File Under: Everything from moody, churning instrumental post-rock to hammering metal, powered by emotional combustion.
Based In: Athens, Georgia
If there’s a single quality binding together the bands on the Georgia label The Mylene Sheath, it’s their shared appreciation for mystery. Whether it’s the delicate, measured instrumentals of Gifts From Enola or the heady, narrative gloom-metal of Junius, most of the music in the label’s catalog seem to be taking place either under gaslight, or in a forest in the chilly dead of night. “We’ve always been into bands like Slint and Tortoise and other bands in the first wave of post rock,” explains Joel Proper, who founded the label with then-girlfriend, now-fiancÃ© Lindsay Palmer in 2007. “But eventually we started getting into [drone metal] bands like Isis and Cave In.” Fittingly, the albums their label releases come off as a fusion of the two, blending the surges and swells of instrumental rock music with the power and portent of metal.
But though you can’t necessarily hear it in the music, The Mylene Sheath is punk rock at heart. Every band the label signs is based largely on the personal recommendation of another Mylene Sheath band, and Proper and Palmer are as interested in creating a community of musicians and fans as they are building a formidable roster. To that end, the label publishes a quarterly ‘zine that focuses not only on their bands, but on bands they admire. They take part in discussions on their label’s message board, offer special pre-sales and bonuses to regular customers, and go out of their way to make their supporters feel like a vital part of their success. “It’s a real cool kind of a fan base I guess,” Proper says, “but we don’t really like to view it that way. It’s kind of narcissistic to call them fans. They’re inspiring us just as much as we’re inspiring them.”
The label is also responsible for some of the most breathtaking vinyl packages in the industry, most of which boast lovingly-detailed artwork, gold-embossed gatefolds, multi-page full-size booklets with hand-drawn art and wax that come in more colors than Nicki Minaj’s wig collection (this writer’s half-green, half-black If These Trees Could Talk LP is a personal favorite). “That goes back to us being vinyl nerds for most of our lives,” Proper explains. “We know the feeling of getting a record and having it be an extension of the music itself – having it tell part of the story along with the music. If, in the end, the packaging enhances the experience that the person’s having with the record, then that’s a job well done.”
eMusic’s J. Edward Keyes caught up with Proper to talk about the label’s history, their development, and their commitment to an artful DIY aesthetic.
On their academic beginnings:
Lindsay and I met when we were in school in Orlando, Florida, for audio engineering. We both got our degrees in recording art, and Lindsay had stayed to take this other class in business, and the way it worked was she had to come up with a business idea. I’d always had this idea of the Mylene Sheath – I’d collected the name from a cognitive development course that I was taking. We found out the term and we thought it was a pretty cool thing to associate with music in some way.
So we decided we’d start The Mylene Sheath and we decided it was going to be a record store. After she graduated, in 2006, we moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, to kind of get started on it. As we were looking around the city, we noticed they had a bunch of record stores already, so we decided, “We’ll just be a record label for a while, and maybe eventually become a record store.” So we put out that record by If These Streets Could Talk, kind of their first release, it was just a vinyl-only thing, and it sold really well. We just started putting out records after that, and never really looked back.
On their guiding philosophy:
13 Songs by Fugazi was the album that really got me into punk rock; got me thinking about other ways to live your life besides just getting a job, and doing a 9-to-5, punching the clock. Aside from Fugazi, anything from Jawbreaker’s catalog is very important to me. Those two bands definitely, and all the other punk rock stuff from back then too, Minor Threat, all that stuff really helped shape the way I look at music. The whole way that we approach starting the label, and the way we wanted the label to be perceived, was based off the blueprint that Dischord set. We wanted to create a family environment for the bands, and hopefully to extend that to their fans, give them a community that they could be interactive with. That’s why we have the message board, that’s why we do the ‘zines. We want to make it as fun and interactive for the fans. We treat them like partners, because we wouldn’t be doing any of this without their support. We want everyone to be as much a part of it as they possibly can.
It’s funny, because we pretty much know when we start a preorder, who will want them. If you’re on our email list, you get an email from us on Thursday at 10 p.m. when there’s a preorder launching – that’s when we let those people buy the record before our public launching on Friday. And we pretty much know the first 100 people who are going to order the record, because of past preorders or just from going back and forth with all these guys via email and on the message boards.
On the upsides of running a label with someone you love:
Just the fact that I get to be with Lindsay 24 hours a day, seven days a week is a plus. I know how lucky I am. It’s a pretty incredible thing to be in love with somebody, be engaged to somebody, and be able to not only share your personal lives 100 percent, but also share your entrepreneurial aspirations 100 percent with that person. Everything about the label is split down the middle – we influence each other completely. I definitely feel like if just I was running the label, we would have gotten nowhere. In any situation, the way we live is, “OK, you feel this way about it and I feel this way about it, let’s find what’s in the middle, and it’s bound to be perfect.” That’s kind of how we function. Obviously, there are situations where I might feel more strongly about something, and we’ll get into an argument or something, because she’ll feel strongly too. But in the end, we find that balance. Usually I’m wrong. That’s the only downside to it! She’s pretty smart, so it’s tough to win sometimes.
Proper shares a few words on some Mylene Sheath bands…
[Los Angeles band] Beware of Safety’s first album It Is Curtains was the second record we put out as a label. They knew Phil, from Caspian, and the other guys, because they had played shows together before when Caspian was on tour. So we put the record out for Beware of Safety, and they were really stoked on how it turned out, so they told Phil to get in touch with us. He did, and we’d already been Caspian fans for a good amount of time just because they’re amazing, and when they got in touch it was like, “Oh, this is perfect. Why are we so lucky?” We re-released two records that were already out, and when they started writing their record Tertia, they were trying to decide how they were going to release it. We were just kind of like, “Well, we want to put that out.” That record is very special to us, both of us. I hate to say that we’re closer to any one band than another, because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but those guys, certainly we have a real bond with them. We’ve made a lot of sacrifices for each other. They could be on a bigger label, they could probably be on one of the strong indie labels out there, because they draw hundreds of people to their shows, they sell thousands of CDs. But there’s a bond there, and that’s what’s keeping us working together. That band is a special group of people. We love them.
We’d been working with Caspian, and Caspian and Junius toured together a lot in the mid 2000s. We started talking and made friends, and as time went on they started getting a new record, The Martyrdom of a Catastrophist, ready to get out there. They were actually talking to another record label who had gotten there first, and that kind of fell through. Guitarist Mike [Repasch-Nieves], called Lindsay and talked to her for a little bit to see if we could put it out and of course we were huge Junius fans already. So it was like “Fucking of course, just tell us when you want it out.” And they wanted it out in under three months, so it was like, “Oh shit!” It was crazy, and very hectic.
It’s such an ambitious project, from top to bottom – the attention to detail, and what those guys did with that album…I mean, it’s a masterpiece in my eyes. It’s amazing. To have to treat it as such, and to meet all these deadlines and make sure it was out on time, that was a pretty intense situation. But it came out beautifully. After that, they had their first record, the self-titled one, that hadn’t been out on vinyl yet, so we asked if they had any plans to put it out on vinyl and they didn’t, so we were like, “Well, now you do.” So basically, Caspian introduced us to Junius, and then Junius introduced us to Herra Terra.
They opened a show for Junius a few years back. It was probably ten minutes into their show, and Lindsay and I just kind of looked over at each other and did a little head nod. That’s kind of how we know we’re going to work with a band – we kinda look at each other real quick and it’s just an unsaid, ‘Yep, yep, that’s the next one.” Honestly, every single record that we’ve put out, has been by a band that’s been introduced to us by another band we’ve worked with. It’s been very organic, nothing’s been forced. It’s all been people we’ve seen and who have blown us away and who we wanted to work with in some capacity.
Gifts From Enola
Those are our boys. They were so young when we started working together – I think they were freshmen in college. They self-recorded and self-released their first album, Loyal Eyes Betrayed the Mind, and it blew us away. We all became really good friends, and when they started writing From Fathoms, it was pretty much a given that we were going to be putting it out. I’ll never forget when they sent over the final mix of From Fathoms and we listened to it – it was just goosebumps for a solid hour. It was incredible. There were tears. it was amazing. It was like, we can’t believe this band is so good. They’re a band that reminds me of Cave In – they started out a certain way, and each album they evolve – it almost sounds like a different band. They’re starting to incorporate more vocals, screaming kind of vocals. They’re going to be putting out a split LP later this year, and it’s going to blow some people’s minds. They’re still young, like 23 years old. They’re just going to keep getting crazier and crazier and better and better.
In 2008 they put out an album called I Am Your Bastard Wings. It was a very chamber-rock, post-rock kind of thing, lots of strings. It was also very dark and depressing. So when it came out, we licensed the vinyl and put it out. When we started getting the demos for [their next record], Brown Shark Red Lion it sounded way different. It’s such a hard album to classify, but it’s a magnificent record. You can hear the evolution of the sound. Before they made this record, half the band left to start another band called Lavinia. You can almost hear those two bands fighting on I Am Your Bastard Wings, fighting for this part to be here or this part to be there. As much of a bummer as it was when they split, it was really cool for us because we got two bands out of it, and each of them had the creative freedom to do what they wanted to do.