February 8, 2012

Feature: No Kings Record Cadre

No Kings Record Cadre co-founder Lee Noble had an exciting 2011, releasing a slew of recordings that yielded at least one surprise underground favorite in his sophisticated album Horrorism, which quickly sold out of a limited edition on Bathetic Records. Compared to those releases, the tapes he's been putting out on his own imprint appear lamentably under attended. In lieu of that, we recently invited Lee to answer a few questions about the label, describing a bit more of the personal background that helps steer its consistently beautiful, letterpress heavy aesthetic. He's also kindly compiled a mini-mixtape of unreleased tracks from upcoming No Kings releases - you can grab that here and take a peek at a tracklist after the jump. Click through to read our full interview.

Anyone that's bought one of your tapes can guess you've got a background in letterpress - can you tell us a bit about that and why you've connected it to tapes?
When I first moved to Los Angeles in 2008, I hooked up with a nice couple, Art Center grads, who had a studio in Koreatown and needed an intern/volunteer to help them sort type, organize their letterpress equipment, and do some printing. I was enthusiastic about printing but hadn't done it before, so they showed me the ropes and I went from there. I got the label going last year, with a good helping of motivation from the fact that I had studio access, I figured that was something fresh that I could offer to the tape scene. I actually just starting renting space at the studio full-time earlier this year and that's allowed me to focus a bit more and do more complicated work. Before I was just going in intermittently whenever they would open the place up to me. But I say always judge a book by it's cover... so if I'm going to have a tape label, which is a fun project for me personally, I want to try and really take a lot of care, and put a lot of thought into the packaging, which as a low budget, no contract record label, is basically my only contribution to the releases.

How did you become aware of a tape scene?
I think this started mainly because of my friend Frank Baugh. Back in 2007, when we originally started No Kings as a CDR label, mainly serving as a common name to stamp on our own music, I was in a band called Poet Named Revolver. So we released Frank's first album on CD, did some nice lino-block stamped packaging, and gave him the copies. We were trying to get a few album reviews in various punk / art mags, and Frank's CD got a review on Foxy Digitalis, because he sent it over there himself. And that was my introduction to that thing... Digitalis eventually put out a CD of his as well, and that's really where I started following along with the music I'm into now. Got to find out about more and more labels.

Also our friend in Nashville started a label called Nailbat Tapes (now dissolved) and wanted to put out our band's album. So that kind of made me realize it was possible to get tapes dubbed cheaply. We had a few other friends in Nashville who had been doing labels for a long time, Infinity Cat, and Nathan from Be Your Own Pet was on Ecstatic Peace at that point, so there was a lot going on, and we were searching around for places for our music to go, doing research really. I've always loved listening to tapes, I had this great Fisher Price player with a handle, all beige, when I was a kid. But anyway, our band eventually broke up and we stopped doing No Kings V.1, I moved to LA on a whim to hang out with some friends from college, and started working more on solo music. I submitted some tracks for a compilation on Beard of Snails, and they got back to me about doing a release. I did a CD, made really crazy elaborate screenprinted artwork. But I sort of felt like I had done it all myself by the end. Tried to get more labels to put out my stuff, Tape Drift, Bathetic, etc etc. After a few releases I started thinking that it might be good to revisit No Kings as a tape label, because it just seemed very easy to do! I actually didn't find out about Leaving Records or Burger until quite recently. I knew about Not Not Fun and Deathbomb Arc here in LA. But otherwise for a long time the labels always seemed kind of far away, Digitalis is in Tulsa? Tape Drift in upstate NY? It was just Nashville people putting out weird music on secret labels run out of houses in tiny towns, seemingly.

Earlier, you said "always judge a book by its cover" - do you identify with book publishers in any way? No Kings Record Cadre almost seems like an aesthetic exercise, in so far as the sound and appearance of every tape coheres so immediately into the fabric of the label.
I definitely identify with book publishers, magazine publishers, zine collectives, all paper printing products / projects. I would very much like to move into this territory as well. I plan on printing up some zines at some point. It's the same thing really. Curated artwork, published... but i'm definitely very interested in typography and different types of physical paper formatting. I wish I had actually studied it... but dealing with this is sort of my job at the label, assembling information onto a page.

Certainly No Kings is an aesthetic exercise, though I am not certain if I have a central thesis about what I'm trying to do... it's possible that what unites the label so far is just my personal taste, I don't always do the artwork and have put out different types of music, but obviously everything passes through my hands by the end. So, I'm cutting and folding the paper and using certain colors I like and finishing each piece... it's really just fun for me to do... but there isn't a conscious action that's taking place in terms of what type of music is being released, though I am trying to be more discerning and selective as it goes on. I feel like I made a few critical mistakes when it first started.

Bearing that in mind, where do you see No Kings going musically? Can you elaborate on what mistakes you think you were making?
Right now I want to take a slight divergence away from really minimalist electronic music and head towards more organic sounds... I feel like I've covered that pretty well with a series of tapes. There are two albums that are forthcoming from Talk West and Dusted Lux that I see as the first step on this path, as well as this one from Coupler (Nashville) which is pretty different, almost sounds like Johnny Greenwood's film score work, mellotrons and shit. I would like to release some vinyl and will hopefully someday figure out a way to do that.

Mistakes, well I just has to quickly learn that I don't like working with everyone and need to hold my ground about artwork sometimes. There's one tape I'd like to disavow.

Mix Tracklist
Talk West - Errand
Soothsayer- IV
Virgin Spirit - 1
Dusted Lux - Cloud Batter
Secret Birds - Centrue

Download Lee's mix here.

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