Wharf Cat is a Greenpoint-based label with a catalog spanning a wide array of independent music from, so far, two geographically far-flung locals: Brooklyn, NY and Tampa, Florida. Founded by Doug Warner, his brother Trip and visual artist Sam Falls in 2011, Wharf Cat is still navigating the uncertainties that come with both the practical upkeep of a label and the necessity of establishing a clear aesthetic vision. We spoke with Doug Warner about the company's origins, as well as some exciting upcoming releases and reissues they're planning. They were also kind enough to make a playlist for us featuring Boulders, Blanche Blanche Blanche, R-Hundro, and many other bands in the family.
Ad Hoc: How did Wharf Cat start?
Doug Warner: My brother Trip and I always wanted to start a label. We were obsessed with SST in the '80s, and used to walk through Strawberries looking for the Chromium Dioxide tapes with the SST logo. A few years ago, Trip and his friend Sam Falls were pretty obsessed with the Dads' Invisible Blouse 7-inch. Sam is a visual artist, and we decided to get in touch with the band in Tampa and see if they wanted to collaborate on a record where Sam would do the artwork. This project expanded into a series of 7-inches including Big French and Oldd News, both bands we were also listening to a bunch at the time. We were so happy with the resulting artifacts and the process of creating them that we decided to keep doing it. We also just made such good friends and continued to work with everyone.
Ad Hoc: How do you decide which artists are best for the label?
DW: This is a hard question! We don't stick to a particular genre of music and don't want to be pigeonholed at all. Our goal ultimately is to help get the artist the results on the recording that they want, and get the physical artifact to their specifications. In a few situations this has led some people to think of Wharf Cat as a place where bands can release music they might not be able to otherwise, and we consider that to be a huge compliment. This might mean it's a new band, and this is the first album where they record in a studio to 2-inch tape, or it might mean that it's a group that already has a following and wants to try something different.
Starting as an art project with a visual artist means we are always focused on the details of the artifact. For instance, we put spines on our first three 7-inch and did a gatefold with wrap-around artwork on the Ancient Sky, "Castle"/"Allegory" 7-inch. Dads wanted to do a book for their LP, Brown on Brown, which was really fun. Cameron Worden from Dads is a genius and designed the coolest book. We printed it at a place that does pamphlets for golf courses and instruction manuals for expensive vacuum cleaners. Our partnership with Mike Kutchman and [Brooklyn's] Kutch 1 Studio gives us the ability to record a band in an environment that might be new to them and draw them out of their usual recording techniques. It also allows a band to focus on the music and let us take care of everything else. It might sound lazy to say we put out records by bands we love, but that is probably the most accurate description of why we work with different bands. We only work with our friends, but we are making new friends here and there.
Ad Hoc: You do releases on both on vinyl and digitally. What is the motivation for putting music out on older formats?
DW: For the bands we work with, vinyl is the most important format. And of course we want to make beautiful artifacts that are great to hold in your hands. Certainly records sound the best. But we are not format snobs, meaning we're open to whatever medium is most appropriate for the music in question. Digital distribution is something we use to try to get our music to someone who's interested in the bands we work with but may not have access to a record store close by. We also understand that not everyone can always afford to buy a lot of vinyl records.
Ad Hoc: What is most rewarding about running a label? What is the most challenging?
DW: Working closely with the artists on the recordings and the artwork is the most rewarding part. You might think it would be when the finished records are delivered, but as a label, that's when you have to be getting them out to distros and stores, so that's usually crunch time. The most challenging thing for us so far has been making sure that we always have enough records in stock and figuring out when/if it's the right time to do a re-press. There's always going to be steady demand for something like the Dads' Invisible Blouse 7-inch that we reissued last summer. However, if the band has a lower profile, there might be a smaller listenership and your first press might be in the right hands by the time it sells out. Figuring out distribution has been a challenge too. Having a big distributor take a bunch of your records and get them to record stores all over the place sounds great I guess, but we really want to make sure that the limited records we press get to people who are going to love them. Working with smaller distros and record stores has been the best way for us to accomplish that so far.
Ad Hoc: What are some of the most recent releases on Wharf Cat? And what can we expect to come out soon?
DW: Breaking Mirrors by Blanche Blanche Blanche and All Get Out by Ancient Sky were released most recently. You can order both right now. Our LPs for the first half of 2014 will be for The Ukiah Drag, Vasillus, R-Hundro, Joey Pizza Slice, and Blanche Blanche Blanche, which could be a double LP. Also 7" records by The Ukiah Drag, The Memories, Vasillus and a few others that we should be able to announce soon. Also, we have the great honor of re-releasing La Peste's classic record, Better Off Dead. We are going to have Josh Bonati remaster it and make sure it looks exactly like the original and it will be accompanied by a book. Hopefully, [La Peste member] Peter Dayton, who is the coolest man we have ever met, will write something for the the book, which will feature pictures and some writing on the band from the time.
Ad Hoc: What do you hope to do with the label in the future?
DW: There is a rumbling about a new Dads record but I wouldn't want to jinx it! Our goal is to keep going and keep getting these records into the right hands.