“There are more labels than bands now,” Taylor Brode, partner at Sacred Bones told me as we walked from the label’s waterfront office to an adjacent bar. She has a point — and most of the labels she’s referring to don’t last. They breathe air for a short period of time, simmer out and die. Sacred Bones is not one of these labels. 2012 marks their five- year anniversary, a feat both Taylor and Sacred Bones founder Caleb Braaten treat as a welcomed surprise. To celebrate, the label is throwing a massive end of the world bash in Pioneertown, California, a Mojave Desert location in a town created by Hollywood, on December 21. If the apocalypse is nigh, they’re going out with a bang.
I sat down with Caleb and Taylor at Shay’s Lounge in Greenpoint last Friday (an oddly vacant Irish pub, other than what appeared to be a birthday celebration, we were alone,) to discuss the origins of Sacred Bones, the future, and the five-year anniversary.
Before we get into the anniversary stuff, I’d like to know how Sacred Bones came to be. Caleb, how did you found the label?
C: It just kind of happened. It certainly wasn’t intended to be what it is now: a friend of mine had a record that he wanted to put out—the Hunt–so I thought I’d do it. When the Blank Dogs record came to be I thought “Oh I want to do that, too.” Then there were all these records that needed to come out, I figured I could do them. I’ve been working in record stores forever, so it made sense, to me, on how the process worked.
You were working at a record store when you founded Sacred Bones?
C: Oh yeah, I worked at Academy [Records in Williamsburg] up until a couple of years ago—I worked there forever. I was at Academy when I founded Sacred Bones.
T: Sacred Bones was in the basement of Academy—we were there for four years.
You moved last year?
C: We’ve been in the new office (67 West Street on the waterfront in Greenpoint) for almost a year. It’ll be a year in February. We moved out of necessity—we needed windows, we needed a phone…
T: You couldn’t use phones down there. We were stealing Internet from someone’s store. We needed to go somewhere people could find us during the day.
Taylor, how did you become involved with Sacred Bones?
T: I’ve known Caleb forever. I used to work in sales at Touch & Go for distributors, and Caleb was one of my contacts; I used to talk to distributors at indie record stores all over the country and Caleb was a buyer at Academy. I met him years ago, right about the time he started the label. We became friends and then Touch & Go laid everybody off.
I worked at another distributor for a little while. Caleb and I were still talking, I would help him out and give him advice. Then I got laid off from the second distribution job, said ‘fuck it,’ moved to New York and started working with Caleb.
How big is the operation now?
C: Dave, who is the designer for the label has been with us since the beginning. He is a integral part. There’s always been Keegan and Jacqueline. Keegan is the screen printer, everything that is handmade, he hand makes.
T: He’s also in the Crystal Stilts.
C: Jacqueline is our quote-unquote video maker, filmmaker. She does as many of our band’s music videos as possible, as many as we can get her to do.
T: She helps curate our film nights, like at SXSW. She’s a really big part of our identity.
When the label was founded you released stuff like Blank Dogs and the Hunt, and now here in 2012, you have so much going on—you’ve completely multiplied the number of releases and grown. In what ways has the label evolved?
C: Sacred Bones is in a different place as far as its reach. There’s distribution. We didn’t even make CDs. I didn’t make a CD until the first Zola Jesus record. I didn’t know why people would want to buy CDs.
T: We still don’t. There’s been a lot of change in our infrastructure—like adding distribution, physical and especially digital distribution has changed. It’s changed our reach and also the way we set up records. When we have a record we have a much longer lead-time from when we actually put it out. It’s not like “oh we have a record, let’s put it out tomorrow!” We have to clear it with our distributor. There’s other work behind it: as far as hiring publicists and hiring people to work radio, which just wasn’t done in the beginning.
C: Now we’re working with people who are career musicians. I would say the first dozen or so records were home projects. These people weren’t bands! Blank Dogs wasn’t a band, Zola Jesus wasn’t even a band to begin with. All of this stuff was just someone’s cool Myspace project. It’s more of a real thing now.
And you get a lot of demos now.
T: We’ve been getting hip-hop demos recently.
C: Expect some hip-hop records next year. This is an exclusive.
T: Yeah, we wanted you to be the first to know Caleb is going to start an imprint called “Def Bones.”
C: You’re the first to know I like hip hop.
Congratulations on the 5-year anniversary. What made you decide to throw this crazy party in December?
C: We sat down and thought, “What’s a bad idea?”
T: “What is going to cost a lot of money?”
C: Taylor said, “I know! Let’s go to the desert!” And I said “alright.”
T: The venue that we're doing the show at is a place I went for my 30th birthday. I took a bunch of friends out to Joshua Tree and we ended up at this place–Pappy’s and Harriet’s Pioneer Palace—a cool town for dark desert weirdos. We wanted to do something special for our anniversary, especially for our fifth when we didn’t think the label would last five years. We didn’t want to do it in New York because we do so many shows here, it would just be like picking between the same three venues. We wanted it to be more of a destination event. We wanted the surroundings to be special.
You needed a place that is difficult to get people to and from.
C: We tried to get the Pyramids of Giza, the lost city of Atlantis.
T: But they were booked.
C: Booked for the holidays. We tried to get Marlon Brando’s old island but apparently he passed away.
T: We just wanted something really special. It’s on a significant date, which we think of as a little tongue in cheek.
C: It’s the end of the world, man!
T: If it’s the end of the world we just want to be with our bands and our friends and our family. We don’t want to be in New York where shit’s going to hit the fan quickly.
C: When the great Mayan gods come out of the sky, they’re taking New York first. We’ll be safe in the desert.
I read online that the town was made for movie sets. It’s not a real town?
T: Hollywood built it in the 1950s to be the scene for old Westerns. They left the town in tact like that so it still looks like you’re on the set of an old Western. They don’t shoot there anymore; they just have these hippies who’ve left LA living there, selling crystals and stuff.
C: Our people.
It seems to fit your aesthetic.
T: Yeah! We wanted to do something different; a lot of our friends and family have been doing shows there for a while. It’s about a two-hour drive from Los Angeles. A lot of people from New York have never been there so we’re hoping people will come, not just from the West Coast but also the East Coast. To tell you the truth, the one time I went there I was on mushrooms and it was a really cool, dark Western town. I have a lot of friends who’ve been there during the day and they said it was amazing. Our show is going to be inside a hall, it gets very cold there at night.
Otherworldly! I don’t want to probe too much into the “special guests” part of your event, but can we anticipate that they are other Sacred Bones acts?
C: Definitely, there will be other Sacred Bones acts.
So don’t hold your breath for David Lynch is what you’re saying.
C: We’re not saying anything.
I know this is cheesy but I have to ask, where do you see Sacred Bones in five years? Where would you like to see the label progress?
C: The lost city of Atlantis.
T: That’s a good question. We want to operate in the back of a beeper store. I think the goal for us now is to work with bands throughout their career instead of doing one off records; we want to nurture our artists. If we can still pay our rent and sell records and pay royalties I think we’re pretty good. We’re just hoping records will still be around in five years.
C: There might not be anything after December 21. First we’ll make it over that hump. Everything after that is gravy.