Founded in 2003, the independent label Joyful Noise Recordings from Indianapolis has built an immense and tasteful catalogue over the years with releases from acts like Deerhoof, Suuns, Oneida, Lou Barlow, Tropical F*ck Storm, Eerie Wanda, Swamp Dogg and many more.
Label director Jessica Clark answered our questions on how they are holding up in the era of physical distance, their approaches, their take on dynamics other than the pandemic shaping the world right now, etc.
“We decided not to halt our release schedule, and honestly, that was the best thing we could have done. SO many fans answered the call to support by tipping on YouTube live streams, paying for tickets to pre-recorded performances, and buying music–especially on Bandcamp Fridays, my God, thank you Bandcamp!”
It’s been a whole year under the pandemic conditions. How has your work been affected?
Being based in NYC, the initial effects of Covid-19 were crushing. Since the majority of JNR staff are in Indiana, I’ve always worked from my home office here in Brooklyn. Suddenly my husband was sharing my workspace, and together we “sheltered in place” (per government mandates) as hundreds of people died—including our building super. There were ambulance sirens going constantly, at all hours of the day; morgues set up in Central Park, bodies piled in idled, refrigerated semi-trucks. One of my best friends, a former nurse, was basically called up to do hospital work once again, due to the sheer volume of cases and deaths. It was really intense and quite difficult to continue working at our usual pace, and to try to maintain our pre-Covid standards.
How has your experience been in terms of “adaptation”? What are your demands?
It quickly became pretty obvious that adapting was the best, and perhaps only, option. A huge portion of our roster receives the majority of their income from touring. When that was so suddenly taken away, there was a lot of panic, a lot of anxiety. As the label manager, I felt it was part of my role to listen to our artists, to help them form a plan for the foreseeable future, and to ensure that we were maximizing opportunities that would provide income. We also decided not to halt our release schedule, and honestly, that was the best thing we could have done. SO many fans answered the call to support by tipping on YouTube live streams, paying for tickets to pre-recorded performances, and buying music–especially on Bandcamp Fridays, my God, thank you Bandcamp! It was inspiring, and at times it made me emotional. It seemed like many of the people that didn’t lose their jobs were putting a portion of their disposable income towards supporting their favorite artists and bands.
How has it affected your approach to music in general?
This question gives me pause! Because I was already so passionate about music. Related to my work, it was an opportunity to push through to the unknown, to chart new courses, to find new ways to connect with your audience and to somehow make album campaigns and releases relevant and accessible. On a personal level, I certainly explored far less than I typically do over the course of a year. My main avenue of discovery is the live performance. Living in Brooklyn we were so lucky with the amount of shows; the options on any given night could honestly be remarkable. I also do some festival work in Europe, and with that being cancelled in 2020, I feel like there were many stones left unturned.
“I’ve learned so much, it’s been a truly wild year. But I think when the civil rights movement in the US hit fever pitch in the summer of 2020, that’s the most present for me. JNR stopped usual operations for an entire week to take a hard and serious look at our intentions versus our actions.”
What is your main motivation?
One of my main motivations is to keep getting music out into the world—for our artists’ sakes, and for the kindred souls everywhere for whom music and art helps process the changes that come with these unprecedented times. At JNR, we didn’t want to pause operations and wait for everything to “blow over,” because we weren’t sure how long it would take, and if we hadn’t kept going, we might not have made it. Another main motivation is to make sure we’re still amplifying the causes we support. We’ve always had strong roots in activism, and it was important to us to make sure we were still fighting the good fights.
What has this past year taught you? Besides the pandemic, what other key changes (for instance BLM or other struggles) had effect on you?
I’ve learned so much, it’s been a truly wild year. But I think when the civil rights movement in the US hit fever pitch in the summer of 2020, that’s the most present for me. JNR stopped usual operations for an entire week to take a hard and serious look at our intentions versus our actions. It was obvious to all of us that we needed to push BIPOC awareness to the top of our list. We’re taking the time to educate ourselves on our privilege, on being actively anti-racist. We’ve raised funds, donated Bandcamp proceeds, and engaged with our own fan-base to encourage donations to several organizations that are devoted to racial justice and equality, including Black Lives Matter, the Black Visions Collective, the Movement for Black Lives, Black Girls Code, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which is America’s top legal firm that works to secure full and fair access to democratic citizenship by promoting equality in education, voting and political participation, economic justice and criminal justice.
We’ve also implemented new structures to ensure that our roster reflects the diversity we believe in. Along with Karl Hofstetter, the label founder and co-curator, I am digging deeper than I once would, and enjoying spending more time looking for and discovering new musicians. But of course, the work is not over. Collectively, the world has a lot to learn, and JNR is dedicated to that.
Top (Left to Right): Macie Stewart (OHMME); Cody DeFalco (JNR Digital Strategist); Jessica Clark (Label Director); Jasamine White-Gluz (No Joy)
Middle: Sima Cunnigham (OHMME)
Bottom: Florence Grace Wallis (The Low Anthem); Thor Harris; Marina Tadic (Eerie Wanda)
This interview is originally published in Turkish in Bant Mag. No: 74, our special music issue.