Here’s a new feature I’d like to do every now n then. I want to shed a little light on some labels that I adore or find interesting. I likely won’t be covering any of the big ones, but would love recommendations of some of your favourite small/independent labels. As with all things in my life, I like to start with a connection to the Elephant 6. The first label to be featured is one of my favourites, a cassette-only label that caught my eye with their amazing E6 releases and kept me around by having an impressive, varied line-up. One of the label heads, Stephen Cort Smith, is in an Elephant 6 fan group I’ve been in for years and agreed to an interview about the treasure trove that is HOPE FOR THE TAPE DECK.
How did Hope for the Tape Deck come to fruition?
My good friend Matthew Marcinowski, who lives outside of Philadelphia, PA, had been running Big School Records (www.bigschoolrecords.com! So much good stuff!) for a couple of years, and he had been toying with the idea of starting up a tape label and asked me if I would into helping out. I live in Roanoke, VA so it would have to be a long-distance collaboration. I said yes instantly, and then we started brainstorming and creating what would become Hope For The Tape Deck!
We both grew up with cassettes and just shared a love of them, for various reasons (that warm sound, nostalgia, etc.). In the age of the digital download, we’re able to give you a cassette that comes with a download code for less than the price of the average album download, and we love that. You get the music in multiple formats and some tangible art to hold in your hands. We wanted to be able to release as much music that we love as possible and cassettes gave us a great way to do that.
HFTTD is the reason I started collecting cassettes. It’s an undeniably fun,most-often cheap, way of collecting music. I enjoy them more than CDs and legitimately hope I can swing a Tape deck into my next car purchase.
How did you land the E6 connections/releases?
I’m good friends with a lot of local musicians here in Roanoke, VA, and that has led to some fortuitous relationships. Back in the early 2000s, the dudes in 63 Crayons moved from Roanoke to Athens, GA and started playing with a lot of the e6 folks. I met some people through that connection, and then years later, my friends’ band The Young Sinclairs was signed by Kindercore, and through that connection I met Ryan Lewis and his brother Mat and several other folks. All of those relationships led to us being able to release some pretty special stuff like the Always Red Society and Vince Mole reissues as well as the Marshmallow Coast compilation, and new albums by Circulatory System, Faster Circuits, French Exit, Grape Soda, etc..
Here’s a link to the cassette that started it all for me:
What release were you most excited about?
I guess I would have to say the aforementioned Always Red Society and Vince Mole and his Calcium Orchestra re-issues are the ones that I have been the MOST excited about, just because they are pieces of e6 history and it feels really good to be able to get them back out there and help preserve that legacy. But, really I have been excited about everything and I still can’t believe all of the amazing artists we’ve been able to work with so far.
Also, HFTTD reprinted the original booklet that accompanied the cassette which was worth the price of admission alone. A true E6 holygrail that was lost for too long! I remember having genuine anxiety about missing out on this release. Thanks for the treasure, Stephen (even though I missed out on the sweet slipcover for this one!).
If you could reissue any album, which would it be?
Oh man, that is such a tough question. I would love to release a Superchunk album (any of them, really), or either of the LPs by The Glands.
I’d love to see ARE YOU SLEEPY by The Gerbils get a proper cassette release, MAKE IT HAPPEN!
Where did the idea for the custom slipcovers come from?
The slipcovers were something I came up with in the beginning stages. I had just started learning to screenprint and thought that it would be a good way to add a nice personal touch to our releases. I cut them out of watercolor paper, spraypaint them, and then either I will screenprint them or paint them, or have my good friend Rob (Sad Wilson Art) paint them. The “Hope For The Tape Deck” is lifted from The Big Lebowski…and we settled on doing 22 slipcovers for each release because at the end of the film The Dude, Walter, and Donny have a total of $22 in their pockets when the nihilists come for them.
Here is one of the awesome slipcovers, but featuring a drawing done by the artist’s son! John Kiran Fernandes II is one of my favourite HFTTD releases and adds to the diversity of the label’s sound! Take a listen here, or buy one of the few remaining cassettes!
Which release was the greatest success?
I am proud to say that we have actually sold out of a few! The 2 fastest to sell out were the Always Red Society reissue, and the Serengeti “Dennehy” reissue we did (Both sold out within a couple of days, which was really crazy!)
Don’t worry, you can still cop a digital download of those!
What’s the process of putting out a cassette?
We gather the song files from the artists, and either the artists or myself will put together the J-Card and shell templates/layouts and we submit our order. There is a company called “National Audio Company” who presses and packages everything for us. They are the last major cassette duplication company out there, so if you are buying newer tapes and they aren’t homemade, then they probably came from NAC. While we wait for the order, I get to work on the slipcovers. NAC sends the tapes to Matt, I send the slipcovers to Matt, he packages the orders and gets things shipped out. Doing things long distance can be tough sometimes, but Matt and I work together really well.
Tell us about Sleepybeef?
Sleepybeef is a musical project of mine that I started in 2007 when I was staying at my friend Lee’s house for a couple of weeks. There was an Alesis Ion synthesizer and a Sony Vaio Computer in his office and after he showed me how to record onto the PC, I started making some songs. Nothing earth-shattering, but I was happy with them. It was fun to finally release those songs on a cassette for Cassette Store Day 2014…I had 15 custom 3D-printed cases made and I screenprinted inserts and had a little booklet of some of my ms-paint art printed out to go along with them.
I’m happy to report that my good friend Jonathan Woods (he played synth in The Young Sinclairs and is the current bass player for Eternal Summers) has officially joined Sleepybeef and we’ve been hard at work on a new album (tentatively titled “Diabetes”) that we’re really excited about.
How did the ARS re-issue happen?
That was just some magic. We had already worked with some Athens bands and Will sent us a message asking if we would be interested in working on the ARS reissue. We jumped at the chance.
This was HUGE for the Elephant 6 Enthusiasts, and fans of great tunes in general. As die-hard fans of The Olivia Tremor Control and Circulatory, getting a taste of Will C. Hart’s ealier output was an out-of-nowhere bombshell that got us all SO excited for the potential of other early E6 cassette reissues on top of this wonderful gem. Our friendly fan group can be found here:
What would you say is the “buried treasure” of your releases.
Back in 2014 we released an album called “Olympia” by Minta & The Brook Trout from Portugal. Matt had discovered them and we were thrilled when they were interested in putting out a cassette with us. Out of all of our releases, I have maybe listened to this one the most.
HFTTD features such a broad range of genres, if you had to pick 4 releases to best demonstrate the range of the label, which would it be?
Oh man, this is so tough. It would take more than 4 to really get the true picture of our range, but if forced to choose 4 I would go with:
Faster Circuits – Tunes Of Glory
Serengeti – Dennehy
Hussalonia – Home Taping Is Killing Me
Fayaway – The Astral Body
Go get a taste here:
Keep your eyes and ears open for future releases or check out the stellar back catalogue. Rumor has it that there is another E6 related release brewing and a great outlet for future releases if the label gets the support it deserves! They have a dope 4 for 20$ deal!
I’d love to hear what you think of the amazing artists featured on HFTTD, as well as your thoughts on cassettes. Hit me up in the comments!
The Naive Fanatic