To Ireland we go for the fifth installation of our regular [under_] series, which focuses on DIY and independent record labels from around the world. Galway's Rusted Rail is run by Keith Wallace, a former college radio DJ. The label specializes in limited numbers of 3'' CDs and has released music by bands and artists like Songs Of Green Pheasant, So Cow, Cubs and The Driftwood Manor. I spoke to Keith about how the internet helped the expansion of small record labels, the supportive Irish independent scene and the importance of aesthetics. As always, we have a selection of songs from the label for you to download. Enjoy!
Tell me about the very beginning of Rusted Rail.
Rusted Rail started in March 2006 with three releases from Agitated Radio Pilot, Plinth and So Cow. The idea for the label had been brewing for about a decade before that, as I was Music Director (and eventually Station Manager) at my college radio station, Flirt FM. [The station gave me an opportunity to get] exposed to and be in touch with so many inspirational labels -- 4AD, Dischord and Constellation, to name just three. So the idea of running a label, documenting the music that was being made in my town and elsewhere by friends -- and eventually, new allies -- took root. This is where Rusted Rail came from.
Did you have any idea what you were getting yourself into?
I reckoned I did! Every release is a learning curve and I've been at this for nearly seven years now, so I feel a little bit established. It's an ongoing journey and I'm enjoying the scenery and the sounds. The label started just as the internet was converging with musical "delivery" (for want of a better term); MySpace was all the rage at the time (!), and the initial releases were all mail-order direct from the site. It was, and still is, a bedroom-run label. It was born before the advent of YouTube, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Twitter and all the other social networks, which have all had effects on how music is heard and discovered. This has both positive and negative qualities. Like I
said, running a label is an ever-evolving journey.
Is the market competitive in Ireland or are you plowing a lonely furrow?
The independent scene in Ireland right now is very healthy, with lots of releases on different formats on various labels. An organization called Wingnut has sprung up and they set up hubs in various cities where such independent releases are stocked. There are a few wholly independent record shops left too. Plugd in Cork city is one of the most impressive; it has a great reputation for stocking new independent releases and curating shows in their own space. So it's more of a case of there being a supportive network over here making my work much [easier]. Props also to RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta’s Cian Ó Ciobhain. His "An Taobh Tuathail” is the only dedicated radio show for new and different music on the Irish national airwaves. He has also curated and released compilations that included tracks by Rusted Rail artists like Loner Deluxe, Phantom Dog Beneath The Moon and Songs Of Green Pheasant. Also my brothers-in-arms, the tinyEPICS film-production crew have made many music videos for Rusted Rail -- long may this collaboration continue. Abroad, Norman Records in Leeds, England have been very supportive. So it's not too lonely!
Does Rusted Rail have a particular philosophy?
Rusted Rail's philosophy is best summed up by Charles Rosen who said, "The musical canon is not decided by majority opinion but by enthusiasm and passion, and a work that ten people love passionately is more important than one that ten thousand do not mind hearing." It’s a tiny label with quality acts; it’s underground but not inaccessible! Also, in this disembodied era, the physicality of the release is really important to me: to be able to look in the liner notes and say, “what are the lyrics, who plays guitar on that, who took that picture, where was this recorded?”, to be able to appreciate the album or EP as an aesthetic artifact which not only holds but enhances the experience of listening to the music. There’s a certain magic to the whole thing that it’s important not to lose.
Please tell us a little bit about the music you've chosen for Epitonic readers.
Songs of Green Pheasant: "Teen Wolf"
From the album Soft Wounds. A beautiful slice of pastoral pop, a narcoleptic groove with gentle optimistic horns and a barking dog. This was the first song I received from SoGP when he got in touch to ask if I would be interested in releasing the album and it blew me away. It still does. A superlative (Shef)field recording.
Cubs: "When Skies Split Open"
From the EP Willowfield. The fireworks on this song were also recorded in Sheffield, incidentally. Cubs is a project very close to my heart, and this beautiful, impressionistic recording features the talents of Aaron Hurley (Phantom Dog Beneath The Moon) and Cecilia Danell, along with rain fizzing on the street outside my home and the aforementioned explosions in the night sky, all combining to make something otherworldly.
Good Shepherd: "Flown The Other Side"
From the EP Ah Good, The Sea. A keening slice of nautical folk, Good Shepherd perfectly encapsulates longing and loss. Enchanting.
The Driftwood Manor: "I Could Sense a Violent Death"
From the EP Dominican Black Abbey. The doom metal edge added to Eddie Keenan's Driftwood Manor project comes courtesy of Rites' Bryan Higgins. We had a good time recording this one. Folk and metal have a lot in common, and never more so than on this spooked song.
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