Staying small, going analog

Catching up with the L'Animaux Tryst family as they bring Ducktails to Portland
By CHRISTOPHER GRAY  |  July 21, 2010

HEAR THEM ON CASSETTE Planets Around the Sun, playing their Solstice boat show in June.

When we last formally checked in with the boutique Portland record label L'Animaux Tryst (Field) Recordings ("L'Animaux Collective," by Christopher Gray, May 18, 2007), the label's operator, Matt Lajoie, was a 23-year-old librarian at the University of Southern Maine making hand-crafted small runs of CD-Rs of music with a squad of friends.

More than three years later, Lajoie is (after driving around the country and settling on the West Coast for a while) again a USM librarian, and continues to produce and sell out small-batch editions, but his label's reputation is beginning to precede itself. Small victories have piled up: lavish acclaim for a split seven-inch series from Wire, Dusted Magazine, and Tiny Mix Tapes; releases on boutique labels for what are L'Animaux's two hallmark acts at the moment (Planets Around the Sun and Herbcraft); successful regional tours that have led to impressive gig invites (a future Herbcraft show opening for members of Sonic Youth and Magik Markers in Brooklyn, and an exciting show upcoming with Ducktails — the waterlogged and anthemic solo project of Real Estate's Matthew Mondanile — at Portland's Apohadion on July 29); and even a sold-out concert on a local cruise ship for the recent summer solstice.

Nonetheless, L'Animaux Tryst remains a labor of love rather than a full-time operation, and in a sense, the label is returning to its roots. After transitioning from CD-Rs to vinyl for a time, Lajoie has decided he's "going to go back to tapes and cut out CD-Rs." Why cassettes? A number of reasons, it turns out, but mainly: "People are buying tapes," Lajoie told me this weekend.

After 2007, Lajoie says, "I spent the next two years getting into severe debt making seven-inch records." While the series was a boon to the label's exposure — its mailing list quadrupled, a Maine Arts Commission grant allowed them to print catalogues and ship promos to press and other labels — it was a financial hassle to produce vinyl editions. "If 500 CDs cost $500 to make, 500 vinyls cost $3000," Lajoie says, and while L'Animaux has a loyal audience, it hasn't expanded to meet a quota that makes a vinyl run (which are necessarily rather large, because of the high minimum cost of producing a run) viable.

Nor does it really need to. While the label plugs along, L'Animaux acts are finding regular success achieving distribution on venerable boutique labels. The Planets Around the Sun debut, called Gold, was put out on cassette by Digitalis Recordings, an imprint of the popular niche online music magazine Digitalis Industries. Its 80-copy run sold out in a day. And Herbcraft's debut, the psych/drone bedroom recording Herbcraft Discovers the Bitter Water of Agartha, is the inaugural, 500-edition vinyl release of Hello Sunshine, a new imprint run by Jeremy Earl (of the Pitchfork-approved band Woods, and the label Woodsist). Ian Paige, pointman for Planets Around the Sun (he and Lajoie perform live with both bands), favorably describes the intimate process of working with and gaining exposure to other bands and labels: "The network is vast, but it's all very small."

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