A few months ago, I received an email about a post-rock compilation. Naturally intrigued, I started to dig deeper. Apparently this compilation was focused on the idea of “global” music, featuring bands from all across the world. As I kept digging, I soon came across A Thousand Arms, the label behind the compilation but also a repository for merch and other album releases from some of my favorite bands including We Lost the Sea among others. Naturally, I was intrigued and I started speaking with C.J who manages the label alongside another partner. What exactly was the motivation for this compilation? What is A Thousand Arms exactly, if not a label in the traditional sense?
These questions led me to finally sending C.J. a few questions over email as an interview, to try and get some answers. His answers are posted below, unedited, and represent an interesting look into a part of the music industry fans might not always get a glimpse of. Read on for musings on post rock, post metal, global communities, live music and much, much more!
Tell us a bit about A Thousand Arms. Is it a label? A musical collective? A bit of both? It also seems geared towards mostly post-metal and post-rock; why those genres? What drew you to them originally?
A Thousand Arms took its existence back in 2007 when my business partner, Wilson, started doing freelance graphic design work, mostly designing show posters, shirts and album layouts for our band(s) and others’. In 2010 Wilson began getting shirts printed with his designs on them and was somewhat underwhelmed with the first run of shirts he received. It was about this time that I posed the question, “why don’t we just buy a press and do it ourselves?” That was essentially the point of genesis of what the foundation of A Thousand Arms is today.
We’ve both been deeply ingrained with the DIY mentality for as long as we can remember. Whether it was Wilson designing our album artwork or shooting a music video or me recording our albums or booking our tours, nearly every aspect of what we were building was done in-house. We were never entirely satisfied with shirts we would get printed from elsewhere, so it just made sense to make the investment and start our own screen-printing company.
As two guys who have always been centered around the love of music and the need to be creative it was always understood that A Thousand Arms was going to be driven by music. In a lot of ways, it was our years of experience playing in bands that helped build and mold the A Thousand Arms business model. While screen-printing had become the driving force of A Thousand Arms for over six years now, we still felt compelled to use the business as an asset and contributor to the music scene. Being fairly secluded here in Bozeman, MT, we had been constantly searching for a way to be more involved on the national and worldwide level of music in an attempt to get our name out there and garner some type of music business from some larger bands. We eventually came across the idea of assembling band compilations to begin the process of building A Thousand Arms into a more recognized name.
In order to more adequately handle the daunting challenge of getting bands involved, we decided to narrow the scope our focus to the post-rock genre. Having already made numerous connections within this genre through the endeavors of our own post-rock band, RANGES, this made the most sense. We enlisted the assistance of David Zeidler (Arctic Drones) who played a massive role in helping us get the attention of some really great bands for “Open Language Vol. I”. The response to the compilation was staggering and proved to be an exciting breakthrough for us as a business.
With a newly acquired network of bands we saw the potential to expand A Thousand Arms into a band merchandising and fulfillment company. Since we already had the screen-printing aspect figured out it made perfect sense to start offering web store hosting and fulfillment as a service to bands who needed it. We also saw the potential in looking to bands outside of the states who were on the cusp of doing really big things, who didn’t have a US fulfillment partner and were forced to deal with staggering international shipping rates. The opportunity to both lend bands a hand with the hassle of international shipping and also save US customers from having to dig deeper into the wallet to purchase great music or shirts from another country just couldn’t be passed up.
We offered to host a web store for Belgium label dunk!records based on the caliber of their roster and the work they have done to establish dunk!festival, now in its thirteenth year. The timing couldn’t have been better as they were looking to find a distributor in the states and were considering bringing dunk!festival to the US, as well. It’s been a bit of a process building our online presence and webstore to facilitate the sales of international bands’ merchandise and vinyl but it’s been an absolute blast to be involved in such an awesome endeavor. It has been a surreal experience to go from a local screen-printing business to being the US distributor for Pelican’s ‘Live at dunk!fest 2016 2xLP’ and now Russian Circles’ ‘Live at dunk!fest 2016 2xLP’ in the span of only a year.
Plenty has been said about the repetitive nature of post-metal and post-rock; some even say that the genres are in crisis. Do you think that’s true or are people simply not listening widely enough?
I think every genre of music is in crisis if the imaginary borders and boundaries we all put on them aren’t being constantly pushed and contested. Both from the listener’s perspective and the musician’s perspective. The deeper I’ve immersed myself in the post-whatever genres, the more inspiring and imaginative things I’ve found. You can only rely on Apple Music and Spotify suggestions for so long before you find yourself in the same cycle of bands that no longer become challenging for you as a listener. I’m totally guilty of just hanging back and listening to my favorite core of bands for years on end, but when we took the dive into compilations and were lucky enough to have someone like David introduce us to some inspiring lesser-known bands it totally changed my mindset. I find that I’m becoming much more influenced by these bands than I am by the mainstays of the genre.
Speaking of listening widely, what created the global focus of your recent compilation, Hemispheres? Why divide it into two parts like you did?
“Open Language” was the first compilation we put out and it was David’s idea to break it into two sides which has become a theme for both of the compilations we have put out so far. It seems like Europe is the place to be when it comes to post-rock music and post-rock festivals so he suggested we only feature American bands on one side and fill the other side with international bands to show the palette of talent US post-rock bands have in comparison to the rest of the world. However this is perceived is up to the listener, but I think somewhere in both David’s and my subconscious we were trying to convince the great post-rock festivals of Europe that it was high time to have a post-rock festival here in the states. I guess it worked, as dunk!festival will be coming to Burlington, VT, this October for the first edition of dunk!USA.
With “Hemispheres” the same concept existed, except this time we featured Northern Hemisphere bands on one side and Southern Hemisphere bands on the other. We were able to dig up a lot of really great music from some pretty secluded areas around the world. Europe, America, and Australia are known to have a pretty solid scene of post-rock bands but I wasn’t yet aware of some of the really great bands from South America. A lot of these bands bring a more math-centric, uptempo vibe to the compilation which I think is great. I’ve never really been a math-rock guy, but “Hemispheres” really turned me on to some great stuff.
Do you find that post-rock or post-metal are “more global” than other genres? Is there something unique to be gained by a global perspective on music?
I tend to feel that instrumentally-minded genres are more global but I’m so entrenched in them that perhaps my perspective is skewed. I do think a lot of this has to do with there being little to no vocals/lyrics in the majority of the music. There really is no language barrier when it comes to instrumental music. This is actually a big reason why we went with “Open Language” for the title of our first compilation.
I have been completely overwhelmed by the sense of community and likemindedness I’ve discovered within these genres and it honestly feels like the post-rock scene spans the globe in many ways and has a really unique “local” feel to it. Social media has been vital in creating this atmosphere and it’s been incredible to network with a lot of great people both regionally and internationally by way of this technology. There’s a common understanding as a fairly underground scene, that as soon as a band in your genre gets signed to a big label or hits the road as a supporting act for a bigger band, the entire genre gets a little more attention which benefits every other band and also those of us working as merchandisers or record labels. A rising tide raises all ships.
You don’t often see organizations working with both bands and festivals, it’s usually a more harsher divide. How did work with dunk!fest and Erosion Festival come about?
I’m still in awe of how we got into working with the people of dunk!fest. It was honestly one of those things that just fell perfectly into place because certain things happened at just the right times. Initially we had approached them looking for help distributing a RANGES album in Europe which they kindly agreed to do. Once we were able to get A Thousand Arms into the position of a distributor and a merchandiser it made a lot of sense to offer that service to them in order to get some really great European releases over to the states. As I mentioned, dunk!USA will be making its debut this October in Burlington, VT, and A Thousand Arms will be there running the official merch booth. A lot has fallen into place in the past year and we’re really looking forward to the opportunity to get our name and our products in front of a wider audience of post-rock fans. Additionally, we will be flying over to Belgium in May to set up an A Thousand Arms booth at dunk!festival 2017 which will give us the opportunity to meet with a lot of people we work with on a regular basis.
Erosion is a stoner/rock/doom festival based in Montana in its third year of operation, co-founded by our friend Cory Lynch and ourselves. Cory runs the majority of festival logistics, Wilson develops the branding through his design entity L U X I N V I C T U S, and A Thousand Arms facilitates the printing and merchandising. We are currently in the process of putting together our first compilation related to the festival which will be called “The Monolith”. The festival won’t be taking place this year but plans are already in the works for the 2018 edition.
Lastly, there’s a lot of music on your compilation. Care to shine a light about specific bands/tracks in particular?
There is a lot of music on our compilations and each of the bands that contributed is absolutely worth investigating if you haven’t already. The moment Tides of Man and We Lost The Sea committed to being a part of “Open Language” I think was the moment I knew we were onto something. Both of these bands have played a major role in my life and are always a go-to when it comes to introducing people to the genre. Additionally, it was awesome to get to share music from bands like This Patch Of Sky, Pray For Sound, Compass & Knife, and Coastlands as these guys have all become good friends of ours. With “Hemispheres” the inclusion of Caspian was pretty profound and definitely a milestone for us, as they have always been an inspiration.
Outside of the music, the artwork for all of our compilations plays a very important role. For “Open Language” we contacted Brian Morgante of Flesh and Bone Design who has done an absolutely ridiculous amount of work for a ton of great bands across all different genres. It didn’t take long before we realized he was wired exactly like we are and the partnership between Flesh and Bone Design and A Thousand Arms was formed. Xavi Forne of Error! Design out of Barcelona, Spain, did the artwork for “Hemispheres” and also contributed a song from his band Malämmar for the compilation. Xavi’s artwork is some of the best in the gig-poster scene, so if you aren’t familiar with Error! Design, go check it out.