Driftless Recordings

Post Author: Patrick McDermott

The origins of Driftless really stem from a recording session between two complete strangers. Joel and I began working on what we hoped would be an LP of mine in rural Maine. We had never met but shared a drummer (Greg toured with Airbird and previously with Tigercity). We were “locked in” a gorgeous rural farm house, making steaks, firing bb guns and making depressed ELO music that we ended up shelving and no one has really heard. We became fast friends; musically like-minded. Our personal connection became clear. We’re both from the Boston, Massachusetts area, from similar towns. Our shared experience really was the bedrock of our initial friendship—some mixture between Boston sports fanaticism and an interest in instrumental new age music. The label concept hadn’t truly formed, but I moved down to Brooklyn from Boston to keep working on the music we started on in Maine.

A few months in, Joel and Leanne Macomber finished their first LP as Ejecta, much of which they recorded in my bedroom in Greenpoint. The concept of releasing our music, our friends’ music—a mix of experimental and songwriter-focused music—started to come up in conversation. I really fell in love with the Ejecta record; really, at that point, we knew we had something special and it was worth creating an avenue for a release. So basically Ejecta’s debut LP, Dominae, really gave form to the concept.

At work in the Driftless studio in Brooklyn.
Joel at work in Patrick’s studio in Brooklyn.

When the project began to take shape, we started to kick around label names and started honing our general aesthetic. We wanted a term that was sort of a hybrid of organic and synthetic. The “Driftless Area” is a geological term for a glacial river valley in the midwest. It sort of was the perfect mixture of the heartland/organic terrestrial world we are hoping to channel alongside of our more traditional songwriting, instrumental music, etc. It still sort of sounds otherworldly and futuristic, encapsulating the more electronic and experimental side.

The initial batch of releases came together really quickly. Joel is always collaborating with people, and our first release Joel produced and co-wrote. Much of the early roster were projects with people Joel and I worked with (Jeff Gitelman, Megafortress, and so on). It came together really fast in that sense. Joel had previous experience running the SOFTWARE label, and I had some basic experience interning at Mexican Summer, and so we sorta had a good grasp on how to roll everything out.

Joel in the studio (with steak).
Joel in the studio (with steak).

Our initial workflow was very practical. Joel and I literally lived across the street from each other in Greenpoint, Seinfeld style. I lived in a huge loft, so we had a small studio in my room, and plenty of storage space. Joel is close with much of the larger BK indie label world, and so we were able to ship our first records’ pre-orders out of the Cascine/Mexican Summer/Sacred Bones office. We basically met for coffee and bagels, worked on music (Joel has had his hand producing, mixing etc. in much of our catalog) and kept building towards a cohesive aesthetic.

Our ethos is really a mixture of organic, songwriter music alongside progressive experimental music. Basically, we hope to stay true to much of the music, sonically and otherwise, that inspired us, while still progressing and breaking new ground (ala Bruce Smear). Some of the projects, like Megafortress, are a true hybrid of these ideas, which I really love.

Patrick McDermott outside the Maine studio house.
Patrick McDermott outside the Maine studio house.

We had such a great support system. Joel’s wife Hillary handles our books and kept us on point as we started. We were tapped into a lot of great industry folk who led us in the right direction PR wise etc. I think we had a pretty clear idea of what we wanted and started with some great art (and music). Leanne of Ejecta was a big part of how close we are, again as a BK local. Lots of the exciting stuff that happened that year we did together as a label. An amazing show at Moogfest in Asheville, NC, an awesome SXSW and CMJ showcases—the initial roster was a part of all of it, so again the close knit friendship vibe really shaped the label.

A key for us at the beginning was the fact Joel has been on the artist side and label side before. The artist-run label concept is nothing new, but it definitely shaped how we wanted to release music and continues to. I was pretty fresh to the whole indie label scene, but I’m a graphic designer by trade, and we quickly took on all the important roles and split them up and outsourced what we couldn’t do to a really great group of people (PR, accounting, some visuals, and so on). It really was a “family” affair. We haven’t changed that model much – even with some of the more established projects like CFCF (who Joel knew previously) and Matt Kivel (previously of Olde English Spelling Bee and Woodsist, whose band I joined when I moved to LA).

Joel and engineer Dan Cardinal at work in Maine.
Joel and engineer Dan Cardinal at work in Maine.

I believe we are really starting to hit our stride, as we have really began to define our catalog and aesthetic. It’s one thing just telling someone what we believe in, and what we are, but now I feel like 15+ releases in, we are really starting to show it. We are currently releasing the second installment of the Driftless Ambient series. Much of our roster is onto their second DFS release. As I mentioned before, we have expanded our roster to a few more developed artists. 2016 will feature releases from both Joel and I. We have truly loved working on compilations. They hearken back to some of our favorite music collections—Kompakt’s Pop Ambient series, Windham Hill comps—so we are expanding on this. We are putting together an instrumental only compilation that focuses on one take, no overdub performances: piano, guitar, brass, percussion pieces, in a very sparse solo take setting. Really exciting, full circle year ahead.

Listen to a Driftless label sampler put together exclusively for Impose:

Driftless Ambient II will be available December 11, 2015.