As the music industry continues its forward plunge into the murky waters of streaming hegemony, artists continue to look for ways to maneuver within this constantly shifting space. Certain artists offer limited quantities of their art at a premium price, some spurn major label deals entirely, others put an emphasis on merch or touring.
This isn’t a genre-specific phenomenon either. Across the musical spectrum, artists are changing the business of music on their own terms.
As Negative Gemini, real name Lindsey French, and Clanton rise as artists in their own right, they are also taking on the mantle of label heads. It’s a lot to take on, but when I spoke to French and Clanton a couple of weeks ago over the phone I could sense a palpable feeling of liberation and excitement.
In between a stay in New Orleans, where Lindsey finished her recent Bad Baby EP, an American tour, and an inevitable return to New York, Clanton and French were staying at Lindsey’s childhood home when I caught up with them to talk about their new music, their live shows, and their 100% Electronica label.
French’s most recent EP, Bad Baby, a 6-song collection displaying her intriguing combination of ambient, levitated lyrics with throbbing drum and bass instrumentation, came out in January.
When I ask French about the process behind Bad Baby as opposed to her previous release, Body Work, she tells me it was all about getting back to basics:
“I feel like Body Work was really about me coming into my own as a producer and then, and then Bad Baby was more — I’m always trying to shift my process and kind of like reintroduce things that I use to do. So Bad Baby was kind of more about reintroducing how I started making music in the first place, which was songwriting using a guitar, just starting with bare bones and working from that, rather than focusing on the production so much.”
The results on Bad Baby are clear. Off the strength of the EP, French and Clanton are touring packed, raucous shows up and down the Eastern seaboard right now.
The couple get especially excited when talking about their tour and live shows in general, Clanton told me about first seeing his now girlfriend when she was in a rap group years ago:
“I just think we’re really good at [performing]. Lindsey is a natural performer. The first time I saw Lindsey, I was scared of her because she was in a rap group like, years ago and I–she was on stage like, screaming obscenities at people…I don’t know she’s always been a performer. I’ve been a performer.”
Clanton went on to describe the sensation of performing his songs as people shout the lyrics back at him. As he struggled to find the right word for the sensation, French offered up “feedback loop.”
Satisfied with this nomenclature, Clanton expanded on the feedback loop between himself and the audience, telling me that he’s begun making new music with his live show in mind:
“It’s a feedback loop that’s just getting more and more intense. The shows are really good and as a result a lot of people are coming. That makes us put more effort into it and then, as a result more people come and the audience just gets crazier and we get crazier. It’s like a frenzy. I can’t speak for Lindsey, but for me, the live shows are the main focus now and I’m writing my new music to make the live experience more extreme.”
The idea that an artist would write new music specifically for live shows is fascinating to me, but Clanton and French are clearly inspired by the reception they’ve been getting while on tour. Clanton, who is now recording under his full name as opposed to his previous ESPRIT 空想 moniker, told me his new batch of songs, which he had been recording right up until we jumped on a call, are his best batch of songs yet.
French described her surprise, and excitement, at people in small American towns showing out and knowing all the words to her songs. When I ask about the difference between the audience reaction in New York as opposed to smaller cities like their native Richmond, Virginia, French says it’s a lot easier to get people from small towns engaged, at least openly, with their music,
“You know what? It’s a lot easier to get people riled up outside of New York. People in New York, you know, they’ve seen it all, they don’t give a shit. But people in small towns are like waiting for something exciting to happen, waiting for someone they know to come through. So those are the ones that are really more insane.”
Live shows and good music are great, but artists need the proper backing and distribution to get their music to fans. That’s where their 100% Electronica label comes in, which French and Clanton started in September 2015 in conjunction with Clanton’s album of the same name. I ask about the inspiration behind starting their label and whether they felt they were filling a sort of void in the industry.
“It was purely out of necessity,” French tells me. “We both had music that we were working on and we were like, ‘Okay well what do we do with this?'”
Clanton went on to say that 100% Electronica in part came out of discussions with indie labels and realizing they offered very little, if anything, that he couldn’t do himself.
The couple run 100% Electronica with little to no help but are still able to operate as musicians and label heads at the same time. French thinks this is an exciting trend for the possibilities that artists have at their disposal now:
“I think it’s a completely new thing for the music industry. Like, this time right now where you can have like a reasonable amount of success independently of major labels. “
When it comes to building a roster beyond Negative Gemini and George Clanton, the couple doesn’t have the time to do serious A&R to find new artists. Instead, they rely on a completely organic process. Clanton described how they find new music:
“We don’t search. It’s either going to like fall into our lap by accident or not at all. So our latest album is a guy from New Zealand who sent us a care package with a lovely letter and some cassettes inside of it.”
When 100% Electronica brings in a new artist, they sort of acquire Negative Gemini and Clanton’s fans. Clanton explained that this is the best quality of their label:
“The bulk of our label power extends from what can we do as artists to give people who haven’t been heard a head start. So, by introducing them to our fanbase, which can kind of like, you know we would hope that they could meet and exceed our fanbase.”
It’s a pretty cool idea, and one that may signal the direction labels are heading and possibilities for artists in the future. Why entrust your art to a larger entity when you have all the resources at your disposal? Or, as French puts it,
“I get to make sure that I’m giving myself exposure and opportunities and not putting [my career] in the hands of somebody who might just be fucking off while I’m paying them $1,000 a month.”
Catch Negative Gemini and George Clanton at an upcoming live show, French is adding dates to her ongoing tour and set for a European tour in the fall and watch out for that new (best ever) George Clanton.