¡Vinyl Vive! Sacred Bones’ Caleb Braaten on Record Stores, Reissues and Vinyl

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Founded in 2007, Sacred Bones Records has grown from a small, independent label based in Brooklyn into a diverse community of international artists—with a range that includes the avant-pop star Zola Jesus, the psych-kraut of Psychic Ills, the dismantled post-punk of Pop. 1280 and The Men, coldwave outfits VÅR and Lust for Youth, and industrial noise fright Pharmakon. Though difficult to categorize, Sacred Bones releases are hooked through with fervent, often unsettling dedication to the craft and communal life of music. Likewise, the label’s dedication to vinyl releases is equally obsessive—each instantly identifiable by an always-present icon: an ouroboros circling a black triangle. From new sounds by emerging artists to rare reissues, label founder Caleb Braaten discusses with SLUG why record stores and vinyl are alive and exciting.

“Record stores have always felt like a home to me,” says Braaten, a Colorado native whose ear for dismantled beauty grew out of the home he found in Denver’s Twist & Shout record shop. “As a kid, after school, we would always go hang out there,” he explains. “Even before that, me and my friends would ride our bikes and buy tapes at stores and shit like that. It was a big part of my formative years.” Braaten worked there for about six years before moving to New York City in 2003, embedding himself in the always-happening scene there.

“I just wanted to put out my friends’ 7”,” says Braaten about his label’s modest origins. “The original idea behind the label wasn’t even really to put out new music,” he explains. “I wanted to do some of that, too, but I really wanted to focus on reissues. I was currently working at a record store, Academy Records in Brooklyn. With some encouragement from some friends, I just decided to go ahead and do it—I knew enough people in record stores across the country that I could at least get a few copies out.”

The progression to cult status (though as a label for new artists, not reissues) was quick for Sacred Bones. “I kept discovering new bands that were amazing,” says Braaten. “Maybe, before I started the label, I wasn’t quite as plugged into the new music scene—as soon as I started it, the ball just kept rolling.” The label’s profile grew significantly a few years back, when David Lynch joined the roster, with the reissue of his 1977 Eraserhead soundtrack (a “dream come true,” Braaten gushes). Now, cult filmmaker Jim Jarmusch calls the label home as well.

Sacred Bones’ dedication to vinyl felt natural—not trendy—for Braaten, who kept collecting records throughout the medium’s dry spell in the ‘90s. “When I started Sacred Bones, it was really at this point where interest in vinyl really started to rise—I was very lucky in that way,” he says. “As a medium to experience new music in the last 10 years, records have been really important. That’s the world I was already involved in—the record world. My heart is in records.” In addition to vinyl LPs, CDs and downloads, many releases are also available in elaborate limited editions. Eschewing digital music trends has not affected the label in the slightest—in fact, the majority of Sacred Bones’ sales are physical—a testament to the faith Braaten has in SB’s artists and followers.

Despite the wild acclaim that Braaten’s received with his current roster, his initial desire to reissue out-of-print recordings didn’t go away. Call him a crate-digger, if you must—“I’ve always enjoyed discovering new music,” he says. “The funnest way to do that is to find it in a record bin somewhere.” Many of Braaten’s finds found physical life on Killed By Deathrock, Vol. 1, a compilation of obscure post-punk, deathrock and dark punk tracks the label released earlier this year. “The response has blown me away,” he says. “The majority of those records were just found in bins over the years. It’s amazing these songs are finally finding people’s ears after sitting dormant for so long.” The compilation acts as a love letter to the culture that nurtured him.

For the past three years, Todo Muere, the label’s annual Record Store Day compilation, has served as a gift from Sacred Bones to fans and new listeners alike. “RSD is a great platform to reach people who don’t necessarily know about the label,” Braaten says. “It’s become such a true event that people who don’t necessarily go to record stores on a regular basis are going to record stores, checking out exclusive releases and learning new things about what’s going on. I thought that [Todo Muere] was a great platform to get people to hear some of the stuff that we’re doing on Sacred Bones and something nice to give to people who are already fans. That’s why we put in rare songs and weirdo covers, as a one-time thing—it’s something cool and collectable. It’s a lot of fun to put together every year.”

When asked about the label’s growth, Braaten stays modest and grateful. “We’ve gotten a lot of really great opportunities, and we’ve taken all of them,” he says. “Combined with that and a little bit of luck and some really talented people, we’ve been able to grow into something pretty significant.” Pick up Todo Muere Vol. 4, Killed By Deathrock or any of Sacred Bones’ recent releases at your favorite local shop on Record Store Day on April 19. Peruse them in the digital realm at sacredbonesrecords.com.

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