Kevin Fairbairn and Greg Obis of Clearance on Launching Born Yesterday Records
Born Yesterday Records is a brand new Chicago-based label founded by Kevin Fairbairn and Greg Obis of Clearance. We met at their Humboldt Park apartment on a cold winter’s night to chat about their joint venture over a couple 2-3 drinks. This is an *exclusive* look into the minds behind Chicago’s newest record label.
Sunroom: Tell us a bit about how you guys first met.
Kevin Fairbairn: We met when I was about twenty-two and Greg was twenty. We were introduced by a friend. It was one of the only times where it was like, “You guys would totally get along” and we actually did - pretty instantly too.
Greg Obis: I think my first memory of you is outside of Township. I think we met one time before that, but neither of us had any recollection of it. Sarah was the matchmaker. Matchmaker.com.
K: I’ve always counted Township as the spark. I can’t remember the name of that band that we saw that night...let’s just say it was Geronimo!
G: We immediately hit it off because we were both audio people.
K: We were still both in college.
G: The next big landmark was that I joined Clearance and we played our first show at Saki Records (RIP) with Kevin’s band, Passerines. We didn't realize that we were playing together!
K: I remember walking in and Greg was testing out some bass stuff and I was like, “What are you doing here?” I was completely clueless. I was assuming that you were doing sound or something, but you were in Clearance. And I was a big fan of Clearance after that.
G: And I became obsessed with Passerines. Loved that band. They were inspired by jazz and contemporary composition. A lot more dynamic.
K: And math-y. Tim was inspired by Dirty Projectors and Grizzly Bear.
S: Ah, nice early-aughts popular indie bands.
K: Yeah. Like compositionally complex, very ornate, long and complex sound structures. Pretty much the opposite of Clearance. I was kicked out of Passerines for trying to make it too rock-based.
S: And you fell into the loving, open arms of Clearance?
K: Mike asked me if I wanted to join Clearance and I was like, “Yeah...that’s what I’ve been trying to do.” [laughs]
G: I asked if you wanted to play bass in a band of mine back then and you said you didn’t want to play bass. That’s how I am, if I have an idea and I’m met with any sort of resistance then I’m like, “Oh I’ll just cancel the project then.” That’s just me.
K: You were doing math-y, dynamic stuff and I had just gotten kicked out of a band for trying to make it less that. And I was on the road to joining Clearance so I was like, “Guess I’m gonna be in a band with Greg anyways.”
S: When did the idea for the label come about?
G: Then Clearance was a band for many years - still a band. Obviously we continued to be friends. Yeesh went on tour and at our homecoming show at D.C. Torium - this was late November of last year - both of us were really impressed with Drool. Neither of us had ever seen them before. Peter had sworn by them. We were just thinking, like, “Why doesn’t this band have a label?”
K: This was a thought that both of us had independently probably at the same time.
G: Also, Yeesh got onto Tiny Engines and Clearance was releasing a 7” with Tall Pat, so labels were just on our minds. Kevin said, “Why don’t we start a label?” and I said, “That’s stupid, we’re not doing that...it would be funny if we did that.”
K: It still is funny.
S: Did it seem far-fetched?
K: It obviously did because it took us a whole year to start it.
G: That’s when the seed was planted and then it started percolating in my own mind and I think we talked about it on and off for a while. Then on New Year’s Eve I was hammered and we went outside and I asked you a bazillion questions that I had thought of beforehand. This was sort of my line in the sand, like if we do this I want to do this seriously. Like, “What are we going to do for PR?” and, “Where are we going to find funding for things?” Just brass tax things. I was absolutely hammered, I don’t remember what you said to half of them.
K: You’re having very distinct memories for someone who talks about having a bad memory.
G: All of Kevin’s responses were things that I very much agreed with. We ended the night being like, “Let’s do it. We’ll figure it out.” I think we had cold feet for a year.
K: At some level it’s kind of a silly and egotistical idea to start anything. To be like, “We’re the ones who should say what’s put out there.” I think we just kind of needed some sort of genesis thrust upon us. Something that gave us a sign that we weren’t just going uphill, just doing it because it’s a sort of fantasy...which is most of what my life has been up until this point.
S: Was there some sort of spark that got your feet moving?
K: I said yes. They’ve worked hard.
G: And at Clearance shows we would ask, “Would you put out this record?” and started being super critical of everything that came into our radar.
K: We just graduated from being the hypercritical guys in the other band to the hypercritical guys with the label behind us.
S: What’s your guiding principle as label-owners?
K: I think we’re still figuring that out. We’ll send Bandcamp links and pick them apart, for better or for worse. The only thing right now as far as a guiding vision for the label is … I’d like to think that what we’re hearing is something unique.
G: My whole life - for better or for worse - I’ve prided myself on trying to be into music that other people aren’t into...which is sort of a teenage instinct towards the arts. Regardless, this has been a guiding instinct that’s fit in pretty nicely with this label, where I’m trying to find things that I haven’t heard before. And I really trust Kevin’s instincts towards music. I think we do a good job of offering resistance for each other. If something passes both of our really low thresholds then that’s a really good sign and makes us really excited about it.
K: We’ve been in bands and have been touring around enough where we’ve seen so many things that, for whatever reason, have had a really difficult time finding a home. I think we can provide that. I think we should be one of the many labels that give opportunities to that and not just be putting out our friends’ music. We don’t want to just put out local bands just to get by.
G: There’s just so much good music out there. It frustrates me - every musician in a rock band has been there. So why not just go for it and provide another platform for these bands that are so deserving of having someone else in their court, who are passionate and vocal about them and put time into them.
S: Have you heard of any negative label experiences from friends’ bands or anything that you want to avoid?
K: I have not. Zero. [laughs]
G: [Tuning into the music] That’s it. That’s the melody I’ve had stuck in my head for so long. I’m really glad this came up...Where were we…? I have definitely heard of nightmare scenarios. It’s hard to say that we won’t run into those, especially in our infancy.
K: Not going to promise we won’t be a nightmare for bands. "Oh shit, it’s a laserdisc!"
G: I think it would be totally naive to think that we won’t have problems. Also to not only let bands down but to let ourselves down. That’s why I was reticent to start a label. I have friends who have not done well and who have taken risks on bands that didn’t wind up doing what they set out to do. It’s just risky business. I certainly don’t have any illusions about it being an easy ride or everything going according to plan...but again I wish more people were taking those risks right now because so many bands deserve those risk-takers.
K: There are obvious reasons why people aren’t taking those risks, but we’re going to. It’s as simple as that.
S: In Chicago I feel like there are plenty of incredible bands and an awareness of that but it doesn’t spread outside of the city at all. Do you feel that as well?
G: I want to shout out Sooper Records, Dumpster Tapes, Tall Pat (RIP), and Max Pelt, which are all really fucking cool. I’m especially excited about Sooper because I think Nnamdi and Glenn have good heads on their shoulders and definitely have a unique vision in mind and a great wealth of bands for them to pick from that are part of their sound.
Going back to the larger question, I think we’re still figuring out what the label is about. When I talk to other people I’ve been saying that we don’t necessarily have a unique vision, that it’s going to be sort of a kitchen sink of things that we’re passionate about. The more that we talk about it, the more I realize that we do sort of have some hard parameters. And that’s boxing us in a bit, which I love, because I think limitations define something. The things that we’re interested in right now are smart and unique and musically competent. Kevin and I are both audio people so good or unique qualities of audio are important. And stuff that’s confrontational or politically aware we gravitate towards a lot.
K: I don’t think it’s something that will define every release we do, but I’d say there’s a political awareness and consciousness to the first couple things that we will be releasing. I’m very proud of that. It won’t be everything that we release because I don’t think everything should have to be discreetly politically aware lyrically. But when it is it’s something that we’re always keen towards.
G: It’s definitely important for us to be a legit label and we do want to be taken seriously, but we don’t take ourselves seriously at all. We have a very good sense of humor about ourselves, which I want to keep going because nothing matters anymore and it’s more important to keep a certain sense of levity while the world crashes and burns instead of succumbing to it.
K: Aw man.
G: Tiny Engines has been a big influence on me. I’ve got some goss on that but I gotta flip this record first.
S: Can’t wait to hear that goss.
Turns out there was no goss to speak of.
S: What sort of release formats are you hoping to explore?
G: If I had it my way I think we’d release only vinyl and digital. LP for fidelity and being the best physical object that you can release and then digital because that’s what everyone actually listens to. But people do still buy CDs and people do still buy cassettes so I’m not un-open to that.
K: I like trading cassettes with bands. Sometimes you don’t want to just give away all of your LPs so that can be a good way to get the stuff out there, but I don’t want to be a tape label. That goes against our ideas of really giving bands the releases they deserve. Props to people to provide tapes for bands, but we want to go a step further. A lot of bands deserve that that haven’t gotten it in the last five to six years.
S: Has this venture changed your friendship at all?
K: Well Greg and I have been friends for a long time, and pretty good friends at that. I always felt pretty close to Greg. We can be pretty open with each other, we’ve been in a band together for a long time, then we moved in together, and now we’re started a label together. There’s almost no aspect of my life that doesn’t involve Greg.
G: I don’t really expect it to change a lot about our friendship.
S: How have people responded to the big new label announcement?
G: The overwhelmingly positive response has been awesome. Even from industry people who have been around the block a bit...everyone has been like, “It totally makes sense that you would do this.”
K: The consensus comment that I’ve heard from people is, “It’s about time”, which isn’t personally about us but more like, “This needs to happen.”
K: It’s not like we’re starting a post-punk band with four dudes or something like that. [laughs]
G: I think once we have to start working really hard and doing hard PR, then it might start to take on more of a shape in my own life. But we’ll get there when we get there.
Greg is currently spinning:
Kevin is currently spinning: