You’re celebrating the 8th Anniversary of Self Aware Records. If I’ve done my homework correctly, the label started as a fan zine. Can you talk about how Self Aware’s zine roots inform its philosophy as a label? Are you still releasing zines?
Josh: We haven't released a zine in many years and really don't have the time to do it. We did nine issues intermittently and planned on doing a 10th issue, but so far nothing has really come together. When the zine was started I was interested primarily in fast punk and hardcore bands, so as my tastes broadened some people didn't want zines about me discovering The Jayhawks.
I love early Merge Records, No Idea, Jade Tree, Touch & Go and Dischord. They are our models. Just put out what you want to put out. Our artists are less one sound and more one way of thinking. Support local, don't be sexist, racist or homophobic and you'll fit in.
Sarah: Everything about Self Aware is a labor of love. The zine started as a rudimentary cut and paste (or tape) piece, but if you look at a lot of the later issues, some of our super talented friends helped to make it a beautiful digitally laid out zine – you can still see them all on our website! There’s a lot of DIY stuff going on within the label still, it’s just ingrained in us and I don’t think we could break away from it if we wanted to. There are probably some moves we could make to be bigger as a label, but keeping the integrity in everything we do is a lot more important. We put out records we love by people we support – if a band represents something contradictory to what we believe in, we’re not going to work with them, even if it could have made us a bunch of money.
All of that to say, that 10th issue of the zine is definitely forthcoming, no matter what Josh says.
How did you choose Charlotte as the home base for Self Aware? Have you ever thought about moving somewhere else with a more robust music industry infrastructure? What keeps you here?
Sarah: I think I tried to get Josh to move to a colder, dirtier city for a long time, but at this point I can’t imagine going anywhere else; although, if one day he woke up and was like “hey, let’s move,” I definitely wouldn’t be the one to say no.
Charlotte as a music community has become really important to both of us, and I think that there’s something to be said for sticking around and putting the time and effort into something you know can be great instead of bailing on it. I grew up in the Charlotte scene and it was so important and formative to me, and if I can in some way help it to be that for someone else, I consider it a win.
Josh: We've talked about moving and I'm probably what anchors us here. Sarah has the wanderlust and I'm more of a homebody. Also, we bought a house so I think we live here for good now. I moved to Charlotte in 2006 from Wilmington and that was already an upgrade. I finished college in 2009 and Sarah's family lives here so it makes a good home base.
I love Charlotte though and I love a challenge. If someone tells me I can't do something, then I want to do it. Also, people need to stop moving to big cities in an attempt to "make it." You need to stay home and fight and try and make your city better. Make them care about what you are doing, be a part of your local scene and community.
Over the course of Self Aware’s eight year history, what are the most significant changes you've witnessed in the Charlotte music community?
Sarah: I think that sometimes it’s hard to differentiate the changes in the community over time and the changes in your perspective as you get older and move through the scenes. At the time when we started Self Aware, it felt like there were a lot of people working really hard to create space and make things happen, and it really feels like now there’s a lot less of that. As a community, I think we look to younger kids to pick up where we left off or to champion the cause, but it seems like there’s a real lack of kids moving up into that role. It’s really hard to say if that’s really the way it is, or if it’s just my perspective and maybe I can’t seem to find them because I’m mostly at 18/21+ venues. While I think our bar scene is thriving, there is a serious lack of all ages spaces. Lunchbox Records is the only place that I can think of that fills in this gap.
Josh: There are so many good bands and even with all the venue closings there are so many cool places to play. Plaza Midwood and NoDa are thriving right now. Not always in terms of local music, but people are out and about more and it trickles down to music, mostly. When I first moved to Charlotte I would go to Lunchbox Records like every day and just try and force Scott [Wishart] to become my friend. He basically worked every day and sometimes I'd be the only person in the store for like an hour. It's always packed now and he has employees and sometimes he can actually go home.
I like that there are more women in the music scene. We already have enough dudes, so definitely more women, people of color, and LGBTQ individuals are needed to make it a diverse and exciting place. We need to be more inviting of different ways of thinking. I think the scene is trying, but we can always try harder.
Sarah: To tack onto Josh’s comment about diversity in the scene – it is great that there are more non-straight-white-dudes in bands, but there is still a major deficit. There’s still a long way to go. As a female in a band, I experience a lot of things that males never have to deal with – from the things you would expect (like door guys not believing I’m in the band), to sound guys coming on stage and adjusting my amps/pedals without asking. It’s not always comfortable to be a female musician, and I think that probably contributes to the reason that there aren’t a ton to be found. There are a lot of really cool things supporting it from the other side though, like Lady Rockstars (which encourages women who maybe felt like they shouldn’t or couldn’t learn to play guitar and/or start a band earlier in life to pick it up) or Girls Rock (which is a HUGE influence to enable and encourage kids and teens to get into music from a younger age). But to really get to an accepting and encouraging place, you have to also stop allowing misogyny to run rampant, and that hasn’t happened yet in the Charlotte music community.
Josh, you and Sarah play in Alright together, but you’re each members of other bands too. You play in Late Bloomer; she plays in Faye. How do you split your time and is it difficult to prioritize between your band and label commitments?
Josh: We are spread way too thin and try and make everything work out, but sometimes things fall through the cracks. We are only human. Luckily a record label comes in fits and starts. It might not be as busy for a bit and then there's a flurry of activity. Bands can be similar, but I try and give them all equal importance in my mind.
Sarah: I think lately our most common topic of conversation is how we can create more time every day – haven’t figured it out yet but feel free to mail us suggestions or keys to a time machine!
How important is it for the heads of a record label to also play in bands?
Sarah: I think that it’s super important for people who run record labels to be involved in their music scene, although I don’t necessarily think that means you need to play in a band. There’s a lot of other ways to get involved past just going to a show (which is important!) – like booking shows, setting up a distro at a show, talking about music online, writing an article for your local publication – it’s endless. I think that playing in bands is definitely helpful, though. You understand both sides of the process a little better, and I think it probably makes us as a label a little easier to work with, and maybe makes us a little more patient with our bands because we understand all the nuances.
There is definitely no splitting of time – one thing is always more demanding while everything else piles up in the background. I make a lot of lists and spreadsheets to try and keep on track (it usually doesn’t work), I could probably wallpaper my house with them. But really, it all ebbs and flows, and luckily, a lot of our band and label commitments overlap – Alright and Late Bloomer both have releases on Self Aware, and although Faye doesn’t at this point, it’s all interconnected. We use our bands on a local level to help other Self Aware bands coming through, and we use our label connections with things like booking tours for our bands.
Josh - speaking of Late Bloomer, you’ve got a new album in the works. But it sounds like there’s a story behind it. You told me it’s been “a wild nine-months riding that snake.” Can you elaborate?
Josh: I'm bad at keeping my mouth shut really. So in Rocky III, he fights Clubber Lang and loses because he didn't train enough. He basically just did what he normally does and then comes up short. So then he has to go back to the drawing board and figure out what went wrong and how to fix his previous mistakes and become a better Balboa in the process. That's us right now and while it was a setback, it will make us better in the end.
What’s next for Faye and Alright?
Sarah: LPs for everyone! I think both bands are planning on recording this Fall, hopefully to be followed up with more exciting things like touring forever, or at least a couple weeks. Alright is playing The Fest in Gainesville, FL again this year, and we are definitely super excited about that! Faye has a couple of really cool shows coming up – including a benefit show for Levine Children’s Hospital where we’ll be doing a Breeders cover set, and God Save the Queen City with Jeff the Brotherhood!
You mentioned The Fest. It is one of two regional festivals this fall where Self Aware and other Charlotte bands are well represented. Hopscotch in Raleigh is the other one. It has a history of booking underground/experimental bands while also tapping into the mainstream with popular/crossover headliners. The Fest, on the other hand, is what I would call “niche-y.” It is more focused on punk and (can I say it?) emo and seems far less interested in attracting a mainstream audience. From where I sit, it seems that, in terms of the local music scene, Charlotte is more of a Fest city than a Hopscotch city. Do you agree?
Josh: I think it could be. It's difficult though because on an industry level Charlotte has never been known as a music city. Sponsors and people just don't appreciate the arts in the same way that it is assumed in places like Raleigh. Charlotte always has to work harder and prove itself at every step, which is super annoying. Things are in a vacuum here probably due to not having college radio and a city government that does not support the arts.
Noda and Plaza Midwood are great neighborhoods to have festivals in. When we did Treasure Fest, a few years ago, we had over 100 bands over three days in about seven different venues. A few big sponsors and a few local patrons could really pull off a great locally curated event!
Big shout out to Reverb Fest for keeping the dream alive and working hard on a local festival.
Sarah: I don’t know that I would put Charlotte in either category. I think the city as a whole struggles to find its own identity in music. There are a lot of places where you can hear a band and say “oh yeah, that’s definitely a Philadelphia band” or “yeah, that sounds like a Long Island band” but I would be shocked if I ever heard someone say “oh yeah, that band definitely has that Charlotte sound.” We have a lot of different stuff going on here, and I don’t think you can lump it more to one side or the other. And yeah, we really do need a college radio station real bad.
Last question: I’ll name four noteworthy bands from Charlotte’s history. What say you about these? Muscadine. Jodeci. Antiseen. The Avett Brothers.
Josh: You left out Fetchin' Bones and The Spongetones. I love Charlotte music history. Someone just posted about the Morbid Angel HQ and it was on Central Avenue in the 90s.
Sarah: Josh is the music historian of this duo for sure. I’ve definitely listened to all of these bands, but never really attached to any of them. I like the Avett Brothers though. That’s not very punk of me but all you haters can step to the back. You won’t find me strumming “If It’s The Beaches” on a mountaintop…even I have limits. Charlotte really does have some cool music history in bands, venues and labels; someone should write a little book about it - maybe Self Aware will make the cut!
Self Aware Records is celebrating its 8th Anniversary as a record label by giving away *free stuff* if you buy their records. Click here to visit their website and check it out.