by Ben Shine
Karl Hofstetter and his Joyful Noise Recordings label are on a roll. They've been steamrolling their way through the world lately, putting out some of the most artfully-merchandised music by some pretty big bands from the last 25 years, discovering and releasing music, opening music/art spaces in the Murphy Building, picking up local cultural awards, opening their own record store in the Murphy Building and generally letting creativity guide them in their success.
In 2004, when Karl was a college student with a band - Melk the g6-49 - he created a record label. For the first four years, Joyful Noise Recordings put out around 20 releases, primarily from Hofstetter's or his friends' bands. While they had a lot of fun, Joyful Noise wasn't really making money.
"I'd put out one record, right away there'd be a friend of that band that would want to put out another record." says Hofstetter. "It was a slippery slope, and I call it that because it was a money hole. I was just skimming off my student loans and putting out records without any real idea of how to sell them."
The label became something bigger in 2008. They released Grandpa Jookabox's Ropechain and re-released Marmoset's Record in Red, produced for the first time as a record and not just a CD. Both albums are from Indianapolis-based musicians. (For the record, I'd argue that Record in Red is one of the finest albums ever made in Indianapolis.) But it took a jump from local to national artists to catapult the label into the kind of success that is reserved for indie music labels and artisanal pickle makers - they are known among people who know about these things. It's kind of an inside thing, but it matters.
A run-down of their creative successes:
·Chicago band Joan of Arc, much hated by the hipster reviewers at Pitchfork but loved by fans of electronic-fused indie rock, let Joyful Noise release their whole catalog on cassette.
·Freak-dance-pop weirdos Of Montreal and indie-rock icons Dinosaur Jr. followed, letting Joyful Noise release their seminal work again on beautifully packaged cassette box sets. It was time to break out that boom box again.
·Revisiting their association with Marmoset, Joyful Noise silk-screened fancy hand-made wooden containers and lovingly put vinyl copies of all four Marmoset albums inside. (Lovingly on display in my living room)
·Former frontman of The Jesus Lizard and Scratch Acid, David Yow, put out his first solo album on Joyful Noise this year. Each record comes with a concrete holder, cast by David Yow himself.
·A flexi-disc of the month series, available by subscription, which puts out b-sides and unreleased tracks on clear, single-sided 7" flexi-discs and mails them to subscribers monthly. Sufjan Stevens, the Melvins, the Sea and Cake and Here We Go Magic are all in the 2013 line-up.
·They are also on the verge of releasing the first full length album in 14 years by indie rock giants, Sebadoh.
In addition to beautiful and unique packaging, each of these ventures has a common theme - Karl and his crew get excited about something and just do it. They follow often-weird, but somehow right, creative urges and success seems to follow pretty closely behind. Bigger bands now feel comfortable about doing odd things with Joyful Noise. After all, if you're releasing stuff on cassette, there's not a lot of risk, but there's a lot of reward for your dedicated audience. Joyful Noise caters to the micro-audience, the really big fan, the guy who thinks J Mascis is still one of the greatest guitar players ever or the lady who waxes nostalgic for the 90's over the forever boyish charm of Tim Kinsella and Joan of Arc.
But that creative focus has also proved, eventually, to be financially successful, which allowed Joyful Noise more space to be creative and experiment with new musicians, not just be the label that re-releases bands' catalogs on tape in beautiful packages. Shortly after releasing the Of Montreal box set, Karl received a cd in the mail from a songwriter in Virginia named Kaoru Ishibashi and was delighted by what he heard. The two became fast friends and soon Joyful Noise released the very first Kishi Bashi album. The album has found much commercial success, debuting on the Billboard charts, spurring national tours, as well as having several songs licensed to be used in commercials by Sony, Microsoft and Smart cars.
"He's the first artist that we discovered, signed and became very successful with from scratch." He says, "We co-created Kishi Bashi to huge success, but doing projects with Dinosaur Jr and Of Montreal allowed us to actually curate our own label."
While the future of Joyful Noise recordings will rely on the creative whims and flights of fancy of Karl and his team (Check out Son Lux before everyone else is talking about them), Karl says that what's certain is that the label's identity will be strongly tied to Indianapolis. He dreams of Joyful Noise being associated with Indianapolis the way that Dischord Records is tied to Washington DC, or Sub Pop is to Seattle - not just in sound (he says he's the only one that can identify the "Joyful Noise sound" but he knows it when he hears it) but moreso in being tied to the culture and community of the city that they live in.
"What's great about this town is you can create culture," he says. "To some people, that seems bleak and to some, it's an opportunity. I see it as an opportunity."