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Tapes 'N' Tapes: A Cassette-Only Label?

Yesterday, Bright Men of Learning (right) guitarist and solo performer Ben Murphy (far left), known to everyone on the Hands Up Houston message board as "bdm," announced his intention to start a cassette-only label whose first release would be a tribute tape to pacesetting '90s indie-rockers Sebadoh.

Has enough time elapsed so people are nostalgic over the same pop and hiss that used to drive them crazy, not to mention cassettes' annoying tendency to get tangled in the tape player if you played them often enough? (R.I.P., Shake Your Moneymaker.) Apparently so. Rocks Off emailed Murphy earlier today to get the lowdown on this most lo-fi of ideas.

Rocks Off: What are you calling this label, and what do you plan to release on it?

Benjamin D. Murphy: It's not in concrete, but I'm thinking about using the name "I Play Guitar Like a Robot." Why? Because it's long and annoying and awkward to use. For example:

Q: What label is that on?

A: I think it's I Play Guitar Like a Robot records... I mean tapes... Wait... What?

Realistically, I dunno. That's just a phrase in my head. A friend had a labelmaker and after a show once, years ago, gave that to me. It was on my guitar case for years. As for the releases, I've got a handful of names everyone in the local music indie-rock/whatever music scene will recognize, but I don't wanna run my mouth too much until it's a done deal.

I don't want to say I'm putting out so-and-so's tape and then look like a ding dong when it doesn't happen. But I'll keep you posted as info develops. So far it's looking good for a first batch of five releases - short runs, maybe only 50 tapes each. Bear in mind I just sent my first email and made my first phone calls only a couple days ago. Let's not jinx anything. 

RO: When can people expect the first release, and where can they buy it?

BDM: Like I said, it's all kind of brainstorming and fact-finding right now. Ideally, I'd love to have a small little counter display at Sound Exchange, Cactus, maybe Domy books - perhaps have them in a few little shops in Austin too.

I'm still in the process of tracking down OKs from various bands/musicians to use these old recordings I have, as well as gathering submissions for the Sebadoh comp. I'm aiming for the first batch of releases to come out in a few months, maybe by early, early summertime.

RO: Why cassettes?

BDM: Why? Nostalgia, novelty, general dorkiness. There's really no other excuse. I have fond memories of home recording in the early '90s on cassette four-track, and endless hours carefully crafting mixtapes for friends and girls high-school me was enamored with.

The whole venture is designed for aging '80s-'90s indie-rockers like myself who want a little of that nostalgia back. I'm also looking at a free download code system similar to what you find on a lot of new vinyl, so anyone who purchases a cassette can also get a one-time digital download of the tracks in MP3 form.

Let's face it, while the novelty/nostalgia and general dorky fun of cassettes is appealing, you're probably not gonna want to carry your Sony Walkman around everywhere with you, and unless you drive an old Toyota pickup like me, you probably don't have a tape deck in your car. With the download, you have all the tunes in a handy format to add to your iPod or burn a CD from.

RO: How much does it cost to produce and release something on cassette these days, anyway?

BDM: Cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap. Not much more expensive that it ever has been, I believe.

RO: What does Sebadoh have to do with this?

BDM: Sebadoh was a hugely influential band for me. Listening to Weed Forestin' was a world-shattering experience. Much like when some folks first heard the Ramones, Sonic Youth or Velvet Underground, Sebadoh completely changed the game for me. All of a sudden, I thought, "Hey, I have a 4 track! If they can do it, so can I!"

For me, they made music something that I could be a part of - it was no longer this mysterious, unattainable thing only rock stars could do. Anyone could get a cassette deck and a cheap microphone and make their own recordings.

The whole point of this little venture is just to have fun, put out some music I really like and try to recapture a little of the magic and charm of a dead technology.

RO: Did you ever see them live?

BDM: Never did. Probably for the best. Every story I heard of their live performances was not flattering. I did get to meet [bassist] Jason Lowenstein one night - the last show Proletariat ever had, actually. He was playing bass for Fiery Furnaces.

The whole night, I was thinking, "Geez, this guy is aping Jason Lowenstein's style soooo hard." After the show, the folks from the furnaces enlightened me to the fact that this guy actually was Lowenstein. I was surprised and embarrassed, to say the least. Ended up shootin' the shit with one of my biggest heroes for a good 30 or 40 minutes - super friendly, super nice guy, gave me his email address, all that good stuff.

So life came full circle that night. FYI, it's way easier to talk to your heroes after a night full of cheap beer.

RO: So... are cassettes the new vinyl or what?

BDM: That's a silly question. No, but I did hear that brown is the new black.

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray