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Friday, September 14, 2012

Polyvinyl Records: A Midwest Indie Thriving in San Francisco

Posted By on Fri, Sep 14, 2012 at 3:30 AM


Name: Polyvinyl Records

Founded: 1995

Headquarters: Champaign, Illinois, and San Francisco, Calif.

Founder(s): Matt Lunsford and Darcie Knight founded Polyvinyl together. For our profile of the imprint, we spoke with Seth Hubbard, the label manager who spearheaded Polyvinyl's expansion to San Francisco in 2008. In an inspiring testament to the benefits of volunteer work, Hubbard was a DJ at his college radio station, and, through playing many Polyvinyl artists, was able to land an internship at the label that became a full-time job upon graduation.

Label one-sheet: Polyvinyl is an eclectic independent record label based both in San Francisco and Champaign, Illinois. It has grown from a modest music fanzine into an institution with many stylistic incarnations, and boasts more than 200 releases.

Polyvinyl's offices.
  • Polyvinyl's offices.

Creation story: In a story not dissimilar from labels like Touch and Go, Slash, and Hozac, Lunsford and Knight began a fanzine entitled Polyvinyl Press as high school students in mid-90's Illinois. Through connections established as dutiful followers of the independently minded Midwest music scene, the urge to release music in addition to reporting on it soon gripped the duo. A split 7-inch record with Back of Dave and Walker included in a 1995 issue of Polyvinyl Press established the record label. Featuring a hardcore band and an indie pop group, the unlikely stylistic pairing of that first 7-inch set the tone for the eclecticism Polyvinyl still provides today.

Braid and Rainer Maria are two key artists for the label's early development. Seminal post-hardcore group Braid found a home with Polyvinyl for its earliest singles. Ambitious touring quickly intensified Braid's notoriety, and by the time Polyvinyl released its third LP, the international profile of both band and label reached an unprecedented high. Likewise, the grassroots origins of indie-rock group Rainer Maria's popularity grew throughout the '90s, and in direct correlation to the growth of Polyvinyl. From humble beginnings as a relative unknown on an early Polyvinyl compilation entitled Direction, the group's profile steadily grew, and Polyvinyl continued to release nearly all of its output for more than a decade.

San Francisco expansion: In 2008, Hubbard motivated Polyvinyl's owners to expand operations to San Francisco. When he arrived, this looked like Hubbard with his laptop on a sofa. The West Coast headquarters have since grown into an office in San Francisco's Mission District shared with Different Fur Recording Studios. Along with a group of employees and interns, Hubbard manages the bustling center of promotion for the label. Although it originated in the Midwest, Polyvinyl's roster now includes such flag-bearing Bay Area artists as Xiu Xiu, Deerhoof, and Sonny & The Sunsets.

A&R ethics: Polyvinyl's staff members pride themselves on continually working with artists they admire. When pestered about what qualities the label seeks in new signees besides their music, Hubbard asserts that "the music comes first." He continues: "Beyond that, a surprising number of our new artists come to us through existing artists. Countless times we have signed bands because someone from one of our bands is like, "You have to hear my friend's band.'"


Most recent release: Formerly San Francisco rock experimentalists Deerhoof released their 12th full length studio album, Breakup Song, on Sept. 4. It is their fifth with Polyvinyl. On it, the unpredictable group has created a frenetic new palette of sounds with crunching synthesizer, frantic drum programming, and hefty studio manipulation. Deerhoof describes the record as "Cuban-flavored, party-noise-energy music," but the uniting glue of the album, as with the rest of Deerhoof's catalog, is vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki's dulcet vocal lines.

International expansion: In 2008, Polyvinyl also signed its first foreign group, Architecture in Helsinki. Polyvinyl is now home to such international artists as Casiokids, Loney Dear, and Love Is All. Regarding the expansion, Hubbard explains that artists would often inquire about how to arrange foreign releases of their records. Rather than lose artists to foreign labels, Polyvinyl decided to set their sights overseas in terms of not only artist discovery, but distribution and label partnerships as well.

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