Q&A: Grimalkin Records members and manager Nancy Kells explain collective’s mission and background

Grimalkin Records, a music and zine collective based out of Richmond, Virginia, is relatively new. With three releases in 2018 and several lined up for 2019, however, the collective is already working hard.

Grimalkin is not genre-based, instead focusing on releasing and promoting music by queer people of color (QPOC). The label itself is run by a group of ten queer, mostly POC, folks. Because of the lack of genre, Grimalkin’s releases fall across the musical spectrum, and it seems that each release is more unique than the last.

Collective facilitator and manager Nancy Kells, along with three of the collective’s nine other members, was kind enough to answer questions about Grimalkin over email, and their answers reveal an inclusive, enthusiastic community that comprises Grimalkin Records.

Grimalkin Records’ logo, courtesy of Nancy Kells. 

Indientry: How are you?

Nancy: Very well and thank you for giving us this opportunity to speak with you!

What are some of your favorite sounds, genres and artists?

Liz: I love lots of different genres and sounds, but I’d have to say folk/alt and prog/art rock are probably closest to my heart. I was raised on Kate Bush, Genesis, Police, some Celtic folk music, and Rush (I’m Very White haha), so my tastes progressed naturally from there growing up until I discovered and fell in love with jazz and R&B. I think I’m a little all over the place; I truly do love all music.

Mabel: I grew up listening to a lot of hip-hop, emo, and music from Japanese anime and video games, and have occasional bouts of being really into black metal or grindcore. I’m also not too embarrassed to admit that a lot of my listening time is devoted to BTS.

Quinn: I’m a huge fan of old Casio/Yamaha keyboards and toy instruments. I’m also obsessed with general midi and video game sound fonts. My favorite artists are usually somewhere around synthpop or indie rock: Owl City, Lemon Demon, Tally Hall, Jamie Paige. I branch out a lot too, with stuff like Wolfgun or Ashby and the Oceanns.

Can you tell me a little bit about Grimalkin and the collective? Nancy, what was your inspiration for starting a collective?

Nancy: Grimalkin Records is a queer- and mainly POC-run label collective. We are 10 collective members so far and all of us are all queer women, nb/ngc/agender folx or trans men. Grimalkin Records is pretty new and we have 3 cassette releases out in 2018 and have a bunch lined up for 2019. You do not need to be in the collective to release with us and we are not genre focused. Rather, we focus on releasing music by queer people with priority to QPOC. You can learn more about the collective here. Most of our releases are benefit releases, so proceeds go to individuals in need or to an organization, collective or non-profit local to the artist and of their choosing.

We originally started out as Friends For Equality after the November 2016 US election and passing of Brexit in the UK. What began as a small benefit compilation project between two friends has now evolved into Grimalkin Records, a benefit label and queer artist collective. I was personally driven by the desire to create and nurture a safe and supportive space for people to release music, play and organize shows, create zines and artwork, and to collaborate with each other and also like-minded folx outside the collective.

For other members, what inspired you to join and/or release with Grimalkin?

Liz: I was inspired by the prospect of a model of creating and promoting music that felt collaborative, safe, and supportive. When it comes down to it, the most important thing about making music (or art in general) for me is communication and community, and that’s at the heart of Grimalkin. The importance/necessity of money can’t be ignored in our society, but I have faith that sales and awareness will grow organically from a strong foundation of passion and communal support.

Mabel: A friend on the label, Kate, told me what Grimalkin was about – namely, releasing a lot of music by queers and women, and giving back to good charities – and it seemed like an obvious fit for me.

Quinn: I got frustrated with how isolated my music production process was, so I set out to find a group of folks to share inspiration with and maybe get a little cross-promotion going.

How do you reach out to artists to release their work on your label?

Nancy: My hope is that collective members will naturally know people or have friends who’d like to release — just building a community and supporting our talented friends. The people I’ve asked to join or release with us are people I’ve seen play live or have played with in Womajich Dialyseiz. I have met a few people on Twitter or through organizing benefit compilations as well which is great. Sometimes people will reach out to me or the label via email; that’s how Quinn joined us. So Kate is from Guayanilla, Puerto Rico and Berko is from Baltimore; Mabel is in Philly, and Quinn is in Springfield, MO. It’s really cool to have people elsewhere and our collective is branching outside of RVA. I envision Grimalkin one day as supporting small music communities in various places. I know that’s lofty, but I can dream. We encourage people to reach out to us though.

What does the daily behind-the-scenes work look like?

Nancy: Logistically, everyone in the collective pitches in when they can with a variety of things in whatever ways they feel they can; whether that means helping other individual members or the label as a whole, it’s all part of the same body. There’s no pressure on how much anyone does — people do what they can when they have time for it. I manage the daily running of the label and facilitate the activities, releases and projects that the collective is involved in. I handle most of the day-in, day-out tasks such as email, promotion, press, social media, booking and organizing shows, mailing and organizing of orders. In addition to that, they purchase everything needed for the label, hand dub the tapes, and payout proceeds to the various organizations we support. In addition, my day job and all proceeds from my releases on Grimalkin and my personal Bandcamp fund the physical releases for the label.

Why the name Grimalkin?

Nancy: I love cats. It’s an archaic word for cat. It’s also a word used in association with witches and their familiars. It also means a spiteful old woman. I was drawn to the word for all those reasons and it seemed fitting to describe not only me but the collective at large.

What’s the best or most gratifying or exciting thing about running the collective?

Nancy: Seeing collaboration between people and collaborating with others in and outside of the collective is huge for me personally. I thrive off of seeing ideas come to life and being able to facilitate an opportunity for someone or between people. I love making things happen and helping others have their music released in a physical format. I also love seeing people’s music get more notice and attention. Although promotion can be daunting and tedious, I love seeing it pay off when our releases get some kind of write-up or coverage which leads to people who never heard of it previously discovering and falling in love with it like we have. Raising money for non-profits and organizing the benefit shows is also satisfying. It’s always a positive and therapeutic thing to come together with other people in your community to do something good for others in the community. Building relationships with others is the other big one for me. Coming together and joining forces, bridging music and activism.

Liz: Putting on benefit shows that feel more like parties with friends has been extremely nourishing. It’s a wonderful feeling to play a show or sell a record and know that the proceeds are going to help fellow friend or organization’s cause. Again, it’s about supporting each other.

Mabel: Not feeling like I’m charging ahead alone.

Quinn: I’m still really new, so I’m still excited to get to know everyone here and try out some new things with the skills I can offer (podcasting!).

What are some upcoming releases that you’re excited about, either on your label or others’?

Nancy: I get excited about all our releases. I hope people will go check everything we have out already. Liz’s music (Elizabeth Owens/psych & folk rock) is one of the best albums of 2018 hands down. MELVL is amazing dark ambient with vocals. MEVL is Martina’s project (they’re also a Grimalkin member). Kate Can Wait (dark folk) is another album we have out. She’s also one of our members. Madison Turner (pop & folk punk) is a collaborative release between us and Close By Air, her label. Womajich Dialyseiz is a femme improv and noise collective that several of us are in, and lastly, I have a Spartan Jet-Plex album out on the label,. I describe my music as trip folk or dark folk. Berko (another collective member) and I just dropped our collaborative project “MERGE” on April 12. It’s truly a blending of our sounds. It’s dream pop mixed with experimental dance. On May 10, we have Petridisch. It’s pretty difficult to pinpoint but I will go with minimalist droner classical pop with synth and guitar. That’s a collaborative release between Grimalkin and their label, Fish Prints. Don’t do it, Neil will be out late June. I’ll describe her sound as bedroom pop with R&B and electronic dance music mixed in. The Doll will be out in July. It’s a release of live sets and she does experimental type noise music. Then in August, we’re releasing The Hunting Dog. They do amazing experimental and ambient type music with vocal samples. It’s so hard to describe but it is truly special and unique. She’s from RVA and I fell in love with her music when I first saw her live and am truly excited we are releasing her music. We also have Aesthetic Barrier, another RVA band and good friends of ours. They do experimental synth type music, or “trans fem synth sludge,” as they describe it. They are also amazing live. We hope to get their album out in September and Liz and I are working on a documentary about them and their process and live shows. Kosmo (half of Aesthetic Barrier) creates and puts on incredible clown-esque and very intricate makeup before performing and we want to show their process for that, and then Persephone (the other half of AB) writes beautiful and thought-provoking poetry for this project and for her own music. Both have several other projects and are just two very talented people and we want to highlight that. They are also inspirational people in general and both work daily to smash the gender binary in and out of their music. I’m a huge fan and very excited that we’re releasing their music soon.

Mabel: Aqua Girl! is working on a new album and I know, along with my own album, it’s gonna be the best thing to come out this year. I’m also planning to curate a benefit comp with Grimalkin, which’ll probably be the third best release this year.

Quinn: Honestly I’m waiting on the edge of my seat for the new Don’t Do It, Neil album!

Is there anything else about the label that you think people should know?

Nancy: We have big dreams, and eventually plan to be able to pay artists and musicians stipends to help with releases and shows and provide cassette packages for musicians to promote and sell on their own platforms.

We are always looking for more folks to join our family and are especially in need of people who thrive on promotional/outreach work and social media (if anyone’s interested *hint hint*)! We are also always looking for more community organizations, artists, collectives, and labels to collaborate with and are always open to new ideas. If you think you’re a good fit for our collective or would like to put out a release with us, please email grimalkinrecords@gmail.com.

Mabel: Grimalkin has so much good talent. It’s just a matter of time before everyone’s paying attention.

Quinn: We’re super open and approachable, and we’re always looking for new stuff!

Check out Grimalkin Records’ latest release, a collaboration between Berko Lover and Spartan Jet-Plex titled “MERGE,” below.

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