The Oral History of Mexican Summer
Over the past five years, Mexican Summer has introduced (or helped to introduce) bands like Best Coast, Washed Out and Kurt Vile. This weekend, to celebrate their five-year anniversary, they're throwing a two-day concert at Pioneer Works in Red Hook, with Spiritualized, Ariel Pink, Lansing-Dreiden, and No Joy all scheduled to play.
Just a few of Mexican Summer's Greatest Hits
That's a pretty heavy list of big-name bands, and it's been an extremely successful five year run. On the occasion of the label's five-year anniversary, we talked to bands and label insiders to get a picture of how Mexican Summer got to where it is. We heard tale of fistfights in Sweden, beers in California, and why Ariel Pink only put out one single through the label.
In 2008, Kemado Records decided to launch a small project--a record club. Their plan was to put out limited releases of bands who didn't fit into the Kemado roster, which was, at that point, mostly hard rock bands like The Sword.
JEFF KAYE (Marketing Director for Kemado, and later Mexican Summer): It was very limiting at Kemado, the types of bands that you could work with. When we started to sign things like Marissa Nadler and Dungen, we started to notice that it didn't necessarily fit into that mold.
KEITH ABRAHAMSSON (head of A&R for Kemado, later Mexican Summer): We wanted to do a label that would be a lot looser and freewheeling than what we were doing with Kemado, which was more of a traditional way of putting out records.
JESS ROTTER (head of Publicity for Mexican Summer): When we went into it, it was like Kemado was doing its own thing, and we wanted to do something a little bit more intimate. A little bit more tightly curated, that we had a handle on.
JEFF KAYE: The idea was that to create this exclusive club that people who enjoyed music and listened to vinyl could be a part of. You pay a monthly fee and get a vinyl or two every month. It was inspired by the Sub Pop Singles Club. We thought it would be a piece of cake. We'd charge different amounts, we'd give premium items, people will sign up, it will be easy to take care of.
The records that first month were an Ariel Pink 7", a Dungen 12", and a Nachtmystium EP. It was pretty all over the map, and I think our tastes were pretty all over the map, as well. To have the opportunity to do that was awesome for us.
ARIEL PINK: They had initially contacted me because they wanted to start the vinyl portion of their label. At the time, they were still Kemado. It was the initial, inaugural release.
[Agreeing to do a release through the label] was sort of a weird situation. It was sort of a misunderstanding between my manager and me and the lawyer that we had at the time. It was brokered .. . with our consent, but just sort of like . . . the goal at the time was to get us signed to a label, and we didn't see that as really a label. There was too much resting on our heads. We didn't know whether they would be successful or not.
KEITH ABRAHAMSSON: The Ariel Pink single [I Can't Hear My Eyes/Evolution's A Lie], when he did that, he wasn't what he is now. He's kind of the godfather of a certain sound. When we did that first single with him, he was not that yet. But that's one I'm so proud of. I had been a huge fan of his for years.
ARIEL PINK: Keith at the label was very, very encouraging and he was very interested in signing us, and that eventually led to an offer. But we went with 4AD [for subsequent releases]. I've always held them in high esteem. They seem to have done well for themselves.
Soon after starting, the concept of a record club becomes difficult to manage.
KEITH ABRAHAMSSON: It was totally a nightmare. We gave up on that pretty quickly. In hindsight, if we had just been putting out a single every month, or every other month, it would have been real easy. But we were putting out like literally three records every month. They were varying formats: LPs, 12", 7"... just figuring out the price points was a total logistical train wreck.
JEFF KAYE: Who has a six-month subscription? Who has a three-month subscription? Who was getting what bonus item? It just became a pain in the butt.
JESS ROTTER: When the Washed Out EP [2010's Life of Leisure] came out, it was like everything changed overnight. People really started paying attention, and the subscriptions idea went out of hand a little bit. It got larger than life really fast.
JEFF KAYE: I think Washed Out was the first one where we were like, whoa, this might be more than a single pressing. Last I heard it was at 9 pressings.
KEITH ABRAHAMSSON: I came across his stuff online and reached out to him pretty immediately after I came across it. That's a lot of what A&R can be. It's just finding stuff online and connecting with people.
I also had a trip planned to go out to Georgia to visit my sister. So, I tagged a little bit extra onto the trip to go meet him, and I think that kind of sealed it. It happened over the course of like two weeks.
While Washed Out's EP was taking off, the label was preparing to release another record, by an unknown band called Best Coast.
KEITH ABRAHAMSSON: The Best Coast thing was crazy. That was a really strange way to come to a project. My buddy Jake Hurn was their manager at the time (though he's not anymore), and I had known him for years. He brought the project to me. They had interest from a lot of other places.
JEFF KAYE: Even before we put it out, it was obvious that that record was going to be a big record. I don't necessarily think it defined Mexican Summer, but I do think that they fit very neatly into what we were trying to do: very song-oriented pop music.
KEITH ABRAHAMSSON: Initially, I declined. Not because I wasn't into the tunes, but it was more that our schedule was so insane that I had no idea how we could make it work. Then we talked more about it, and they had done a lot of work on their own, and the record was done.
We decided that we were going to try to do it, and [Hurn] was like, 'Well, you're going to have to talk to Beth.' It all seemed like it was hinging on this phone call, whether we would click or not.
BETHANY COSENTINO (Best Coast): Our old manager had me taking a million calls before Crazy For You came out, and I remember sitting in my bed talking to all these label people on the phone, and I was just like so bored. They all wanted to talk super industry business stuff with me, and at the time I just had no idea what anything in the music industry consisted of so I was just like waiting to talk to someone who I could have an interesting conversation with.
KEITH ABRAHAMSSON: This is what I do. All day long. I bullshit with artists. I'm a musician, too. That's second nature to me. I went into that as myself. I'm not a businessman, that's not what I do. So I just went into it and told her I loved the record and we just talked. Whatever's casual.