San Bernardino

Sacred Bones Brings Brooklyn to the Desert

Wymond Miles  | Photo: James Cromwell Holden.

There's a cross-continental kinship between the sounds of Brooklyn and the music of North East L.A. Each represents a cultural outlier in locale that was once a frontier between the working and artist classes. Silver Lake and Echo Park represented cheaper rents for nomadic creative types just as Brooklyn was the landing pad for those who could no longer weather the rising rents and vanishing of mixed-income neighborhoods of Manhattan. Both in fashion and music, they both celebrate similar aesthetics, but one aspect of Southern California life evades New Yorkers: the desert.

In Southern California, the desert has been a retreat, a place to hole up, dry out, or connect with something greater. New York has no cultural equivalent, no space with endless space, stars, and starkness. For the burgeoning Brooklyn label Sacred Bones, home to psych-rockers, baroque Goths, and freak folks, the mostly abandoned Pioneertown afforded the chance to explore what our arid outpost has to offer.

They'll be celebrating their five year anniversary as a label at Pappy & Harriets on December 21, featuring Zola Jesus, Psychic Ills, Cult of Youth and more acts from their roster. But before they spend the day of Mayan Apocalypse in the desert, Artbound caught up with label manager Taylor Brode who discussed how to keep an indie label running, the importance of creating a brand identity, and what role Joshua Tree plays in their imaginations.

Lust for Youth.

You guys are based in Brooklyn, but why would you decide to throw this show in the desert? What place does the Mojave have in the imaginations of New Yorkers?

Well we do a lot of shows in NY so we decided we wanted to make this one really special. I think the desert holds a pretty mythical place in a lot of people's imaginations, not just New Yorkers. Being surrounded by so much un-inhabited land, however, is a fantasy I'm sure many New Yorkers have on a regular basis.

What experiences (if any) have you had in the desert that have influenced you creatively/ spiritually, etc?

[Label head] Caleb Braaten has never really been except to drive through. I spent my 30th birthday there with a bunch of friends and it was a blast. That was how I stumbled upon Pappy & Harriets actually. Not sure if it influenced me creatively, but spiritually it seems much easier to get in touch with a communal energy when not surrounded by tons of other people, traffic & buildings. It's almost like an outdoor deprivation tank.

Psychic Ills.

There's a history of people moving to the desert to avoid the apocalypse. During the Cold War, many people left the cities to move to the California desert to avoid being swept up in nuclear holocaust. This show will be on the day of the Mayan Armageddon, what kind of people do you think will be at the show?

Interesting, we didn't know that but it certainly makes sense. There has been so much political turmoil this year what with it being an election year, topped with the never-ending onslaught from the media about the impending zombie apocalypse, so for us we did definitely consider this location for its "get away from it all" vibe. As far as what kinds of people will be there, we are hoping it will be some deeply weird folks. We had initially discussed doing this at Burning Man, but this seemed like a more logical choice.

Zola Jesus | Photo: Angel Ceballos.

Your label Sacred Bones has a really diverse roster, what are the musical through-lines that tie together the acts that you support?

It's really just bands we love most of whom fall under the umbrella of punk/electronic/psych/folk/experimental. It's important that we love the music and equally important that we love the people. We try as much as possible to treat this like family as opposed to a business so the through-lines are probably more spiritual/intellectual than they are musical.

Running a small label seems to be a labor of love. What advice do you have for people who are looking to start their own labels?

We get asked this a lot. I would say make sure you have another source of income and that distribution is really important. It's also good to have relationships with local record stores. Also, CDs are not dead yet and if you work with bands who tour Europe they are especially not dead.

Pop1280.

Sacred Bones is celebrating their 5th anniversary. What do you think has kept you alive for this long and did you learn from the destruction of Touch and Go?

Ha, well, Touch and Go lasted 27 years so maybe ask me this question again in 22? Seriously though, a lot of the problem with T&G had more to do with its overhead cause they were a distributor too with a warehouse and a staff of 30 people. It costs a lot of money to do that and when people decided to stop paying for records and just illegally downloading everybody took a pretty serious financial hit.

The art direction for videos and packaging seem to create a distinct brand identity for Sacred Bones. Describe the process for identifying the aesthetic that you want to create and who the players are who helped to develop it.

Well the covers are all in a template, the EPs have one template & the Lps have another. Some of the images on the album cover are done in-house and sometimes they are collaborative works with the bands. David Correll is the senior designer here and he and Caleb developed the design.

Cult of Youth.

Var.

If you had one sentence to describe the sound of some of the bands playing at Pappy & Harriets, how would you describe them:

Asking me to talk about these bands in just one sentence is fairly excruciating exercise for me.

Zola Jesus: Electronic soul singer; at once the sound of the end of the world and the world being reborn.

Psychic Ills: Classic psych band who've been on the circuit for years and are still incredible.

Cult of Youth: Post-industrial folk music for punks and adult punks.

Var: This is Elias from Iceage's "artier" band which is part performance art, part electronic noise, part techno and all deeply emotional in the best way possible.

Wymond Miles: Wymond is a guitar player in the Fresh & Onlys but his solo stuff sounds like Roxy Music as filtered through late 80's (aka the best era of )The Cure.

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Top Image: Wymond Miles | Photo: James Cromwell Holden.

About the Author

Drew Tewksbury is Managing Editor and Producer of Artbound. He comes from a diverse media background, having worked as a producer for NPR show News and Notes, a regular music columnist for L.A. Weekly’s West Coast Sound, and Senio...
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