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WE BUILT THIS CITY

Since 1989, Drag City has risen to become one of the world’s most prolific independent labels – with an eclectic roster featuring Joanna Newsom, Bill Callahan, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Ty Segall and many, many others. Murray Stassen gazes inside the world of this Chicago music institution…

Drag City don’t chase hit records. What they look for in a new signing – according to Rian Murphy, the man at the helm of this storied Chicagobased business – is “someone with a sense of humour”. Humour doesn’t pay the bills, though, unless you’re a comedian, of course, and the vast catalogue of music this company has released is no joke.

However, Murphy’s brief answer to the question of how he would define a typical Drag City signing sums up the sense of community the label has developed over nearly three decades. If an artist shares the company’s outlook – whether that’s in terms of humour, creative freedom or acceptance of the collective weirdness of all the other individuals on the label combined – then there’s a good chance they’ll be working together for a long time, regardless of how ‘inaccessible’ their records may sound.

Drag City’s discography includes releases by David Berman’s Silver Jews; acclaimed multi-instrumentalist folkie Joanna Newsom; 60s crooner turned 21st-century avant-garde mystic Scott Walker; garage-rock genius Ty Segall; alternative country singer-songwriter Bill Callahan; indie pioneers Pavement, and the off -kilter psychedelic two-piece project of White Fence’s Tim Presley and Welsh artist Cate Le Bon, called Drinks.

The label’s roster is eclectic to say the least, making it easy to see why the company is regularly referred to as “experimental” in the music press; but Murphy tells us that with its music encompassing “various permutations of rock and roll”, in no uncertain terms, Drag City identiffes as a ‘rock’ label.

“As it says on the website: ‘Guaranteed to satisfy the most tolerant listener’,” says Murphy. “We’d like to think that the eclecticism has played a part in what people think of us, but it’s ultimately whatever records people like are what defines us.”

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Find the complete article and many more in this issue of Long Live Vinyl - Jul-18
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