White Denim is an independent label run out of Philadelphia, PA by Matthew K.
Though he’s perhaps best known as singer and lyricist with Pissed Jeans, Matthew is a man of wide-ranging taste. He single-handedly operates Yellow Green Red, possibly the only music site on the internet where you can find hardcore punk 7″s from the US underground and top-drawer Berlin techno 12″s reviewed with equal authority. With White Denim, meanwhile, he’s provided an outlet for artists as diverse as Mi Ami, electro-noise freak M Ax Noi Mach, powerviolence heroes Ultimate Warriors and acid house lothario Tin Man.
Rejecting an governing aesthetic or “sound” for his label, and instead focussing on realising unique projects that honour each artist’s eccentricities, White Denim is a label deserving of immense respect. Releases are made available in limited vinyl editions, and there are no re-presses. As Matthew prepares to open White Denim’s 2012 account with an LP of spaced-out, electronically-enhanced country blues from Daugh Gibson, FACT’s Tim Purdom dropped him a line to find out how he makes it all work.
“When I really enjoy something, I want to get involved in all possible aspects.”
“I’ve been passionate about music for as long as I can remember, going back to elementary school. I’ve always been interested in learning more, and digging deeper, and discovering new music.
“There are probably three major events that have led to my personal music development, though. Firstly, finding out about a local punk scene, and going to see local bands play at various firehall venues as a freshman in high school. Then spending countless hours at Double Decker Records, a record shop in Allentown where I made so many unexpected and exciting discoveries, both on my own and through the recommendation of others – I heard Bastard, The Smiths, Flying Luttenbachers and Drexciya for the first time all thanks to Double Decker. Lastly, a speedy internet connection. At this point, there is hardly any music or artist that isn’t documented on the internet somewhere. It’s an endless well of information, for better or worse, and it’s made so many things easily accessible that I may have never found out about otherwise.”
“I don’t really have much to offer an artist that’s already well-established.”
What was the thinking behind White Denim?
“White Denim started in 2001, I was a freshman in college at the time. I wanted to try to put out a record, and get involved with that process… when I really enjoy something, I want to get involved in all possible aspects, and running a label was one thing I hadn’t done as a fan of music.
“My aim was essentially to bring artists who weren’t really getting a fair shake elsewhere to vinyl; I focused on artists that I absolutely adored, who weren’t getting the proper attention I thought they deserved. My tastes have certainly expanded since I started, but my aim essentially remains the same. I like working with artists who don’t already have a substantial fanbase, and artists that aren’t necessarily guaranteed to move 500, or even 300, copies. It’s
exciting to help them create.”
“I think it arose over time, although right off the bat I knew I’d be working with weirder, marginalized artists, because that’s the type of art I usually gravitate towards – and honestly, I don’t really have much to offer an artist that is already well-established.
“Essentially, the only true thread that ties all of White Denim’s artists together is that I am personally a big fan of all of them. There probably aren’t many people out there who feel the same way about everything I’ve released, which just says to me that I’m doing the right thing. As soon as I start to try to cater to a specific audience, or try to predict what will sell and move in that direction, I’m really wasting my time. I pay the rent from other means in my life, White Denim is purely a labour of love.”
“White Denim is purely a labour of love.”
Tin Man is a very different listening to experience to, say, M Ax Noi Mach; Ultimate Warriors is a very different beast to Nice Nice or Mi Ami. Do you think there’s something – beyond you liking them – that links the artists on the label?
“Everyone I’ve worked with has a pretty specific vision, and is creating their music because they simply must, not because it’s stylish or a means to greater success. You can just tell that they have to create, and they have something unique to say. Really though, that’s a bit tenuous… I can’t really say there is much of a connection between everyone I’ve worked with. Which I think is fun.”
What’s White Denim’s “office” like?
“White Denim’s physical presence is a desk in the second-floor bedroom in my house and the boxes of records next to it. Quite humble, really. My stereo is set up in there too, along with all my personal records, and it makes for a pretty fun place to fill orders and send emails.”
Your policy is to release vinyl-only, one-time pressings of music, not available elsewhere. Why did you decided to do things in this way? Have you ever regretted the decision or felt like relaxing the rules?
“I love vinyl as a medium and a product. That’s what I want to spend my money on, and I feel like it’s the most ‘legitimate’ format one can use. Which is good, because I have put out some music that could be hard to take seriously if it were an mp3 or cassette release. I want to show that I think these artists are all worth me personally spending thousands of dollars on. I do a one-time pressing because I like to do something and move forward from it, and I generally press enough copies that my records are available for a good six months after they’re released (and in many cases, much longer).”
“I want to show that I think these artists are all worth me personally spending thousands of dollars on.”
Tell me about Pennsylvania…are you a native of the area? Is location important to the label?
“I’ve lived in Pennsylvania since I was teenager, and have lived in the city of Philadelphia for the past seven years. It surely affects any of my creative ventures, but not in any particular conscious way that I can discern. We have cold winters and warm summers, which I like. I’m comfortable here, and used to living in Northeast America, and there are multiple other cities, beaches, forests, farmland, and suburbs all close by.
“I like working with local artists, because I can work closer with them, hand delivering records, hanging out, seeing them live regularly, developing friendships, all of that. It’s also cheaper than, say, shipping a box of records to Australia, which is a nice little bonus.
“As far as Philadelphia is concerned, there’s a lot of musical activity here, and plenty of great artists. I can frequently go see Blues Control, Purling Hiss, Kurt Vile and M Ax Noi Mach, sometimes walking from my house to the gig. It’s a pretty popular spot for touring acts too, so I don’t find myself bored too often.”