Image by Brad Rohloff
Last month an obscure UK-based electronic musician named Graeme Coop aka Birkwin Jersey perked up a few ears in the music world after being featured on NPR’s World Cafe Next with no more than a Soundcloud to his name. His aesthetic is rooted in dreamy soundscapes culled from YouTube clips and synth effects, but what we found more interesting than his music (which is, in truth, quite good) was his label. Absent Fever is a free digital music platform conceived by two friends, Eloise Hess and Tyler Andere, who met online and forged a bond over their shared musical tastes and an affinity for sharing great tunes.
Sixteen-year-old Eloise Hess had her first brush with internet famedom while hosting a music show for the online television project The Room Live. From May to September 2010, Hess helmed 15 On 15, “which was essentially me and my 15-year-old friends talking to bands and about bands live on the internet,” said Hess. Soon after, she started her own blog verb/re/verb in order to exercise her personal curatorial flair.
She met her future business partner and collaborator Tyler, a student at Columbia College in Chicago, after emailing and expressing admiration for his blog Flashlight Tag. The two quickly spawned a friendship, and then in February, without ever having met in person, they decided to start their own free digital label, which has since released nine albums.
We chatted with Hess over Skype to learn more about the ethos of Absent Fever, and how they make a free digital label work, and what she’s been listening to lately.
Eloise and Tyler
Do you find it hard to collaborate with someone remotely?
Eloise Hess: I generally do, but that isn’t the case with [Tyler]. We have an almost identical music taste and have the same opinions on the aesthetic of the label, what we’re aiming towards and the visual aspects of the label. It’s been really easy to collaborate with him, it’s almost like my weaknesses are covered by his strengths and vice versa.
Which responsibilities do you each handle as far as running the label?
Generally, it’s all collaborative. I do all the writing, some of the emails and all the writing that goes on our website. He [handles] the technical aspects of it, like the uploading and things like that.
Why did you decide to be a free digital release label?
We look at the label simply as something we like to do and a place to put all the things that we enjoy, rather than [be] any sort of business, though it could turn to that. We’ve only been going for maybe half a year, so it could turn into something monetary, but for now it’s just a medium and a location to place everything we enjoy.
How do you choose the artists you work with?
All of them have been people that we’ve both blogged about or have talked about over Skype. So when those match up, those are the people that we go after.
Are they all emerging musicians?
Definitely emerging. Most people would not have heard about any of these artists unless they were bloggers themselves.
Birkwin Jersey (image courtesy of the musician)
Can you tell me a little bit about some of your favorite musicians on the label?
One of our most recent releases, was by Birkwin Jersey who lives in Brighton, England. What he does is record single notes off YouTube videos and then constructs a song with the compositions of the notes and sequences that make sense to him melodically. But what he’s doing isn’t even sampling, it’s almost the deconstruction of sampling, in a way.
That sounds awesome. How did you find him?
I’m not sure how I found him. I just remember coming home off the bus one day, getting into my dad’s car and saying “Listen to this!” I blogged about it the next day. He has a song called “A Holiday for William,” which is one my favorite songs to this day. I just remember being super, super excited about it and I showed it to Tyler and we both agreed that it was top priority on our list to have a release by him. And it happened pretty quickly.
How did you go about it? What was his reaction?
We just emailed him and he was surprised that we had even heard it because he had maybe four or five songs up on Soundcloud with less than 50 followers. So he was so astounded that someone in the US had heard [about this] English guy in his basement recording different YouTube samples and putting them all together. So I think from just mutual excitement we both wanted to put something out quickly. We have another release that came out on August 29th that I’m really excited about.
Album artwork for Wishbone by It Is Rain On My Face
Can you tell me about that?
Yeah, he’s this guy named Matthew Jones, he’s from North Carolina but lives in Brooklyn. He goes by the name It Is Rain In My Face. I think Tyler blogged about him first, I was intrigued just by the name—it’s probably one of my favorite names of the artists I’ve heard. His whole aesthetic is really interesting to me, all of his songs are titled perfectly. He has a very minimalistic aesthetic and it’s kind of mysterious in a weird way, which I found super intriguing.
There is a song called “Small Prayer” on his previous release and there’s a line in it that goes “You’ve got your finger on the trigger pointed at a hole in the world.” Which is just a gorgeous, gorgeous line. His upcoming release is called Wishbone, and it’s an EP. It has a pretty similar aesthetic to his previous release. If you were pairing visuals to it, it sounds like someone standing at the peak of a mountain looking down over a bed of clouds. It’s warm and fuzzy and has all these stringy guitars and he almost has a country twang to his voice, which is not something I generally like, but it worked really well on this one.
Matthew Jones of It Is Rain In My Face (image by Victoria Masters)
Back to Birkwin Jersey, he was featured on NPR late last month. Did they find him through Absent Fever, or how did that work?
One of the producers of World Cafe Next had previously featured another one of our artists Gracie. His name is Andrew and he lives in Philadelphia, so I think they had that Philly connection. After that, he seemed to be keeping up with what Absent Fever was releasing. So one day he Facebook messaged saying that he loved Birkwin Jersey, and that he was going to be on World Cafe Next next week. We were dying with amazement that our little label—just a product of our love for music—turned up on NPR. They played two songs and talked for maybe seven seconds, but those seven seconds blew us away. It was like the time of our lives for those seven little seconds.
What about providing a strong visual element?
On our personal blogs, Tyler and I both are incredibly visual. On mine, I write little scenarios that I’d imagine the music to go with. He’s very particular with pairing photographs to music, so because we both have that in common, we decided to continue the visual element in the label. So that has implemented itself in a way. We’ve done all these different multimedia projects like Women Was The Word and it was about the recognition of women in the blog atmosphere. We had three female bloggers write pieces of poetry that were sent to three female musicians who created songs based on the poetry. Then those three songs were combined into one video piece made by a female videographer. That was the more ostensive one. But a video or something of that nature comes with all of our releases.
Woman Was The Word: A Multimedia Project curated by Absent Fever
Do all the music releases come with videos that you guys make?
We have other artists make them. We decide on a visual artist so their artwork matches the sound of music. For the Birkwin Jersey release we had Nathaniel Whitcomb come in and make a motion collage.
Birkwin Jersey: “Sixes and Nines” by Nathaniel Whitcomb
As a label founder, what do you think are the strongest assets a label can provide an artist?
Because our label is all digital, we’re obviously not providing a physical product, but what we are providing, since we’re both bloggers, is a lot of publicity and almost product placement. We’re sending their music to other bloggers that are in our circle of friends then they send it to other bloggers in their circle of friends. Then that cycle continues until whatever comes of it.
And it’s nice that you use Tumblr too. It makes it pretty easy to reblog stuff.
Yes, Tumblr is a very thriving community in terms of passing things along. We’ve always used Tumblr and that’s why we use it. But we always make a conscious decision, like for It Is Rain On My Face, one blog called “Get Off the Coast” posted an exclusive song off Wishbone, one of Matt’s paintings and one interview question. Then another blog [featured] Matt the following day, and then a third blog did that on Wednesday. So we always try to have the final blog of whatever installment we’re doing be on our Tumblr, just because we like to see the way it progressed. We like to see the “likes” and reblogs and whatnot, we like to see the chain.