Last Collector Standing: Kate Eddens on Working at Thrill Jockey and Vintage Vinyl, and Her Musical Education (and Evolution)
As major record labels have struggled to adjust to the new digital landscape, independent labels have thrived by sticking to the tried and true demand for vinyl. We caught up with Kate Eddens, a former employee of both Thrill Jockey records and Vintage Vinyl, at her south city home where she stores over 2,000 records (75 of which she admits belong to her husband Sam). While her two-and-half-year-old daughter Ophelia sulked upstairs because she couldn't listen to her new favorite record, Joanna Newsom's Have One On Me, we discussed vinyl's importance to indie labels and the time the Sea and Cake's Sam Prekop introduced Eddens to the Impressions.
Last Collector Standing: Having previously worked at Thrill Jockey in Chicago, what's it like working for an independent record label?
Kate Eddens: It was great. I got there in a strange way. I had been at med school in Kansas City, and I didn't really want to be there. I didn't know anyone in the music industry that was doing anything worthwhile. All the musician friends I had were bums. [Laughs].
I had a friend who owned a record store in Scotland and booked bands on tour. I was like, "Wait a second. If he can do this, then I could make a living doing this. Alright, I'm going to quit school, and I'm going to move to Chicago and work for a record label." A friend of mine who worked at the independent record store in Kansas City, Recycled Sounds, had gotten a job at Touch and Go. I hooked up with her and got an internship at Touch and Go, and my friend Rob Lowe who was in 90 Day Men was friends with the woman who owned Thrill Jockey, and I got an internship there. After two weeks of working [at Thrill Jockey] I got hired.
I was sort of a surreal because all of the sudden I got plunged into this world - I was talking to The Sea and Cake all the time, or people from Tortoise. It was totally different from where I came from in Kansas City. I also worked at a coffee shop and worked with people from Joan of Arc. It was weird being suddenly immersed in all this music that I had been interested in. What was really neat about Chicago and the independent music scene there was that it was really supportive.
I moved up there in '99, and I was there through the tail end of '99 through 2000. Thrill Jockey, Drag City, Touch and Go, Atavistic, Bloodshot, all of those labels were there and were cooperative, and kind of competitive. It was a really neat scene to be a part of. [At Thrill Jockey] I did both radio and video promotion, and then I did sales and advertising. There were only six of us.
Wow! That's surprising.
It is surprising. We were all in one big room. Bettina [Richards], the woman who owned [Thrill Jockey], had this big building in the Mexican neighborhood in Chicago. We were all in one big room with all of our desks faced in a circle. It was kind of weird because you had no privacy to do your business.
One of the best parts about working for an independent label was that you feel that you are really working for the music. So much of what happens goes directly to the artist. They have their say in everything. The packaging of their music, the way their music is portrayed and heard. I really appreciated that and could get behind that.