interview by Molly Tie
Record labels sometimes get a bad rap in the music business as the very term conjures up images of fat cat record executives smoking cigars in corporate boardrooms, playing god with the careers of musicians, and stopping at nothing in pursuit of a dime. It is no wonder then that independent record labels – run by people who are passionate about music and seek to embody fairness and support for creativity – have always had a particularly special place in the history of music. Often providing an ethical alternative to corporate monopolies, they allow a fair crack at the whip for artists who might otherwise struggle to break into the industry without guidance and support.
One such record label is Weird Sister Records – a label started in 2020 in Brooklyn, NYC, which is built on a solid ethos of integrity and a healthy approach to music promotion and nurturing of artists. LOUD WOMEN caught up with the founders, Deanna and Madison, to hear about what inspired them to get started, their upcoming projects, the artists on their roster, and their dream line up...
What made you want to start your own label and how did it get started?
- Deanna: After feeling unfulfilled in previous label and music industry jobs, wanting more for the artists I work with and wanting more for myself, I decided it was time for a major change in early 2020. This shift happened in my career alongside extreme societal changes as the pandemic took hold and we saw an uprising in the advocacy for Black Lives. At this stage of my industry life, I now had a ton of diverse experience and the confidence to begin building something that would support artists in a way that would be aligned with my own ethos, aesthetics and music tastes. I was also fuelled by my peers’ similar desires for systemic change, racial justice and advocating for marginalized people in creative spaces and elsewhere. The first person I thought of to potentially collaborate on a new label / collective was Madison Hetterly. We met via an internship with The Wild Honey Pie a few years prior and had stayed connected because of our mutual interests and her stellar music blog, Indie Witches. When she started the blog shortly after our internship, I was so proud of her and excited to see a blog that was spotlighting women, non-gender conforming, LGBTQ+ & POC artists from all over the world. I came to Madison with the idea for a label / collective that reflected similar values to Indie Witches pretty soon after I began considering it as a path for myself. In March 2020, we planned to meet up for a BLM protest in Brooklyn and catch up over dinner after. I pitched her the idea over tacos. Turns out we were both sick and tired of the white dude music business machine we were both wrapped up in and loved the idea of starting a company that was guided by our own direction. At first she wasn’t sure, but after she thought about it, she came back with a passionate “Let’s fucking do it” and Weird Sister was born!
Do you both have a background in music? Are you musicians yourselves?
- Madison: I’ve had a variety of experience in the music industry for the last 5 years from working and interning with management companies, venues, record labels, music blogs etc. I’ve always had a passion for the business side of the industry and being a resource/team member to the artists I care about to give them the freedom and space they need to work on their art and not be bogged down with the logistics!
- Deanna: I’m a singer/songwriter and have a background in theatre and communications. I graduated from Rutgers University with a minor in music. I have a pretty developed ear and work on tuning it every chance I get. Listening to a wide range of music and working with a wide range of artists has helped me grow my sonic palette tremendously over the years. I am always excited to challenge myself by simply listening.
What are the values Weird Sister is based on?
- Madison: As noted above, I’ve had a variety of experience in the industry but seemed to always find myself working for men. I’ve had various experiences from finding mentors in this industry but also have been demeaned, disrespected and taken advantage of (financially, mentally and emotionally). Deanna and I connected on having similar experiences in the industry and wanting to give each other the freedom to operate in the industry as our full selves and also creating opportunities, spaces and communities for other women, non-binary and trans creators.
- Deanna: Authenticity, freedom of expression, building safe communities & transparency.
Tell us about the artists on your roster
- Deanna: The artists on our current roster are Sug Daniels and Adi GuerrerX. Both of these artists have distinct presences and music that tells dynamic stories and are sonically left of centre.
- Sug Daniels is one of the most hard-working talents I have had the pleasure of collaborating with. Her music and personality are infectious. Her current sound encompasses warmth with its folk and soul influences, but I would never put her in one box. She’s constantly challenging herself, finding new ways to evolve and new avenues to connect with people. There’s a line in her song “Heavy” off her EP Franklin Street (our very first release) that says, “You make me feel so good, you don’t even try,” and that’s truly what Sug does for those around her. Sug is just like a really good hug.
- Adi GuerrerX is another extremely hard-working talent who is making music that I’m still sonically trying to pin down. I’m not sure I ever will and that makes their sound even more exciting because it lives in its own world. It’s constantly evolving because of their reverence for the process. Their current work contains unique electronic production that is never sterile because of the distinct way they weave in the natural world. They, like Sug, have a magnetic persona and are an extreme pleasure to work with.
Tell us about the Zodiac series – it is such a great idea, what inspired it? How has it been going so far?
- Madison: Deanna and I had been chatting about a single series for a while. I woke up one morning and the astrological season idea had come to me in a dream! I immediately sent Deanna a long voice memo describing the idea and she was so down and excited, so we got to work! While it’s been slightly overwhelming with the quick turnaround time between each single, we’ve had a lot of positive feedback on the series, and we’ve really enjoyed working with such a wide variety of artists and genres.
- Deanna: It’s been such a treat to work with artists on songs that have ties to specific astrological values and see how they choose to approach the song/sign relationship. The range of work you’re going to hear in this series directly reflects the dynamics of the zodiac and the artists themselves!
Are there any other projects in the pipeline you want to tell us about?
- Madison: We’re releasing our first full length album this Fall! Stay tuned for that artist announcement which is coming next month. We also are planning to throw many more events in both NYC and LA so are looking forward to curating those and continuing to build our community.
If you could build your own dream roster of artists, past or present, to have on Weird Sister, who would be in your top 5 ?
- Madison: 1) Amy Winehouse 2) Joan Jett & the Blackhearts 3) Phoebe Bridgers 4) Olivia Rodrigo 5) Arlo Parks
- Deanna: I hard agree with Madison’s list, but I would also add: 1) Lianne La Havas 2) Remi Wolf 3) Princess Nokia 4) Suzanne Ciani 5) Patti Smith