Inspired by their own pent-up creativity during the pandemic, two Richmond musicians have joined forces to form an eclectic, energetic record label.
Musicians typically spend evenings in crowded spaces, either playing shows or watching friends play shows. Or they’re traveling the country, bringing their sounds to eager new audiences. However, due to the ongoing global pandemic, none of these things have been possible for the better half of 2020.
So what do you do when you and your friends are unemployed, stuck at home, and full of creative energy? If you’re anything like local musicians Kevin McCormick and Will Fennessey, you launch a record label.
McCormick — who has played in a wide variety of local bands, including the straightforward hardcore outfit Black Button; Comfort, a shoegaze band that explored rich sound textures; and Alice Blue, a delicate slowcore project — recalled the novel experiences that stemmed from the isolation and boredom brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. He said he’d often find himself awake at dawn, having been up all night.
“I would be on my porch and text the group chat ‘birds again’ every morning when the birds came back out,” McCormick said.
“Birds again” became an inside joke among those in McCormick’s group chat, which included Fennessey, a member several local bands including the synth-punk quintet Teenage Cenobite; Slump, purveyors of a distinctively psychedelic brand of punk; and Keep, which has been delivering loud, reverb-drenched shoegaze for the better part of a decade now.
The phrase is now being used as the name of a record label McCormick and Fennessey are launching, with the goal of disseminating the music and art of friends they’ve made during their time as participants in Richmond’s flourishing music scene. Birds Again will be putting out their first release, an eponymous tape from local krautrock group DMO, on Dec. 18.
“[Birds Again] gives us a center to pour all of our stuff into,” Fennessey said. “I know that having a label — no matter how big they are — push you in some way is always just a good feeling as an artist. Hopefully we can be that for our friends and for ourselves, motivate everyone and make a snowball effect of musicians and artists that we’ve collected in our friendships.”
Given that McCormick and Fennessey play such a wide range of sounds in the bands they belong to, it probably won’t surprise anyone when they say Birds Again will feature an eclectic array of releases. The duo said that they’re big fans of other local labels like 11 PM Records, Vinyl Conflict Records, and Feel It Records, but they’re eager to create an entity that is not limited by genre, a space that just about any form of music or art can call home.
“I like all the labels that are locally based, but a lot of them are focused on one particular sound or particular style,” McCormick said. “The idea was just to kind of make a place where music that’s outside of what is traditionally propagated in Richmond can have a home.”
Fennessey said he became inspired to create a label free from the bounds of genre when Citrus City Records, a small tape label started in Richmond but now based in Brooklyn, New York, released music from his band Keep.
“Citrus City, at that point, put out music from Crumb, Vundabar, and Camp Howard, cool indie bands that are really unique in their own way, but still nothing like rock,” Fennessey said. “Something Citrus City champions is a lot of weird bands, you never know what you’re going to get with Citrus City. I think that’s cool and we kind of want to pull from that.”
This notion is particularly evident in Birds Again’s first release, DMO’s self-titled album. The band was born when shoegaze band Comfort underwent a lineup change, and with it, a change in sound. With players drawing from a range of influences from ambient to feedback-ridden psychedelia, DMO presents a decidedly krautrock sound. But it’s the penchant for repetition and a determination to push the limits of what’s possible with a guitar that gives DMO their unique sound.
“The guitar is pretty played out at this point,” said McCormick, who plays guitar in the band. “But we’re trying to find new ways to use a guitar; we’re trying to see if there’s anything else.”
Repetition adds an aspect of temporality to the album. Listening to DMO brings more than just what you hear, it’s also about experiencing change throughout the duration of the music and developing a relationship with dynamic textures and harmonies.
“One time after a show, somebody said that we played the same riff for so long that it started to sound mythical,” McCormick said.
“Or it sounds like a new riff,” Fennessey added. “It’s like an optical illusion, an auditory illusion.”
DMO will be released by Birds Again on Dec. 18, accompanied by a video Fennessey produced (above). Unlike more traditional labels, Birds Again will place heavy emphasis on the art that’s being released with music.
“All of our friends have something outside of music that they do,” McCormick said. “Long term, I want to start incorporating those other things … if you have a project, we can just put it out there, whether it’s poetry, photography, any type of art.”
Powered by a seemingly endless supply of creative energy, Birds Again plans on pooling together the music and art of friends they’ve made in the music scene throughout the years, giving a platform to work that might not otherwise find a home.
Top Photo: DMO, via Bandcamp