Hello America Stereo Cassette eschews the ‘poser amateur hour’ of spoken word
Writer Adam Gnade’s book, The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Fighting the Big Motherfuckin’ Sad, is probably the most-gifted thing in our household. My wife and I have definitely given copies to a dozen people, and it’s the sort of thing to which you can keep coming back again and again. Thus, it was with some delight that I discovered that the writer recently kicked off a new record label, Hello America Stereo Cassette.
Described by Gnade as “a record label for writers, releasing stories, poems, and short novels on cassette as well as regularly-updated mixtapes,” Hello America is based out of a farm called the Ruby Teeth Homestead near Tonganoxie. Gnade, along with a few of the folks formerly behind the much-loved and recently-demised Pioneers Press, is dedicated to building a scene of “literary audio artists,” so I reached out to the writer via email to discuss the new label and its future plans.
The Pitch: The cassettes look as though they came straight out of the early ’80s. What was the concept behind the old-school aesthetic?
Adam Gnade: Originally that was just supposed to be for our first tape, Jared Thomas Friend’s Phone-Dream, which we launched the label with back in February, but I fell in love with that sort of ’80s Columbia Records super budget greatest hits look and now I can’t imagine our releases without it. The template was designed by Elizabeth Thompson (who does all our design stuff) based upon an idea by Gogo Erlandson, who recorded the backing music for Jared’s tape. We’ve stuck with that vibe ever since. Our aesthetic is somewhere between that and things covered in gold metallic spray paint, which we’ve used for all our mixtape compilations. Grind that up and that’s our DNA.
The label started very quickly after the end of Pioneers Press. Was this originally intended as an outgrowth of the press, such as a way for folks to do readings in a pandemic setting where they weren’t possible?
Pioneers Press was run by Jessie Duke who moved the company up to Michigan back in 2015 so I hadn’t been involved for a few years, other than the press releasing my books, most of which have been co-releases with Justin Pearson’s record label Three One G out of San Diego, which has released stuff by the Blood Brothers, The Locust, Bastard Noise, Cattle Decapitation, Swing Kids, just a ton of great shit. A label for writers was something that had been kicking me in the back of the brain for ages. I’ve been recording audio tracks of my fiction with music for most of my adult life and have spent a lot of time touring it. There wasn’t anyone in my group of friends or peers or whatever who were doing this sort of thing full-time so I toured with bands, which was fine, but I’ve always wanted to gather up other people doing similar things and make some kind of scene of it.
I love the little worlds that publishing houses like Tyrant Books or City Lights made with their artists or what labels like Three One G, DFA, and Saddle Creek have done. When I heard the early version of Jared’s Phone-Dream tape, I fell in love with their writing, and I suddenly knew I had to finally do it and that Jared’s record would be our first release. It happened fast and it’s been very active ever since. Here on the farm, I spend half my day on that and half my day writing. It’s moving quickly right now, which is really exciting.
Hello America eschews the “spoken word” tag by pairing music with pieces that range from poetry to personal narratives to your own Honey Slides with Youthmovies. How do you decide what to release?
I absolutely hate spoken word. It’s always felt so artificial; just absolute poser amateur hour shit. Basically, if something feels natural and true I’ll release it. Which isn’t to say I’ll release just anything. I don’t like a lot of audio literary stuff. Most of it makes me cringe and want to walk in the opposite direction. It’s so embarrassing and precious and obnoxious. The real stuff makes you feel like you could tear a door off a car, but the real stuff is rare.
Upcoming releases from Hello America include Marty Hillard of Ebony Tusks. His work seems like a perfect fit. Where do you find folks who are less local?
I love Marty and his writing. I first caught Ebony Tusks a few years back at the White School House in Lawrence opening for Downtown Boys and felt some heavy kindred spirit vibes. His work is vital and important. Mostly the people I’ve released come from elsewhere, though. From touring I’ve met tons of writers whose work I like and they come from all over. As far as the tapes, the label is releasing one a month at this point, and so far Nathaniel Kennon Perkins and Nicole Morning are from Denver. Jared Thomas Friend lives in New York City, but they’re from Lincoln, Nebraska originally. Youthmovies, who backed me up musically on the Honey Slides record are from England. I’ve released tracks by Lora Mathis from San Diego, Juliet Escoria who lives in West Virginia, Jessie Lynn McMains from Wisconsin, Bart Schaneman from Denver.
Including the stuff on our mixtape compilations, I think we’ve put out work by about 30 artists so far in the five months we’ve been a label, and they’re from everywhere. That’s the best part for me: bringing people together who are doing cool work and making a place to hang out. If you do this sort of thing, chances are you feel on the outside of things a lot of the time, and those are the people I want on my label. The loners, the weird kids, the anxious bookworms who freak most people out, that’s who I want to know. Those are the ones with something to say, the ones who can really change things and upset the order of the boring, gutless, normie-lit scene. Those people write with higher, personal stakes, and their work means something beyond art for art’s sake. That’s why this label exists. That’s the sort of world I want to live in.
Find all of Hello America Stereo Cassette’s releases at their Bandcamp.