Interview with Evan Bartholomew

Hello Evan. In the last year you have released some of my favorite music under Somnia Records. Many of the albums ended up on my Best of 2008 list. What are your thoughts on the output and the overall accomplishment?
Im ecstatic about what we’ve released so far, and even more excited about the albums that are coming out this year.  From the beginning we have put love and intention into this label, and it seems as if it’s paying off in the form of really incredible music from a wide range of artists.

Since the label’s inception in late 2007, you have released about 8 albums. What are your thoughts on the release rate of music in general? (I guess, I’m asking on your opinion of when is it too little or too much?)
I have no idea when it’s too little or too much.  Each time we try to set a schedule to get “a bunch” of music out, something comes along and derails it, so at this point the focus is really to stay in the flow, and let things develop naturally (with a little nod or push to get things on track if we’re falling too far behind).  We had a delay here after a move to Hawaii, moving house again, and the fact that I’ve been on tour almost consistently the last 6 months, so there is a pile of music waiting in the queue for release at this point.

You seemed to be already super busy with running Native State Records, Silent Auction and Thoughtless Music. What possessed you to spawn yet another label?
Native State is on permanent hiatus.  Im calling it a hiatus instead of being closed, because who knows what the future holds?  Silent Auction was set up to be an exclusive for a download site which is now defunct.  Thoughtless was set up with Noah Pred as an avenue to release forward thinking dance floor music, and he definitely keeps it running with a little input on a & r from me every now and then.

What were some of the major obstacles that you had to overcome prior to launching Somnia into the spotlight?
Are we in the spotlight?  If so, it’s news to me!  I haven’t thought about obstacles too much.  Im prepared to lose money on every release which is fine by me, as long as the release is quality and maintains the standard of the label, with responsible packaging and collectors feeling to each release.

Somnia’s tagline is “music for the spaces inbetween”. I really like that. Can you talk about the overall direction of the label’s output?
The overall direction is more about a feeling than a specific aesthetic starting point, though music which is for the “spaces in between” to me is stuff that blends acoustic sources with digital manipulation, or things that marry odd genres and instrumentation.  I hesitate to call us an ambient label, or any other type of label, other than a collector’s label of modern music.  In general the releases tend towards the more relaxed and intellectual side of the musical spectrum, but thats by no means a defining standpoint which would keep us from releasing something that was incredible and otherwordly.

How is Somnia Records different from other contemporary ambient, minimal, and modern classical labels?
Im not sure I can answer that.  In some respect I’ve tried not to notice what other people are doing from the perspective of a label owner.  I listen to records that I like, and don’t ever want to be making decisions based on what is working for someone else, or some musical territory that someone else has explored.  The only real decision is, “Is it right for Somnia.”

What is your personal favorite release on Somnia to date?
I like all of them for various reasons.  I think it would be unfair to pick a favorite, as I might get some hurt emails from the artists!  My favorite is whichever album I don’t even know that Im going to release yet.

Somnia releases are all limited to 777 copies. What are your thoughts on limiting the final physical product?
They are meant to be collectors items, signed, numbered, sealed in wax.  Im not trying to sell thousands of copies.  Limiting the product allows us the freedom to make decisions based on the quality of the art, rather than how many units we sell.

How do you feel about digital distribution?
Necessary to survive.   I realize that some people don’t buy CD’s yet want to legitimately support the music, so a digital strategy is our way of addressing that.

You have some of the most innovative packaging, with all disks sewn in a recycled paper, sealed with wax, signed and numbered. That is quiet an effort on your part. Tell us about the personal touch that goes into creating the packaging?
Ray does a lot of the construction, sewing, design, original artwork, paper choices, etc.  He’s basically in charge of the “look” of Somnia.  I do end up doing the wax sealing, mostly cause I like it.  I feel like an alchemist sealing secret treatises or something.

I must ask a totally separate question on the artwork by Ray Massini which is printed in Soy Ink. How much freedom does he get in the design, and what are your thoughts on the aesthetics of cover art?
It’s entirely in his boat.  Artists communicate their desires about the design, and he does his thing.  If he’s feeling something, as long as the artist gives the sign off, than it’s fine by me.  I totally defer to his artistic vision in the packaging.

How do you find the music and the artists that will eventually end up being released by Somnia?
I don’t even really look at this point, they find me.  I get so many incredible demos, and wish I could release a lot more of them than I do.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming talent interested in getting signed to a label?
Find a label that is closest to your aesthetic and ethical values.  Don’t send music to labels who release music much different than yours, as it only frustrates people to wade through trance demos sent to an ambient label.

Any advice for someone interested in starting their own label?
Start it with some friends.  Strength in numbers.  Keep a good e-mail list of people that care, and dont spam, but use it wisely as it’s your direct connection to people who support what you do.

What are some of the upcoming releases on Somnia?
Upcoming:  Kilowatts, bvdub, Sonmi451, iambic, emmanuele errante, and a bunch of hopeful releases where Im waiting to hear final albums.  Whatever I get around to producing this year, between the other projects I’ve already committed to.

Thank you for your time. Any last words for the readers of Headphone Commute?
Be sure to drink your Ovaltine.