Tonight on the Upstate Soundscape, Adam Richards, head of Buffalo-based label House of Alchemy, will be in studio playing songs from the HOA catalog, including some upcoming releases.
While lofi noise freaks and regular listeners of the Upstate Soundscape are already familiar with HOA, the label itself exists in a strange netherworld that is no doubt foreign to most people.
This is the world of obscure underground labels that traffic limited edition cassettes and CD-Rs each packaged with personally crafted artwork as astounding as the sounds contained within.
These releases are often by semi-anonymous artist who sometimes sound like mad sound scientists rather than musicians. In fact, its not a stretch to say that the House of Alchemy sound — if it can even be said there is in fact a particular sound associated with the label — has gleefully abandoned any traditional conceptions of what ‘music’ is supposed to be in order to achieve revelations through sound exploration.
As a preview for tonight’s show we got an interview with Richards about House of Alchemy below, along with a song from an upcoming HOA release by Grasshopper called “I Sang a Sad Song Today.”
Show starts at 10pm on 91.3 FM WBNY. Don’t miss it. Its gonna get weird.
Upstate Soundscape:What is the story behind House of Alchemy? How and when did it get started? What was the motivation behind the label’s creation?
Adam Richards: I started the label with my wife Katheryn five years ago. The idea of somehow releasing music had been in my mind in various forms for years. I knew a number of people creating great art and music and I wanted to be involved with getting that out there. My very good friend Grant Capes moved out to LA a few years before this and he was in the band VxPxC who were getting a lot of their music out on small labels and they were also self-releasing material. I was very interested in and influenced by how they were doing things. And through buying tons of music from various labels and distro’s I got to talk with all kinds of people actually putting stuff out.
I basically got it going to put out a VxPxC album and it just went from there. We started out with that and the first Antique Brothers record and it’s been rolling ever since. And to have VxPxC and Antique Brothers give me albums to put out with no real idea if I even would be able to make anything happen was huge.
Is there anyone else involved in running the label, or is this essentially a ‘solo project’?
I run the label with my wife Katheryn. She was the one who made me get off my ass and actually get the thing going. I had talked about it for awhile. She does a lot of the cover art, and she’s designed or strategized a lot of the more non-traditional, handmade, packaging we have done. She tolerates me destroying the house for weeks before a release comes out and a few weeks after. And she’s the half the manual labor (or more when the project needs a precision touch). Whether it’s sewing hundreds of burlap pouches, grinding hundreds of crayons to melt, hot gluing felt CD pouches to a hundred blocks of plywood, folding and stuffing covers, or any other crazy thing we come up with, she’s right there in the thick of it. She’s the main inspiration.
Are there any labels out there that you patterned House of Alchemy after or strove to emulate? What labels, past or present, do you admire?
I was really inspired by Jeweled Antler, Foxglove, Music Your Mind Will Love You, Last Visible Dog, Time Lag, Siltbreeze, Eclipse Records, American Tapes, Manhand, Ecstatic Yod and many others. We were really inspired by the labels and releases that had handmade packages, ones that you could tell had some real feeling and effort put into the production. It doesn’t make bad music good by any means, but it adds something else to the already amazing music. So, I guess there wasn’t anyone we strove to emulate directly but, there are lots of great labels that inspired us.
Who are some artists that you would like to work with that you haven’t?
Yeah, there’ll always be people I hope to work with. I’ve gotten to the point where I just ask. Half the time you don’t get any response, but the ones you do hear back from end up being great. We’ve got so many great things lined up, I’m really happy with where we are. And I really like the idea of doing multiple releases with artists. I’ll put out stuff by these guys as long as they keep giving me stuff.
Who are some of your favorite artists that you have worked with?
I have been honored and happy to work with all the amazing artists we have put out over the last five years. It’s all been good. So much amazing music.
It’s been really great to be able to work with people who I have been friends with for a long time, way before the label. People I used to sit around and talk records with way back when. Grant Capes, who I’ve known for a real long time and worked with on many different projects including our own recording project, has been a huge inspiration and pleasure to work with since day one. Ryan Martin, Cory Card, Jen Marquart, people I’ve known for a long time. It’s great that we are now doing a lot of the things we used to bullshit about over beers.
And then there’s someone like Eric Hardimann who we’ve done a bunch of stuff with, Century Plants, Burnt Hills, Rambutan, whom I became friends with through the label. I consider him very inspirational and supportive on many levels. And my good friend Darryl Norsen, who is an amazing visual artist. He’s done a lot of art and layout for us and he’s been helping us out since the very beginning. And Brad Rose from Digitalis, who was a huge help from the beginning.
Really, it’s been Katheryn and I, but with a huge network of supporters and insanely creative friends. So many more people than I can possibly list here.
If somebody likes the HOA label, what other labels out there would you recommend to check out?
Tape Drift, Stunned (RIP), 905 Tapes, Peasant Magik, Robert & Leopold, Imminent Frequencies, caesura, Deep Tapes, Tranquility Tapes, Anathema Sound, No Kings, Desire Path, Root Strata, Obsolete Units, Dais, Type, Digitalis, Kye…..there are so many exciting labels out there and I think it’s really a great time to be a music fan and to be a musician. Sometimes it feels like there is a flood of stuff, it all comes and goes so fast and I oftentimes have no idea what the hell is going on. And there’s really no way (at least for me) to keep up with and hear every single thing. I try my best and I’m sure I miss stuff. But damn, even though I feel like a lot of stuff has passed by my periphery, the stuff I am hearing is really astounding and inspiring.
What’s your take on the re-birth of the cassette market?
It’s a funny thing. . . I think it’s great. We put out our first cassette three years ago and have gradually been doing more. We’ve done a dozen so far, and a large chunk of our upcoming releases are set for cassette. I think for some people it’s a nostalgia trip. But I think a bunch of people legitimately enjoy it and see it is a solid medium, not just some shitty gimmick or fad. For me, I never stopped using cassettes. I haven’t been without a cassette deck and a boombox since I was a kid. My car still has a tape deck and I’ll be sad when I buy a car that doesn’t have one. I have hundreds and hundreds of tapes. Mixtapes, bootlegs, mainstream releases, microlabel stuff, all of it. We’ll continue to put out tapes, CD’s, vinyl, all of it.
Tell us about some of HOA’s upcoming releases.
We’ve got so many amazing things in the pipe. We have two really confounding releases from the Kommisar Hjuler und Frau camp in Germany.
One is a solo release of insane vocals and sound cut-ups from Mama Baer. And the other is a trio release with Mundkranch. Both releases defy description.
We have a cassette from Calgary’s Bent Spoon Duo who are an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink improv duo. Real out-there stuff.
We have a split from Rambutan and Fossils From the Sun, solo projects of the two who make up Century Plants and also play in Burnt Hills. Gonna be huge.
We have a split cassette with one side a trio of Butcher/Khoury/Bryerton and the duo of Baczkowski /Sack.
Obscurer is a trio featuring Grant Capes and two theremin players, The Faraday Trippers. Really dreamy, long form magic.
DeTrop is a trio featuring Ryan Martin who also plays in York Factory Complaint. Fuzzy modular electronics for faded industrial wreckage.
And Pearson Wallace-Hoyt contacted me out of the blue last year. I wasn’t aware of his work before and he laid a monster release of ritual drone magik on me. It shimmers and shutters. I’m very excited about all the things on the horizon.
Tell us about some past HOA releases that you think deserve some special attention.
Well, I’d say that if there is any band we have put out that you haven’t heard of, check them out. By which I mean we have been really lucky to work with a lot of freakishly talented artists and I truly feel that everything we have put out deserves attention. Is that a cop out?
How has starting your own label, and dealing with the business side of music, influenced your work as an artist?
While it hasn’t necessarily influenced the art directly, it has certainly influenced how I interact with labels when trying to get some of my own work released. And it has made me patient because I know how much goes into putting a release out and how easy it is to get off track with life getting in the way of the label from time to time.
I guess as an inverse, my experience trying to get my own work out has influenced how I try and run the label. I try and respond to all artist solicitations in a timely manner whether we can work with them or not. I’ve had some amazing experiences working with labels that have put out my work. I try and learn from those experiences. We’ve been so happy with the artists we’ve worked with on House of Alchemy and I’ve been very lucky with the labels that have put my stuff out. There are really some great people running great labels out there.
Any advice for aspiring label owners?
Enjoy it. Don’t expect to make much or any money. It can be done but it’s likely that you’ll dump money into it and hope to break even. Be willing to give a lot time to it. It’s not worth half-assing. But it has been wholly satisfying for me and I’m really proud that we have put out so much amazing music in the last 5 years. I’d love to be able to do it full time but I’m happy doing it nights and weekends. Staying up late, drinking wine and folding CD or cassette covers or stuffing orders is a good time in my book.
What’s your take on the Buffalo and surrounding upstate experimental scene?
I think it’s great. I don’t get out to shows nearly as much as I used to but it seems like there is a semi-regular stream of really interesting music happening in Buffalo and Rochester. There are some really cool venues like The Vault and Sugar City that put on tons of great shows. I hope more like them pop up. And Hallwalls is a goddamned treasure.
There’s always room for more though and I get excited every time a new venue, band, or promoter pops up. I wish it happened more! The more the merrier.
Any local/regional artists/labels you are really into at the moment? Any local/regional artists/lables we should look out for?
In Buffalo there are great labels like Desire Path, Bad Drone Media and Human Beard. There are certainly more but I’ve been really digging what they have been up to. In Rochester there is caesura which is run by friends of mine, Cory and Jen. They’ve been putting out a steady stream of major stuff. And of course Carbon Records in Rochester. Joe Tunis has put out so many amazing releases over the last decade.
As far as musicians, I miss way more shows than I see but there is a lot of good local action here. Obviously, Steve Baczkowski. Always a visceral, balls-to-the-wall performance. Jim Abramson, Tristan Trump, Bobby Griffiths, Jax Deluca, Matt Goodrich, Scott Valkwitch, All Them Witches… There are a lot of opportunities here in Buffalo to go out and see some really interesting music. Again, I’m leaving out so much. In Rochester there is Stone Baby, one of the first bands we’ve worked with, we have actually done three releases with them. All killer. If you have the chance to see them, do it. And of course, anything with Joe Tunis, and Pengo.
How does somebody get a hold of HOA’s stuff?
Our website www.thehouseofalchemy.com and we work with a number of distro’s across the country and abroad. Even if we are out of something, be sure to check the distro’s. You never know what might be floating around. There’s a list of the ones we work with on the site.