Let’s Go to the Audiotape

Photo: Hannah Whitaker/New York Magazine

You have not heard the bands distributed by local independent record label Woodsist—home to such acts as Ganglians, Blank Dogs, and Psychedelic Horseshit—in that new iPod commercial. David Bowie and David Byrne have not become backstage fixtures at their shows. Pharrell, to date, has no interest in remixing their music. This is not that kind of Brooklyn-indie-rock success story. Instead, the scene that has grown around Woodsist—run single-handedly by Jeremy Earl, the reticent front man of the label’s default flagship band, Woods—has been refreshingly retro. “I kinda just put out whatever bands I’m digging,” Earl says of his label, which, in addition to releasing vinyl and CDs, has a cassette-only arm called Fuck It Tapes. Woodsist is so casual it has no contracts, just “friendly handshake deals,” and effectively shuts down when Earl is on tour. Considering that shortcut descriptions of the Woodsist sound often include the terms “lo-fi,” “noise pop,” and “shit gaze” (for the record, that last one was created by the aforementioned Psychedelic Horseshit), the bare-bones operation is no surprise. What is, however, is the moment Woodsist is having in 2009, three years after it started: With a string of excellent fractured releases like Kurt Vile’s Constant Hitmaker, the Fresh & Onlys’ Grey-Eyed Girls, and Woods’s own Songs of Shame, the label is dominating the Brooklyn-DIY-music conversation. Within that small universe—in the pages of Pitchfork, Brooklyn Vegan, and Todd P’s show listings—the label has become inescapable.

Earl pinpoints the common thread running through Woodsist’s acts as a “homemade feel,” and he means that literally. The label is headquartered at Rear House, Earl’s Bushwick residence, office, and ramshackle studio. G. Lucas Crane, Woods’s “tape manipulator” (the guy responsible for the undulating ambient drone at the label’s live shows), adds that the artists also share a determined aversion to trendiness. “I see bands all the time, and you watch them play, and you think, ‘I know they’re not going to be doing this in two years.’ And that’s fine. [But] we’ve kind of set our lives up to do this,” says Crane, whose own house in Ridgewood, the Silent Barn, operates as home, recording studio, and occasional concert venue. The folksy, communal enclave that’s sprung up around these two houses (“We’re a big barbecue community, says Crane) has already birthed a few bands, most notably the Babies, featuring Woods bassist Kevin Morby and Cassie Ramone of already established indie darlings Vivian Girls (they put out a seven-inch on Woodsist).

The Woodsist M.O.—“Drop everything and make music. Turn the tape deck on. Just go,” says Crane—is a full-time gig. When not touring, Earl is packing shipping orders for the label; Crane, a self-described “hustler,” makes money any way he can. The recent press attention, while nice, hasn’t gone to anyone’s head. “I’ve been playing music for ten years,” says Crane. “I’m just glad someone noticed.”

A Woodsist Sampler
Some notable albums …

Songs of Shame, Woods
Jeremy Earl’s singular high-pitched vocals are stretched over a shambling bedrock of bashed drums, squiggly electric-guitar lines, and hushed acoustic strumming. Sneakily addictive.

Constant Hitmaker, Kurt Vile
Originally released in 2008 on Gulcher, it was reissued on vinyl by Woodsist. The title isn’t completely tongue-in-cheek: Vile can at times resemble a prime-era Blur at their prettiest.

Grey-Eyed Girls, The Fresh & Onlys
The latest Woodsist release is a punky, focused affair full of heartache and winsome song titles (“Dude’s Got a Tender Heart,” “I’m Gonna Be Your Elevator”).

… and upcoming shows
Ganglians play Santos Party House on 9/24, the Market Hotel on 9/25.
The Fresh & Onlys play the Mercury Lounge on 10/8, the Bell House on 10/9.
Woods plays (Le) Poisson Rouge on 10/14.

Let’s Go to the Audiotape