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Scenes from the fringe: IAMSOUND's Paul Tao on their 'L.A. Collection' series [UPDATED]

February 19, 2010 |  4:51 pm


Last year, we deemed IAMSOUND Records to be the bee’s knees in local independent labels. Yet strangely, they were best known for releases by British sirens like Little Boots and New York electro acts like Telepathe.

This year, with the inauguration of its "L.A. Collection" series, the label is re-upping its commitment to the Los Angeles fringe, with a limited-run, split 7-inch series featuring A-list L.A. bands such as Local Natives, Fool's Gold, Nosaj Thing and Dead Man’s Bones, alongside rising newcomers such as Rainbow Arabia and Pocahaunted. The first edition, featuring sultry disco purveyors We Are the World, came out on Tuesday.

We talked to the label's manager Paul Tao -- seen above with founder Niki Roberton -- to find out what the series says about our sprawling, ever-shifting music scene.

What were you trying to document in this series, and how did you get the idea for it?

We came up with it last year. We’re an L.A. label, but there seemed to be a lot of confusion about where we were from -- we’d been releasing a lot of U.K. and New York stuff lately. When you think of New York, you think of the Strokes and Interpol, and L.A. doesn’t have a really cohesive scene or sound like that. We wanted to do something to bring all sides of L.A. together and show the full diversity of what the city has to offer. It’s not all just bearded guitar bands or electro or Smell scene kids -- there’s a lot more than people think. 

Is there any overarching theme or shared L.A. value in these songs?

I wouldn’t say there’s a theme; we just wanted people to realize all the great music that’s just around the corner. I found out that literally half these bands are like within two miles of my house, and I never knew it. The artwork does something similar -- all the covers are designed by three local artists, Ingrid Allen and Elisa Saether and Aaron Rose. They show different scenes from L.A., like the Smell and a fruit stand in Echo Park, and when you put them together they add up to one big portrait of the city.

Most of these songs are new material. Were you surprised by what anyone turned in?

I was surprised at how eager people were to do it. Like Dead Man’s Bones -- that’s Ryan Gosling’s band. We thought he’d be busy, you know? But he was like, “Here’s a song, take it!” because he thought it was a cool project. 

The 7-inch seems to be having a moment now -- it’s a perfect distillation of the vinyl revival and pop’s singles culture. Why was the format important to you?

Most fans have so much more music on their computers than they could ever reasonably listen to. Vinyl stores like Origami and Vacation are doing so well because people really want to collect music and get back to the origins of where it came from. In the U.K., there’s still a thriving singles culture -- a band will sell thousands of 7-inches -- and it seemed to go along perfectly with our philosophies on L.A. music.

Are you trying to recapture that idea that fans will buy a record just because a favorite label put it out and they trust a label’s taste?

That’s exactly what we’re trying to do with this. You look at a label like Decca; you trust them in whatever they put out. We only release three or four albums and a few singles a year, so everything we do is a passion project and people respond to that, even if it’s electro, pop, rock or world music. I’ve heard back from so many people about the series where they didn’t think they’d like a band, but they tried it and surprised themselves.

-- August Brown

[UPDATED: Paul Tao is the label's manager, not it's co-founder]

IAMSOUND will host a showcase of the art and artists seen in the "L.A. Collection” series at Space 1520 in June. Photo by Jennie Warren.