Interview: Amanda Brown of Not Not Fun and 100% SILK

The Not Not Fun and 100% Silk magnate talks label biz in the 21st century. Also, make sure to catch the 100% Silk label special on RBMA Radio here.

From an inauspicious home office overlooking a tranquil backyard on the east side of Los Angeles, Amanda Brown and her husband Britt have been quietly releasing records for a good seven-plus years now. Actually, strike that; using the terms "quietly" and "inauspicious" in the first sentence here sets the wrong tone for grasping the volume of their output and the influence of their efforts. The pair have accrued well over 200 releases on their flagship Not Not Fun label and are on their twentieth release with their 100% SILK dance imprint at the time of this writing. Nor have their efforts gone unnoticed - as NNF and 100% SILK have developed into some of the premier musical purveyors of cool in the post-everything age. Aesthetically, the labels have epitomized the romantically-inclined independent approach to music distribution, often hand-crafting album jackets in the Kinko's school of thought, releasing music for love not commerce, recording straight to cassette and other out-moded mediums, and at times, (gasp) shunning the Internet altogether.

What started as basically a glorified mixtape and live-recording label amongst friends quickly developed into a rapidly mutating roster of noise, free-folk, pop, dub, drone, psych, and all the dots in between. Releases from artists like Sun Araw, Ducktails, Peaking Lights, High Wolf, and Topaz Rags, as well as Amanda's own projects Pocahaunted and LA Vampires, basically read as a who's-who of year end lists by music nerds - a notoriously fickle crowd.

In the past year, the Not Not Fun family tree has expanded with the 100% SILK imprint - dedicated to the fine art of dance, yet oozing with the same hazy sensibility as the parent label. Artists like Maria Minerva, Dylan Ettinger, Ital and Innergaze meld 4/4 kicks, DMX drums and acid basslines with immense washes of reverb, echo-laden voices and just enough cassette hiss to please both the indie dive-bar crowds and Berghain.

Read our interview with Brown below.

Amanda and Britt Brown of Not Not Fun and 100% Silk

RBMA: First of all, your label is up to what, 200+ releases in like six years? Congrats.

BROWN: Thank you, it’s my full-time job. They add up.

RBMA: So, when Not Not Fun started, it was mostly a bedroom label, yet, even as it has grown immensely, it still is a bit of a bedroom label, right? Can you describe a bit of what your "office" looks like and what an "average" day at the office might be?

BROWN We work out of our house. There’s an extra room with French doors overlooking our backyard that we’ve turned into an office. Britt sits on one side of a big desk at his computer, I face him on the other side at mine. Messy mail station, papers, pens, Post-It notes with email addresses, a giant Feel Wheel on the wall so we can chart our daily emotions with options like “SUPERIORITY” and “REPULSION”…

An average day is mega-hectic. Working from both computers, on both cells, listening to countless demos, taking some shit, giving some shit, making packages, going deep on artist relations, detailing jacket art, updating both of our sites. I think we eat kale chips and drink oolong tea somewhere in there, and then fall into the kitchen at six for dinner.

RBMA: Damn. Not Not Fun was one of the early pioneers of the lo-fi revival in music. As that aesthetic became more and more prevalent within the underground community, do you ever wonder if super-glossy music will creep in slowly?

BROWN: I think it already has. The underground is the most murky, muddy scene in music. Most artists are striving to elevate their sound to something more hi-fi as the years go on, some start that way and still claim to be “lo-fi” as an aesthetic. Glossy is fine, if it still has soul and art and sounds interesting.

Amanda performing with her band LA Vampires

RBMA: Let's talk briefly about the Internet... In another interview, you championed the aesthetics of the physical format, cassettes in particular. You go on in the interview to describe the Internet as a fad. Is that view changing for you at all? How important is the internet for what you do business-wise as well as musically?

BROWN: There’s an important distinction to be made here: I don’t hate the Internet. I strongly dislike our obsession and perversion with it. I think it’s a deep rabbit hole that doesn’t always hold my interest. Now Twitter, I think that’s a fad, and a boring one. But I’m on the internet every day. I work closely with my site and with managers and editors of fantastic blogs, as well as listen to Soundcloud and Bandcamp pages. I buy books on Amazon and go to probably twice daily. I like to think of the internet as a library and a shopping mall. Business-wise and music-wise, it’s a convenience and one I’m thankful for. Like a futuristic post office. But I prefer to get my gossip and my empty opinions from face-to-face interactions.

RBMA: Especially in the hip hop scene though, it seems as if Tumblr, and cyberspace in general, is the predominant mode. Like in that scene, people aren't even pressing records and often not even releasing them on iTunes. I'm curious to get your thoughts on that. Do you think the lust to hold a physical object is disappearing with younger generations?

BROWN: No joke, I just had to ask Britt what Tumblr is. The hip hop scene always works incredibly hard to keep their finger on the pulse, so if tumblr or iTunes works for them, then there’s merit in that. I can only run my business the way I want other businesses to be run. I don’t collect mp3s, I collect records. My iTunes Library has thousands of tracks, but they’re all NNF and 100% SILK releases from our past and future. I love the idea of less physical waste, but I believe digital waste is its own form of hoard/clutter. I’m not a retro-obsessive; if the day comes where we have to let go of vinyl and give in to meta-objects because that’s what the “younger generation” demands, I’ll just punch a pillow and get on with it.

RBMA: Because of the internet's niche nature (that is, people go to sites that promote bands or sounds they already like) do you think there is more of a copycat thing going on within certain scenes? I mean, like Ducktails or NNF soundalikes... At the same time, it seems like people know about more different styles of music than ever, so my theory probably sucks. Haha

BROWN: Copycats are a real issue. And it’s sad and frustrating from our side of things because we get the logic and yet can’t dissuade artists from following it. For instance [artists say], “you’re Not Not Fun, you put out Ducktails, you love the way Ducktails sounds, I sound like Ducktails, you must love me then”. Makes sense. But there’s no soul, there’s no artistry, there’s no step in any direction, let alone forward. Matt [Ducktails] does his thing and he does it well – but does the world want ten different Ducktails perspectives? Does the world need it? Whole labels are run on policies that if you can continue in the path of their former artists then they have a home for you. We don’t make those promises. We can’t. We want to evolve and see artists evolve. Matt will be done with Ducktails or will have turned it into something else before musicians will stop laying tracing paper over his past records. And that’s how you tell the Internet glut, self-perpetuated referencing artist from the true artist himself.

"A 19 year old who makes music now will cite as their influences Oneohtrix Point Never or Lana Del Rey or Odd Future..."

RBMA: Do you think that music right now has become more selfish? That is, there is a shift towards solo artists as opposed to bands. Have you seen that within your roster?

BROWN: Music is über-selfish. Of course it’s always been, but you’re right, everyone wants to be a solo artist now and musicians care less and less about creating band bonds and community. I can’t do it. Pocahaunted went from a two-piece to a five-piece, my solo project LA Vampires is now a three-piece, with everyone giving equal input. Working together is difficult, working with certain people can turn you off from music forever. So I understand why musicians want to have a singular vision and never ask for help or creative energy from anyone that they owe anything to. It’s an ultimate struggle: share the burden or savor the triumph. We work with far more solo artists than ever – at least 75% more than in the first few years.

RBMA: There was a Not Not Fun feature in the Wire last year where you gave a quote that I really liked:

“It’s like, ‘I’ve just stumbled across a thing that nobody else has referenced
yet’.” Citing Zola Jesus’s Nika Danilova, Amanda elaborates: “The people who stand out are those who use famous people as an influence that nobody else is using."

Do you think we are running out of influences? Or that everything is cyclical and re-combinable?

BROWN: In my experience we never had many influences to begin with. God, if I read another interview about how vital Brian Wilson was to a certain musician’s career, or Neil Young, or Sun Ra, or how no one gets just how epic The Beatles really were, I’ll throw a fit. As a feminist it feels tired, as a musician it’s like bad déjà vu. Nika [Zola Jesus] and I talk about Bjork, who talks about Aphex Twin, who probably talks about Orbital. We have to write sideways musical histories for ourselves and cull from a far wider range of influences. Everything is cyclical, that’s true – but what’s really starting to happen is that time is crunching, shrinking down. A 19-year old who makes music now will cite as their influences Oneohtrix Point Never or Lana Del Rey or Odd Future, musicians who are barely much older and who have been making music for such a short period of time themselves. I love taking down the old guard and fucking with the canon, but I have to admit this kind of influence-crunching might backfire on us when future music-makers cease to reference anyone from ten years ago, let alone thirty.

RBMA: There is a quote in McLuhan's Medium Is The Massage (why is is spelled "massage anyways?) that argues in technologically unstable times (particularly relating to media), society looks backwards in time. And that the way towards the future is the past. Are we experiencing this?

BROWN: I think it’s called “Massage” because it’s hypnotizing you into submission. Haha.

The past is just so romantic. It’s also fool-proof, been done and with citable results. Musicians are in a real push and pull these days between wanting to embrace new technology and wanting to have a retro sound, between wanting to create an enigma and needing to spam the web-iverse with their personal promotion, between craving that hard and fast trend send-up and still hoping to become “classics,” future Wire cover stories. The future always meshes with the past in a messy way. What I hate is when the music media applauds rock genres for being golden, like the sweet sounds of the 60s and 70s, and then trashes dance genres for being too referential of disco or house. I don’t like how we’ve recently created a line in the sand – one side being for the past protectors and the other side being for purveyors of endless newness. Neither sounds that exciting to me.

RBMA: Regarding your 100% SILK label, why was there a conscious decision to split from the NNF label? I've read in many of your interviews that you have always been a dance-music lover, so why was that not incorporated into Not Not Fun?

BROWN: Not Not Fun is a pretty sacred thing to us. We have mottoes for the label that have been around since day one – to be open to the entirety of the underground, to mold and move our aesthetic with what’s vibrant and soulful in non-mainstream music. I started 100% SILK because I wanted a label project where I didn’t have to do that, where I could say, this is for the best in dance music as I see it. This is my taste, my pleasure, and I’ll never consider a drone LP or free folk or noise or ambient even. The underground is obviously overlooked from a mainstream perspective, but within the underground, dance is just now finally being given the floor, the opportunity to excite people who would normally mock it for not being “weird” or “outsider” enough. I wanted to help propel underground dance because I feel like we’re on the brink of another golden era.

RBMA: And you've embraced the 12"s and a few remixes I see...

BROWN: Remixes took me a bit longer to come around on. I loved dance when I was girl but never got into the remix culture back then. It was always the original version of “Everybody, Everybody” or “James Brown is Dead” and if I had a cassingle, I listened to Side A only, then rewound. I can really fall in love with a remix now, and the musicians on the 100% SILK roster have especially turned out some incredible ones.

RBMA: But with the US having limited club culture, have you seen more response to the 100% SILK stuff stateside or overseas?

BROWN: Overseas fans are always going to be more zealous, more enthralled, and just happier to come see you play and buy your records. It’s nothing against Americans, we have our own way of enjoying things – and that’s usually by acting slightly better than or unaffected by it. You can see it in videos of Michael Jackson in Seoul and of Ital in Melbourne. But SILK’s working on Stateside. I’m staying super vigilant about growing the scene here and finding believers. People do want to exalt and dance everywhere, it’s just about letting loose and giving in a bit – something I don’t think we’re used to here.

RBMA: So What have been some musical moments of inspiration for you, whether recorded, live, YouTube, etc from the past month?

BROWN: This month we had a 100% SILK party with Ital, Bobby Browser, SFV ACID, Pharaohs, Magic Touch, and Body Double. Everyone was so expressive, and coming with such specific points of view. I love that about the SILK artists, they’re talented beyond, and so inspirational to watch. The best dance music makes you rejoice and break down, it’s about feeling jubilation and melancholy – and I felt both that night. I also have to say the demos coming in really inspire me. I consider the world to be glutted with so much bad music, and there in my inbox, will come such cool/avant/unique sounds. In the past month I can cite specifically demos from Roche and Golden Donna.

RBMA: Heyday VH1 or heyday MTV?

BROWN: Easy, VH1 for music. MTV for VJ’s and ‘House of Style’.

RBMA: Quiet storm or adult contemporary?

BROWN: Adult Contemporary.

RBMA: Any shoutouts?

BROWN: It’s all shoutouts. I’ve got nothing but love for you baby.

By Red Bull Music Academy on January 26, 2012