Words by Trish Connelly
Dead Oceans has been at the top of our record label love for quite some time. With their roster including the recent release of Slowdive’s self-titled album out earlier this month, A Place to Bury Strangers’ continual mesmerizing live shows and Mitski’s compellingly personal work, we eagerly jumped at the chance to interview founder Phil Waldorf at Austin’s local coffee shop Brew & Brew, located near Waldolf’s headquarters. Before making the move to the city 14 years ago, Waldorf resided in New York and quickly immersed himself in the music industry. He marks working at Other Music, a record store in New York City that recently shut down, as a significant and transformative period, garnering a close network of music professionals and musicians, exposing him to a vast array of music and casting a closer lens into the music business. Waldorf also spent time in Athens, GA as a DJ and music director at a local radio station and writing about records. After working at Miasra Records for nearly a decade, Waldorf decided to venture onto new projects and thus Dead Oceans was born. Currently run side by side with sister labels Jagjaguwar and Secretly Canadian, Waldorf acts as Director of Marketing for all three labels respectively. Dead Oceans doesn’t settle on one specific scene or genre, but rather affords their listeners a multitude of sounds from artists with a bold and striking vision. Putting trust in the records they release as well as their loyal fanbase, the labels (collectively known as Secretly Society) offer a variety of monthly subscription packages as an incentive to join their exclusive record club. Waldorf remarks that the subscription services “gives us a chance to do things directly with consumers. It’s also really nice to work directly with fans […] and not have it filtered through a record store.”
In his duration living in Austin and immersing himself in the music industry (including booking at Emo’s when it resided on bustling 6th Street), Waldorf embraces aspects of the continual changes happening in the city, reflecting on how interesting the music community is and how it is evolving into something unique and diverse. “I love the array of venues in this town from small to big. The Moody Theater is a world class large capacity venue but there’s also no better place to see a loud rock band than Beerland. [The fact] that we have both of these things and everything in between is really exciting”, Waldorf praises. While he tends to keep his hands full with record label endeavors, he cites the myriad underground communities that have cropped up, bubbling with creativity and focused on crafting unconventional music. “I like that it feels like it’s art for the sake of [art] and not overly professionalized. I think that in and of itself is really exciting”, states Waldorf.
With nearly two decades of experience under his belt, Waldorf maintains a plethora of knowledge and expertise in the record label business that I couldn’t help but ask for advice about. In terms of the vast tools available to us online, Waldorf emphasizes making ample use of them, from social media channels to streaming one’s music on Bandcamp, YouTube, and other promotional platforms. He asserts the importance of transparency and accountability towards each individual artist within the label, recognizing the fact that “[y]ou can get all the press in the world and you can sell all the records in the world but if you cannot show transparent accounting to an artist it will damage your relationship. I think that’s a really crucial thing even at a really small level.” Waldorf also highlights the ambition and drive to consistently push oneself and the artist to make the entire package something special and emblematic. “How you wake up every day and do a good job is to really give a shit,” a collective slogan that undeniably emanates in everything Dead Oceans produces.
There’s much to look forward to from Dead Oceans this year – Kevin Morby’s upcoming album, City Music, is set to be released on June 16th paired with US and European tours keeping him on and off the road from May through November. Michelle Zauner’s solo indie rock act Japanese Breakfast will have a new record out in mid-July entitled Soft Sounds From Another Planet. An exploration of moods and ballads, Waldorf compliments Zauner’s whole aesthetic and direction being absolutely compelling and fantastic. Also keeping busy in the studio is Australian singer-songwriter Alex Lahey, who is putting the final touches on her upcoming album which is predicted for a Fall 2017 release.
Curated by Waldorf himself, this week’s Mixtape Monday offers a 20-track mix of artists on Dead Oceans, a remarkable introduction into the wealth of music the label has to offer. Kane Strang will also be hosting an Instagram takeover today, capturing the sights and sounds of his on-going tour in Europe with tonight’s show in Berlin. His album Two Hearts and No Brain will be out June 30th – you can pre-order the album here.
Trish Connelly is the Austin-based guru who does booking and promoting at Cheer Up Charlies under The Nothing Song. She’s always down to collaborate and plan a show or event in town. She’s an expert with mixtapes (for all musicians out there you’ll want to send her your stuff!), and making connections with the cool kids. You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.