Announcing a new BLURT series in which we profile cool independent record labels. What are the criteria for inclusion in the “cool” category? Hey, ’cos we say they are cool, that’s what! We’re making the rules around here, kids. Keep your eyes peeled for the next installment, coming soon.
BY TIM HINELY
For over two decades Slumberland Records has been releasing some of the best indie rock/pop, shoegaze and dream pop. Staunchly independent, the label is—and for the most part (see first question) always has been—a one-man show by its leader, Mike Schulman. He’s gotten by the old-fashioned way, on good taste and hard work. Schulman was nice enough to answer some questions from the Slumberland HQ in sunny Oakland, CA. (Pictured below: Black Hearted Brother, whose Stars Are Our Home was released in October of 2013. L-R are Nick Holton, Neil Halstead and Mark Van Hoen. Read our interview with the band here.)
BLURT: When did the label form/ what was your original inspiration?
MIKE SCHULMAN: Slumberland started in December 1989 as a collective effort by people in the bands Big Jesus Trash Can, Velocity Girl, Black Tambourine and Powderburns. We were all total novices inspired by lower east side NYC noise, No Wave, Post-Punk, K Records, Creation Records, Postcard Records, Factory, Rough Trade, William S Burroughs, Marcel Duchamp, The Jesus And Mary Chain, etc. etc. Most of us had never even picked up an instrument before starting the aforementioned bands, but were fired up enough by the fertile mid-‘80s DIY scene to give it a shot. After playing local shows and getting a bit better established it made sense to document what we were doing, and hence Slumberland.
Who designed your logo? Do you only have one?
The current logo was designed by Crayola from Sarandon. We’ve gone through at least 5 or 6 logos over the years; Crayola’s is probably our longest lived at this point.
What was your first release?
A 3 band compilation 7” called “What Kind of Heaven Do You Want?” It featured one song each from Velocity Girl, Powderburns and Black Tambourine. All recorded on 4-track, lo-fi sludgy noise. The engineer at the studio that we went to to mix onto DAT thought we were insane.
Were there any label(s) that inspired you to want to release records?
Definitely: K, Postcard, Rough Trade, Fast Product, Creation, Sarah, Factory, Flying Nun.
What difficulties did you realize come with running a label?
Getting people to pay attention, to take us seriously, to actually buy the releases. Honestly, none of that has changed at all in the last 25 years. It’s still a real challenge. (Below: Withered Hand’s Dan Willson and Pam Berry, whose New Gods album is released March 25.)
If there is one band, current or present, you could release a record by, who would it be?
What has been your best seller to date?
The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart’s first album.
Are you a recording/touring musician yourself, and if so, do you use your label as an outlet for getting your stuff out to the public?
Yes and yes, but I always feel a bit weird about it. I’m not a very serious musician, so I feel sort of guilty spending resources on my own bands.
What are your thoughts on having a presence at the major conventions like SXSW, CMJ, etc.? Have you done them before and if not, would you like to?
I have done them on and off over the years. To be honest I don’t think they’re that useful unless you already have a buzz for the bands. There’s just too much going on simultaneously and too much competition. For a label the size of Slumberland, it’s rarely worth the expense.
Does your label use and/or have a presence on any of the social media sites?
Yep, we’re quite active on Facebook and Twitter. It’s one of the few even semi-reliable ways we have of communicating with the fans at this point. (Below: Terry Malts, whose Nobody Realizes This Is Nowhere album was released in September of 2013. L-R is Nathan Sweatt, Philip Benson, Corey Cunningham)
Have digital sales been significant or nominal?
For the bigger selling titles the digital sales can be significant, but for the most part Slumberland fans are still more interested in physical media.
What are your feelings on vinyl? Have you always offered your releases on vinyl?
Vinyl is and always been our primary interest, and I’m quite proud to say that unlike almost all of our peer labels we never stopped releasing LPs. It’s been quite gratifying to see interest in vinyl bouncing back, though it’s anyone’s guess how long the bump will last.
What is your personal favorite format to release music?
7” single, which sadly is all but dead.
What new(er) labels these days have captured your attention?
To be honest most of the labels that I follow are on the dance music side of things: Wild Oats, Sound Signature, KDJ/Mahogani, Perlon, Sushitech, FXHE. When it comes to rock stuff there are definitely individual bands that I really like, but they tend to be scattered across a bunch of different labels.
Do you accept unsolicited demos?
I do, but with the caveat that we’re a very small label and almost never pick up new bands based on demos. I think a lot of people imagine that since we’ve been around as long as we have and have had some success that we’re some sort of cash-generating mini-major just looking for ways to keep the money moving around, but in reality we’re just a one-man show, hustling to keep things going in a challenging and saturated market. (Below: Tony Molina, whose Dissed and Dismissed album is due March 25.)
PO Box 19029 Oakland, CA 94619