply all good. Simple as that really.
We managed to catch up withÂ Michael Kaufmann (A&R) from Ashamtic Kitty to discuss various issues ranging from illegal downloading, all the way through to Radiohead.
Could you give us a brief biog of your label and why it was started?
Born in 1999, Asthmatic Kitty Records was originally conceived as a platform for musical projects by a community of artists from Holland, Michigan, a small city on the shore of Lake Michigan. Some were Holland natives, and others had come to attend local colleges and universities.Â While the original Holland nucleus has now dispersed to various parts of the country, the fellowship is still growing, with new friends and shared projects with other independent labels. Asthmatic Kitty is now based in Lander, Wyoming, Indianapolis, Indiana and New York City.
Asthmatic Kitty was named after Sara, a voluptuous orange and white longhair who wandered out of the woods in 1995, pregnant, starving, and afflicted with various parasites and ailments, includingÂ feline asthma
. Although she still wheezes a bit, especially when being chased by her sister Tabby, Sara today enjoys a healthy and happy life of luxury. Cast-off animals make the best pets!
I've worked at a couple of independent record labels and could see theÂ problems that an indie label goes through, but what would you say are yourÂ biggest struggles?
I would say our biggest struggles are balancing business and art. WeÂ want to always put art first, but in order to do so we need to makeÂ sure our business is in line.
What is your stance on illegal downloading? are you combatting it inÂ any way? Do you feel the effects of it?
I wouldn't necessarily say we are directly combating it, but it doesÂ effect some of our decisions in regards to timing of our promotionalÂ mailings and how we "stage" a release. I think it is an excitingÂ challenge. I think it is helping us continually question the model ofÂ the record industry and be progressive in how we promote and sellÂ records. Even before illegal downloading people were stealing recordsÂ from record stores, there is always going to be a certain amount ofÂ theft with any business. I also have confidence that a lot of people,Â even if they illegally download, will support the music if they trulyÂ believe in it. Support it by eventually buying the record, going to aÂ concert, buying a t-shirt. I am more interested in getting peopleÂ excited about supporting our artists and labels as opposed to merelyÂ purchasing records.
What's the main criteria you look for when signing new bands?
I don't know if there is a main criteria. We are looking for musicÂ that we would define as "important" and that excites us, but thoseÂ things can look like many different things.
As massive Sufjan Steven fans, we wondering what sort of role he hasÂ within the label?
is part-owner of the label and was responsible for its foundingÂ with Lowell Brams. He is very supportive of the other artists of theÂ label and encourages and challenges them in their art.
Have you ever signed someone based purely upon a demo?
Yes, although there was connection to Shara (My Brightest Diamond
), weÂ decided to work with her based off of a demo. Shapes and Sizes
was anÂ unsolicited demo. Â It is rare, but there are occasions.
How did you feel about the 'pay what you like' process that Radiohead wentÂ through with their latest release? Do you think one of your bands will doÂ the same in the future?
Well, for us this wasn't something entirely new. A band that hasÂ appeared on one of our compilations was selling a record for an hour'sÂ wage in the late 90's. In other words they charged whatever theÂ purchaser made in an hour. So if you were a lawyer, you were expectedÂ to pay a lot more than someone who works at Starbucks. Â ProgressiveÂ pricing. Â That said, it is exciting to see someone do somethingÂ outside the box at that level, but I would keep in mind it is partÂ publicity stunt, part the luxury of selling as many records asÂ Radiohead has sold. The negative implication is that many smallerÂ artists working very hard to produce quality music do not have thatÂ same luxury and has Radiohead decreased the monetary value of musicÂ with their model? Â We would be open to doing something like this ifÂ any of our artists felt passionate about doing so.
We really liked the christmas competition you did, especially the winningÂ track by Alec Duffy (which i feel is one of the best christmas songs i'veÂ ever heard). We would like to know if you heard any more from Alec on whatÂ he did with Sufjans song?
From what I understood they were going to use the song in someÂ theatrical production.
Interview conducted via e-mail by Oliver Primus
Asthmatic Kitty are a rare bunch. They're savvy enough to embrace and adapt to the changing face of the music industry, but yet they still manage to keep hold of the ethics that made them create the label in the first place. When you add that to fantastic bands they support, which includeÂ the sublime My Brightest Diamond all the way through to theÂ multi-instrumental Half-handed Cloud, it's plain to see that Asthmatic Kitty have got something pretty special going on.
Visit Asthmatic kitty here
to see for yourself!
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