The iconic and staunchly independent label Thrill Jockey Records may be Chicago-based since the mid '90s, but its roots lie here in New York and along the grimy Path train tunnel where Hoboken stands. Two decades ago, L.E.S. resident Bettina Richards founded Thrill Jockey while working the rounds at the legendary Hoboken record store hub, Pier Platters. Culling together loans and emptying her savings, she signed NYC-via-Austria prog-punk downtowners, H.P. Zinker (who also recorded for Matador Records) and thus her trajectory towards launching her label to seminal statusalong with Sub Pop, Matador and Dischordbegan. Ultimately, Richards moved to the more econo Chicago and stockpiled her Thrill Jockey stable with a mélange of trailblazers from a host of disparate genres. From the post-jazz stylings of Tortoise and The Sea and the Cake, Trans Am's Kraut-rock pummel, sax giant Fred Anderson's free jazz and the backporch country of Freakwater, Richards molded a label cache of ginormous proportions.
Recently the label has undergoing yet another dramatic resurgence by raiding Brooklyn's stash of visionary bands. In just the last couple of years, Richards has swooped up Kid Millions' percussive army Man Forever, psych-meditators Guardian Alien, electronic mashing machine and ex-Parts & Labor dude Dan Friel, twang riffers D. Charles Speer and the Helix, experimentalist space-jammers Rhyton, black-metal terrorizing crew Liturgy, finger-picking songsmith Luke Roberts and psychedelic monster rockers, White Hills. A bulk of these artistsnew Thrill Jockey arrivals and vets like Tortoisewill be on hand this weekend to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Richards' label.
Sound of the City spoke to Richard on the phone from the Thrill Jockey office to talk about her label, from then to now.
You started Thrill Jockey in New York before relocating to Chicago. You'll be here this weekend for the anniversary shows, I presume. How often do you come back to NYC?
I get to New York the most often of anywhere, probably it seems like every other month out there. I lived there for a long time so I have a free place to stay and I have a desk and an office that I can useso that makes it easier.
It must be major culture shock when you see what New York has transformed into since your time here.
I lived on the Lower East Side, yeah. It was junkie heaven.
And you worked at Pier Platters in Hoboken?
I worked at Pier Platters and I used to do some stuff once I started the label to get extra money with the people that owned Max Fish and they used to have a coffee shop next it and when people filmed commercials and stuff, I'd sit there all night so that they didn't destroy the café and stuff. All that, like Ludlow Street and that whole area is nothing like it was. More »