It is pretty amazing. Shimmy the big intangible screen that holds the collected grains of the worldwide web and eventually, with a little luck, you’ll find a golden flake of music that you can connect with. This is how I managed to come in contact with Gnome Life Records, knowing right away, after reading the purpose tab on the website, that I needed to speak with the human being behind this marvelous label. The website stated the following,
“There is no one left to get things done. No one waiting to fill the world with something, so we must do it ourselves, in the best way that we know. We must give with as much purpose and love as there is within us. In this way we make our way, all of us together, and on our own. This is where we are.”
What a synchronous statement. Without derailing, I will explain. I had been spending most of my days, wiping the hot sweat from my brow, thinking about something that, I feel, rang at the same frequency as that statement. I was experiencing a hankering for a cumulative realization that we are all simultaneously, voluntarily and involuntarily part of problems and solutions, all at once, all at the same time. So much was happening around me; my sensitivity to it all was becoming heightened, and now, I had read this statement from Gnome Life Records. I further investigated; purchasing three cassette tapes- this being the first time I had done so since I was about 10 years old.
Continuing on through the rising blister of a Florida summer, I often found myself in my car, speeding with the windows down, (the last leg that my AC stood on had been amputated) saturated in my own sweat, looking as though I had just risen out from the Gulf of Mexico. I was envious of the uppermost Northern states and conjuring up a bonanza of past autumn memories; nauseated by the smell of suntan lotion and my own body odor- both scents refusing to leave the upholstery. The only thing that got me through the heat waves was an acknowledgement that the volume knob on my car stereo could not be turned any further to the right and that I had three tapes in my glove box to circulate in and out of: Made It Rain by Little Wings, Triangle/Ah by The Range of Light Wilderness and Rivers by Wildbirds and Peacedrums; all released in cassette tape format by Gnome Life Records- part of the Echomancy Tape Series.
Further into the hunt I came across two other bands that, like the others, really took me down a much needed audible path, powerful enough to place my consciousness in a cool mist- those bands albums being Mega Bog’s Okay Human and Bird by Snow’s Common Wealth. It was now apparent that I had a topic for my next lengthy article. Emails were sent and I was luckily granted a phone interview with the craftsman behind Gnome Life Records- Fletcher Tucker.
Gnome Life Records started in 2005 as “a vinyl only handmade label…” stated the polite 28 year-old, living with his fiancé in “the shadow of the Lucia Mountains” “…and it really just started out as my first release as Bird by Snow. I decided to make a label for it because, well, why not? Then I started incorporating some of my friend’s music as well.”
Continuing he said, “The first release I made was a 12×24 Intaglio print for each of the first 100 records. Intaglio prints are copper plate etchings…” “…it is extremely time intensive as a print making practice- if you are good at it, it may take you a half hour per print. For 100 records it was about 50 hours of actual work just for the covers. I felt like it had an elegant continuum to it.”
The elegant continuum Tucker is speaking about hear is shown through his choice of using the 15th century Intaglio print making method while also using records- generally viewed as antiquities- and the music pressed to them, which of course is new. Talk about being impassioned; talk about putting painstaking care into the art you are delivering to the world. Our conversation was leading me to believe that I had indeed found a truly significant label, somewhere I could turn to and know nothing was done half heartedly. To top it all off, I had come to find that Fletcher runs Gnome Life Records out of a yurt set upon cliffs above the Pacific. (More synchronistic relevance here: My wife and I have been tinkering with our own interests in a yurt.)
“That handmade idea got carried over into to several releases. I did some silk screens, letter press covers, wood cuts, hand assembled booklets… then I started making more records, more than were really practical for me to do all on my own, hand making everything that is. So I transitioned to having things professionally printed, while still trying to keep that hand -made spirit and always using printers in California that I can talk to on the phone or go visit at their print shop, trying to use the most ecologically sound resources.”
The Echomancy tapes that sparked my interest in Gnome Life were wonderfully DIY. Fletcher designed the packaging and Stumptown Printers of Portland- an excellent company with fantastical ethical standards- provided the boxes to case the cassettes.
“I wanted to make some cassettes but I really don’t like the way conventional cassettes look or that they use so much plastic…” says Tucker, “…were just so used to seeing them on the dirty floor of someone’s car or in a junk shop for a nickel…but I love analog media and wanted to release more music, more quickly and at a price that was more accessible.”
What else could I ask for? Gnome Life releases great artists that I resonate with, is determined to the purity of art and supports local, sustainable practices and cares about the cost of getting it into the, for lack of better words, consumers hands. Our conversation ventured into the territory of the roster of musicians on GLR but not before Fletcher flicked a humble and honest statement into my ear, “music is hard to talk about”.
Nonplussed? Mr. Tucker is right. This may seem like a paradoxical acquiescence- my agreeable nod now being imagined by you the reader. “This is coming from a music scribe?” you may say, but bite that lip for a moment. Obviously music is personal both for the artist who renders it and for the ears that it has been lent to. It is hard to find the words to explain what has already been sung, expressed and finely tuned by musicians. What is left to say after the words have been penned, the mood already determined by the pitch of a chord? Perhaps, all I can do is discuss what lingers in the shadows of what has already been created and then experienced- the stitching felt from within a pocket, along with the hard candy, machine washed receipts and lint. Strangely, the word Render means: to hand over for inspection and consideration, and also means to cause to be or become. Seems to me that the music is in fact, hard to talk about because it is unlimited, very great in power, multi faceted, (should I skirt around this next one….nah) omnipotent.
But, with that said, when picking these artists, obviously there is something that Gnome Life looks for. You can feel it when you listen. Every artist is different yet, something is coherent- there is some sort of approach to crafting these low fidelity sculptures of sound that wisp out from the magnetic tape and speakers.
“Something consistent that I am looking for is honesty…” he says to me, when asked the question about choices for Gnome Life, “I think that all the bands are working with an honest palate, whether it is about true experience or true to habitat… I think something that is cool about the creative process and is really valuable is that it allows you to explore specific dimensions of yourself and being. I think there is a way to do so with a really sincere intention and I think there is a way to do so self consciously with reservations or fear of meeting someone else’s needs rather than your own. I think those bands you’ve mentioned, Range of Light Wilderness, Little Wings, Mega Bog, and even my own project Bird by Snow, I think they are defined by sincerity. It is such a general thing to say though, that it almost doesn’t mean anything. You could say “sincere” or you could say “integrity”. Here is what it breaks down to for me: If you are not making something with all of the integrity and intelligence and goodness and power that you have within you then I am not interested and you should do something else. That’s how I feel about running labels, because running a label is a creative pastime and that is how I feel about bands. The world is full of things, records, songs and bands, we don’t necessarily need more- we need more of the best.”
I had one question left. He lives in the mountains in a Yurt no bigger than a 10’ diameter. While Gnome Life was not always run out of this Yurt, it was currently (aside from storing merchandise) functioning out in the wild. How much impact did being out in the natural elements have on Gnome Life as a label? Is there are parallel between the natural elements and the function of Gnome Life?
“I feel that place is essential and that knowledge of place and knowledge of self go hand in hand. This is basically where I grew up. Big Sur is just a more, wild version, of where I grew up, it informs everything, the way I write, the art I make and the things I want to present to the world. I like to think the objects are part of this ecosystem, but of course they are made of materials that are not necessarily simpatico with this eco system, but on a subtle plane they are part of this energetic ecosystem. I do look for that in bands that I like to listen to and the bands that I want to present. Are they connected to place? Is there something physical and real that comes through their music that is potentially much bigger than they are? Obviously the ecosystem we inhabit is bigger than we are and has a potential to inform us in a really beautiful and ineffable way.”
Since this interview the heat has dissipated somewhat and I don’t have to drive quite as fast to catch a breeze in my non air conditioned vehicle. I can hear the tapes a little more clearly now and they ring truer to my ears than they did before. The ebb and flow of these artists fell into my life by chance and strangely, the copper foil stamped Echomancy Tape Series is somewhat inspired by Geomancy- foresight by earth. It is indeed by the tossed about rare complications and wonderings of life that I came across these tapes, just as patterns are formed by tossed handfuls of soil, rock or sand. In interpreting the musical figures I have come across through sheer aimlessness, I further tend to see commonality in many, many things.
Here are three favorites of mine- one from each tape I purchased. Enjoy.
Side Note: Gnome Life Records recently posted this on the news page: FUTURE ARTIFACTS ——2 new albums by Daniel Higgs (an LP and a Cassette Tape) – an LP by Little Wings (with handpainted covers) – “Eternal” by Sean Smith (Cassette Tape + Mp3) – another Cassette Tape + Mp3 by Yurt – new LP by Bird By Snow