Of all the record labels in Brooklyn, no one’s captured our ears quite like Captured Tracks has over its five-year run so far. The Greenpoint-based label has bolstered an already stout roster (which includes Wild Nothing, DIIV, and Beach Fossils) with a series of reissues of influential indie bands, including The Clean, Medicine and Wake, whose records used to be nearly impossible to find.
As the label nears its five-year anniversary, they’ll celebrate with a two-day festival this weekend (which we recommended attending after you check out our bazaar on Saturday). They also moved to new digs in the neighborhood, at 195 Calyer Street, where they’re also running a record shop, in the spirit of Fool’s Gold, Rough Trade, and other independent labels that opened record stores. The Captured Tracks store had a soft opening on Monday, so we stopped by to speak with Mike Sniper, the label’s founder, and Katie Garcia, its manager.
Sniper: We wanted to move out of our old office, just because it was time to have our own space. I was looking at spaces that were 1100 square foot or larger. I found this space, which was a little bit bigger than what we needed, and I was like, “I guess we’ll open up a shop.” I already had one (Co-Op 87) and had run them in the past, so it was pretty natural for me to do that. It wasn’t intimidating at all. I’ve worked in record shops from before college, during college and after college, until I had a label. So it’s second nature to me.
Garcia: Even as an outsider, just knowing Mike — I remember, when he opened Co-Op, I’d never seen him in a record store environment until then. But it seemed so natural to him. He’s very much in his element.
Sniper: Obviously, I love running the label, but I’m a record store guy at heart. It was my dream job in high school. I like waking up at 6 a.m. and traveling to a flea market in Jersey or upstate and buying record collections. Sounds insane, but that’s what I like to do in my spare time.
Sniper: Exactly. All it has to do is pay for its part of the rent. Which is why we’re able to make it — well, we’re a snobby-looking record shop, whereas most record shops are just jam-packed with records. I totally understand why it’s like that — that’s the only source of income for those companies. It should be like that for them. But we’re afforded the bonus of the label doing really well. I want it to be a good record store that makes money, but we can take more chances.
Garcia: The curation booths are going to be curated by musicians on the label, artists, painters, other musicians. They’re going to make mixtapes and we’ll have them for sale.
Sniper: The idea is to have one musician and one non-musician at a time. Probably 75 percent of the musicians will be label-related. The first two are Dustin [Payseur], from Beach Fossils, and Matt Volz, an artist. He’s done stuff for The New Yorker, but people who are familiar with the label will also know him for doing all the art for the Beets records. It’s really cool. He’ll make a mixtape and pick out records to sell, but there will also be prints and original artwork. Dustin will be doing the same thing. They’ll both pick out books they wanna carry and whatever else they want to have. It’s a way to buy into the taste of people whose work you like. We’re giving people who we think should have pop-up shops their own miniature pop-ups shops.
Sniper: I told Caleb [Braaten, the founder], of Sacred Bones, that I want him to do one, and Caroline [Polachek] from Chairlift. Other people who are just friends of ours. The wall [next to the booths] is gonna be like my own curation booth — I’m going to sell shit that I like, that aren’t records. It’s every idiot collector’s dream to open up a shop and sell all the crap that you like. It’s a trading post, too. People can come in, trade in books or gear or whatever, and walk out with records or cash, and vice versa.
Sniper: Co-Op is great. Record stores that are successful have high turnover — you can’t have a stale catalog. You have to date everything and lower the prices if things aren’t selling. If the new arrivals bin is the same for four months, why would anybody come back in? Records are the same as any other commodity — they’re worth what people will pay for them. They don’t have an inherent worth, you know? You have to keep track of how you price things, and don’t gouge people. Someone might walk in and spend $30 on the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers because they don’t know better, but twelve other people will be like, ‘I’ve seen that record for $15. If that’s $30, then everything is overpriced.’[Compared to Co-Op], this store is a little more — I don’t want to say “curated,” because we still have all the genres you’d expect from any used record store. People might think that because we’re an indie rock label, we’ll have an indie rock shop, but we have tons of classic rock, tons of jazz, tons of country. I don’t have any interest in being a super curated shop. It’s lightly curated. Like a sprinkle of basil.
Sniper: Oh my God—if you had told me it would be like this in five years, I would’ve said you’re crazy. The label started as a 12” EP label — that’s all I was gonna do. At the time, they were not popular. I was just a huge fan of them, from buying industrial 12” EPs when I was a kid. I really like the format. I had no intention of doing an LP, until the Beets’ first LP, which was our tenth release ever. I told them, “We only do 12-inch EPs,” but they had a whole album, so we just did it. Then we hired Katie and signed beach fossils and wild nothing, and it went crazy.
Garcia: Yeah, when those two records came out — they came out on the same day. We just knew.
Sniper: The New York Times was talking about Beach Fossils right before the record came out, and I was like, what the fuck is going on? That was when the ball really started rolling. After that, everybody that we signed started getting attention. Not that they were all huge successes, but at least people had their ears perked: “Oh, this is a captured tracks thing, maybe I should check it out.”
I didn’t even want to celebrate five years, initially — it was our booking agent who was really into the idea of doing a festival. I don’t really like to get involved with shows, in general. But the reason I decided to do it is because I thought about all the labels I like, and how I’d feel if they have done this. These are little snapshots in time. I’m always thinking about things ten years in the future, and what people might think about the five-year anniversary and the bands that are playing. Ten years from now, kids that are 17, 18 now are gonna be like “I wish I’d gone to that show!” If Factory had done a five-year anniversary, how cool would that have been? That’s the whole reason I caved. I don’t think five years is really that big of a deal. If you’re a five-year old child, you don’t even have an original thought in your head.
Garcia: We want to expand overseas.
Sniper: Places like South America and China—there’s a public there that wants to buy this music, but the vast majority of distributors and labels have given up selling there. As a label, we’re not gonna change anything in terms of A&R. We’re still gonna sign new bands, do reissues, acquire old catalogs I love, like we did with Flying Nun. And maybe expanding shops — it’d be great to have other offices and shops in other cities.