GREENPOINT, BROOKLYN – Ten years ago, Nicolas Vernhes moved his recording studio, The Rare Book Room, from Williamsburg to Greenpoint. Converting a deserted sewing machine factory, he built-out a studio to suit himself and naturally attracted artists of the same experimental ilk, including Animal Collective, Black Dice, Les Savy Fav, Fisherspooner and Deerhunter. Now, with newly expanded facilities for his label, Rare Book Room Records, Vernhes moves, again, into new territory.
In early March, fresh off a whirlwind recording session (seven songs in two days) with Deerhunter, Vernhes had just mixed the new Dirty Projectors record, and done eight days with Animal Collective. “They’re making this crazy, psychedelic movie with their friend, Danny Perez, who’s a great video artist and he’s directing it,” Vernhes says of Animal Collective. “We’re working on the music with the goal of creating this great sonic experience, using lots of sound effects and sound-based moments of synchronization between sound and image. Some of it’s literal, and some totally abstract.”
Though he’s in high demand as a producer/engineer and all-around sonic explorer, Vernhes is looking now to concentrate on building the record label he launched last year. The studio, he hopes, will operate more and more predominantly for label productions, and Vernhes more like a vanguard of new music.
“My record label grew out of a conversation with a friend, who’d pointed out that she saw a consistent novelty and interesting character to the bands I wanted to work with, that it was almost curatorial,” Vernhes shares. “If you stepped back and looked at the overall work, you could see a level of experimentation stemmed from this general need to explore. She suggested that a compilation of some of the bands I’d worked with would make a great record.”
That compilation, Living Bridge, was the first Rare Book Room Records release, and not only works extremely well as a (double) album, but also as a kind of historical swatch of this time and place in music. “I gave each band one day in the studio free to do whatever they wanted, to record one five-minute song,” he explains. “An artist might not take the same risks on a record that they would when they’re just invited to go in a room and make something. I think the context was freeing for them.”
Vernhes created atmospheric glue out of sonic elements in the intros and outros of the songs, which would have already blended together well, but merge almost seamlessly through his cross-fading handiwork; Avey Tare to Telepathe to Palms to Samara Lubelski; Blood on the Wall to Silver Dice to Tara Jane O’Neil — each and all in fitting procession.
Since Living Bridge, Rare Book Room Records has issued two full-up records by exclusively signed artists — Lia Ices, a graceful Cat Power-like beauty of a voice, and Palms, a Brooklyn-meets-Berlin minimalist pop duo. Vernhes explains, “I figured I have all the tools to make a record and I’ve been doing that awhile, so why don’t I also figure out how to get it from me to the audience? It’s not simple, just like making a record isn’t simple, but the complex aspects of it intrigue me.”
So, what’s been the most challenging aspect of making that progression to label owner? “The egg I still can’t seem to crack is distribution,” Vernhes attests. “I’d figured I wouldn’t have to worry about it too much because the physical media is dwindling, but the fact is, it’s still there. For all the music you can buy on the Internet, vinyl sales are up and some people still want to go to the store and buy a CD. RTI is the big vinyl manufacturer in California and I can’t even open an account with them, they’re so booked.”
Vernhes made big progress recently, however, moving Rare Book Room Records into proper offices, adjacent to the studio, and hiring his first employee. Something about Vernhes wanting to do a label, wanting to spend the time and effort to learn the process makes me feel excited about music and what’s to come. “Music is getting smarter, I think,” he assures. “Maybe it’s kind of like the third or forth iteration of an idea, and now it’s way better than the same thing would have been a few years ago.”