In this ongoing series, we take a closer look at some of the many labels carving their own niche.
Depending on your perspective, Matador Records is either the largest indie label in the United States, or the smallest, scrapiest major operation. In the early nineties, the New York-based impression was at the forefront of an American indie-rock uprising that led to genre-defined releases. Sidewalk, I have it, Liz Fire, And Powered by Voice. And now, years after its first release, Matador remains a reliable launchpad for some of the most important young voices in the underground, singer / songwriter Lindsay Jordan (aka Snail mail) To the art gospel-punk rebels Algiers. But the roster also includes bands heading to Madison Square Garden (Interpol, Spoon) And those who regularly occupy the top edge of the Billboard Album Chart (Stone Age Queens).
“We can reach as far as we can in what we’ve always tried to do, but we want to work without compromising with the artists,” said Chris Lombardy. Then. “We want our band’s music to appeal to as many people as possible, but we don’t want that [the bands] To change who they are. “Matador chief Terros spoke to us about how they have maintained that fine balance of indie cred and mainstream ambitions for three decades.
At the time of Matador’s founding, Kasloy and Lombardy were already experienced players in the American indie underground. Growing up in the Boston area as a teenager, Kaslay created the infamous hardcore Zine Conflict And went on to run the highly influential New York label Homestead Records in the mid-80s; Lombardy worked for Dutch East India Trading, a distributor of Homestead. The two became carpool friends. At the beginning of Matador their goal was simple: no one else would release the record through weird local activities like HP Zinker, Railroad Jerk, and Dustdevils.
“There was a real feeling on our part that if we didn’t register some projects, they would simply be non-existent,” Kasloy said. “We’re in a different world right now – there are countless ways to implement an underground project that doesn’t necessarily require the support of a matador record. But then, if these things aren’t pressed into vinyl or made into CDs, they just can’t be heard.
Photo courtesy of Chris Lombardy Matador Records
As their ranks have expanded like the Indie Buzz Band Superchunk, Teenage Fanclub, And the sidewalk, Matador became known not only for the debate over a particular melody, but also for his sense of humor. Instead of a traditional themed newsletter, Matador produced Stigma!, A monthly zine with obsolete artist interviews and other satirical features. That sensitivity extends to classic music videos, e.g. “Sugarcube” clip of Yo La Tango, Where the cast of the HBO sketch-comedy series Mr. The show Disappoints the Homoken trio through a rock-school boot camp with hotel-room trashing and rush-lyric recitation lessons. And with artists like John Spencer Blues Blast To shout Kasalaya in their song, The 90s matador roster had the feeling of a tight clubhouse with a smart and snacky character.
“Now people have different ways of discovering music,” Kasloy observes, “if I were to tell you that we don’t miss the things we used the day before in terms of some press releases. “But our job today is to represent artists the way they want to be represented and not force our personal aesthetics at their expense.”
Photo courtesy of Gerard Cosloy Matador Records
Bring in the major leagues
By the mid-90s, Matador was no longer a completely independent operation: after a three-year partnership with Atlantic Records, Lombardy and Casloy sold a 49 percent stake in Capital Records in 1996, only to buy it in 1999, although with major labels. While those conspiracies were short-lived in the end, Matador did not lose sight of his ambition to violate the mainstream. Since joining the beggar group in 2002, Matador has nurtured the rise of marquee work like Interpol, Cat PowerThe transformation from celebrity outsider to celebrity chantius, which serves as the statewide basis for mega-hyped imports DG Rascal, And has achieved major-label exile like Stone Age Queens.
Photo by Interpol courtesy of Red Light Management
“We have an overground label and an underground label at the same time,” Kasloy observed. “And if anyone says it’s disrespectful to call ourselves underground labels, that’s fair enough – I could have survived that criticism. We’re obviously doing a lot more to help bands build careers, as much as we’re doing to document underground music. I think there are smaller labels here that are doing better than us now. We’re trying to work with artists who believe they have the power to change people’s lives – anyone who’s going to make really, really killer music five, ten, fifteen years from now.
“But I think we’re always stuck with our guns,” Lombardy said. “Our tastes change and transform and we are constantly discovering new things, but in general, we are the same friends who have been there since day one.”
“Obviously, we weren’t right every time,” Kasloy added. “But I think we’ve come at the right time enough that we’re not completely out of our minds!”
Although today’s Matador is still powered by Lombardy and Kaslay’s curatorial vision and fine-tuned BS detectors, the label had to make significant strategic adjustments in 2019, like other music-art entities in the digital age. “At first, we were obviously learning things based on instinct and feeling – which was certainly exciting and fun, but not always well-advised,” Kasloy says. “There was a moment of reckoning – and opinions may differ whether it was 2005 or 2009 or 2015 – where we learned that although we had the freedom to express what we wanted, we didn’t want to do what we wanted to do.”
For the matador, this means giving artists more attention and resources towards a more limited pool. Twenty years ago, it was not uncommon for labels to release 60-plus in all formats; In 2019, this number was close to 10. “We’re extremely final about who we work with,” Lombardi admits. “In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, we were keeping a couple of records a month. Now things have changed, and there’s a lot of finishing needed to promote the records. It’s much more complicated. “
Although Kaslay and Lombardy’s final litmus test for new signatures is the artists ’stage skills, Matador’s recent roster additions have further fueled the labels’ interest in their exotic promotional smarts as well as their songwriting talents. The two will indicate Will Toledo aka Car seat headrest-Example of an artist who built a loyal online community that could be used as a springboard to speed up his steps from the matador house-show circuit to the main stage of the festival.
Car seat headrest photo courtesy of Matador Records
“We already learned about Car Seat Headrest after releasing ten albums online and had a follow-up,” Lombardy said. “But it existed entirely in an alternative ecosystem of which we were no part. So it was an exciting change for the community we talk to every day to learn about him, and to bring his music to the top ground with him.
Kasloy added, “I would say that the biggest difference between the current era and thirty years ago is that we’ve worked with some young actors – like Will and Lindsay and Julien Baker And Lucy Dakas– They have a very defined idea of who they are, how they want to present themselves, and how they want to listen to the records. Just in the true sense, really living their shit together, and knowing the basics of music-business presentation 101, it’s really quite shocking. When I compare it to the things I went through with the band twenty-five years ago, it’s like night and day.
So it’s safe to say that, unlike Yo La Tengo the day before, Matador’s artists don’t need any formal rock-school training for the current bumper crop.
“Some of them could send us to rock school,” Kaslay said.
– Stuart Berman