I never used to be comfortable with calling myself an artist. At least…not until it occurred to me that I am indeed compelled to make works, and always have been. That seems like a fine enough definition. Forget any judgment of whether or not said works are worthy to be dubbed “art”…it’s just something I cannot not do and feel “normal”. Granted, “artist” is a label (as is “normal”), and in general, labels generally just create limitations. But, for the scope of this writing…sure. What the hell. Call me
There’s this really frenetic energy that permeates when you do something creative and gear up to show the world. As an Ishmael preparing to release an album while simultaneously having a “normal” (there’s that word again) life, the last two months or so consisted of: keeping up at my day job, finding musicians for the release show, writing charts and coordinating as well as participating in rehearsals with very busy people — for my own set and for Ken Stringfellow‘s set, finishing CD art and duplicating discs and download cards, editing and releasing a video, making sure the album was available digitally in all the usual places and from my own label (as well as finishing and launching the actual label website), launching this very Hemlock Pop website and unwittingly starting a blog, and somehow in the stink-eye of the hurricane, I managed to head into the studio and record a debut “single” with my other heavy rock band, Crashdown Butterfly (which we’ll be releasing before our 8/26 debut show).
…And so, just over a week ago, myself, and my gracious friends/impromptu band played the Hemlock Pop album release show and I have to say it was a fantastic experience. But, I was a little emotionally absent and self-deprecating the night of the show. My voice was a bit scratchy, and I was still getting over the tail end of a virus. Perhaps I built it all up a little too much, as this week following the show I’ve felt surreptitiously squashed and exhausted and it all seems sort of surreal. It has also been far too easy to roll over and over all the things I didn’t do that perhaps I should have done to release an album properly. For instance, while I did take care to do all the publishing/distribution, I didn’t plan for and hire a PR firm or anything (note to self: do that next time). When I listen back to the tracks recorded from the soundboard, the energy is there, the band sounds great, but its pretty obvious I was a little sick and missed some notes (the board don’t lie). Still, I did just complete a mix of one of the songs to pair up with some video from the show, which should see the light of day at some point here — sour notes and all (or perhaps…Bent Fender and Everything).
One useful thing I did take note of at the show, however, is that my CDs didn’t exactly fly off the merch table…and I’m pretty sure it had more to do with the medium itself than the contents thereof. I made CDs partially out of habit and/or familiarity with the process of doing so…but also because I couldn’t afford vinyl. I felt like I needed a tangible music delivery medium for the album release show — and the CDs do look and sound great. BUT, I also understand the general lack of interest; hell, several people I gave the disc to for free said they didn’t even own a CD player anymore (I included download cards for that very possibility). While I’m completely aware that artists are releasing vinyl records left and right, there is one revelation I apparently missed the boat on when it set sail: modern cassette releases.
I’ve always loved cassettes…I just cheated on them for a while. — Me
My friend, Chad, recently loaned me a Harman/Kardon HK 705 UltraWideBand Metal Cassette Deck from the early 1980s (note the picture I took at the top of the article), which just happened to have one cassette accidentally left in it: Kick by INXS. I listened to that tape today multiple times and got this incredible surge of enthusiasm just from the visceral feeling of handling a cassette again, and the slightly hissy analog sound. [Sidenote: I’ve always found it intriguing how in the song New Sensation, Michael Hutchence yells “trumpet!”…right before what is most definitely a saxophone solo. But, I digress…] I was also reminded of the countless boxes and bags (yes, bags) of cassettes I have in storage, as well as the local-band-sticker-laden boombox I stole from Chris Lockwood back when I played lead guitar/sang harmonies for Super Deluxe (sorry Chris, it was an accident). Who knows what treasures may lie therein. Time to go spelunking.
I’d most certainly consider doing a cassette album release again at some point (it’s been many years)…in fact, I’d love to. Perhaps I could even record to tape, if it is a more sparse album. But, is it practical to release on cassette? Does your average person have a cassette player lying around anymore? I’d be back to the same CD player issue I kept hearing about. The semi-comforting thing is: it isn’t very practical and is indeed rather ridiculous to record and release albums at all, so… Whether or not it is a “smart” thing to release an album via cassette, it is far more affordable than pressing vinyl and would still give people that tangible feeling you can’t get from digital files (but, yeah, I’d include a download card). I don’t know for sure, but I’d guess the wait time to turn a cassette release isn’t six or eight months either, like it can be for vinyl since the resurgence.
I’m not sure what ever happened to Seattle’s good ol’ Pro Tape Northwest, but I did find some resources and editorials and other cool stuff related to this subject which I’ll list below, in part for my own future reference:
- Cassette tapes are making a comeback (KING 5 editorial)
- Cryptic Carousel Cassette Duplication and Manufacturing (a US-based company specializing in the design, production, manufacturing, and distribution of esoteric visual and audio related materials)
- Duplication.ca (Audio cassette manufacturing in Montreal/Toronto – free shipping in N. America)
- Rainbo Records in-house cassette duplication (since 1939, wow, although I doubt they started with cassettes…)
- Cassette Works (out in Pasadena, CA)
- Blank cassette tapes (available for purchase via Amazon)
- High Bias!!! A Cassette-Based Operation (John Davis of Superdrag and The Lees of Memory‘s completely 4-track cassette productions. It appears that he only offers the music digitally, it’s still really damned cool the albums were all recorded via 4-track cassette!)
- I couldn’t find any Seattle-area-based businesses that manufacture cassettes these days even after multiple Google searches, but if anyone knows of one, please let me know!
Perhaps this is all just waxing nostalgic, but I don’t think it’s exclusively that. I’ve always loved cassettes…I just cheated on them for a while. Like many people who spent a lot of formative years when cassettes reigned as king, I’m sure past associations and warm fuzzy feelings also come into play. And dig this — about twelve years ago I was robbed of just about everything I owned…but for some reason, the only things those assholes left were the cassette tapes! So, let’s call that serendipity, and I’ll have to do a follow-up article when I re-discover what I have in storage. I’m guessing I’ll find a lot of official cassette releases from years past, tapes friends made me back in high school, and probably that illusory tape containing the one song idea I had that coulda/woulda/shoulda been a “hit”…but I was too busy listening to shitty MP3s to dig it up and change the world. 😉 Perhaps there is still time.
Well, thanks for stopping by. Now, I’m off to find the 186 gigs of variable bitrate RealAudio files I’ve been just jonesing to listen to…