In Seattle, Washington sits a small, boutique electronic music label called SFI Recordings. In its relatively short existence as a label there has been an extensive and prolific catalog of music released. Steve Moore, Majeure, New Frontiers, Paul Riedl, Mnemonic Pulse, and Deathcount In Silicon Valley to name a few. What all these artists have in common is 70s-inspired deep dives into synthesizer music. Heady sound collages that have their roots in bands like Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Private Press releases, and just the sort of electronic music that both the composer and the listener get lost in.
SFI Recordings is run by Andrew Crawshaw. Starting in punk and hardcore bands when he was younger, Crawshaw eventually found his way to the world of analog synth music. Making music under the moniker Meridian Arc, as well as playing in SOMAFREE INSTITUTE with Justin Thomas Kleine and Tim Call and New Frontiers(also with Kleine), Crawshaw decided starting a label was the best way to guarantee his music would reach ears, and reach them via a path he envisioned. That eventually led to Crawshaw releasing albums by artists he admired and was inspired by himself.
I had the chance to sit down and talk with Andrew Crawshaw about the label, his influences, and what led him to the world of electronic music. Check it out below, then hit up SFI Recordings and deep dive into their heady catalog.
J Hubner: Where did you grow up?
Andrew Crawshaw: I grew up in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. My parents divorced when I was young so I split my time between them, one in southern NH and the other in northern MA. I moved out to Seattle in the summer of 2004 and I’ve been here since then.
J Hubner: Were you always a creative? Were you into art and music as a kid?
Andrew Crawshaw: I have always had some level of interest in art and music. Neither of my parents were particularly artistic but they both enjoyed music. I kind of stumbled into art and design on my own. I bought my first cassettes as soon as I had enough money from doing chores around the house to afford it. Since then I’ve never stopped voraciously consuming new music. I grew up in the punk scene around New England and that probably had more of an influence on me than anything else. My friends and I started our first band when we were 14 or 15. The DIY mindset is such a big part of punk music it really inspired me to try and figure out how to do everything myself. When we wanted shirts for our band I learned how to screenprint. When we wanted to release a demo tape I figured how to do that. When we wanted to put out a record I figured out everything you needed to do to make that happen.
I would definitely say music was first and foremost my biggest interest. I kind of came into an appreciation of art and design through that.
J Hubner: Being that you run a screenprinting business with Broken Press, are you thinking about the look of a project as much as you’re thinking of the sound? Do they travel hand in hand?
Andrew Crawshaw: Yes, very much so. Since I started the label the visual aspect of every release has been just as important to me as the music. If an artist has spent all of this time and energy working on the music, why wouldn’t you want to present it as well as you can? I’m always surprised when you can tell the visuals are sort of an afterthought or at least weren’t given as much consideration as the music.
Since I run a screenprinting shop it’s given us the opportunity to make packaging that may not be as fiscally responsible for most other labels. We can make jackets and slipcases for all of our releases and not have those costs be astronomical. For me it adds another level to the presentation as well, the limitations of screenprinting as a medium also helps to visually tie all of our releases together. Vinyl is such a tactile medium to listen to music. Having carefully considered artwork that is screenprinted by a person and assembled by hand feels like an all encompassing package. It’s easy enough to release records and just put them out digitally or even get cassettes and vinyl made. But, it’s another thing to go through the effort and spend the time / energy to make something that looks and sounds great that you can hold in your hands and check out while you’re listening to the music.
J Hubner: When did electronic music become your passion? With Meridian Arc, SOMAFREE INSTITUTE, and New Frontiers all pulling from very distinct directions in electronic music, you seem to be pretty embedded in that world.
Andrew Crawshaw: It’s hard to say. I grew up playing in punk and metal bands and eventually started a sort of chaotic psych-rock band (Terminal Fuzz Terror) at the same time I joined a doomy synth band called A Story Of Rats around 2010-11(?). I have always had an interest in Krautrock and Kosmiche music (mainly Can, Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream, Faust, Cluster, etc), bands like Zombi and Goblin as well as other types of tangentially “electronic” music. Once I started playing in A Story of Rats it really opened me up a lot more to paying attention to synthesizers and how these weird otherworldly sounds were made. That’s about the time I started buying synths and trying to make music on my own for the first time. Prior to that I had played drums my entire life (or was the vocalist in bands as a teenager) and I just really wanted to be able to create the music I hear in my head on my own.
J Hubner: When did the idea of SFI Recordings come about? Was it from just having a general interest in running a label? Or was it coming more from seeing amazing artists struggle to get their music heard and you wanted to give them a place to let their creativity shine?
Andrew Crawshaw: SFI Recordings really started as a sort of selfish interest. After having some things fall through with a label that was going to release a Meridian Arc record I decided it would be better to just self-release it. I had done it before with my previous Meridian Arc releases and I had sort of started a tape label under the Broken Press moniker a few years before that. Around that same time we had also finished the first SOMAFREE INSTITUTE record, New Frontiers “(of) Inner Dimensions” and Old Dark House’s “Welcome Home”. With 4 records done and ready to go it seemed like a good time to give it a shot and see if we could do it.
Together with the support of the other two members of SOMAFREE INSTITUTE (Tim Call and Justin Thomas Kleine) we have years of experience with different aspects of releasing records. Tim also runs Parasitic records and Justin has played in a number of bands over the years along with doing design work for local bands and venues. With their backgrounds and my daily experience working with visual artists doing production work it seemed like it shouldn’t be too hard.
Once we got through the first few releases and they weren’t total failures (financially) I set my sights on working with artists I really enjoy. Again, it’s really kind of a selfish endeavor. Anyone we have put out releases for it’s because I personally want to hear new music from that artist or own their record on vinyl. It’s been really cool to connect with so many people doing similar but disparate things artistically. The only through line at this point seems to be my personal taste.
J Hubner: In the last year and a half since the label took off you’ve amassed a pretty impressive roster of artists. So far you’ve released music from Deathcount In Silicon Valley, Steve Moore, Majeure, Justin Sweatt and Paul Riedl, as well as music from your own projects like Old Dark House, SOMAFREE INSTITUTE, New Frontiers, and the mysterious Blutbrauer.
How did you approach artists regarding releasing with SFI? Did you make a list of musicians that you would love to work with and go from there?
Andrew Crawshaw: Once I decided to actually make SFI a label, beyond just releasing my own related projects, I had a handful of artists in mind that I would really like to work with whose music has been a big influence on me and the music I make. Tony Paterra (Majeure) and Steve Moore, both members of Zombi, were the first two people I reached out to. Zombi was one of the first “synth” bands I got into 20 +/- years ago and I love all of the music they have made. I am continuously impressed with their creative output collectively as Zombia and their solo efforts. Much to my surprise they were both into working with us and taking a chance on a brand new label. From there I’ve just continued to reach out to artists that I listen to on a regular basis and so far most have said yes.
Over the past few months we have started to receive submissions from people who have found the label through one release or another and that’s been a whole different thing. I never at any point thought this would become what it has become already. It’s been very rewarding.
J Hubner: Was the idea to bring both visual and music worlds together? The artwork, screenprint album and cassette sleeves, as well as the amazing colored vinyl and cassettes are catnip for me personally. And I have to tell you, the vinyl quality is immaculate. Do you have a relationship with a particular pressing plant? Or in these post-Covid times is it more a luck of the draw?
Andrew Crawshaw: Yeah, as I mentioned before, when I started this I really wanted to put a lot of focus on both the musical and visual aspects. Given my background and that I own a screenprinting shop it really seemed like a great opportunity to make something unique without being gimmicky. The “whole package” is very important to me, there have been a handful of record labels over the years that really drew me in because of the quality and the consistency of their releases, both musically and visually. Anytime they would announce a new record I would immediately check it out even if I didn’t know the band because I knew I could rely on what that label was putting out and that it would probably be of interest to me. I guess that’s something I hope I can do with SFI Recordings.
As far as the actual record pressing goes, we have used several different pressing plants so far. I actually stopped using the two plants we were originally using for a number of different reasons. We have records submitted for pressing with two new plants right now that should be as good or even better quality than before. I have been trying to stick with the same person for the lacquer cutting for most of our records, I think that makes a big difference.
J Hubner: I feel like you need to be pretty good at multi-tasking and compartmentalizing in order to run a label and a brick and mortar printing business, especially in these post-Covid times. Have lead times gotten any better in regards to vinyl pressings? Do you ever sleep or are you running on caffeine and that artist’s high 24/7?
Andrew Crawshaw: Oh man, I don’t even know where to begin with this. To say that I overextend myself would be a vast understatement. I have always kept myself “too” busy for as long as I can remember. But, the last year and 1/2 has really been a test physically and mentally. The first year or so of the pandemic actually ended up being a bit of a forced “break” from life for me. I was able to slow down some and not overextend myself as much as I had been. Ever since bands started touring again in the summer / fall of 2021 the print shop has been busier than ever though. We’ve essentially been working nonstop for the past 14-15 months at this point. I used to be able to constantly work and do “all of the things” 24/7 for years (or so I thought at the time) but I really can’t maintain that anymore. I have really been trying to slow things back down in the past few months, it hasn’t quite worked though.
Vinyl lead times have gotten better. Our last few vinyl releases took almost 13-14 months to get back to us from the pressing plants. Seems like it’s about 1/2 that time right now, we will see though.
J Hubner: What’s in store with SFI Recordings for the rest of the year? What would you like to see happen with the label in five years time? Would you like to keep it small but hands on? Or would you like to grow it and bring more eyes and ears into the running aspect of it?
Andrew Crawshaw: We have a number of releases lined up for the fall and winter. There is a new single sided 12″ EP from SOMAFREE INSTITUTE that just came out. We currently have new records from Paul Riedl, Timothy Fife and Future Museums at the pressing plant for release on vinyl early next year. There will be new cassette releases from Corey J Brewer, Zombi, Lisa Bella Donna, Gel-Sol, Justin Sweatt, Meridian Arc, Phaseshifter and Delta IV. The band Noise-A-Tron, who are long time friends from Seattle have been working on finishing their latest full length that we will be releasing sometime next year. Further beyond that there are a number of other artists we have been talking to about working with in the near future that I am really excited about.
I guess there isn’t really any long term game plan or 5 year vision for the label. This whole thing started as almost an accident so I’ve just been looking at the present moment for what we’re doing. For lack of a better term we’re basically a “boutique” label and as far as I can tell it will stay that way for the foreseeable future. It’s more important to me to uphold the standards we’ve set for ourselves with our releases. So far, the size of the pressings and the arrangements with the artists (musicians and visual artists) has allowed this to be sustainable. The key thing for me is that working on the label and putting out releases stays enjoyable for both myself and the artists we work with. The world is filled with enough music that we don’t need to be adding to it if I don’t have a real connection and interest in what we’re releasing.
Check out all SFI Recordings has to offer here.