Mystic Timbre: The Short, Sweet Life of a Tape Label
While I love listening to music on tape (as you should know!), I have a great affection for the labels that are sending these out like messages in a bottle. Recently, I stumbled across Mystic Timbre, which as a label had amassed a massive catalog within months! The radiophonic dreams and dungeon synth tunes coexisted with each other, attracting a small, cult audience from remote regions, and along with it a motley of sounds from around the world. Mystic Timbre may not have been a huge label, but its consistent uploads made it worth making the rounds.
At the start of July, the one-man machine behind Mystic Timbre, Anthony, announced that the label would be going on an indefinite hiatus, still fulfilling orders to clear out stock. A number of labels I’ve followed this year have enacted hiatuses or sudden stops, before their sound or aesthetic can be fully established. Seeing Mystic Timbre go on hiatus is a bummer, yet it offered the opportunity for reflection. I reached out to Anthony to discuss the logistics of running the label (from shipping to artistic packaging), and what happens next for MT.
In general, what kickstarted the conception of Mystic Timbre?
Originally, Mystic Timbre was supposed to be a single, unified outlet for me to release the various music I’d made from 2009-2019. I had many hours of music that I’d never done anything with, ranging in style from ambient to electronic to progressive. To my very categorically-oriented mind, it wouldn’t have made sense to make a single artist page on Bandcamp and throw them all up there, so I made a ‘label’ account and was able to come up with a series of aliases to group the differing styles under, all under the umbrella of the label. I figured that way if someone found the music of one of the aliases and enjoyed it, they might stumble upon the other aliases as well. Two of the aliases encompassed music I’d made with my roommate Sam, while the rest were of my own creations.
In planning all of this, I decided to bring two of my longtime internet friends, Alex/Pink and Yellow + Jordan/Exquisite Ghost, into the fold, as we’d spent the length of that decade sharing our music with one another after meeting on an old forum offshoot of the now-defunct mxtabs website, musicianforums. I’d saved up a bunch of money from delivering pizza at an outrageously busy Domino’s in South Austin, and had the means to basically put the mass conglomerate of our previously-unreleased music out in a somewhat coordinated effort. So, over the course of spring/summer 2019, I put 21 of our albums to tape and released them in batches of seven every other month.
It was a rather expansive project for someone with no connections or any previous success releasing music, to say the least haha. It was slow-going at first, but by the release of the third batch of seven tapes, a small following started to form; mostly this was not a result of any promotional effort on my part, but a ‘grassroots,’ if you will, success of the 21st album, How the Garden Grows. That’s about when I started receiving submissions from artists all over the world and began working with some of them to release their own music through the label.
What labels played a role in the sonic and aesthetic development of Mystic Timbre? There’s a lot of synth sounds that seem to descend from some tentacle of Komische, but it’s hard to pin down where the label is coming from!
In the sense that Mystic Timbre was never run with a focus on or intention of a specific sound or style, but rather whatever creative output my friends, new and old, and I came up with, I can’t say there are any other labels that played a role in its development. It has been an amorphous label, and I’ve tried to shape the aesthetics and sonics of each release entirely around what best served that release, and not in accordance with a firm preconception of what the label is.
In many ways, it’s probably the wrong way to do things in order to make a successful label, but I’m proud of everything we released and am thankful for the opportunities to have worked with the artists.
How many artists locally and internationally have you all worked with and what has been the release you are most grateful for having had an opportunity to put out?
Including myself and Sam, Mystic Timbre has released music from 18 artists spread out all over the world. To make my own Pitbull verse, I’ll do a roll call of all the cities represented, starting with Austin and branching out from there:
“Austin, TX; New Orleans, LA; Lawrence, KS; Nashville, TN; Savannah, GA; Indianapolis, IN; Winnipeg, MB; Uruguaiana, RS; three from the greater London area, Glasgow, UK; Stockholm, and then all the way over to Osaka.”
To have had the opportunity to get to know and work with so many people from disparate parts of the world, and even within the US, I would not have otherwise has, without a doubt, been the most fulfilling part of the label—has made it all worth it. There isn’t any one release of which I could single out as being more or less fulfilling than the rest.
By the way, how long does it take from contacting an artist to release day?
Due to the somewhat patchwork nature of the whole label’s affairs, the length of time from conception to release varied with each album. I was working at a pretty frenetic pace most of the time, so it would often happen quickly, sometimes less than a week between deciding upon a release to having it ready to be pressed to tape. My work mostly involved mastering the music, arranging the track order, and designing the artwork layout, all of which I usually completed in a few days’ time.
I can single out my work with Chance on the 3 SELVEDGE albums of his we released; his albums always came together in a really organic and almost-overnight way. Most times, the albums’ music would already be completed beforehand, which would naturally speed up the process. Simon Klee’s Momentary Illumination was one that I was able to give input during the actual composition and production stage, and that one came together over the course of several weeks, rather than just one or two as was typical with already-completed material.
Additionally, where are these tapes traveling to? Is there a global underground for Mystic Timbre?
The label’s following is definitely far-flung; I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to ship tapes to every continent on the map except Antarctica (though I’ve come as close as possible, having sent a package to the southern tip of New Zealand—that person actually had friends living at an Antarctic station and was able to send them links for the first Archana album we released, so the music itself has actually been there, if not the tapes).
The dungeon synth tapes we’ve released, in particular, have strong international followings. They have been very popular in Scandinavia, UK, and mainland European countries. I would say actually the majority of those tapes have ended up overseas. The UK is probably the biggest locus of support for the more experimental electronic, non-dungeon synth, releases. I’ve had a jolly good time figuring out how to translate addresses like ‘The River Cottage, Bojangles Road, Bendside Glen, Catty, Eye, Northshire, UK’ to the required fields of our US Postal Service, haha. France and Germany, northern Europe in general, of course, have been hotspots, Austria and the Czech as well. Some of the more, I guess ‘interesting,’ places that I wasn’t expecting to see per se, have been the likes of Serbia, Hungary, China, South Africa, Ecuador, and Thailand. If I ever have the opportunity to personally visit each of the countries our tapes have gone, I’ll be a very happy and well-traveledo man.
With tapes set a $1, it seems that they are meant to move quick! Was that its intention?
The $1 tapes is a recent happening. I’ve mostly written these responses in a somewhat eulogized manner because, unfortunately, I’ve had to make the decision in recent weeks to put the label, at least in its capacities as a tape-releasing outfit, on indefinite hiatus, and so I’m trying to find good homes for what remains of the stock as quickly as possible.
Like so many others, I lost my employment at the outset of the pandemic, and have since had to move out of Austin to Florida to stay with my parents. I played it very fast and loose for most facets of the label’s operation, offering international shipping for less than what it actually cost me, sending out free bonus tapes with every order, things of that nature.
I never made it a priority to make any profits from the tapes, let alone fully recoup their costs. This is obviously not something I have the luxury of doing in my current circumstances. To suddenly change the entire ethos of the label and try to make it profitable (to the tiny degree a tape label can actually be) wouldn’t feel right to me, neither is it something that my still-limited capacity for promotion would be able to competently accomplish.
Are there plans for repressings or is it a one-and-done affair?
As for represses, it was always my intention for my own music to be one-and-done, strictly limited edition. As the tapes from other artists sell out, I’m transferring those album pages to the artists (which removes them from the label’s catalog, due to Bandcamp’s pretty shitty utilization of label accounts), so perhaps they will opt to have represses by other labels or do-it-themselves.
So, what happens next for yourself and any final thoughts on running MT?
I’ve been taking online classes through the community college I had only recently started attending prior to the pandemic back in Austin, with an aim to complete my Associate’s degree by spring and hopefully get into an accelerated program at a university to get an Education degree shortly after and become a teacher. I’m just finishing a 5-week summer course right now, and am registered for 6 more classes through the end of 2020, so I’m going to have my hands full and just wouldn’t have the time necessary to properly manage the label anyway.
Running a label of any magnitude requires an enormous amount of time and effort, that’s not something I would ever undersell to anyone interested in starting one of their own. But it is very rewarding in non-monetary ways. I’m extremely proud of what we were able to accomplish in just a single year—owing to how recklessly prolific we were, we established a larger catalog than other labels do over the course of many years, and were able to build a sizeable following from nothing, and without any promotional support from established sources.
My ultimate hope is to come out the other side of all this with a stable career that will allow me to pick up the mantle of the ol’ label once again. In the meantime, I’m still going to be making music of my own and will be putting it up through the label Bandcamp digital-only, and without any sort of promotion or fanfare.
Any other labels and pals you want to shout out?
Yes! Some good label-buddies I’m happy to have made:
Finally, a rat is going to jump in your mouth-head or butt? (We used to ask this to bands coming through the studio)
As for the rat, he can turn himself around and back in butt-first.
Interview conducted by Matthew McPherson.