Smile Politely

Failed Poem Records is C-U’s newest label, selling cassettes and donating proceeds

Debuting in late July, Failed Poem Records (FPR) is a record label dedicated to limited physical releases of cassettes and is founded on the hope of benefiting charities and local musicians that have been affected by the closing of venues.

Each physical release is a limited run of less than 50, and 100% of each release’s profit is donated to a charity of the artist’s choosing or to the artist themselves.

Founded by Stephen “Sven” Johnson, organizer of SvenStock and host of the podcast Champaign Is Also A Band, FPR’s first release is an experimental, self-titled album called Terse Stems. The album was produced by Johnson (aka V O T) and Melody Wachtel (aka Zoey.) of the dumpster-punk band This is a Stick Up!.

The name of the label originates from the title of Johnson’s art series, “Failed Poems”, from 2007 when his wife was battling breast cancer. “The failed poem idea was the beginning of me realizing that at that point my life was a little bit more than just me,” he said, continuing “this may sound negative at this point, but I just thought, ‘My existence doesn’t really matter, but what I can put out into the world can make a difference and push that boulder a little bit up the hill a little bit more; it may not be much, but at least it’s moving in the right direction.’”

After 13 years of his wife surviving breast cancer, Johnson still resonates with the mindset that any effort, no matter the size, is important and can make an impact, which is part of what motivated him to establish FPR. He was also inspired to establish FPR by the local record labels Inhaling Brain Waves and Rat King Records. Both labels are dedicated to physical releases including cassettes and vinyl of artists Nectar (based in C-U) and Bottom Bracket (based in Springfield).

While collaborating on Terse Stems, Johnson considered releasing an analog version of their album along with the digital version. Like vinyl, cassettes are making a comeback. Connexion France reported that “in 2018, more than 219,000 were sold in the United States, compared to 178,000 in 2017.”

Regarding this process, Johnson said, “You can support somebody in the digital format by buying their digital download, but there’s something about being able to have something physical that reminds you of that moment that I think is unique.”

As Johnson and Wachtel planned to release Terse Stems, they had no intention of keeping the profit from sales. “Why don’t I just do this as a record label?” Johnson said. Thus, FPR was established as a means for artists to release analog versions of their albums while raising money for an organization of their choice or for themselves.

“At this time, we need to be looking out for those that are very vulnerable,” he said.

Terse Stems blends the experimental music genres avant-garde, industrial and wall noise. The album features four tracks followed by four reveal sets, which unveils ten field recordings that Johnson and Wachtel used in each track. The title refers to the construction of the album, composed of stems or a collection of audio recordings that were mixed together. For each of the four tracks featured on the album, the duo exchanged five short recordings ranging from chirping chicks to creaky doors and manipulated the recordings into two separate pieces that were then joined together into one composition.

FPR is donating all profits to Black and Pink for this first record, a national prison abolitionist organization dedicated to abolishing the criminal punishment system and liberating LGBTQIA2S+ people and people living with HIV/AIDS.

The label is committed to showcasing the variety of genres in the C-U music scene and plans on releasing cassettes two to three times a year by collaborating with artists that already have albums produced.

Top image provided by Failed Poem Records.

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