Looking for dreamy tunes to soundtrack summer hangouts? We thought you might be!
Check this exclusive mix from independent Brooklyn-based music label Mexican Summer–the brain trust which popularized Best Coast and Washed Out a few years back–compiled by the man in charge, Keith Abrahamsson. The music is a blend of the beautiful and the strange. You will find rock, pop and electronic music. Old styles and new ones.
And it all goes together fluidly.
If you like what you hear, we recommend spending more time with Mexican Summer and its sister labels Anthology and Software. In our opinion, Abrahamsson and his crew are 100% trustable.
We spoke to Abrahamsson on the phone about getting style advice from his wife, the future of the music biz and the best swimming hole in New York.
And we had him take a few photos of his desk, so you know what it looks like to steer the good ship Mexican Summer.
Image by Keith Abrahamsson
Andrew Matson, Nordstrom blog editor: In 2015, why does it seem like a good idea to run a music label? It’s not a good way to make money and kind of a scary thing to do.
Keith Abrahamsson: I don’t have a good answer for you, except it’s what I love to do. We’re looking for other ways to make money, too. Music is a tough biz, as you say. We don’t want to stop putting records out. That’s why we’re in this. But we’re looking at other ways to expand. We’re going to consider doing a lot more books next year, and events. Things like that. “Brand building,” as it were.
I can hear that it’s painful for you to say “brand building.”
Yeah. But definitely necessary.
Can you share any details about the books and events?
At the moment I have to keep it low. But information is coming soon. In terms of events, we do a recurring cultural event in Marfa, TX, with the creative hub out there called Ballroom Marfa. They bring in a lot of the gallery shows and live music events and films. We’ve been doing a multi-discipline event with artists in residency. We did an opening with L.A. artist Sam Falls last year. We’ve been doing live music programming and film programming. So we’ve been doing that with them, Ballroom Marfa. That’s going to happen again next March.
Especially with those doings and happenings, Mexican Summer lives up to what I’m looking for in a label, which is an aesthetic and a vibe, something with a personality. More than just a name that puts out dissociated records that don’t have anything to do with each other.
That’s exactly right, I couldn’t’ve said it better.
I look to know a label as a person.
You want it to be humanized, yeah. That’s part of what’s so appealing about social media, too, particularly Instagram, is you get a window into a human being rather than a company.
We’re selling your wife’s sunglasses. Does she use you as a model in the house?
No. No, she does not. There isn’t that much overlap in our creative endeavors. She’s so busy, and what she does is so specific and not really very related to what we do. We’re both really supportive of each other. I think what she does is amazing. But there have been times when she’s helped me as a stylist for certain artists on the label, if I needed help pulling clothes for a photo or video shoot. But for the most part we’re both busy and keep out of each other’s day-to-day. We come together when we’re home and just talk about it.
The artist Tamaryn’s music is really great, and on your roster I would say she in particular seems like a candidate for a commercial breakthrough. I know you had success in that way with Best Coast. Do you think about earning potential when you propose working with musicians?
It’s never the driving motivation. First and foremost, you want to be in love with their art and process and work ethic. If there is a level of commercialism that can come with that, fantastic. We put out a lot of records that could be called difficult. That aren’t commercial at all. Tamaryn, through this stretch of three records we’ve done together, it’s been an evolution. The new record definitely is the one that could make the largest impact, commercially. That’s been a very gradual process. We didn’t look at her in that light when we signed her.
Do the Best Coast releases provide a financial anchor for the company?
Of course. When records do well, that’s what we’re anchored by. Having a record like Best Coast enables us to do a lot of the more adventurous stuff. Certainly having records like Best Coast or Washed Out, or even Tamaryn is doing really well for us, it’s all significant. We also have a really deep catalog, so that helps sustain us.
You’ve put out a lot of material. You’re active.
That’s they way we like it.
Image by Keith Abrahamsson
I listened to this Poolside mix in my friend’s hot tub. We didn’t have a pool available. But I was surprised that even stuff like Suicideyear, which I feel is pretty goth-y, worked nicely with a mojito.
That’s cool. I didn’t know you were going to take it quite so literally.
Also, I really like the Fresh & Onlys song on there. I saw them as Rodriguez’s backing band.
Oh you saw that? That’s really cool. They backed him early on. They don’t do it anymore. That’s awesome that you saw that; I never saw them perform with him. Those guys have so much feel. They’re just incredibly soulful guys, as people and as players. I’m sure that was amazing. I’ve seen video, but probably nothing like the real thing. I love those guys and love that band.
I’m sure you wear a lot of hats in your job. Do you consider yourself a label head, A&R, publicist?
Titles over here are ambiguous. A&R, creative director and cofounder. That’s my role here.
As an A&R, do you get to do whatever you want? Or can someone tell you: Keith, this is a bad idea.
Sure there is. I want to have that. You need that filter. Andrés [Santo Domingo] is that for me. He’s really sharp. But throughout the A&R process, we have a couple other folks on staff with great ears. It’s always nicer to have a collective approach to things. It’s not just me working these records. So you want everyone to be excited about every project, ideally.
Do you find, ever, that you’re the only label interested in a particular act? Or is there always some competing or jostling for position with other interested labels?
I’ve experienced both, for sure. It’s case by case. Depends if you’re going after something with a profile or some unknown thing that you found out, by being at a show, or online. The last artist we worked with that nobody was approaching besides us would probably be La Hell Gang. Even though a good friend of mine at another label hipped me to them. A lot of the archival stuff we’re doing, we’re getting to ahead of anybody. Particularly the Surf Archive, which is all vintage surf soundtracks. We’ve been doing a lot of those reissues.
Weyes Blood is another one. She had put out a record before us, but was sort of floating out in the ether. I think she’s incredible. Strangely, Connan Mockasin was really slept on in the U.S. I don’t know how. Ashrae Fax, too. They’re another one. They put some music out in the late ’90s and early 2000s. We approached them and it turned out they had a record in the can that wasn’t quite completed, and our connecting with them motivated them to finish it. So we put that out.
With Anthology, was there another reissue label that started you thinking that would be a good idea?
It’s interesting, Anthology, because I started it 9 years ago. The reissue market is really oversaturated now but it wasn’t then. We didn’t have Spotify. iTunes wasn’t covering the world of more obscure, out-of-print material. I launched it as a digital-only label. We had some success with it, and at its peak we had over 1,000 titles. But it wasn’t a sustainable business, in the end. I really wish we had made physical releases. We had to fold the label in 2010 and brought it back about a year and a half ago under Mexican Summer. Sorry, that doesn’t answer your question.
It’s OK. I feel like with reissues, they’re almost like coffee table books. The physical is crucial.
I think it’s becoming more crucial in general, and that speaks to your earlier question about the music industry and it dying. I think it’ll stay around. Most people want to stream music now. And if people want to own it, they want a luxury piece. And vinyl is that thing. Or a box set with a book in it. If they’re going to come out of pocket for it, it has to be really good.
In general, I think physical records are important. And I’m 38, so it might be a generational thing. That’s the way I listen to music. I mean, I have a Spotify account. But I listen to records. And I think kids do, too, man. Vinyl is on the rise. You’re seeing more bigger box chains exploring the idea of bringing vinyl in. I think there’s definitely an audience that wants something tangible. But I think it has to be well-curated and thoughtful.
What’s an example of an act that you were really hoping would work with Mexican Summer and then they worked with a different label?
I have a lot of those heartbreak stories. Ariel Pink. That was a heartbreaker, for sure. We put out a single with him in 2008. He had already put out a bunch of music, but was not what he is now, the figurehead of a whole generation of bands. He’s transcended. That was a painful one. There’s definitely other ones. That’s just part of the game. But we’re all in the same situation. At least I think so. There’s definitely a competitive streak, but I’m friends with tons of people at labels. Captured Tracks and Sacred Bones, people at Light in the Attic. People at Secretly Canadian. They’re all great people. But sometimes you’re going after the same thing.
When all’s said and done, how do you want Mexican Summer to be known?
I don’t know, man. I’m reading the 4AD book now, and I would never want to sit here and pose and be so self-important to say that we would ever be in a situation where we’d have a book written about us. But I’d love to be looked back upon that fondly, and have people trust us and buy things because our label was on it. To have put out important stuff.
Second to last question: You’ve been all around the world. Where’s your favorite place to swim?
My favorite place to swim is upstate. We hike to this swimming hole right outside of Hunter. My favorite place to swim, for sure. It’s called Kaaterskill Creek. I probably just blew up my spot by telling you that.
Last question: When you’re outside, do you listen to music on a Bluetooth device?
No, man. I’m not one of those kinds of people. I like to be in the moment and hear what’s around me. On the subway I don’t listen to headphones. I do a lot of running, and I don’t listen to headphones then, either. I don’t know. I listen to a lot of music at work and at home. In my house I have a living room with a stereo and no TV. I guess I just don’t need a soundtrack to everything I do.