The Valley is known for its rich array of musicians and bands, but as owners of the handful of local, independent record labels can tell you, there’s more to the local music scene. Labels in this area include Feeding Tube Records in Florence, Disques de Lapin in Brattleboro, and the collectively-run Rub Wrongways Records in Northampton, all of which put out a steady stream of albums.
Behind the scenes at these outfits, it’s often the passion of one or a few individuals keeping them alive and growing. There’s a do-it-yourself approach to these businesses that keep staff and founders alike busy keeping up with upcoming releases.
For Thomas Nöla, a musician who founded his label Disques de Lapin more than a decade ago, starting his own DIY record label wasn’t for money, but something he found personally rewarding.
“To run a label nowadays, is not so much to look at it like a business,” he explained. “You have to have some irrationality involved. From my experience, it has to be something that you really want to do and you have to do it for the love of it, not for financial gain.”
We talked to the people behind of some of the local labels putting out music, from a national and international scale, to a much more modest local radius.
Feeding Tube Records
Inside the storefront of Feeding Tube Records in Florence, there are hundreds of vinyl records surrounded by artwork, handmade show flyers, as well as section of the record store dedicated to more than 100 artists and bands that have had vinyl and cassette releases on the label ranging from avant-garde noise acts to rock bands, psychedelia, and an eclectic mix of other genres.
Ted Lee, founder of Feeding Tube Records, started the music label in its early incarnation while he was a student at Hampshire College in 2005 playing in experimental rock band Zebu! (which he still performs with).
“I started it because I needed a name to put on the CDs and cassettes … One of my best friends from high school, Henry, had cancer at the time, which he beat. At the time, he was smoking medical pot and we’re getting real high coming up with names for my label. He said, ‘Feeding Tube Records’ as a joke. And I wrote it down as a joke. That was the only name that stuck, so that’s how we named it,” he said.
Lee, who grew up in a family of artists and started making music at an early age, graduated from Hampshire College the following year in 2006. From there, he went on to play gigs across the country and the world.
“You play in a basement with Guerilla Toss and you just decide, ‘Oh, I should put out a record for [psychedelic art rock band] Guerilla Toss,’” he noted. “And that’s how that goes. I saw a woman play through a telephone 10 years ago. You’d bother her on MySpace until she let you put out a record. That was Omnivore.”
Lee connected with Byron Coley, a music writer for 40 years, who was an editor at Spin music magazine and writer for Rolling Stone, and alternative rock band Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore. Coley and Moore worked together on the Ecstatic Yod collective, which had a label of its own. While moving from Montague to Northampton, the duo decided to throw in their lot with Lee and Feeding Tube Records.
“At that point, we were doing a lot of archival work with no-wave bands. We had just done a book,” Coley said in regards to working with Moore. “We had been turning up these tapes, but we were so tired of putting out records. There’s a lot of grunt work involved. You have to get it, sell it, put everything together … Ted was very enthusiastic about it.”
Feeding Tube Records was previously located on King Street in Northampton, then Moore decided to move elsewhere, and about five or six years ago, the label (which is operated by just Coley and Lee now) moved to Florence.
With well over 100 artists on Feeding Tube Records, Coley said artists range from “people who are wildly obscure,” to archival recordings, as well as international bands such as Moscow, Russia’s experimental psychedelic punk band Asian Women on the Telephone.
“There are really no hard and fast lines,” he explained. “It’s kind of like, if we hear something and we like it, then it’s like, ‘Okay, maybe we can find a way to do it, even if it’s a cassette?’ What do we have going out right now? When would they like to have it out? There’s a lot of moving parts to juggle around.”
The day-to-day job of running a record label includes shipping out orders, working with artists to get a new album or project released, sending out emails (whether to manufacturers, artists, or media), listening to demos (they receive about a demo a day), and sometimes as an editor and curator of an artist’s expansive work.
“We did a thing with this guy named Chik White, who is an experimental jaw harp player from Canada and we wanted to do a record with him,” Coley said. “He just sent 7 or 8 hours of his recordings … So I was listening to it for days. He could put all that stuff up online, but the idea was to make a good record. That’s different than having all the stuff up. To me, for a physical format like vinyl you want it to sound good. You want it to have an arc. Each side has a kind of narrative structure to it.”
Disques de Lapin
Meanwhile, in Brattleboro, Vermont, there’s Disques de Lapin, which focuses entirely on releasing albums by bands across the world. The label covers everything from French pop, to glam rock, new wave, surf rock to folk music. Disques de Lapin is the brainchild of Nöla, a songwriter and filmmaker, who founded the label while living in the Boston area in 2006.
Nöla’s music started out as experimental electronic music, but has evolved during the past decade to also include film score compositions and acoustic folk.
“I felt like I really needed to be in charge of putting out my own music,” Nöla explained. “I didn’t want it to be dependent on other people’s schedules or how much they were interested in something. I really wanted to just do it on my own and control it.”
For Nöla, creating Disques de Lapin (a rough French translation of Rabbit Discs) and Dandy Tapes (which was founded in 2019 and focuses on cassette tapes), has been a labor of love.
“Set a budget of disposable income — money that you are willing to invest that you might not get back,” he said. “And from the beginning, ask yourself why you are making a label? What do you hope to get out of it? If you’re hoping to get money, it’s probably stupid. If it’s because you have to and you feel it’s your passion, then you have to do it. Just be realistic and know why you’re doing it.”
He added that he finds running the label to be personally rewarding, despite the time, energy, and financial investments involved.
Disques de Lapin’s recent releases have included “Aus All Ins Nichts” by German experimental/ folk/ and neoclassical psychedelic band Niemandsvater, “Strange Birds,” by New Mexico-based experimental synth pop artist Galactic Witchcraft, as well as “Cyrk Biezzahanny” by Belarus-based folk and “psycho pop” band Drwiwy. Thus far, the label has released at least 50 albums.
“I really dislike most music, so it has to be something that I really love,” Nöla noted. “It’s hard to come across, so that’s why it’s people who are scattered around the world. I have to find the right person. I have to feel passionate.”
One group that Nöla has worked collaboratively with over the years is Barcelona, Spain-based experimental folk and pop group Ô Paradis. One compilation record released on the label included other artists from across the globe covering Ô Paradis songs.
Nöla thinks that the albums that Disques de Lapin release wouldn’t be by other record labels.
“I feel passionate about this and feel like these people don’t get enough attention,” he added. “That’s why I do it.”
Nöla said he’s devoted the past 14 years to the record label, whether working to release work by bands across the world or utilizing a portion of his home to function as a home office for Disques de Lapin, Dandy Tapes, and his own indie B-movie company Eskimo Films (which has released four feature films, music videos, and short films).
“I’ve been cutting back over the years because it got to the point where it was a part of my rent or my mortgage basically, devoting a studio room and a label room to run,” he explained.
In Northampton, a collective of Pioneer Valley-based musicians formed Rub Wrongways Records in the mid-1990s as a way to pool their collective talents to help one another release their musical projects. The label continues to release records to this day, oftentimes with label members helping one another with elements of a release, whether that’s graphic design, artwork, or playing an instrument on another band’s record.
Henning Ohlenbusch, who performs with Gentle Hen, The Fawns, and his solo material under his own name, is the principal manager of the independent label, with an ironic tagline of “It’s a record label, no it isn’t,” which jokingly describes the DIY nature of the small locally focused label.
The label includes about 20 members (including Ohlenbusch), but for projects the people involved with an individual release vary in size depending on the project.
“Everyone who is in any of the bands is involved and some of the bands share people,” he added.
Members of Rub Wrongways Records view the label more of as a home for the various musical projects they’re all performing with. Over more than two decades, the label has released more than 50 LPs and extended play recordings by artists and bands, including country group The Salvation Alley String Band, bands that Ohlenbusch performs with or has performed with in the past such as psychedelic pop band The Aloha Steamtrain, Gentle Hen (formerly School for the Dead), as well as Beach Honey, The Campbell Apartment (a project of former Valley musician Ari Vais, now based in San Francisco, California).
“It’s more of a home for everything, as far as manufacturing and stuff, the label doesn’t pay for anything,” Ohlenbusch explained. “The label doesn’t take anything either, so if someone buys someone else’s album on the label, all of that money goes to that artist.”
The DIY label that’s not a label also has its own studio that’s really not a studio, Ohlenbusch said of his home recording studio, which he also calls Rub Wrongways Records.
“A good portion of the records were recorded there, so there’s also that aspect to it,” he noted. “All of the Sitting Next to Brian albums were recorded, most of The Fawns, and all that stuff.”
For this year, Rub Wrongways Records plans on releasing Ohlenbusch’s latest solo record as well as new material by The Fawns and Gentle Hen.
For more information about Feeding Tube Records visit http://feedingtuberecords.com. Disques de Lapin and Dandy Tapes can be found at www.eskimofilms.com. Rub Wrongways Records is online at www.rubwrongways.com.
Chris Goudreau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.