Continuing our Labels We Love series, today we bring you an interview from Stephanie of Girls Cartel Records. The label home to Facility, Well Okay, OsoLuna, Multinational Corporations among others. It has also released the compilation Girls to the Stage supporting Girls Rock Philly. As always, this exchange happened over email and I (RF) really enjoyed my conversation with Stephanie (SdB).
RF: Can you please tell me the story of how Girls Cartel Records came to be?
SdB: When a band I played in from Connecticut called Girls Just Want To Have Fun recorded our first full-length, we credited the gang vocals we did together in the liner notes as being by The Girls Cartel. When we decided to self-release the album as a 10” record, we used Girls Cartel Records as the label name just to have something on the form, and modified cover image from the demo to be the first GCR logo. Once that band ended, I decided I wanted to keep Girls Cartel going as a label, especially since I had handled the pressing details and paperwork, designed the packaging, and funded a lot of the pressing myself. The whole process was really fascinating to me and I wanted to explore that more.
RF: What are your favorite parts of the process?
SdB: The development from concept to physical format. Some artists come in with a very specific aesthetic and idea of what they want their release to be, and others go “um, IDK, do something?”. Either way, bringing the music that people worked on into being as a physical release, whatever the end result may be, is exciting.
RF: Are there any parts of it that you find particularly frustrating?
SdB: Sometimes communication issues arise that can snag up the process, but that’s part of the overall game so I deal with it as it happens. People do have lives outside of these projects, including myself, and that can get in the way of what we’re trying to accomplish. Sometimes on co-releases, one person doesn’t hold up their end of the project and then there are needs to be covered for, or conflict will arise from misunderstandings and miscommunications. But it doesn’t happen with every release, only just every once in a while, and definitely hasn’t deterred me at all from doing what I do. There are just some people I won’t work with again, because we couldn’t work well together.
RF: What advice do you have for people looking to pursue doing a co-release with another label?
SdB: If you aren’t familiar with the other label(s), do a little bit of research to get familiar with their work. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, opinions, or offer your own suggestions and thoughts. Have a clear layout of who is responsible for what, however you decide to divide up the tasks. Make sure the terms of the co-release are set before anything is set in production, especially when it comes to what share of the release everyone (including the band!) is getting, when payments are due, and how much the payments will be for everyone involved. Don’t commit to a release with people you feel are sketchy or shady, it’s not worth the stress.
RF: What makes you decide what form factor things are pressed on?
SdB: A lot of different aspects go into that. Part of it is how long the band, or at least the people playing in that band, have been around and how experienced they are. If the band is really putting in the effort to tour, play shows, and keep active, I’ll be much more likely to put them out on vinyl. Otherwise, I’ll generally do tapes at least at first, and see how things go from there. There is also the personal cost factor - I fund this entire label myself out of what I make from my day job and what I can sell and recycle back into the label. Sometimes I simply can’t afford to release a record by myself. At that point, I’ll either see if I can get other labels in on the project for a co-release, or I’ll offer to do tapes even if the band finds someone else to do vinyl. For international bands I’m almost completely committed to tapes, because of the cost differences involved vs what will be able to be sold.
RF: Do you require any commitment to touring before you will do a release for a band?
SdB: Not necessarily, no. But I’m much more hesitant to release work from a project that hasn’t put much effort into playing live and building a fan base of their own. Everyone has their own lives, but if a band or artist shows they’re committed and putting effort into their project, I’m much more likely to take on the release. Even though I’ll probably never get to see either band from different countries I’ve put releases for, they are both active in their own areas.
RF: What is your current roster and how did you come up these bands?
SdB: Sometimes I find bands, sometimes they find me. Andy, the fire behind Weird and Wonderful Words, I met through a mutual friend who was helping me out at the time and suggested we work together for his debut EP, and we definitely have plans for future collaborations. Adam, the creator of Well Okay, has been a friend of mine for years and a musician I admire greatly. He approached me about releasing his debut EP, and we’re working together on a split and a new EP due out later this year and next. I asked Multinational Corporations, who are from Pakistan, to release their album stateside and we’ve developed a solid working relationship - I’ll also be releasing their upcoming split with the more local Bandit.
In addition to continuing those relationships, I’m working on an upcoming release from Philly band cllctyrslf, with whom I’ve worked with before in a design capacity.
RF: You don’t have an artist list on your site. What is the rational there?
SdB: Actually I do, although it’s listed under the “releases” tab rather than “artists”. Now that you mention it, I may change it to something like “discography” to be a bit clearer, but in my, view I collaborate with bands to get their vision out there. I don’t have exclusive release contracts, not at this point - they are not “my” artists, but rather people with whom I have working relationships. I do get warm fuzzies whenever anyone I’ve worked with shows GCR some love though, like when Well Okay toured recently with a huge decal of my logo on his amp, or when Heavy Breath gave GCR a shout out in the liner notes of the most recent album they released through Ear One Productions.
RF: Have to ask, your site flashes ‘locating-chill’ when loading new pages. What made you decide to do that?
SdB: Life balance is cool. Always know where your chill is.
Honestly, I just did it because I could, there’s no big deep meaning behind it. It makes me laugh, and I like laughing.
RF: Did you do the site design?
SdB: I did! Well, I didn’t code the site, I’m not that good, but the customisation and graphics are mine, yes. I love design, and one of the great things about running my own label is I can exercise a lot of different interests within the overall project. I’ve done album art and packaging design for a number of my releases as well when the band has asked me to. I have a portfolio of the work I’ve done in that vein at stephmarie.net.
RF: What is your dream for Girls Cartel Records? When would you feel like you ‘made it’?
SdB: I started this with the goal of helping my friends, and when I moved I really had the goal to help become another bridge between New England and Philly. But, it’s turned into wanting to support not only those two communities but really trying to build as many bridges out as possible and help to keep as many communities as possible connected somehow. I’ve been lucky enough to work with two international bands so far, the aforementioned Multinational Corporations and the incredible OsoLuna from Spain, and I really hope to become a label that not only can bands from other countries can approach, but who can also get those bands some recognition in the US.
RF: You’ve done releases for bands around the world. Do you feel non-American bands get the same respect as American bands to stateside?
SdB: Respect? They can, yes. Attention, probably not so much, especially if they can’t tour here. Even when they can it’s not terribly often and there are so many bands in the US that by default can be much more present, it’s difficult for international bands to hold the attention of a large amount of the US audience for more than a while. Consider even on a bigger scale Birds in Row - albums released by Deathwish, but from France and can’t come over here terribly often. They’re phenomenal both recorded and live, but because they can’t be relatively active in the US eye they fall out of relevancy and a lot of people have forgotten about them.
RF: Was there any apprehension at all to releasing music for a Middle Eastern band on a label named Girls Cartel Records?
SdB: Nope. Multinational Corporations is a great grindcore band in general and the issues they talk about stem from where they were born and raised just as much as any band in North America or Western Europe. I think I was actually more motivated because of where they are from since that perspective of life in Pakistan is so rarely heard.
RF: Do you have further plans to release any other Middle Eastern bands?
SdB: Right now I don’t have any other releases planned but I’m absolutely not against it. I want to work with bands from all over the world. Just because we live in different countries doesn’t mean we don’t have anything in common. Watching videos from underground shows in South Asia has made me realise that this thing we’re all involved in is something that’s done all over the world. Whether we’re in the US, Pakistan, Singapore, Israel, Brazil, England, or where the f*ck ever.. it’s a common passion that unites us and breaks down barriers and preconceptions about other places. Contrary to what mass media, politicians, and other fear mongers would like us to believe, most people in Pakistan are regular people trying to live their lives. Watch any of the videos of Multinational Corporations or Osoluna playing and honestly it’s not much different from VFW hall or basement shows in the states. The biggest difference I’ve seen is that some of the videos are from places where people travel across the country to see some local bands play because it’s so much harder to organise shows in places where it’s possible to get arrested just for being there let alone playing the music. I think it’s important to support those bands and scenes even if it’s just in recognition that they exist and respect for what they do to be able to continue something that frankly a lot of us stateside can take for granted.
RF: Continuing on that point, do you feel any ethical responsibility to do releases like Girls to the Stage?
SdB: When it comes to benefit releases and fundraisers, I support the things I believe in. Girls Rock Philly is a great organisation and should have more attention and support for the positive change they’re trying to make. The same thought went into shirts I made in conjunction with Kat Kat Records to benefit the Ferguson Public Library, as well as the shirts I made to benefit RAINN. It may not be much, but I will stand for what I believe in and do what I can to support the causes and organisations I care about.
RF: Do you feel that there is any trace of misogyny in the scene today?
SdB: It’s not about what I feel, it’s about what actually exists, within the scene and outside of it. There are inequality issues of all sorts, just as there are in the rest of society. Although smaller communities within the DIY scene can be havens where people treat each other with respect, these issues exist everywhere and to ignore them or downplay them is at the least ignorant and at the worst incredibly damaging. I strongly encourage people to listen to each other and consider the experiences of others even if it doesn’t mesh with what you may have experienced first hand. To me, that’s the first step in making a change for the better.
RF: Bernie or Hillary?
SdB: Elizabeth Warren.
RF: What is the thing about Girls Cartel Records that makes it important to you?
SdB: This label has continually challenged me and forced me to grow in so many ways. But even though there are days where I really look at this and question myself and my abilities, at the end of the day, I couldn’t give this up. I’m proud of the music I’ve released and really excited for what the future holds.
RF: What is the most exciting thing about the future to you?
SdB: The possibilities! What new bands and labels will come out and come up, seeing more unique takes on packaging for physical releases. I also just really love watching how scenes change and grow - or don’t - over time, it’s really fascinating. Some areas become known for one sound or a small group of bands, and then five years later something totally different happens and the recognition shifts. Other places have this strange indefinable influence on their music - people talk about “the Boston sound” or “the Philly sound” or “the SoCal sound” and it seems kind of silly but it’s an actual thing, and it’s fun to see how that continues through musical trends and time.
RF: Where is the next big scene going to happen?
SdB: I have no idea, there’s so much good music coming from all over it’s difficult to point out any one place that’s doing better than others. I think there are some places that might get overlooked though - I know first hand that Connecticut has a lot of music that seems to not get the attention it really deserves (Heavy Breath, All Riot, Queen Moo, Dagwood, and Milkshakes are some still active that come to mind, though of course there are bands that occasionally break that. The hardcore coming out of the south is killing it (Gouge Away from Florida, Future Primitive from NC just to name a few), and a bunch of groups from out-of-the-way towns in California that I’ve found through my friend Trey who runs Lost State Records out there.
RF: If you could sign any band out there, who would you sign?
SdB: You’re really trying to make me pick just one? Most recently I daydreamed about releasing the new Gouge Away album on cassette, that would be sick.
RF: As a record nerd, it’s interesting to me that your dream is to release a cassette. Do you prefer one form factor over the other?
SdB: It’s not my dream of all time, I honestly can’t decide on that, there’s too much to choose from. But at this point in time, that would be incredible. First and foremost, that band is amazing and the album is so solid. It deserves to be in as many hands as possible.
I love vinyl, I’m pretty proud of my collection, but I think the cassette resurgence has really opened up a lot of music to people. Having tapes and records available gives people options - tapes are less expensive, which is great for those of us who want to own so much more music on physical format than we can afford. And tapes also give their own opportunities for cool artwork and ideas that you don’t always get with vinyl, which the collector nerd in me loves.
RF: How can people find out more about Girls Cartel Records?
SdB: girlscartelrecords.com is a good place to start, as is facebook.com/girlscartelrecords since I post most there, but Twitter (@GirlsCartelRecs) is also fun.
RF: Thank you very much, Stephanie!