About a year ago, on a tip from a friend of mine, I went to the Black Cat for the Sockets Record showcase. The label and the showcase were getting an inordinate amount of coverage from news papers and music blogs in the area. For a local label to actually get this kind of attention in DC was something unseen in quite a few years. It was all very well deserved. The night was well attended by many different types of kids and the bands on stage all totally slayed the audience. Peoples continued to throw more shows, put out some great records and emerge as one of DC’s best new labels. Sean Peoples is doing it again this year at the Black Cat on January 15th. It will no doubt be a fantastic evening. I sent Sean a few questions. Check it out below.
KYS: Sockets Records started out as a CD-R label, which was a really DIY and economical way to start a label I thought. As you have moved to a more traditional label, what do you think you have gained from the change and what have you given up?
SP: Sockets did indeed start as a CDR label. I thought the easiest way to document stuff in and around DC back then (2004-2006) was to be nimble and small. Also, this was in the wake of a pretty great time in DC music. Right up until 2003, there were a lot of amazing, active bands. But a lot of them broke up and there wasn’t a need or demand to manufacture all hundreds of copies of these new, more noisier elements I was surrounded by… I think it was a small group of people paying attention, so Sockets could be small, too. The label released 50-200 of each CDR, so it was manageable to burn all the CDs myself or with the band.
The CDRs, however, could never really demand the respect as CDs. Distros wouldn’t touch CDRs even if the music was really interesting. And there’s a level of legitimacy you get when one goes through the process of manufacturing actual CDs. And now, the label releases a lot more vinyl, which is about twice the price as CDs, but, I feel, a lot more interesting. There’s a relationship built around records and the person playing them that doesn’t necessarily occur with CD or digital formats. That said, CDRs allow a lot of freedom in terms of getting the music out. But, that continues to change these days with digital releases and increasing bandwiths that allow bands to share their music the minute it’s finished. Which, for the most part, I think is really great. But I’m a tactile person and really believe in the physical representation of music.
KYS: I was struck last year in January how, almost out of nowhere, the Sockets Showcase not only acted as a spotlight for the label with all the attention you received from local press, but it also seemed to reinvigorate the music scene in Washington DC altogether. To me it felt not only like Sockets had the right idea, with a very diverse group of really great bands, but that Washington DC was looking for something like that. What was your reaction to all that and how did that effect how you moved forward?
SP: I really didn’t know if people would make it out to the show last year. So I was really excited that there was a bunch of positive press and then folks turned out to support the bands and the label. I felt like last year saw this critical mass of bands in the area writing quality songs, playing great live shows, and deserving more exposure. So I think the showcase couldn’t have happened without these bands all hitting their stride when they did. I think there was also a need in DC for some sort of rally to remember that this city can produce great, homegrown music. And last year’s showcase was a slice of that, I believe. But, thankfully, there are a bunch of other really great bands and labels really repping the District as well.
In terms of my reaction, I was, honestly, surprised. It was a surprise to me b/c I didn’t know so many of the people there. And that was great. That meant, to me, these bands and the label reached folks beyond just friends coming out to support. That felt really great. And it strengthened my motivation to keep the label going.
KYS: Sockets put out several records this year and one that really seems to have stood out was the Hume LP. I was wondering if you could kind of talk about that release as it seems really special. The packaging is great and it seems like there’s been a lot of positive response.
SP: I think the Hume record is one of my favorite albums from the last 5 years. Who knew prog rock could tear at my usual aversion to the genre. Brit, Joey, Peter, and Wilson all really work hard to write songs that move forward. And, I believe they succeeded with Penumbra. Whenever you try to do something different with the artwork on a record, costs quickly balloon. So Penumbra’s art is really special because of the vision the band had, but it was a struggle to get vision to manifest. Yet, the band, Gideon from J Street Records, and Morphius (the folks who manufactured the sleeves) really came through and together we got the project finished. The art’s got this really amazing burst of dots, all punched out of the records Brit was listening to at the time. And then there is a layer of transparent ink that connects these dots in an intricate pattern, so when light reflects you can see the ink. The name of the band and album are spelled out in this ink as well. It’s tough to explain and it took a while to get the records back. There was a lot of back and forth in order to get it to look and sound right. But all of that was worth it because the 500 records that were made are a true document and artistic statement from the music to the art on the sleeve.
And yes, I think for the folks who have heard the record are really impressed. I’m still seeing it in some best-of end-of-year short lists. I still think it needs to reach more folks, but we’re working on that.
KYS: The other thing that really stands out about Sockets is the diversity of bands on your label. For me, it feels comforting to have a label that has great bands in a lot of different genres and styles. To me it reflects good curating in a way because clearly you work with bands and musicians whose music you like, not by what might be trending now. Does this diversity though make it harder to run a label, especially in a climate where it seems that trends move fast and consumption of music is also more intense?
SP: I have very broad tastes and I feel like the most boring thing I could do with a record label that I had to run would be put out a bunch of bands that sounded similar. If I put out music that paralleled the trendy stuff then, I suppose, more folks might know about the label. But it’s not something I would do on purpose. I do think it’s difficult to communicate an aesthetic to folks who want to know what the bands sound like. There isn’t a Sockets sound. That’s has its challenges, but ones I’m not too worried about.
KYS: You also do a lot of DJ nights in Washington DC. In fact last year, you spun between sets of some bands at the Rock and Roll Hotel. What does spinning records provide for a live audience? What about spinning between sets appeals to you?
SP: I do dj a lot. It’s one of the ways I supplement the cost of the label. I really like curating music. One of the things I always loved doing was making folks mixtapes or sharing new music I’m really digging and figuring out among my friends who would like what. So I see the label and DJing as extensions of all this.