This story originally ran Jan. 4, 2015
Hardly Art’s Sarah Moody chats with us about creating one of the most diverse rosters in rock.
What do you do for Hardly Art?
It depends on the day and it depends on what’s going on with the label– Sub Pop is around to help out with a lot of the administrative side of things, but when it comes to the day to day work it’s really just Jason Baxter and I. Jason handles all of the press/promo/social media for the label, and I handle a lot of the visual side of things, laying out one sheets and artwork—which is what I’ve been doing all week for the Colleen Green record we just announced—so I’ve been working on that largely, and I also deal with manufacturing and production, updating the website, keeping up with international distributors/contacts, and I keep us on track with the marketing schedule—it’s a lot of marketing at the end of the day. I also keep in touch with the bands on our roster and make sure they’re happy and that we’re up to date on what’s happening with them.
How do you curate bands for Hardly Art?
It’s a group process, so it’s pretty democratic, similar to the Sub Pop realm but different. So at Sub Pop the A &R staff is at least fifteen people, I would guess, and at Hardly Art it’s myself, Jason, and three of the higher-ups at Sub Pop, so it’s the five of us that decide on our bands. We get a fair amount of demos but we have yet to sign a band from a demo. Largely it’s just projects arising from bands we already work with, bands that our bands go on tour with, bands that we’re fans of. Usually someone will pitch to the group, and then if people are interested we’ll try to go see them live, and then from there we’ll try to meet them in person and make sure we all get along and are mutually excited about it.
For me personally, if a band isn’t excited about being on Hardly Art, then there’s not much incentive for us. A lot of labels will chase bands because they think that they’ll do well or be popular, and granted, I don’t think we would pursue a band if we didn’t think they would do well, but at the same time it’s more about making sure a lot of other things are in place—that we can work well together, and you’re excited about working with us, and we’re excited about working with you, and we want to get this record out into the world. It’s more about creating that environment.
How did the queer/female direction for Hardly Art come about?
I think that it was by accident, or that’s just what we’re drawn to, because they’re also just great pop records or interesting artists and musicians. I will say that the majority of the bands on our label are just totally full of characters, which is something that I find interesting and I’m drawn to those folks. I feel like it largely started when we signed Hunx to the label, that was a big draw for us, and I was really excited to work with him, and obviously he’s very open and flamboyant personality-wise. From there we ended up working with Shannon and the Clams, and that’s also how we snagged Hunx’s solo records. I feel like that also gave us more of a base in California, which was how we started working with Colleen Green, and La Sera, and obviously Tacocat was a local one… I don’t know, it’s never been an intentional thing, but it just so happens that, you know, you guys make great music, and we like working with you, and you happen to be of this demographic, and that’s great. I think at the end of the day we’re just putting out records that we like, but it’s cool that it’s falling into those categories.
If anything, I’m stoked if people who are in those demographics feel like they have an artist they can relate to, because I think that can be a tough thing no matter what age you are.
That’s not as common.
Yeah, I kind of forget that. I think that Seattle’s a bubble, and then we’re kind of a bubble within that bubble, and so I don’t really think about it, or consider it to be abnormal. These are just the folks I’ve been working with for the past few years, so it’s not really a daily thought in my mind. Sometimes I either see articles on the news or read about things that are happening in normal America, and remember “Oh yeah, Seattle’s progressive sometimes,” but even as progressive as we are, I think there’s still a long way to go, so I think I don’t really notice…hopefully I don’t take it for granted.
You’re the female head of a label, which is rare. What are some awesome things about that and what are some not awesome things?
I was really excited when I first started at Sub Pop because it was the exact job I wanted. I got hired right out of college, which was atypical – so I was happy to have a job, but I was extra happy to have that particular job. I hadn’t really thought about the gender divide until I started working at Sub Pop, when I realized that 90% of the people I was communicating with at the time were male. I was also surprised by the lack of prominent female writers – I would have expected that to be a little more even.
It’s a weird thing, because you think of that [gender imbalance] and you don’t want that to be a reason for anything, but at the same time I will say that it’s been awesome to find other women in the music industry who are just great people and excited to be doing what they’re doing. I think it’s important to support each other in that way. In particular I’m thinking of a couple booking agents I know, because as rare as it is for a woman to be involved in the label side of things, it’s even more rare or just as rare to find a woman who is doing well in the booking realm or even attempting the booking realm, because that’s just as cutthroat if not more so.
Once I was at Hardly Art, it was exciting for me to attempt to be a role model of sorts, or just to prove that it was possible, so that younger women could see that it was something that could be possible for them. A lot of people get scared away or pursue other things or just can’t handle the atmosphere because it is kind of harsh at times, but it also depends on who you end up working with and how you end up handling it, by and large.
I feel like that’s a lot of platitudes, but they’re generally true.
You have your own label, right?
Right, it’s called End of Time. That came about kind of the same reason that Hardly Art did, because Sub Pop outgrew the size of the bands that it wanted to work with. Part of the premise was to just create a label or an avenue where they could still work with smaller bands– Sub Pop is still a large part of what Hardly Art does and how we’re able to do it, but it’s less intimidating if you are a band just starting out because it’s just Jason and I by and large, which is a plus if you’re a band looking to work with a smaller group. That’s another thing that Hardly Art does well – we make it approachable.
That was how Hardly Art came about, and then after a handful of years of being at Hardly Art, there were bands that I would pitch and they wouldn’t go through for whatever reason, or they wouldn’t be immediately palatable or a little too out there, and I was getting frustrated because these were bands that I still felt could do well or just deserved to have their records heard. I get it because again, Hardly Art is obviously at a larger scale than what I’m doing personally – larger budgets, different distribution, all of that, so it was a way for me to have an outlet for something I wanted to do. Before Hardly Art started and before I knew that was going to be a thing, this was already something I was plotting. I’ve always wanted to have my own label and have that avenue and outlet. When Hardly Art started up, that became my priority, and after a few years I realized that it was a company that I worked for but didn’t necessarily have ownership in or of. That was what prompted me to basically make a hobby out of my day job, as well. So my hobby is my job is my hobby, sort of thing.
But it’s been really great, I love working with Wimps, I love the Stickers records that I’ve put out, the Web of Sunsets record, I don’t know—as closely as I work with bands at Hardly Art, it’s a totally different thing with End of Time. It’s just taking it and putting it on a more microscopic level, so while I’m involved with the majority of those aspects at Hardly Art, at End of Time I do everything, and I have a really close working relationship with all the bands on the label, which is really satisfying. And once you’ve connected with something, and you’re able to present it to a wider audience and see other people connect with it, it’s a really satisfying process.
The other day I was listening to NPR, and they had Bryan Ferry on as he has a new album out, and the interviewer asked him a question along the lines of, “So tell me, the gender balance in your band, was that an intentional thing or did you just choose the best musicians?” and it was kind of a backhanded question where it was insinuating that it wasn’t possible that the females could be the best musicians, ‘cause they’re female, right? I can appreciate the desire to make it about gender as a general talking point, but at the same time, well, there’s two things:
First, I feel like it takes away from what’s being made on a basic level, and I’m kind of hoping that this is where everything moves next within the bubble: I feel like even gender is becoming a questionable topic, because the lines just keep getting blurred, and that’s a whole different avenue or arena for things, so that’s really interesting to me too – because I think that the more that the conversation progresses, the more it just deflates the idea of gender in general and making that a focal point.
Second, another thing is to think about is the 90s – which weren’t that long ago – and that was a totally different era too when it came to gender politics, because if you think about the riot grrl stuff, and if you think about how even now, the fact that Sleater-Kinney is coming back around, and that part of their reason is “Oh, we don’t feel like anyone else did this right, so we’re coming back”… I think it’s easy to get frustrated by where things are, but it’s also crazy to see the progress that’s been made, and equally crazy as to how slow it’s all been.
My point here is that I’m hoping in the future it becomes a not-topic, but in a good way.