INTERVIEW: Orchid Tapes’ Warren Hildebrand on Art & Function

warren hildebrand


Zackary Kiebach had a quick chat with Warren Hildebrand of Orchid Tapes and Foxes in Fiction to talk about Orchid Tapes and Foxes in Fiction, the label-customer and label-artist relationships, and being more than just a record label.

Funeral Sounds: I’ve noticed a definite emphasis on visual aspects of all Orchid Tapes releases (e.g. the video loops accompanying Ontario Gothic, embossed J-cards, online presentation of products, etc.). How is that you might be curating physical releases differently than other labels, and why?

Warren Hildebrand: I think doing that is just a natural inclination that Brian and I have when we’re making decisions about the visual components of the label. We both studied different kinds of visual art while in college and talk a lot about the different ideas that we have and what we think looks good. Even before Brian and I were a couple and started running the label together, a lot of the original ideas I had for Orchid Tapes was to treat it more like an art project instead of a traditional label. And now I think we’re always trying to find ways to one-up ourselves in really beautiful and functional ways, without doing anything gimmicky.

FS: That makes sense! What I’ve always really dug about Orchid Tapes is the way it hops from medium to medium, even with the “Boring Ecstasy” fragrance you stock. It always seemed less like a record label and more like a rotating art project, which is great. Going back to its origins, how exactly did Orchid Tapes start? Did you and Brian begin the label with a set of pre-established principles, or did it grow on its own?

WH: Yeah I’ve always been really interested in the way that labels like Ghostly work in lots non-musical objects to the overall umbrella of the label.

I started it on my own in 2010 when I was still living in Toronto, two years before I moved to New York and started doing everything with Brian. There weren’t too many guiding principles in the early days, I just wanted to have my own platform to release my own music originally, but I quickly started meeting and becoming close with all the people that formed the original foundation of the label (Mat of Coma Cinema, Rachel of RL Kelly, Sam Ray, Dylan of HAPPY TRENDY, etc.). Things were really small-scale and low-stakes for a long time, it wasn’t even until the beginning of last year that we did our first vinyl release and started really working at things full time.

FS: I’ve noticed Orchid Tapes almost seems hyper-personalized — not only with the signed notes and guava candies included in your physical releases, but with your relationship to each artist on your roster. What do you gain from this collision between public and private spheres, in terms of yourself as the owner of an independent business? Is this harder to maintain as Orchid Tapes grows?

WH: I don’t know, I’ve been friends with most people on the label for as long as the label as existed so it’s never felt like there was much of a battle in maintaining that, even as people have moved on to other labels or projects. Things are just easier when it feels like everyone is friendly with each other. That kind of relationship with the people that support us and the stuff we put out is extremely important to me though, and I wanna maintain that element for as long as we can, no matter how much we continue to grow.

FS: Great! I was also wondering whether Orchid Tapes preceded Foxes in Fiction, or was Orchid Tapes originally an outlet for your personal projects? Also, I know you’ve generally used “healing pop” as a genre descriptor for Foxes in Fiction — would you extend this socially-progressive theme to other Orchid Tapes releases, or is each artist’s aim more individualized?

WH: Nah, I’ve been doing Foxes in Fiction stuff since about 2005 in various incarnations, I didn’t even have the idea for a label until about four years later. I can’t really speak for other people’s music or their intentions with it, but I’ve kind of stopped using that term as I’ve thought more about the function of music, and how all kinds can be healing for people in different ways, regardless of its creator’s original intention or genre or anything. At it’s core I hope that’s what all of the releases on Orchid Tapes can do for people in any sort of way, make them feel better and ease any amount of pain or confusion or anxiety they’re feeling in life.

FS: I definitely noticed it resonates with people in that way. I think it all goes back to the amount of thought and personality you put into each release – it’s really humanizing, and people are touched by that (including me)! Especially since now music depends so much on online marketing and PR, getting something personal like a guava candy can be pretty grounding in itself.

In the same way that the label as a whole is a very tightly-knit community, I noticed that same value almost extends to Ontario Gothic (in terms of how much collaboration we get on a lot of the tracks)! The really physical community behind Orchid Tapes seems really interesting when juxtaposed against all of the electronically manufactured sounds on the album, kind of reminding you music can be down-to-earth and “legitimate” while still pulling from non-physical instruments and textures. How is Foxes in Fiction, as another art project, built on this type of online yet still deeply personal community?

WH: I’m glad you think so! Yeah we have a pretty limited budget when it comes to a lot of that stuff so making sure things are personable really goes a long way, I think.

It’s not really. Up until that album all of my music was almost entirely recorded by myself without any kind of collaboration or outside involvement. It just got to the point that there were so many talented and amazing musicians in my life that I really wanted their contributions on the record, and I had the chance to record each person in my studio while we’re hanging out, aside from Owen’s string work. You can get really bored or self-conscious when you’re relying entirely on yourself when making music, having other people involved is just more enjoyable a lot of the time. And a lot of those people had already created music within the same kind of context of “electronic” music (Sam and Caroline working on songs together for Ricky Eat Acid) so it never felt like a reach.

FS: Makes sense! Last two questions I wanted to ask are pretty simple — why the title “Ontario Gothic?” Also, what is the context of the video loops included with the album?

WH: I thought the title connected well with a lot of the things I was writing about on the album and how it related to my experience growing up in Ontario, it was something I was holding onto for a couple years just because I really like the combination of words and how it looked on paper, but it ended up being a really perfect and appropriate title.

Those are just some treated video clips I filmed on my iPhone last summer and originally used for the stream of the album, I thought it’d be cool to include them with the download of the album just so people could have some sort of visual association with the music. I stretched that idea out and filmed a full video for the album too.

Zackary Kiebach

About Zackary Kiebach

UC Berkeley English undergrad and intern at McSweeney's. Used to work at a cupcake shop, but now masterminds math-pop confections under Talk, Tired Thanatoid.

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