An interview with my good friend Jeff Bratton, whose new record label Cascine has been generating a steady wave of positive buzz and which I’m personally a big fan of, is up over at MINISpace today. He reveals the story behind the birth of the label, gives some good insight into his approach and talks about what it means to have a record label in 2011. Extended interview for those interested after the jump.
Can you tell me the back story of how Cascine came to be?
I’ve been a huge fan of Swedish music and over a period of time that increased dramatically to where that was almost 90% of what I was listening to. So when I eventually took a sabbatical from my job and was in Europe during the winter of 2010 and was looking at all the cities I could potentially spend my time in, Stockholm and Gothenburg really stuck out in large part because there was just so much music coming out of that area that really resonated with me. I felt a personal connection to those cities and that geography. So I reached out to a few labels before I went over there, Labrador being one and Service being the other. There was some preliminary back and forth with Ola at Service and he answered back very kindly but I don’t think he was willing to engage me on anything deeper than a, “Thanks for your interest,” kind of level. But I kept pushing and scheduled a meeting with him in the beginning of the month I was spending in Sweden and we hit it off. So a few hours over coffee turned into a lot of hang out time over the next few weeks. We did a lot of kicking around the city, he showed me around Stockholm, we talked music and music and music, and he introduced me to some artists in Gothenburg. He really opened the music community in Sweden up for me. So I ended up leaving Sweden having worked out this arrangement where I would basically represent Service in the States.
The first project you worked on for Service was IKONS, which is a big departure from the very sweet, Balearic sound that Sweden is best known for.
Yeah, Balearic has become a four letter word in Sweden unfortunately. I remember having a conversation with Ola and I was telling him how crazy I am about Air France and all these bands that really captured that quintessential Balearic sound. And he said to me, “Jeff, that’s very unfortunate because those sounds are like the lights from stars that have burned out years ago and are just now hitting the earth.” He told me that those sounds basically stopped being created in 2006 even though it was just then hitting the blogs and the press and music fans around the world. But that’s kind of how the Swedes work, there’s a certain amount of distance from the rest of the world because they’re rarely chasing money or fame. They’ll do these releases that are hugely popular but then they won’t put anything else out for four years. So right when the press really got a hold of this Balearic stuff the Swedes had already decided they were done with it. So the direction of Service has changed pretty drastically. IKONS marked that change and I think the Lake Heartbeat album was the last in that kind of Balearic space that you may ever hear from Service. Things have just changed in Sweden, even the stuff Sincerely Yours has been doing like jj, sail a whale, ceo – you still have some of those breezy influences but it’s much more art bent and angular, much more avant-garde and experimental.
So once back in LA how long was it before you started thinking about Cascine?
What happened to be perfectly honest was that Service had a publicist in London named Sandra Croft and she was sent demos by a band called Shine 2009. Shine is from Finland and had approached Service about the possibility of representing them as an artist. I listened to the demos and I was nuts about them, just over the moon. I was in New York when I heard them and remember putting those four songs on my iPod and riding the subway from midtown to 14th Street, and got off the train seeing the world differently (laughs). So I obviously responded very favorably to them but Ola didn’t think they were a great match for the label and the bottom line was Service was not going to work with them. I didn’t want to let them pass because I knew it would only be a matter of time before another label picked them up. So I had the idea to self-publish them myself in the States but I knew if I started a label out of thin air it would go nowhere. But being on staff at Service it made sense for me to open a branch of the label in the States that would give me the ability to work with artists I love and the ability to curate a catalog and help shape the sound. So I approached Ola about letting me open Cascine, and simultaneously Sami from Shine about their EP serving as the label’s debut. And the stars just aligned around it, everybody said yes and then we had 5 weeks to get the vinyls produced and all the elements together to push the release out.
After you had your first artist how did things progress from there?
The Shine 2009 EP really resonated with the right people. So with that release out and with Ola having sanctioned Cascine as a brother to Service, those became my A&R tools to start approaching other bands that I wanted to work with. So we approached Chad Valley, we approached Evan Voytas and then Selebrities, and armed with that, I applied my professional experience with PR and marketing to what I know about music and came to the artists with really level-headed, business-minded plans that are somewhat rare in the world of independent music. And then I asked some close friends – J. Romanelli and Jason Kapiskosky – to get involved, Sandra agreed to help, and we just started putting the work in.
I think that it helps that you are such a big fan of the music and have this genuine enthusiasm about the process and working with these particular artists.
That’s the one thing I can absolutely say about Cascine is that the sound is so much an extension of me. I mean, I’m self-funding this whole thing and I’m putting everything on the line for this little label but I’m proud to my teeth to stand behind every last one of those artists. So there’s a different level of emotional investment and enthusiasm that I bring to it. To know the label is to know a big part of me.
One thing that I think people will probably notice right away is that there is an element of nostalgia in a lot of these records. Not to say they aren’t forward thinking, but they also don’t seem afraid to wear their influences on their sleeve. Which made me wonder who it was for you growing up that really pushed you in this direction and gave you this love of music?
That’s basically what we’re doing – chasing the feeling of discovering sounds that feel fresh and new and exciting. Sounds that your whole body responds to in a physical way. I’d love Cascine to evoke those kinds of feelings in people. But for me personally, the band that really changed my life and made me fall in love with music was The Cure. Specifically the Disintegration album. That was the first collection of tracks I can remember having this deep, personal effect on me. Jesus & Mary Chain were huge for me too. New Order was another one, even more than Joy Division frankly. New Order with the synths and the high bass lines and the prettier vocals just worked for me. Chameleons, a lot of the Sarah records stuff – Another Sunny Day, The Wake were big for me. I like synth driven stuff with electronic elements that add texture. I like a clean sound. I think the older I get the more I gravitate away from even bands with live drums and instrumentation. I respect those bands a lot and some of them make incredible music but as a music fan I find myself much more drawn to electronic sounds that feel bright and well-produced.
There’s also an intimacy to the stuff Cascine is putting out whether that’s because you’re dealing with a single artist shaping the whole sound or these younger bands that you can tell really care about the music they’re making.
I think philosophically there are a lot of similarities between how we operate as a label and how these artists treat and perform their music. And I’m excited to work with artists who do take their music seriously and don’t have a ton of history to stand on so we can try and develop something new together. I want it to be fresh and exciting for everyone involved and we all approach it differently but it feels good to make music under that very personal context. Plus it’s something that we’re all trying to fit in around day jobs and whatever else is going on so time is a major factor. Not to mention this is all self-funded, so I better really fucking like what I’m doing to give up all my free time, which is almost much non-existent, and any spare money to the label. That’s what gives the whole thing such a different level of commitment.