On the night of June 10, Manic Pop! Records—a Rochester, Minnesota–based indie pop label—ceased to exist. In the midst of a busy release schedule, the label's internet presence disappeared: Its Facebook page, Twitter account, website, store, and Soundcloud page vanished overnight. To make matters worse, label owner Mike Perry's personal accounts went dark as well, e-mails bounced and phone lines were suddenly disconnected. It was clear that something was up, and rumors began to fly among the label's signees.
Within hours, musicians took to Twitter and Facebook to sort through the e-debris; a blog post from Boise, Idaho, band the Very Most yielded some answers. Though Perry was unreachable, his father explained to the band by phone that Manic Pop! had become "extremely overextended financially" and had shut down totally, much to the disappointment of his growing number of fans and his signees—none of whom had any advance notice. As it turns out, many of the bands affected are mainstays in Seattle's music community, so I got in touch with some of them to talk about their experiences, their forthcoming projects, the strange ways the internet works, and the business of working with a label in 2013. Blooper frontman Adriano Santi, Neighbors singer/guitarist José Diaz, and Mitch Leffler of Zebra Hunt (whose bandmates Erik Bennet and Robert Mercer joined us later) met with me at the Ballard Cupcake Royale, where my interview recording was drowned out by most of Barenaked Ladies' Stunt.
Blooper was the first Seattle band to sign with Manic Pop! Santi told me how it happened: "We got an e-mail from this dude. I had no idea who he was, but apparently he was following me on Tumblr. He said, 'Hey, I'm starting this label, do you want to put out a 7-inch?' And we're like, 'Sure.' So we recorded it and got the masters, he sent them to the pressing plant, and they e-mailed me back saying: 'It'll be ready on this date.'" That record, Blooper's Long Distance EP, looks and sounds great, and it got some nice press for both the band and the label.
Next up was Zebra Hunt. Leffler explained that local indie-pop blog the Finest Kiss had written about his band several times, and shortly afterward, Perry contacted him about making a record. "It was the same story. We decided to do a 7-inch, and it was so easy," Leffler said. That record, the smoky, jangle-heavy Beaches EP, arrived in early June and is now available from the band.
For Neighbors, things began straightforwardly enough, but problems quickly arose. Diaz explained how he ended up in his situation. "I semi-jokingly tweeted, 'We have five new songs, who does 10-inch 45s anymore?' and Mike replied, 'We will.'" I Love Neighbors was the next record on Manic Pop!'s schedule before the label folded. Diaz said that as the release date approached, he "would just check in with [Perry] about stuff, and he'd take longer and longer to get back to me." Test pressings never showed up; deadlines grew closer. "Eventually, he sent me this really long screed about how he had never promised that it was going to be ready on June 4, which was not the case. He said, 'I can pull it from the pressing plant if you want.' He seemed really annoyed and also very swamped. After I got that response from him, I was like, 'Dude, chill, you said it would come out then, I'm just trying to organize the promotion and figure out when people who preordered will get copies.' A week after we had that conversation, I woke up and the label was gone. That was it. We got fucked." Vancouver-by-way-of-Seattle imprint Lost Sound Tapes will be releasing I Love Neighbors on a split cassette with the band's second album, John in Babeland, soon.
It's a stark contrast from Blooper and Zebra Hunt's experiences. Santi, who until recently doubled as Neighbors' second guitarist (and plays on I Love Neighbors), added, "When I was in Neighbors, I remember José asking, 'How legit is Manic Pop!?' and I said, 'Completely.'" And to look at Manic Pop!'s flurry of activity during its brief existence, one sees an ambitious label looking to establish a foothold by putting out an insane quantity of music. In a period of nine months, Manic Pop! put out 16 limited-edition 7-inches, all of which were beautifully packaged, and at the time of its sudden death had promised to release music by at least seven other bands from all over the world.
Perry was building a following and finding an audience, but there were serious issues with what he was doing. For one, he lacked distribution. Perry had to rely entirely on mail order to get his records to listeners, and though many labels start that way, it's rare to see any start producing so many expensive records so quickly. California institution/lifestyle brand Burger Records puts out a new tape practically every 20 minutes, but cassettes are far cheaper than vinyl, and a handful of now-big names on their gigantic roster—like Ty Segall, Nobunny, Black Lips, and local up-and-comers like La Luz—help draw in outsiders and convert the uninitiated. Manic Pop! didn't have that quite yet. Most small presses exist on the opposite side of the spectrum and take a much more conservative approach to curation—Seattle label Couple Skate, for instance, has existed since early 2012, but has only two LPs (with a third, Vancouver, BC, band Weed's Deserve LP, to be released this fall) and a cassette to its name. Local label Per Se, which released Pony Time's Go Find Your Own earlier this year, also only has two prior records in its back catalog and has existed since 2011.
With all of this taken into consideration, it's easy to feel discouraged from pursuing a career in putting out high-quality vinyl records for bands one likes, but that's not how musicians want it to be. Leffler made it clear: "When these things start, they have good intentions, the masses are cheering them on. I would not want people thinking about starting a label supporting small bands to say, 'Nope, there's no way I'll do it now because of Manic Pop!'" He then added, "I think there's a glimmer of inspiration in it. I feel like if I could just have all the records he pressed in my house, I could take the baton, and just not put out anything else until I sell all of them." The label championed a specific sound and was cultivating an identity of its own, but it also gave bands support that many hadn't yet found in their hometowns, making them part of a community both locally and nationally, connecting a lot of like-minded people.
A few weeks ago, the label's website briefly reactivated to give this story something of an ending—one rooted in unfortunate reality. Perry wrote:
sorry for the closure, and all the brilliant music i failed to release. never cared about the money, or even breaking even. the demand ratio was just too small for vinyl. i was never optimistic or delusional or naive. i was sticking to an obsolete 7" model. release a record, give half to the band, make just enough to do it again. if i had to do it all over, the only thing i would change is to not release anything in a digital format. i simply wanted these records in my collection. (maybe i should have just started a net label. or gave away everything for free. or some(no)thing.)
Soon, that message was also taken down and replaced simply with the word "sad."
This article has been updated since its original publication.