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 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.
Our latest spotlight features local Chicago psych-rock label Eye Vybe Records. With nearly 30 releases in their Catalog, the label has quickly become one of the best in the city (and one of our favorites). Specializing in small run cassette releases, Eye Vybe has also put on a handful of 7″ releases and even a full-length or two. Their artist roster ranges from locals like The Sueves, Today’s Hits, and Absolutely Not to Lansing, Michigan’s The People’s Temple and even an upcoming release from Swiss solo act Balduin. Founder Karissa Talanian sat down with us to talk about her part in growing an amazing DIY music scene in Chicago and why there’s a need for small labels like hers.
So when did you start Eye Vybe Records?
Well, I came up with the idea for Eye Vybe in the summer of 2010. I met the guy who runs Burger Records at a house party a few months earlier, that was the first time I had ever heard of that label and they kind of blew up over that six-month period. So I figured if it was so easy for them then I kinda want to do it.
Over the next three years I probably released 4 tapes in quantities of 5-10 just for Strychnine, Plastic Crimewave Syndicate… just for something to sell at shows. Strychnine did end up doing a big recording and Ian (Maximum Pelt) put that out. It was kind of fun to experiment and see what I could do. When I graduated from SAIC last spring I was like, I gotta have something to work on. So I talked to Dark Fog, they were kind of the first official release I put out. I put out their album The Seaside Sounds Of Dark Fog At Doctor Officer Quimby’s House and that did OK, but then after that I co-released that Strychnine EP with Maximum Pelt and that went really well. I think we wound up making 150 of them, it kept selling out.
After that I did an album from The Sueves, and a split “Cassingle” with Today’s Hits and Joe & Otis (a Sueves side-project). They went on tour and they sold-out really quickly. Then leading up to that, Cassette Store Day was coming up so I helped the guys at Bric-A-Brac with that. I did a release with Killer Moon and that Id Pyramid guy from Iowa just to build myself up and pretty soon I had like 15 releases under my belt and they kind of kept coming.
So there wasn’t that one band that made you say “I need to make a record with this band” it was more of a punk rock DIY style of just having tapes to sell at your own Strychnine shows and for friends with bands?
Oh yea, absolutely. If no one else is doing this for this band right now then why don’t I just do it. I can just push it out in a week and sell all of the tapes at one show and that’s it. It kind of grew pretty organically.
Is Cassette Tape your preferred format?
Ya know, it isn’t. I want to say it is but if I could afford to press vinyl I would. Tapes are nice because you can kind of just take more risks with tapes than you can with vinyl. I’m putting out a tape with John Krautner of The GO, it’s a split between him and the band Feelings, this band that Dave Buick is in he played bass with The Go when they first got started. I’m really excited to be doing this, they’re playing Good Vybe’s Fest this weekend and I asked them if there was any music they’d want to release so they just recorded some quick demos in an afternoon. It’s not exactly appropriate to press a record of that but as a tape it’s really cool. Not to say what I’m working with isn’t totally fantastic but it’s kind of fun to just put things out really quickly and see where they go.
You don’t have that crazy long turn around time that you have with pressing vinyl…
Right, I mean someday I’d love to have bigger projects like that to work on but for now it’s really fun to just say “yea I’ll do 100, you’ll sell out of them in six-months and everyone will have this thing”. And that’s it and you’ll move on from there.
Has Eye Vybe been a profitable venture for you yet or are you more or less breaking even?
If I’m not looking at my credit card balance then it is but I feel like I’m breaking even.
You’re not broke.
I’m not broke, well I am but my business isn’t.
Certain releases will pay for future releases. I can do buttons too, I have a button press too that it’s the worst thing I ever bought. It’s fine but maybe 3 of 4 buttons I press doesn’t work but it’s a fun toy.
Is there one dream band that you’d love to work? Local or not?
I’ve been really into MAMA lately. I saw them for the first time at Wally World maybe a month ago but I’ve seen them a few times since them. They’re so good. I love that classic power-pop sound. I talked to their drummer a while ago after the first time I saw them and he said “Oh, we’re really busy, maybe later next year…” Then I talked to Chris (Guitar/Vocals) after their show at Cole’s last Friday and he’s like “Totally, let’s put something out in January.” I’m really excited for that.
Otherwise, it’s such a dream to be able to put out The Go side-projects tape and The People’s Temple is really cool. As long as I’m working with bands like that… I feel like there are a lot of labels in Chicago that focus on local DIY garage punk bands only which is great but I like to kind of bring cool stuff to Chicago. Like Andrew up in Moss Folk is doing some really cool stuff in Milwaukee.
You mostly work with Midwestern artists right? That’s what we try to do with the website, to make the Midwest seem a bit smaller and more connected.
Oh yea definitely, I mean I consider small record labels like mine or Maximum Pelt to be very similar to DIY spaces. Spaces like that are very much a Chicago based thing where as a label is… the record label is really just me and my laptop so I could not release any music from Chicago and it really wouldn’t be any different.
Finding support for things can be a little harder. I’m doing a tape for this guy from Switzerland that I’m really excited for, he’s called Balduin. I was working at Reckless one day and I was cleaning up the 45 section and I came across his EP. It was just some weird looking guy standing in front of some weird looking building in the forest called The Glamour Forest. It looked like something I’d like so I bought and it wound up being this totally amazing Jacco Gardener-esque baroque pop psych-pop. I got in touch with on Facebook and it turns out that there were only 200 or 250 of that record pressed in the UK and none of them were supposed to make their way over to America. I talked to the New Buyer at my store and it must have been some weird distro fluke but assuming there were no other mistakes that may be the only copy that was ever sent to America. So he said “yea, that’s pretty serendipitous let’s do a tape.” I’m just waiting on the shipment from National Audio Company but I’m putting out his full-length. I know people will like it but it’s pretty hard to get people excited about a name they don’t recognize.
Ian and I are reissuing the first two Sueves albums. So that’s a lot easier to sell because people had that tape and know it’s great and played it so much it broke. That’s a lot easier to sell where as no one knows this Balduin guy. I’m trying to figure out an appropriate way to release it and promote it, I guess it’s kind of a fun experiment. Sending stuff off to press and figuring out distro for once…
On that note, what other challenges to do you think you face that a major label doesn’t have to worry about?
Well, I certainly just have a hard time working on my own. I guess it’s a little different, I could always ask someone to help but I don’t want to do that, I like it completely my own thing. I’d definitely say that that’s not really a major label thing. I’m just trying to figure out everything on my own from the bottom up. Even back when I was just sharpie-ing my bands name on a tape I’ve been kind of gradually just trying to feel it out.
This is the first run of tapes that I’ve at pro-duped and that I’ve outsourced printing and trying to figure that out. Once Good Vybes Fest is over I’m going to try and send out press kits and stuff like that. As far a major label goes, I’m not too concerned because they’re trying to do something completely different from what I’m trying to do.
What made you want to start Good Vybes Fest?
Well I did the first one back in March, it was kind of a project I had welling up in the back of my mind. I interned for the Empty Bottle for a year during my senior year of college and I loved it. I wanted to keep working with them so I pitched the idea of a festival. I had The People’s Temple on board and Velcro Lewis Group, The Sueves, etc. So that was a pretty big success so I just wanted to do it again. I got Purling Hiss, The Gizmo’s just kind of fell into place which I hope will bring out people that might not come otherwise.
What do you think makes Chicago such a great place for a DIY label like your own to thrive?
I’ll definitely say that the bands in Chicago, I won’t say they’re superior to any other city, but I’m really amazed when I see a new band out here and they’re really, really good. It’s been while where I’ve seen a band from this community where I was like “Eh, they could write better songs”. I really truly believe that everyone here just knows what they’re doing. I think it’s a really strong community because people really give a shit. People are really trying hard to push musical boundaries and make music creatively and host events that are unique.
We’ve all seen production companies that try to book shows and they don’t know what they’re doing and they rip-off bands. It’s such a negative part of our community that people have moved passed it.
I don’t think you’re average local band aspires to sign to major label anymore, and why would they when it’s easier to just record and release whatever you can through whatever DIY channels you can and just let it happen.
I feel like this is it. This is what’s happening. I constantly think about where I’m going to be in the future. If I’m doing this when I’m 24 what am I going to be doing it when I’m 44? This is what I’m doing now though so I’m not really concerned with that. I think everyone should be pretty happy with how things are right now. There’s so much farther we can all goes as well.
Eye Vybe’s second label showcase, Good Vybe’s Fest, is this weekend November 28th & 29th at the Empty Bottle. Two Day Passes are available for only $20 and include a sweet Eye Vybe Records Gift Pack (complete with a mixtape, poster, button, and a coupon for their webstore). Daily passes will run you $10 but don’t include all of the sweet SWAG. Follow the links below for more details and get your tickets now!