Last week we had a hell of a time over hear at Complex Distractions celebrating a decade(plus a year) of releases with El Paraiso Records. So many amazing albums, artists, and vibes that have hit our ears and burned out psyches that it was impossible for me to cover all of them. I did cover quite a few. The ones that hit hardest for me, anyways.
I was able to chat with label heads and bandmates Jonas Munk and Jakob Skøtt about the conception of this “temporary label” known as El Paraiso Records. Check out our conversation below.
J Hubner: So what was the impetus in starting El Paraiso Records? It felt fully formed from the very beginning. An aesthetic is something usually built up to, but with you guys it seems that aesthetic was always there.
Jonas Munk: There was no long-term master plan at all, but we needed a home for Causa Sui’s ”Pewt’r Sessions” albums and the label we’d been releasing Causa Sui with for years, Elektrohasch, weren’t interested. Cargo Records in London had been distributing my electronic work for years and I’d recently done a self-released album with them, so it seemed like a good solution to try and set up our own thing via Cargo. At this point Jakob was doing all the art and layouts himself anyway, I was doing the mixing and the mastering, we were writing the promo material and doing most of the promotion on our own anyway, so there was really no reason at all not to try and go down that route. I remember the early emails with Cargo had the headline ”temporary label” – so we definitely weren’t planning to set up a label that would release over 60 releases at that point! I think we were imagining something kinda like Sonic Youth Recordings (SYR), which also became one of the visual guidelines for the sleeve identity: a home for 10, maybe 15, releases or so – a label we could use for collaborations (such as the Pewt’r Sessions or the recent Chicago Odense Ensemble), perhaps a live recording or two, or whatever came up. At this point I was also working with a new group from Copenhagen, called Papir, and they didn’t have a label either. We somehow convinced them to release Stundum through this new setup, and from that point it started rolling…
Regarding the aesthetic, we’d already been making records for around ten years at that point – enough time to get the worst mistakes out of the way and figure out what we liked and didn’t like. We’d already been collaborating on various projects for years – for example the string of Manual albums, which also was an attempt to create a series of sorts. And more recently Causa Sui’s ”Summer Sessions” releases, which were definitely approaching the EPR aesthetic visually. The rationale was that if it’s gonna be a small series of albums it would also be a chance to create something with an extremely distinct and coherent aesthetic – so we were looking towards labels such as SYR and BYG’s ”Actuel” series – which is, to be honest, probably quite obvious if you’re familiar with those labels.
At this point I had become decent at recording, mixing and mastering – at least my skills, and the gear I’d collected, were sufficient enough not to fuck up whatever project I was working on. Both Jakob and I have quite a wide taste in music, but I think it was pretty clear to us from the beginning that whatever we put the El Paraiso label on would be pretty earthy and organic sounding. Vinyl in rough cardboard sleeves, jams that weren’t recorded to a metronome click, fuzz pedals and bongos…the whole thing seemed quite obvious, actually.
J Hubner: What are some examples of record labels that did it right, in your eyes? Who were some of the inspirations for how you saw El Paraiso Records should run?
Jakob Skøtt: I think we had a lot of insight into a wide range of smaller labels. Like all the electronic stuff in the late 90’s, like Kranky, Def Jux, Schematic, Music Aus Strom, Morr Music, City Center Offices, etc some of which Jonas’s electronic projects were connected to. I remember Hefty! Records had a 12” Immediate Action series, whose goal was to put out music as fast as possible after it was recorded. They had a whole aesthetic with silk-screened sleeves and just a small sticker with some info on – very minimalistic and functional. Sometimes these electronic music artworks were so minimalistic, you didn’t know the artist, track titles or even if it was 33 or 45 rpm. And then on the other hand, we got in touch with labels like Nasoni & Elektrohasch, which was really psychedelic with full bleed artwork and coloured vinyl and gatefolds with detailed vintage styled labels – just putting out scores of what people did without messing with the band’s artistic control. So that was an easy match with the influences Jonas mentioned before to just pick and choose what worked best from these different approaches. And the psychedelic labels also had their whole ethos of operations: It was just one guy in his apartment somewhere doing all the work. They certainly didn’t have any business cases, contracts or recouped expenses. They showed us how it could be done just by doing it – you work it out as you go along. It wasn’t until later I heard about the american post-hardcore scene, which had sort of made the blue prints for that approach with SST, SubPop, Dischord, etc.
Jonas Munk: Looking back, I definitely think being involved with Morr Music helped shape the idea, cause they had such a coherent aesthetic (although one very different from our own). And indeed Hefty Records were one of the most direct sources of inspiration for starting the Impetus series. Back in the day when we’d go record shopping in Berlin or Copenhagen we’d pick up everything by Hefty or Musik Aus Strom purely based on the sleeves. It always makes me smile when I hear about people buying an El Paraiso release just based on the fact that it’s an El Paraiso release.
J Hubner: What was the first El Paraiso Records release? Did things kick off right away for the label, or was it more of a gradual thing? Did it start out as more of just a regional thing in Denmark?
Jakob Skøtt: I remember being kind of worried if we could sell 500 copies of the first release of the Pewt’r Sessions, and then it was practically sold out immediately from Cargo. I remember I didn’t have time to enter the correct shipping prices on our website when it went live, and in the first hour we had several orders, which I had expected would take weeks. After that we’ve been at this pretty steady level where a few releases sell again and again and a new thing will sell 500 copies fast enough to not be collecting dust. It just sucks finding your own record in a bargain bin or for 5 euro on Discogs. But we never really focused on Denmark, since our audience was already abroad with Causa Sui. To this day, Danish shops have to order our releases from a distro in Germany or the UK. But that’s the way they get 99% of what’s in the shop anyway, so that shouldn’t be a problem. But some people perceive it as arrogant: “Oh, you’re too important to use a Danish distro”. It’s just logistics.
J Hubner: What’s a highlight in your mind over the last 11 years? Any particular great moments for you as not only a label runner, but musician and fan?
Jonas Munk: There’s a lot of these albums I’m extremely proud of. But the first thing that comes to mind is recording the early Papir albums. Talented musicians at their creative peak, enjoyable easy going sessions in isolated houses, where the ideas seemed to come naturally and abundantly. It was like they were sitting on a mountain of ideas, and my job was to help give shape to them as they came rolling down. And I think it worked really well, and the results perfectly fit my taste at the time. I’m also quite proud of having two Landing albums in our catalog, since they’re one my favorite bands. More recently it blows my mind we got to release Fra Det Onde – they’re incredible musicians. I wish the whole world could get to see them live!
Jakob Skøtt: I’m amazed at the reception we get when we go out and play. People are genuinely blissed out when we dust away the cobwebs and actually play a Causa Sui show. I’m aware of the privilege that it is to play music and actually have people still being into our stuff this many years later. We’re all music fans, so we share the stoke of finally seeing a band you like live. That said, I don’t think we’ll ever tour – we just play the odd one-off festival once in a while where we can see some good music and have a good hang and a few beers. That way, we’re not only bringing the stoke, but also getting stoked ourselves. Just getting pitted… Soooo pitted.
J Hubner: I recently spoke to Jakob and asked him about his thoughts on the last decade with El Paraiso and where he saw the next decade taking the label. He was excited to see it heading back to the label’s roots. More exploratory releases like Pewt’r Sessions and the Chicago Odense Ensemble. I’m 100% on board with that. With bands like Papir, Mythic Sunship, and Kanaan moving on from the label it seems like there would be more time for experimentation and following the muse.
Jakob Skøtt: Like Jonas mentioned, it was really great sort of mentoring bands, helping out with putting together a cohesive album: tracklists, mixes and artworks – sort of creating a whole package around them. But to a certain degree – and after so many releases – it really takes a lot for a project to feel special, especially if you’re supporting someone else’s vision. So I’m deep into my own duo and trio stuff. Actually Jonas just recorded a new trio of mine which I’m mixing now. Very different from the jazzy stuff. But I’m not saying that there isn’t gonna be other artists on El Paraiso. I hope that Futuropaco, Brian Ellis and Landing still has many exciting records yet to come for us these next years.
Jonas Munk: To be honest there’s still not much long-term planning going on! Right now we’re just focused on the next couple of releases. I’m mixing the second London Odense Ensemble LP at the moment, and the next job on my to-do list is a couple of remastering projects. The older releases are still very much alive to me and I think it’s important to keep presenting them in the best possible way.
J Hubner: What’s the rest of 2022 look like for El Paraiso Records?
Jakob Skøtt: London Odense Ensemble is coming up with a series of albums and hoping to reissue some more Papir records this year as well. But yeah, we’ll see what comes along – we’re not in a hurry.