Pairing the word “industry” with the word “music” was probably the worst thing to happen to it. When music becomes a business, it can stifle creativity and lead to reheated pop garbage, void of any real substance.
That’s where Midwest Action’s newest series, Indie Label Spotlight, comes in. We’re not here to bitch about the record industry and tell you how exactly major labels are ruining music. Instead, we’re here to talk about the independent labels that are doing things right.
In this edition we sat down with Adele Nicholas also known as Axons about her cassette imprint Impossible Colors.
How long have you been making your own tapes? Did your love of cassettes start with the launch of the record label or have you been a fan of the format longer that that?
I have always had at least one tape player and some of the first music I bought as a kid was on cassette, so I have fond memories of the format from the 1990s. When I was getting ready to release my first EP for my project Axons about a year ago, I knew I wanted to do some kind of physical release, but didn’t really see the value in doing a CD. So, a tape seemed like a fun thing to do. It’s way less expensive to produce tapes than vinyl, but since they’re still a bit of a niche thing, a tape has the feeling of being a special little piece of art to accompany your music.
What made you decide to join the ever-growing crowd of Chicago cassette labels?
Initially, I thought I would simply use Impossible Colors to release my own music (for Axons and Puritan Pine), but I really enjoyed the process of hand-assembling and dubbing my tapes, and realized that I knew a lot of amazing bands who I could work with to do small scale releases. I thought that the cassingles series was a good way to help support some of my favorite local bands.
There are a lot of musician-run record labels popping up these days. Do you think approaching things from a gigging musician’s point-of-view gives you a unique perspective on running your own DIY label?
I think that my experience as a musician has given me some useful insights about how people buy physical formats of music. For one, the reality is that even when lots of people love and support a band, it’s a small percentage of fans that buy a physical release. Offering those people who are inclined to buy physical releases something a little special and different (like hand-assembled, limited run tapes) is nice. Also, doing things in small runs (our split-cassingles are in editions of 75) is often ideal. By the time you sell out the small inventory you have, you’re ready to start sharing something new, and you’re not saddled with a bunch of leftovers cluttering up your house.
You’ve dedicated a majority of your catalog so far to “Cassingles” more so than full-length albums or EPs. What drew you to the cassette single format? I still have a ton from the ‘90s, do you think they’ll make a comeback?
I loved the idea of doing really short tapes where both sides would be killer songs and it would be this kind of perfect, self-contained little thing. But I’m not holding my breath for cassingles to have a big comeback. Yes, cassingles are a fun thing for a niche audience, but even I can admit that they’re hella impractical. You’ve gotta flip your tape every four minutes!
Impossible Colors has so far been geared towards Chicago based artists, any thoughts of expanding the artist roster or are you keeping things strictly Chicago-centric?
Yes! Our next project is going global and I am super excited about some of the people we are working with.
You helped organize and sponsor Frontwoman Fest last month at The Burlington Bar with many of the artists you’ve released via Impossible Colors, are there any plans to host this kind of fest annually?
Frontwoman Fest was a totally uplifting and fun event and I most definitely want to do another one in 2016!
What releases in the works for 2015 are you most excited about?
Impossible Colors is teaming up with Kriss Stress’ publishing imprint Retinal Scan for a project we are calling Paper Portals. It’s a subscription-based series of 24 post cards that come with downloads of exclusive new songs.
We will be mailing our subscribers a bi-monthly post card with an original piece of art and a link to download a new and/or unreleased song from a band we love. A subscription for the year is $24 and gets you 24 songs and post cards. Plus, an exclusive year-end cassette with all of the tracks from the series.
Keep up with Impossible Colors via the links below. You can pick up their entire catalog (minus a few sold out releases) on bandcamp or their official store. There’s plenty more to come from this amazing new tape label!