At Wax we find it vastly interesting and of utmost importance to give focus to independent labels, ones that have successfully crafted their own ethos through the records they have released and the bands they worked with. The idea of the ‘independent’, at a stage where the “consistent decline” of physical sales is never allowed to leave the conscience, has progressively developed, with passionate music fans starting up their own entities to give more than deserving bands an opportunity to release their music in a physical format, even perhaps broadening their listenership as a result. Independent is a new feature focusing on the inside workings of some of the most fundamentally compelling labels running today.
Ghost Babes Records is a consequence. The consequence of a selfless desire to encourage the listening of US lo-fi music on this side of the pond, through the release of broad compilations and affordable distribution on our shores. Ellie Coden, the mind behind Ghost Babes, built the label with a primary focus, an extensive knowledge of US bands and having gathered helpful experience from creating another label, Cool For Cats.
“With Cool For Cats I had the best intentions, but didn’t really know what I was doing. I didn’t have a specific idea for the label nor was I looking for a certain sound, I was just releasing whatever I thought was good and deserved attention. Which in hindsight is very sweet, but means the label was all over the place. Ghost Babes is the result of months, years even, of thinking about what I really like and what I wanted it to represent. I don’t know if it comes across that way, but every single little detail has taken a huge amount of thought and effort. I think the main difference overall is that with Cool For Cats I was very much trying to fit in with the industry and get approval from it, whereas Ghost Babes is all about the fans and the bands, just finding like-minded people and hopefully being part of a community.”
It’s Coden’s admirable consideration for each element of the label that highlights the label’s uniqueness, in comparison with the cyclical nature of UK-based labels that look to make money from milking ‘buzz’ bands. Feeling incensed by these immoral ideals, Ghost Babes continues to run as an antithesis to the majority.
“Everyone is so obsessed with hype and becoming huge in five minutes that they’ve lost sight of what is really important, the reasons why they wanted to be musicians in the first place. Labels and other industry people too, not just bands. It’s kind of a vicious circle and it’s the way the industry works over here, so most of the time people don’t even think there could be another way. I just wanted to start a label that didn’t care about the industry, but cared about releasing music that meant something to people, even if just to a very small group!”
While focused on creating a label that faithfully embodies the values that Coden represents, a distinct love for US lo-fi coincidentally moulded perfectly into the spirited character of the label’s ethics. From the empassioned guitar-pop of The So So Glos to LVL UP’s emotially-ragged racket (both whom appear on Ghost Babes’ first compilation), each group found by Coden immediately define what the label wants to express.
“It’s hard to describe, but somehow, having scuzzy guitars and lo-fi production makes the songs sound timeless to me, I never get bored of it. You can listen to an early Pavement or Weezer song and it still sounds really fresh and relevant, and I bet you you could listen to Slothrust in 20 years and you would feel exactly the same. There is so much talent in the underground scene in the States, to the extent that I find a really good band almost every day, and yet no one really seems to know or care about all these amazing acts over here. I just figured that if I could find a way to make people over here even a tiny bit more aware of them then it would all be worthwhile.”
It’s slowly becoming more and more apparent to a open-minded audience that, in the house shows and all-age, not-for-profit events that consistently meet financial struggles and unjust contempt from arts-evading governments on both sides of the pond, there are simply bands making especially good music off their own back. ‘Ghost Babes Vol.I‘ is a carefully considered summation of bands that define the independent aesthetic, and whilst ranging in tone, retains a natural cohesiveness that Coden expresses was a vital characteristic.
“While I’m very much a purist with what I like, this whole lo-fi/DIY sound, I’m fairly open minded with what goes on within it. For me a Pavement-inspired track and a Black Lips-inspired track can happily co-exist on the same compilation. I believe the audience will like both, like I do.”
It’s more than evident on ‘Vol.I‘. The aforementioned Slothrust are Garage-meanderers that throw super charged-kicks and acerbic self-despair into a swirl of twanging 90s hooks, Brooklyn trio BOYTOY deliver honeyed harmonies over twisted pop-rock, lingering and enveloping, while Dances provide caustic, snotty punk-rock, one that hangs around just long enough to show off a shy melodic side to their break-neck riffs. Add the coincidentally similar-named Baby Ghosts‘ earnest fuzz-pop, and you have quite a broad pallet.
Yet the cohesiveness that runs throughout the compilation, between all the bands, isn’t just evident sonically. It’s through relatable lyricism that the twelve bands on the release have had the most effect on Coden, leaving her gushing positively about US Lo-fi’s consistent prowess with the written word;
“Almost everyone on my compilation blows me away in terms of lyrics. I think it’s maybe something to do with the fact that I’m not a musician and can’t play anything, which makes me identify with the lyrics more as opposed to say, appreciating that amazing drum solo. So for me good lyrics have always been incredibly important.
Every single time I listen to the Slothrust and So So Glos albums, for example, I marvel at how amazing that line is, or smile at a particular reference. Their lyrics are so incredibly clever and funny, they really make you feel like the band are talking directly to you. It contributes to the aforementioned timeless factor too: if the songwriters manage to say something that’s important to people then those lyrics will be as meaningful in 20 years time.”
With ‘Ghost Babes Vol.I‘, Coden achieves her aspired goal not just in the way it sounds, but in the way it is released. Recorded onto limited-edition cassette, the tape is again becoming a favoured way for independents to be able to release a record in a physical format, whether for cost purposes or admiration for the fundamental ideal behind it.
“As unromantic as it sounds, I think it’s really a cost-factor. Cassettes are so much cheaper to make than any other physical format so for a band or label starting out they provide a real solution.
I also think people like the way they sound, it really fits with the lo-fi aesthetics; plus, despite the recent “rise in popularity” they are still very much an underground/niche format, so releasing something on cassette immediately gives people an idea of what the music will be like and attracts the right kind of audience.
On a personal level, I grew up in the 90s and had millions of tapes back then (and made millions of tapes for other people too), so there is definitely a fondness towards the format for me. I still have Nirvana and Green Day albums on cassette from back then and they look wonderful.“
With Ghost Babes, Ellie Coden is delivering something that feels all-together unique. Her passion for US Lo-Fi comes across whole-heartedly, in her attention to detail with each part of her release and the intrinsic knowledge to realise the capability of the twelve bands that make up her more than applaudable tape. Following a trip to SXSW in Austin, Texas (which saw Dances, Slothrust and BOYTOY all play various venues throughout the festival), Coden is looking ahead, considering Ghost Babes’ future releases, and most importantly, what she would like the label to fulfil in a industry-minded landscape;
“It’s a tricky one. Other industry people have suggested that once the “brand” is more established I can pick up whichever bands are doing best and release their full albums, which I can see would seem like the next logical step but I have no interest in doing that. Apart from the fact that my daytime job is in live music so I wouldn’t have enough time even if I wanted to, the label is not about eventually being big and make money.
It’s a surprisingly selfless affair, I just wanna help American bands to get a little more exposure over here. I know there are people in Britain that would love these bands, they just need to find out about them, that’s my only mission.
So realistically I’ll just keep making compilation tapes for the foreseeable future, maybe some Ghost Babes baseball caps, that would be amazing. If in two years time I can be where my favourite UK label, Art Is Hard, are now, with the same fanbase and reputation, then I’ll definitely feel like it’s all been worthwhile.”
– – –
‘Ghost Babes Vol.I’ is out now here.