label spotlight: slumberland records

All images courtesy of Slumberland Records

Slumberland Records
Label head: Mike Schulman
Location: Oakland

I first met Mike Schulman when he was recommending spot-on records (such as Juvenilia and “100,000 Fireflies”) to me at Vinyl Ink Records in Silver Spring and the other folks who were involved with early Slumberland were Pam Berry (chickfactor’s cofounder and Black Tambourine singer), Archie Moore, Brian Nelson, Kelly Young, Rob Goldrick, Berny Grindel, Bridget Cross, Dan Searing (of Black Tambourine, Velocity Girl, Whorl and other bands). I wrote a story about the label for Washington City Paper 30 years ago! before our zine was formed. They’ve been a prolific and excellent label ever since and we did a label spotlight on them even though everyone reading cf already knows all about them! Meet Mike Slumberland

What year did you start a label? Where? Why?
We started Slumberland in 1989 around Washington, DC/suburban MD. A small group of us knew each other from high school, U of MD and the MD radio station (WMUC) and were into a lot of the same music—Postcard, Creation, K, Rough Trade, C86, shoegaze, lower east side NYC noise rock, the Mary Chain, etc.—and decided to start some bands in that vein. Eventually we decided to put out a few records to document what we were doing and it just grew from there.

What has been the most fun bit about running a label?
It’s the absolute best feeling to hear some new music that you like and being able to help get it out there. It’s why we do this. Of course it’s *especially* fun when a record resonates a bit and reaches a wider audience, but even so there’s nothing like that moment when you open the box of a new album, send some to the band, send out the first mail orders… It’s great.

What have been the biggest challenges?
The biggest challenges are rather connected: a) the financial side of keeping it all going, and b) getting enough visibility for the records to create enough demand to drive enough sales to satisfy a). It’s always been hard to get press for the kind of records we put out, and without press it’s equally hard to get into the shops. While internet sales and the demise of traditional print music magazines/zine have leveled the playing field a bit for the really small labels, it’s also meant the overall sales are down which just makes everything harder. And of course we take no pleasure at all in the challenges that have beset traditional music press and record retail—in a lot of ways I wish it was 1995 again, but with the press actually liking what we do, ha ha.

How have things changed over time in terms of marketing and distribution?
The rise of digital media—downloads/streaming, online zines/blogs and social media—has changed a lot of the specifics of how we get the music out there. While it’s great that music production and distribution has been demystified and democratized by platforms like Bandcamp, it’s also true that there is more music than ever and it becomes harder and harder to capture a little bit of attention for any given band or release. There is a tangible desire for the new and novel, and albums seem to have a much shorter shelf-life now. Catalog sales are barely a fraction of what they were before downloads and the retail apocalypse, so one feels compelled to push even harder during those few weeks before and just after an album release, and we’re increasingly resigned to the fact that we’ll need to let more records go out of print sooner.

What new stuff are you working on now/soon?
We have a new album by SF project Chime School (totally classic Rickenbacker-fueled jangle) along with a new pressing of the East Village singles comp. Farther in the future we’ve got new records by The Reds, Pinks & Purples, Artsick, Kids On a Crime Spree and Jeanines all in production, plus some *super* cool reissues we’ve been working on for ages.

What other merch do you sell?
Every now and then I do a batch of shirts, but TBH I’d rather spend the label’s money on new releases than merch.

What labels have inspired you?
Creation, Postcard, Bus Stop, K, Sarah, Rough Trade, Factory, Fast, Subway.

How do you find new records (not on your label)?
I keep an eye on Twitter and Instagram to see what people are talking about. Sometimes if I have a bit of time I’ll check out the Bandcamp profile pages for people who have bought SLR stuff and see what else they’re listening to. I listen to a bit of online radio, mostly BBC 1Xtra while I’m getting Prince SLR ready for school in the AM. I’m sure I’m missing a lot of new bands that I’d like but I’m also still buying loads of jazz, soul, techno, etc. and there’s just not enough time to listen to everything.

What are some great record stores and mail orders still operating?
Monorail, Jigsaw, Norman, World of Echo, Government Center, Belltower, Dusty Groove, Sounds of The Universe, Juno, Econojam, 1-2-3-4-Go, Bleep, Boomkat, Stranded. So many!

Can people get your releases outside the U.S.?
We have worldwide distribution, but of course the records are more expensive outside the US and it’s even harder to get stores to commit some money and rack space. Unfortunately overseas postage rates skyrocketed several years ago, which all but eliminated what was until then a pretty consistent overseas mail order biz. We’ve recently been experimenting with having our friend Alvaro at the excellent Meritorio label in Spain fulfill mail orders in Europe, which helps with costs and delivery times, but since it costs a LOT to get records over to him it really only works for records that we press in Europe. Still, it’s something.

What would you like to say to Louis DeJoy?
We see you.

What bands/records are you really excited about?
There’s been so much terrific music coming out of the bay area over the past few years—The Umbrellas, The Reds, Pinks & Purples, Cindy, Tony Jay, Chime School, Blue Ocean, April Magazine, Seablite and on and on. If it wasn’t for COVID, we’d have amazing gigs to go to every week! I quite like the US Highball albums, the new Ducks Ltd album is amazing, The Boys With The Perpetual Nervousness, the new Massage LP, the Dummy LP, the new Saint Etienne LP!!

What are you drinking, eating, listening to, reading, watching these days?
Somewhat surprisingly my alcohol & food intake seemed to actually go down during lockdown, and we’ve gone mostly vegetarian at the urging of Prince SLR. I’ve always got a few books on the go—usually non-fiction science writing or political theory, but I’ve been adding in some fiction now and again too. We have a hard time scheduling blocks of time for movies so we watch a fair amount of TV. We’re watching Back To Life and Pen15 right now, recently watched and liked Don’t Forget The Driver, Motherland, The Detectorists (finally). There’s just too much to watch, I don’t know how some people seems to get through all of the prestige TV happening today!

Has the vinyl supply-chain bottleneck affected you?
YES, and it’s an ongoing nightmare. Albums are being delayed over a year, planning and budgeting is almost impossible. Getting represses in a timely fashion is impossible, so we can’t respond to demand if a record does well. It’s just a mess and TBH it could be fatal for some small labels. I’m still trying to get my head around how to make it work.

Do you have a day job? Are you in a band? Do tell.
I’m between day jobs right now, which was actually pretty helpful during lockdown and home schooling. I’m the shouter in a punk band called Hard Left that is intermittently active; we released an album in 2015 bookended by a handful of singles, and we’re (VERY) slowly working on our long-awaited (ha ha!) follow-up.

Hobbies? Interests? Pets? Kids? Fave record stores?
Leftist politics, tinkering with computer tech stuff, our two cats, my lovely family, record collecting.

Anything else you would like to add?
When SLR started over 30 years ago, I couldn’t really imagine getting past the first few releases and now we have over 250 and are still counting. Running a small label is awfully challenging right now and the rewards are quite scant, but I still love to hear new bands and help them get their music out there. Now more than ever we need beautiful music and art in our lives!

Listen to Slumberland bands here.

JEANINES!

Alicia and Jed from Jeanines!

When it comes to indie-pop flame keepers, few do it better than the East Coast band Jeanines. We love their 2019 debut album and cannot wait for the next one out early next year on Slumberland. We caught up with Alicia Jeanine and Jed Smith (My Teenage Stride) to see how they’ve been holding up, what they’ve been listening to and doing over the past few strange years since we saw them play in January 2020 in a chilly basement record shop in Portland. Interview by Gail

CF: What has changed since the pandemic happened? Did you have to cancel plans? Change residence? Change your working style? 
Alicia: The week we were supposed to leave for Europe to play the Madrid Popfest plus two other dates, the entire world basically shut down. That was super disappointing, of course, but we hope to get to Europe eventually! I also graduated library school in May 2020 and moved to Western Massachusetts for a new job this February, which totally changed our working style. We used to go to our practice space together weekly and work on recording stuff, but now we have to do almost everything separately. Jed helped me get a super basic recording setup in my apartment here, but things still take much longer and aren’t as fun, unfortunately.
Jed: What Alicia said, plus a West Coast thing in September that got canceled. Since Alicia moved we’ve seen each other plenty, either me up in Massachusetts or her down in the city for shows, but we can’t really practically record in the same way, so that’s a bit frustrating and the process definitely isn’t as fun. 

What were you like as teenagers? 
Alicia: I was socially maladjusted and had very few friends. I was definitely slowly getting into more and more indie bands, but not many people I knew were into that kind of thing. I was pretty isolated and grew up in suburban sprawl not super close to any cities.
Jed: From ages about 13–18, I was more or less completely asocial. So all of junior high and high school, basically. I wasn’t picked on or anything and actually had good social skills—I remember people even trying to befriend me and I’d just…not take them up on it. All of my teen years were spent alone recording songs on a 4-track pretty much as soon as I picked up drums and guitar at 14, doing special effects makeup (I kid you not), and painting (poorly). I can’t really regret not hanging out with anyone during those years because I spent it being creatively productive. Oh, I did have a weird sort of uh…love triangle in like 11th and 12th grade with two girls at school—I was totally in love with one of them who had a boyfriend and the other one had a crush on me and it was fraught and sad and stuff but this all happened at school—I never hung out with them outside of school, nor did I try. So yeah, I was a weird, very much intentionally solitary teen I guess. Okay, that was wayyyyy too much info sorry. 

Are you from musical families? 
Alicia: Yes, my mom has a degree in music and used to teach piano. She only cares about classical music, though. I’m glad to have that foundation (I was forced to take piano and violin throughout my childhood) but I never wanted to be a classical musician. I definitely think some of my ability comes from my mom, though!
Jed: Yeah, my grandmother was a piano player, basically a stride piano player like Jelly Roll Morton or Fats Waller; she was a virtuoso with perfect pitch, wish we’d recorded her. My grandfather played drums a bit in church jazz bands and my mom is a jazz musician semi-professionally. So I grew up with a lot of jazz. 

When did you write your first song, what was it about, what was it called? 
Alicia: I didn’t write my first song until about six years ago, actually, with the encouragement of Jed. I don’t remember what it was called or what it was about, though!
Jed: The first song I remember writing, which I can still recall completely, like arrangement and everything, was when I was 7, and it was called “Salt Water Up My Nose.” It had a sort of music hall McCartney arrangement with groovy drums and bass arpeggios like Maxwell’s Silver Hammer. I didn’t start playing instruments till I was 14 though, so I had no means to record any of my ditties till then. I was always obsessively doing it though. 

What is your songwriting process like? 
Alicia: Usually I sit down with the guitar and try to will something into my mind, the beginnings of a song. Often it works but sometimes it’s just not the moment. Other times I’ll get a little snippet of a melody or a phrase in my head and sit down and try to work it into a song.
Jed: Either a song pops into my head and I go record it, or I think about a song I want to exist and I work out the arrangement and everything in my head, including the production aspects, so it’s more like writing a record than a raw song. I don’t sit down with an instrument to write, so it’s an entirely uh…cerebral process, which makes recording it a joyless, obsessive sort of act of transcription. Working with Alicia changes that process and it’s way more fun.

Where do you write and record? 
Alicia: I write songs at home. Most of the recording happens at the practice space in Brooklyn, but now I do some recording in my apartment in Massachusetts.
Jed: I write when I’m doing something mundane like shopping or cleaning or showering—mowing the lawn used to be a good time for thinking of songs. It’s good to have the nervous part of me busy with some other task so I can free up the good part of me to think about songs. I record everything in my practice space/studio in Bushwick. 

Your debut album is awesome! What were you going for when you recorded it? 
Alicia: I always say I write sad folk songs and Jed turns them into indiepop gems. So yeah, I handed them to him as simple acoustic things, and he transformed them into pop hits! We both were super into adding lots of harmonies.
Jed: Thanks! Alicia’s early songs were more often than not minor key songs written with acoustic guitar. I liked the idea of up-tempo, super short minor key pop songs, that’s really the main concept I personally had in mind. I couldn’t think of that many examples of it that were contemporary besides Veronica Falls. We also both really love multipart harmonies including hymnal stuff. 

What’s it like being on Slumberland/WIAIWYA? 
Alicia: Being on Slumberland is a dream come true, and Mike Schulman (Papa Slumber) is the nicest, best person you could hope to have on your team. Working on the EP with John from WIAIWYA was also great.
Jed: Same as Alicia, having a record on Slumberland was always a dream and a lot of my friends over the years were in bands I really loved like Cause-Co Motion and Crystal Stilts, who had records on Slumberland—but my first Slumberland obsession was Aislers Set, and I still consider Linton to be one of the greatest songwriters and pop musicians of the past 20+ years. Their stuff was really inspiring to me. WIAIWYA are another great label with great bands and it’s been an honor having a record there. 

What is the pop community like where you live? 
Alicia: In Brooklyn the pop community is doing all right, perhaps not as vibrant as it’s been in the past. It definitely skews older currently. In Western Mass I’m still trying to find any pop community that might exist!
Jed: Brooklyn/NYC has had a lot of great guitar pop…some you could call indiepop, for whatever it’s worth, but some like the aforementioned Cause Co-Motion and Crystal Stilts, who for me were more part of the continuation and mutation of the sort of 60s music that’s always been the core of my musical DNA. Right now it’s disjointed. But there’s always great music being made everywhere, even if the people making it aren’t letting anyone hear it. 

Whose lyrics do you adore? 
Alicia: Nothing is coming to mind right off the bat, but I’ve always found the Siddeleys’ lyrics quite clever.
Jed: I’m always reticent to say it, but I think Mick Jagger is one of the greatest lyricists of all time when he’s not being childishly misogynistic, and weirdly underrated in that sense…especially considering they’re the second most famous band of all time. Other than that, Linton from Aislers Set’s lyrics are one of the things about them that’s exceptional and makes them stand out from other bands associated with indie pop. I also think Kim Deal is one of the most underrated lyricists of all time, especially on Pod. Chris Knox also. 

Where in NYC are you living now? If we came to visit for one day, what should we do? 
Alicia: Jed lives (and I used to live) in Ridgewood, Queens, right next to North Brooklyn. Depends what you like to do! Ridgewood has some great restaurants and bars (both old and new). The music scene right now is kind of in flux/trying to emerge from the pandemic.
Jed: I live in Queens right over the Brooklyn border next to Bushwick. NYC is a horrible place for a day trip or a several-day trip, I think it’s best experienced by actually living here. 

How has NYC changed since the crazy time started? 
Alicia: A lot of places have closed but some haven’t. A lot more outdoor seating, of course! 
Jed: It’s weird and traumatic and wonderful as ever. The music venue situation is upsetting but I think it’s finding ways to mend. Andy Bodor deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. Cakeshop forever. 

Can you cook? What is your specialty? 
Alicia: I can cook but don’t like to. Sometimes I make this thing with green beans and kidney beans that sounds boring and bad but tastes quite good.
Jed: For about four years, I was an obsessive bread baker—like three times a week or so, back in like the mid-2000s. Other than that, Mexican and Italian are my things since forever. 

What’s in the fridge? 
Alicia: Eggs, yogurt, fruit, salad stuff, seltzer.
Jed: Yogurt, too much cheese, beans, too much seltzer. 

What day jobs have you had? 
Alicia:
 Librarian, proofreader/editor, software tester, admin stuff.
Jed: Special education, barista, video store/music store, proofreader/editor, copywriter, internet “journalist,” music lessons, recording engineer/producer, soundtrack composer. Past couple of years it’s mostly been copywriting and recording/producing, paid work–wise. I also do wet work for the CIA occasionally. Not really though. OR DO I REALLY THOUGH?

What are you reading/watching/eating at the moment? 
Alicia: I’m about to start reading something that looks really good, but I don’t remember the name! I’ve been watching so much Masterchef, it’s very dumb.
Jed: If I visit Alicia it’s nonstop Masterchef, so I guess I have to count that. World/American cinema from 1935 or so to 1985ish. Reading, I’m on a Joan Didion kick right now and just finished Kiss of The Spider Woman by Manuel Puig. I also read books about sharks and deep sea life as often as possible. 

What radio shows/DJs/podcasts do you love? 
Alicia: Lately into podcasts by Jamie Loftus; the current one is about Cathy comics. Also love Maintenance Phase (about bodies/dieting/health fads) and You’re Wrong About (rehashing historical moments with witty banter).
Jed: My friend Neal Ramirez has a great show called Sound Burger, and my friends Owen Kline and Sean O’Keefe both have wonderful, unpredictable shows on this indie station called K-PISS (no, really.)

Fave record stores? 
Alicia: None in particular, but I love places with a great and well-priced used selection.
Jed: Earwax, Captured Tracks store, Academy Records, Deep Cuts, and Rough Trade, all in Brooklyn except for Deep Cuts, are/were all great. 

How do you consume music? (Platforms, formats)
Alicia: Spotify and records, mostly.
Jed: I rarely listen to music casually so it’s usually one song or piece, on YouTube, staring at the screen, or my iTunes library. I think YouTube is the best option for music on the internet outside of Bandcamp (for newer/smaller artists).

Do you use any apps or software in to make music? 
Alicia: Logic to record; Voice Memo to jot down ideas.
Jed: Logic for recording and production, voice memo to remember a vocal melody occasionally. In the past I’ve also used Audacity and Garageband.  

Who is your style icon? 
Alicia: No one?
Jed: No one. Though David Hemmings’ white pants in Blow-Up make him 10x more foxy. 

What are your day jobs? Hobbies? Pets? Kids? 
Alicia: I’m the outreach librarian at the public library. Music is my hobby, I suppose. I have two beautiful cats—a calico named Heidi, and a gray and white tabby named Biscuit. They are delightful.
Jed: I’m a copywriter as my regular thing, peppered with recording/mixing/soundtrack work throughout the year. My extremely lovely black cat Elsa is my familiar. 

What would you do this summer if money and COVID were not in the way of your dreams? 
Alicia: Travel more and maybe tour.
Jed: Buy a car and do a road trip across the country and then drive up the coast of California listening to “Babylon Sisters” on repeat. Help some friends out.

What bands/venues do you want to play with/at? 
Alicia: Dream pairings that won’t happen—Aislers Set, Dear Nora. 
Jed: Alicia’s picks are good. My Teenage Stride played in this cool outdoor venue at Primavera years ago. I’d like to do that again but having rehearsed more. 

Future plans? Upcoming tours/records? 
Alicia: We have a new LP coming out in early 2022 and we are hopefully playing some dates in California at the beginning of January around the SF Popfest!
Jed: New Jeanines LP in early 2022 on Slumberland as well as new Mick Trouble LP on Emotional Response in January, with a special limited edition w/flexidisc bonus thingie for Rough Trade which I’m excited about. Touring Jeanines and Mick in SF Popfest and the West Coast in January also. 

Records Alicia Cannot Live Without
Dear Nora – Three States
The Siddeleys – Slum Clearance
Les Calamités – C’est Complet
The Aislers Set – How I Learned to Write Backwards
Nice Try – S/T (2016)
The Mantles – Long Enough to Leave
Elliott Smith – all?
Frankie Cosmos – Next Thing
Go Sailor – S/T
Connie Converse – How Sad, How Lovely

Songs That Jed Cannot Live Without
“All My Hollowness,” Tall Dwarfs
“Nothing But Heartaches,” the Supremes
“This Angry Silence,” Television Personalities
“Anything Could Happen,” The Clean 
“Myself When I Am Real,” Charles Mingus (from Mingus Plays Piano)
“Reach Out, I’ll Be There,” The Four Tops
“Luck of Lucien,” A Tribe Called Quest
“Back Up Against the Wall,” Circle Jerks
“Doe,” The Breeders
“Quick Step,” The Adverts
“Ready Teddy,” Little Richard
“Hit It and Quit It,” Funkadelic 
“They Don’t Know,” Kirsty MacColl 
“Don’t Believe the Hype,” Public Enemy 
“Oogum Boogum,” Brenton Wood
“Lady Rachael,” Kevin Ayers
“Solace- A Mexican Serenade,” Scott Joplin
“Dawn,” The Four Seasons
“Get Right Back,” Maxine Nightingale 
“I Bet You,” Funkadelic 
“Sabbath Bloody Sabbath- Black Sabbath
“Theme de Camille” from Contempt/Le Mepris soundtrack- George Delerue 
“Queen of Fools,” Barbara Mills
“Do I Love You,” Ronettes 
“Girls Just Want To Have Fun,” Cyndi Lauper
“Rosie Won’t You Please Come Home,” Kinks
“Gideon’s Bible,” John Cale 
“Touch the Hem of His Garment,” Sam Cooke & The Soul Stirrers
“Mona,” The Beach Boys
“Electric Funeral,” Black Sabbath
“Sweet & Dandy,” Toots & The Maytals
“Into The Groove,” Madonna
“After Eight,” Neu!  
“Your Heart Out,” The Fall
“No Side To Fall In,” The Raincoats
“Street Fighting Man,” Rolling Stones
“When I Grow Up,” The Beach Boys
and every Velvet Underground album