Running a DIY label is a daunting task, and most of those who do it struggle to turn any kind of profit. It takes hours of work behind the scenes, and more beyond that to try and get people to take notice, but without such labels, the scene would be much worse-off, and it’s testament to the dedication and commitment of those who run them that they carry on regardless. For most underground labels, any profits are pumped straight back into the label for future releases, so for a label to instead put those profits towards charitable causes is a commendable act. Collective and label Grimalkin Records do exactly that. Most of the Richmond, Virginia label’s records are benefit releases with proceeds going to individuals in need or charities/organisations chosen by the artist themselves.
Relatively new, Grimalkin put out three tape releases in 2018 but have a lot more planned for this year. The label, run by twelve collective members, are mainly poc and are all queer women, nb/ngc/agender folx or trans men. They prioritise releases from queer people, with priority to qpoc, boasting an eclectic and varied roster of releases from a range of talented musicians. Spanning a diverse range of styles, including dark ambient, dark folk, pop-punk, psych rock, noise, experimental dance, and even “minimalist droner classical pop”, Grimalkin are a label with something for everyone. If you’re a music fan who loves hearing fresh takes on established genres, they’re someone you need to be keeping an eye on.
As such, for the third iteration of Sleeve Notes, we posed Grimalkin the same questions we previously asked both Third-I-Rex and APF Records. Scroll on to find out more about the label collective from Sarmistha Talukdar (Tavishi) and Nancy Kells (Spartan Jet-Plex).
Tell us a little bit about your label and how it all started.
Nancy: We’re a queer and mainly poc run label collective. We are twelve collective members so far and all of us are all queer women, nb/ngc/agender folx or trans men. We are fairly new. We had three cassette releases out in 2018 as well as several out this year and a bunch more lined up for 2019. You do not need to be in the collective to release with us and we are not genre-focused. Rather, we prioritise releasing music by queer people with priority to qpoc. You can learn more about the collective here. Most of our releases are benefit releases and so proceeds go to individuals in need or to an organisation, collective or non-profit local to the artist and of their choosing.
For me personally, I wanted the label to incorporate all the best things that I love about teaching, facilitating and advocacy with music, organising and activism. Also, collaboration and support. I feel it’s especially important that people create their own safe spaces within their communities, and at the same time connect, support and collaborate with other people doing the same.
What was the first CD/record/tape you ever owned?
Sarmistha: The first tape our family ever owned to the best of my memory was a Bengali folk music cassette tape with modern renditions of Rabindra Sangeet.
Nancy: My mum gave me records when I was around ten or eleven, mainly kids records but they are some of my most favourite and cherished records I have. I’ve sampled several of them for my Spartan Jet-Plex project. I have a memory of her taking me into her bedroom and opening her closet to get her records off the top shelf and her handing them to me and telling me they were hers as a girl. It’s one of my most vivid, happy and cinematic memories.
What is the biggest obstacle you regularly come across whilst running the label?
Sarmistha: Funding and press recognition.
Nancy: Yes yes, and also lack of time because you have to work full time to make ends meet and keep the label going. I’m also always trying to play catch-up too *laughs*. I am learning as I go, so I am setting parameters for myself and boundaries so I know what I can handle as healthy and inspiring versus what’s overextending myself. I am honestly learning as I go and figuring what works and what doesn’t. None of this is really an obstacle but just part of the process. I’m excited when I think of the possibilities. But yeah, getting people to respond to your emails can be frustrating and daunting and it’s more radio silence than response, but I have really met a community of supportive and really sincere people who do communicate and acknowledge what we’re doing and that means a lot and really sustains us. Social media really is awful but it’s also a great way to build community with people outside your local area. Social media does some good and a lot of bad. But the biggest obstacle is having to participate in this money transaction world in the first place by selling albums to keep in existence, help others and be able to make what you love.
And what would you say is the most rewarding aspect?
Sarmistha: Holding/providing space that is needed in the community.
Nancy: Yes, that exactly. Also, helping my friends release their music and put a physical copy and documentation of its existence into the world.
What are some of your proudest moments or achievements as a label?
Sarmistha: Being able to support local grassroots organisations through fundraising.
Nancy: Yes, for sure and also seeing my friends’ albums come to life and become reality. Seeing them get attention and recognition, and raise some money at the same time for community organisations. That’s rewarding, and again to build on what Sarmistha said, there is nothing like being able to come together and collaborate with community members – to make things happen and build meaningful relationships and support systems, and then striving to keep building on that going forward.
How much importance do you place on physical products over digital?
Nancy: I think people should have access to music. I have issues with corporations and the rich having ownership over it though or capitalising on others’ work. I think it’s important that people are documenting and preserving good music and work in a physical way in addition to digital. Maybe it’s my age, but I love having a physical record or tape or CD in my hand when listening to an album. It’s a unique experience to digital and each format is cool in its own way.
Though people don’t even download anymore either. Now it’s streaming. I get the accessibility but save your $10 a month and buy a tape by your friend instead, and listen on Bandcamp if you need to stream or go for the free account. Put your money into your friends and community and actual artists and collectives and skip the rest as much as possible. I know it’s not easy, and sites like Spotify have their advantages to the listener, but there are better alternatives if you care. I live without Spotify on the reg easily. I have a free account for when I have to go on there because that’s the only place to hear something, but it’s really not that difficult or costly to gain access to the music you really want to hear in 2019 and instead put your money towards helping others by buying from them directly or on Bandcamp – if you are fortunate enough to have some money to burn on music in the first place.
What do you think of the current state of underground/independent music, and where do you see it going in the future?
Sarmistha: Underground/independent music will be more collective driven to meet the needs of the marginalised community, as more and more people start their own labels and veer away from mainstream alternatives.
Nancy: Yes, that sounds like the dream right there.
What do you look for in a potential signing?
Sarmistha: We seek artists whose core values can match with ours.
Nancy: Yes, and we are approachable. You can reach out any time. We are always looking to work and collaborate with like-minded folx.
What other current labels do you admire?
Nancy: Yes those, but there’s a lot really and I worry I will miss listing an important one. Citrus City, Geeb Tapes, Get Better Records, Topshelf Records, Ratskin Records, Fox Food Records, Under the Counter Tapes, Doom Trip Records, Psychic Eye, Z Tapes… I really just admire anyone trying to do this, but especially those that are supporting people in their local communities and ones who make helping and representing marginalised people a priority.
If you could have signed one band not currently on your roster, who would it be?
Nancy: I honestly cannot think of anyone. Everyone for the most part that I’ve approached, which is mainly friends and local musicians, have said yes. I am a huge fan of Backxwash so when I asked her and she said yes to not only joining Grimalkin, but releasing with us, I was on cloud nine. We have a lot of really great releases coming up. We release people regardless of where they live in the world, but we also really love supporting the local community in Richmond and Hampton Roads. There are so many talented people here making great music, so you can expect to keep seeing us release musicians from here as we also work to branch out elsewhere in the world as well.
We would love to collaborate more with other labels and community members. I have a dream that all the labels, collectives and grassroots orgs in Richmond will come together to host a music festival of sorts. Several of us in the local music community have talked about it as an idea down the line. If Grimalkin got the chance to do something with Topshelf or Doom Trip, that would be cool. We’ve done a little bit of label collaboration with our Madison Turner release and her label Close By Air and Petridisch and their label Fish Prints.
There are also a lot of problems in Richmond with racism, transphobia and unsafe spaces. I volunteer for the Virginia Anti-Violence Project and we have organised a grassroots fundraising workshop/get together on July 27th. We’re inviting various community members, musicians, collectives, venues, and like-minded folx to get together and have a discussion about how we can collaborate and support each other more and also start a conversation about the issues and obstacles that we see and face so we can all do better in our own ways, and have an opportunity to listen to what people need and want. I am very excited about that.
What can we expect from Grimalkin in the future?
Sarmistha: Cross-state and cross-country collaborations.
Nancy: Yes! We have so many great releases out this summer. So Nice Yesterday (Baltimore), Synthia Slimez (RVA), The Doll (UK/NZ), Backxwash (Montreal), Hunting Dog (RVA), Don’t Do It, Neil (Philly), Kome (RVA), Dstnthouses/JIN (RVA) and much more…
I have been talking to Ty Sorrell who lives in RVA now and is part of the Virginia collective Tribe Ninety Five so hopefully you’ll see some kind of collaboration with them in the future. I’ve also been working with Heaven who is part of Grimalkin and Great Dismal in RVA and we are hoping to collaborate on a release for Bob Vylan, a UK duo who mix grime, punk and rap. Heaven interviewed them for Great Dismal’s zine and introduced me to their music. I’m excited about that hopefully coming to fruition later this year or early next year.
Sometime soon we also have plans to release Sarmistha’s project Tavishi and another one by Elizabeth Owens, and maybe another by Kate Can Wait. I know she’s working on a new album, and I am too when I find the time – I hope to get out a new Spartan Jet-Plex album by early next year. We also look forward to full-mlength albums by MELVL, Berko Lover, So Nice Yesterday and Aesthetic Barrier at some point. I’ve talked to Psychic Eye about possibly making the Aesthetic Barrier one a collaboration between our labels. Basically, stay tuned because we have a lot coming soon!
What advice would you give someone who’s just kickstarting their own label?
Get help and don’t go it alone. Do some research and save money up if you can. Don’t lose site that you’re working to support others and their art. That makes up for a lot. Hone your organizational skills because you definitely need them to make it work.
What are some of your favourite tracks released on the label and why?
Sarmistha: Womajich Dialyseiz, ‘Live at Crystal Palace’, ‘It won’t’ by Berko Lover.
Nancy: All of them! really. As far as upcoming, Synthia Slimez and The Doll in June as well as the So Nice Yesterday track, our July release of Backxwash is one of my favourites. Hunting Dog in August is on top for me too. Also, Berko Lover and getting to collaborate with Berko for ‘Merge’ was a favourite. I cannot wait for everyone to hear Mabel’s project, Don’t Do It, Neil. There’s too many favourites to name them all, so I’ll just say our back catalogue and everything we plan to do going forward.
Words: George Parr