Founders of new Minneapolis cassette label reflect on their first seven months
Inspired by the cassette revival, helping out their pals, and a desire to give Minneapolis music the glory it deserves, Jordan Bleau of local band Frankie Teardrop and photographer Alexander Uhrich created No Problem Records. Since its formation in June 2014, the cassette label has released the tunes of local bands such as Suzie, Frankie Teardrop, VATS, and Teenage Moods; each band seems to fall into their own genre, yet are held together by a common thread of lo-fi and a “let’s do it together” ethic.
The Wake sat down with them in their Whittier apartment, in the open space between stacks of cassettes and merch, to talk about their No Problem Singles Club, the state of the Minneapolis music scene, and the toils of diving into the uneasy waters of the music industry while still keeping it real.
The Wake: So tell me about the role each of you play in No Problem Records and why you got started.
Jordan Bleau: Yeah, so it’s a team; we’re a squad. It’s like me and Alex, working out of our various apartments and trying to pick out local bands that are super duper good and are doing something that could totally clean up on a national level but maybe don’t have the means to.
Alexander Uhrich: It definitely was started in part with the idea that Minneapolis doesn’t get enough attention on a national level. People don’t really come here on tour. Well, they do now and they do more and more I’ve noticed, but because it’s so far from anything else, it often gets skipped. It’s not a convenient place for people to tour when they’re doing national stuff. So I feel like this community is a really well kept secret too, like there’s a lot of really amazing bands happening here that maybe don’t get the attention they deserve because you know, people don’t come here on vacation.
Bleau: Yeah, it’s not Brooklyn.
The Wake: So you guys started No Problem Records last June, three months after you had met each other, right?
Uhrich: Even less than that, I think. At that time I wasn’t spending any time making art and I always have felt like one of the best things for me is to help facilitate other people’s creativity or help people make their stuff happen. And I was at dinner with my mom actually, so shout-out to my mom for No Problem, and I was commiserating and she was like, “Why don’t you figure out something that you could spend like 100 bucks on that could grow? Like something you could invest in that could potentially turn into something else.” And I was immediately like, Jordan has all these songs. I wanna put out a Frankie Teardrop tape. So I texted him and I was like I wanna do this. And there was no conversation; it was just like, let’s do it together. So yeah, we started our record label in like two to three months. And then we just shredded for five months.
Bleau: We had no clue what the fuck we were doing and we still… well, we’ve learned some things. We’re just not business-minded.
Both of you have lived in other states for a long period of time and have experienced other music scenes. How would you describe the Twin Cities music scene and how does it compare?
Bleau: Well, ‘cause I’m not from here, I have kind of a different perspective on how the scene works and local bands around here and I think that sometimes there’s a lack of constructive criticism. You know, scenes and art get better when people are willing to give each other feedback that is not always positive. I think that’s a huge thing here that really kind of surprised me.
Uhrich: I think it’s very insular. I feel like everybody knows each other, and it’s an excellent thing about supporting your friends and playing shows and going to your friends’ shows, but a lot of people don’t necessarily keep it real about what’s going to make it a better thing for everybody. And you don’t ever want to like, shit on anybody or make them feel bad, ‘cause that’s not the point; that is very rarely productive either.
Since No Problem Records began in June, you guys have put out releases for Frankie Teardrop, Dee Dee Mayo, Real Numbers, Suzie, VATS, and Teenage Moods. How do you decide which artists to work with?
Bleau: What I like about the releases we put out is that all the artists we put out make like really fucking amazing, challenging shit that, like I said, could clean up on a national level. Like that Dee Dee [Mayo] tape for example, that’s Ian’s solo project and he’s played like one show and that tape is like fucking amazing. Like if we could give it enough legs to get to whomever the right fucking people are, that shit would clean up.
Uhrich: I think we’ve also focused on diversifying. Not a single one of our tapes sounds like another tape that we’ve put out, like they’re kind of all across the board. It’s not about being a genre label; that has never been the goal. It’s always been about, oh, that’s just fucking good.
“To write all the songs, play all the parts, record it, dub the tapes, fold them, put the sticker on them, and then you have this fucking thing that you hold in your hand and you’re like, I fucking worked so hard to make this happen. That’s the dopest feeling in the world.” – Bleau
What is the relationship No Problem Records has with its artists? Do you guys record the music or do you just release and promote their music?
Bleau: Sometimes we record it. The idea was to provide these in-house resources where we could handle the whole process of making a release. In theory, we would handle all of the production, and then Alex does all the art and design and all the promo. So we could handle the process like front-to-back but everybody that we put out is better at recording than me but like, I can do it too.
Uhrich: As far as our relationships with our artists go, like they’re all just friends of ours. These are just people we hang out with outside the context of our label. So it’s been cool, we’ve been really lucky so far in that we haven’t put anything out by anyone that we don’t know personally.
In the future, do you guys plan on working with people you don’t already know?
Uhrich: Because we’re lucky enough to have friends that are lined up and ready to go, we haven’t started putting out other things that we’ve gotten as offers. Maybe that’s something that will happen down the line, but I think both of us just really like working with our friends, people that we have a repertoire with already, so it’s like business and pleasure. When we started we would always have our meetings at the CC Club and bands would come meet us and hang out and talk.
Bleau: And we don’t sign these people; it’s all handshake deals. It’s not with the intent to make money or anything like that. I think of us almost like a production or distribution company.
So far, No Problem Records releases music exclusively on cassette tapes. Why do you guys choose to release music on cassettes instead of a different medium?
Bleau: Money. Records are expensive.
Uhrich: Yeah it was just the easiest solution; it just made a lot of sense to do it that way. Everything that we send out has a download code in it too.
Bleau: CDs just suck. And the crunchy, weirdo tape sound is conducive to the stuff that we put out for sure. And they’re really cheap, so you can get them for 5 bucks. Anyone can spend 5 bucks at a show, especially at a free show. So it’s easy for us to make, it’s easy for people to get, and it’s a tangible thing.
Do you guys have any plans for vinyl in the future?
Bleau: We’re getting to vinyl. It is expensive. There are long wait times right now because of the huge uptake in vinyl sales. There’s a finite amount of record plants and it’s not yet economical to open more plants so it’s like the existing plants are overloaded as shit and it takes months to get a record. But records are very tight, and we have some records coming down the pipe, so stay tuned.
Uhrich: Yeah we’re expanding in multiple ways like we’re gonna start doing vinyl…
Bleau: …zines, shirts, tapes, tapes, zines, tapes.
Where could someone find No Problem Records tapes and merchandise?
Bleau: They’re in stores like Hymie’s, Electric Fetus, Treehouse, Extreme Noise, and then we have an online store, and then the artists all have them. We also have stuff at Bric-a-Brac Records in Chicago and Record Collector in Iowa City.
So back in December you guys started a No Problem Singles Club. Could you describe what that is and what has been the response?
Bleau: So it’s like subscribing to a magazine but with cassette tapes. You join the club and then you get a cool tape in the mail every few weeks for a couple months. When we started, you would pay 25 bucks, and then you got five tapes with the digital download and a free shirt if you signed up right away. And then after the first tape comes out, it drops to 20 bucks and you get four tapes, 15 bucks and you get three tapes, etc.
Uhrich: We were both super overwhelmed by the response we got right off the bat. Like our plan was to do 25 and we ended up selling 23 subscriptions on the first round. And 23 people is not a lot of people but those are 23 people that were willing to give us their money without knowing what they were going to get.
Being a part of the music industry today, what sort of challenges have you guys faced as a small, independent record label?
Bleau: Shit just requires time and effort. There’s so many fucking labels, there’s a billion fucking bands, there’s a trillion blogs that cover it and this whole music industry has changed a shit ton. There’s like no money in it, there are like gatekeepers. You have to like pay press people essentially to get any more real exposure, and then we’re over here in our shitty little apartment, just folding things. And it’s like whoah, it’s this big thing that you get into. Does that make it not worth it? Fuck no, it’s awesome. If you make a tape and like ten people buy it, that’s the shit because that’s ten people who are probably pretty stoked on it.
Uhrich: Yeah, it’s hard to start something and get random people to want to talk to you or hear what you’re doing, cause like Jordan said, there’s a billion bands and a trillion blogs. There’s a lot out there.
Bleau: I know that with Frankie Teardrop, I do absolutely everything and I do it because I love it; I don’t do it because I make any money or like any of that shit. All these people work super hard and make beautiful shit in their bedrooms and garages and that’s never going to pay the bills, maybe, hopefully, but none of these people make their living off of music. And that’s the shit that makes it real, dude. To write all the songs, play all the parts, record it, dub the tapes, fold them, put the sticker on them, and then you have this fucking thing that you hold in your hand and you’re like, I fucking worked so hard to make this happen. That’s the dopest feeling in the world.