Interview: Zack Theriot of Shinonome Labs

Founded just over a month ago, Louisiana-based cassette label Shinonome Labs has wasted no time springing into action. Over the course of October, the imprint has pressed three solid releases ranging in genre from cozy chiptune collages to prog-tinged math rock to char-grilled skramz. To find out what sorts of ideas and aesthetics were driving Shinonome forward, I shot a few Facebook messages to the Labs' resident mad scientist, Zack Theriot.

Did any particular event or conversation spark the idea to start putting your friends’ records on tape? How many cassettes had you planned to press in advance before kicking things off with Sakuragaoka’s All of It?

I guess what really kicked off the idea for a label was when I dug out my tape player after organizing my desk space in late September; I noticed I could probably try recording/dubbing tapes from my PC just by using an aux cable. I had a bunch of old church cassettes my grandmother gave me and started experimenting a little with that, surprisingly enough it worked out really decently. Around the same time I was wanting to do a physical Sakuragaoka release and also had an idea to try to book small acoustic shows at my house and call the space "Shinonome Labs" after Nano and Hakase's house from Nichijou, but then I realized that I'm bad at booking and then little bits of every ideal kind of mixed into an idea to start a small label. My partner runs a small music blog called Short Circuit Media (pls check it out!), so my plan ended up being to make just a small semi-esoteric tape label as a sister project to the blog. I took a lot of influences for the groundwork of how it'd be run by labels like Ritual Tapes, Girlfriend Tapes, Deep Sea Records, and Lo-Fi by Default. Just kind of a small thing, but relay personal and true to DIY and lo-fi ideals. At first I just intended on releasing the Sakuragoaka tape and just ask around about releasing other things by friends or by projects I admired and luckily a couple fell into my lap all in a short time so I've been able to stay decently busy. I really love it so far.

The trio of tapes that forms Shinonome’s current discography is quite diverse in terms of genre. What aesthetic unifies the music backed by the label? 

My aesthetic identity is mostly just to stay very down-to-earth, very informal, and very true to DIY. I want it to be really obvious that this is something I do in my bedroom for fun, it's never intended to be a business model. It's more of an expressive thing. And every release on the label, I feel at least, expresses the same ideals throughout. Like, all these artists have less than 200 Facebook likes. They're not very prolific, but I feel like have sounds I love and feel that need to be expressed and are deserving of release and audience. They're all recorded/mixed/mastered by the artists or by friends of the artists, same with the art or j-card design or even any small promotion or anything like that is handled mostly autonomously by the artist. And that's an ideal I've always identified with. So, even though all the releases may be of different genre or core aesthetic, they stay unified in that they're all grounded in personal, lo-fi, DIY music that stays true to itself and I feel that those qualities unify itself within the staticy lo-fi aesthetic I aim for with the label. The goofy little tagline I use "lo-fi, with love" kind of embraces that as well.

Where do you get your cassettes?

I get them from either tapes.com or duplication.ca
Duplication has a much larger selection of shell colors, but being housed in Canada means it has higher shipping rates and longer shipping times. Tapes.com is a little cheaper and better on shipping but is more limited in colors.
The clear variant of the Sakuragaoka tapes are actually just clear blank Sony tapes I bought from a Walmart in 2012 and found in my closet when I was searching for my player.

My order from your label came packaged with a few Pokemon cards and a sticker - what sort of inserts might customers expect alongside their tape?

I LOVE getting little nifty trinkets from mail orders, so naturally I really wanted to do little things like that when I started the label up. This is my major Girlfriend Tapes influence because I love their packaging and how every order comes with specific little items depending on the order. Every tape will come with a Pokemon card (because I also love Pokemon) and a sticker. Some tapes might have a coupon code for the webstore included to take off 30% of their next order or remove shipping costs or something. I usually throw more label stickers and 2 or 3 more cards in the package and also some other miscellaneous items as well, be it patches or buttons or some other random label/band stickers or something that I find lying around. I also include a personal thank you note with every order.

Where do you plan to take Shinonome in the future? Are any upcoming releases in the works? 

I plan to just keep making more tapes! I currently have a few releases in talks, some coming really soon and some still being completed ranging from noisy post-rock to twinkly emo to instrumental hip-hop.

Could you tell me about the creative process behind the Sakuragaoka tape? The collaged combination of vocal samples and chiptune tones is so cinematic, yet comforting.

Sakuragoaka actually has a really interesting history that mostly just boils down to: "I just kind of fucked around".

I like late 2014/early 2015 a friend made a weird hip-hop EP influenced by Wicca Phase in like two hours where his moniker was "beachsmoke". So a few friends and I kind of took that and made a jokey little aesthetic driven electronic music collective called smokeclan, where every member's name was a five letter word plus smoke. We had beachsmoke, ghostsmoke, glasssmoke, chibismoke, and I was hellasmoke. My plan was to make chiptune with anime voice samples kind of influenced by Slime Girls and the voice sampling The Brave Little Abacus does. The way I do it is, instead of doing it the correct way by using a tracker program like LSDJ, I write all my parts on a guitar and program them using a guitarpro tabber and then export them to midi and convert them to bitsynth sounds using this freeware program called GXSCC. It mostly starts as a drum loop and one repeating progression and then I add and remove layers to it and chop up a vocal sample from an anime and games I like and organize it in a way I find impactful and then mix everything. In February 2015 my only output towards smokeclan was Velvet (my three track ode to the Persona series) and then I never did anything with it for over a year until I started dabbling in making chiptune again around March. I was having a lot of fun with it, so I decided to make it dedicated project renamed Sakuragaoka since the smokeclan joke ran its course. During the summer I played one live show as Sakuragaoka and reorganized the two EPs I had out with some added interlude tracks to make all of it entirely seamless and that was the order I used for the tape so that way I could release all of the material I had all in one swoop instead of releasing the two EPs separately. It's honestly bullshit because I just make tracks one at a time when the mood hits and it only takes me two hours or so per track but I find it super fun.

What music outside of the Shinonome universe are you spinning these days?

My go to listening since June has been going back and forth between Friend Edit's "Your Favorite Songs" and Passing a Starfighter's "Duplex". Friend Edit is like The Killers type post-punk revival stuff and Passing a Starfighter was super good local Louisiana emo (rest in peace). It's gotten to a point where I have to listen to them in succession because they've both been such essential releases to me lately. I've also been rediscovering my love for Japanese alt-rock lately so I've been listening to a ton of The Pillows, Number Girl, noodles, Judy and Mary, Asian Kung Fu Generation, Bump of Chicken, Mass of the Fermenting Dregs, and Kinoko Teikoku.

What do you do when you’re not composing music and/or pressing tapes?

I mostly just watch cutesy anime shows and play JRPGs, which, if it isn't blatant, is where most of my naming sensibilities come from.  I've been doing a rewatch of Non Non Biyori lately because it's super comfy and really brings in the coziness of the fall season for me.
I've also been getting back into Runescape so anyone hmu if you wanna help me compete Shield of Arrav.

Also, if I can, I'd like to give a shout out to Cass Carlisle, Jonathan Hope, Conrad Gagnon, and Chris Gelpi aka Yung Daki aka Chris Chris aka DJ Yuri Fanfic for being my infinite inspirations and to all my friends for being my support.