Sniper spent his 20s wandering in and out of various underground music scenes, first Ann Arbor where he studied history, joined a space-rock band, lived in a co-op, and grew his hair long ("everyone had two drummers and loved Silver Apples"), and then moved to Providence during the years of Lightning Bolt and Olneyville Sound System, occasionally playing in a band called Sybil Green ("I moved there for a girl and didn't have much to do there"). He lived in Chicago for year, too, before eventually settling in Brooklyn.
Sniper's roots are in Jersey, though — he grew up on the Jersey Shore, trading cassette tapes at the lunch table and seeing shows in Seaside's empty boardwalk bars during the off-season. Sometimes, he'd play them, forming new bands every year with the same 15 or so fellow punk-types who also liked the Cure and Sonic Youth and the Jesus and Mary Chain. "I suspect now with the Internet those weird little suburban pockets don't exist anymore," Sniper tells me on a gray Wednesday afternoon, sitting behind his desk in the Williamsburg warehouse, with an air of simultaneous amusement and disappointment. "It's easier to communicate with people [now] who live in other places. . . . To have to actually seek everything out was difficult."
That's the sort of challenge Sniper is typically up for, though: the crate-digging-record-collector mindset, searching for the perfect music, a sentiment that translates over to the way he insists on digging up unheard bands for his label. Sniper has been famously critical of the way major indie labels operate these days, only working with "safe" bands who already have blog buzz from their first album. Earlier this year, he vowed to only work with a new band if he was releasing their first record. "If a label is to maintain any esteem or credibility, it should maintain a 50 percent homegrown talent base," he wrote in a January blog post. "If you can't maintain that meager ratio, you're probably not a record label, you're a manufacturing plant with a cool logo."
Out of the basement
From the start, Captured Tracks always had the ethos of a homegrown label, releasing mostly one-offs by his friends' bands, such as Thee Oh Sees and Woods. By necessity, it was a DIY label; recordings were scrappy, the bands played in the burgeoning warehouse-show scene booked mostly by legendary DIY booker Todd P at places like Market Hotel and Death by Audio. Packaging was done by hand. Eventually the label outgrew the basement of Academy, though, and moved in with their friends who ran Mexican Summer and had some extra office space.
"At the time, Captured Tracks was based in the same building as Mexican Summer, on the first floor, in this warehouse area," recalls Captured Tracks current label manager Katie Garcia on a Thursday evening when I meet her at her Greenpoint apartment. "We didn't even have an office per se; it was just a desk amongst these boxes."