What’s a Why? Records: Q&A with an up and coming label
All Photo by Harley Foos, taken at the Why? Records Launch Show at The Hideout
Ya’ll could just have formed a more informal artist collective, but you decided to go all the way and make a label. What is new and what will be different going forward as a label versus the “collab” nature of ya’lls relationships up to now? What can you do with the label that you cant do without?
Malci: We made a label because we felt like there was no reason not to, at least in my opinion. The whole point of signing to a label was to relieve ourselves of things like promo, tour scheduling and merch, but we were already doing all of those things. Aside from that, Why? makes art like nobody else in Chicago and we want to foster that lane we are in for other creatives with similar mindsets. It’s early for our label right now, but when we have more resources a future goal would be to help push other artists like we push ourselves– whereas a collective just insulates all of its energy to itself, I think everyone in Why? wants to give back to the communities and the artists that helped us to where we are now.
Ruby: I think that we operate as a collective in just as many was as we operate as a Label proper, but to us I think it just made sense to be a label because we have intentions of keeping our operation as self sufficient as possible. So if we’re going to be handling all the production and distribution of our records on our own we might as well be a label.
How do you think Why? Records will be different from other local labels?
Ruby: There’s no other rappers in the city that sound like us, work like us, and work with the same level of intention. The difference is in the name, we ask Why? at every junction.
Joshua: A part of choosing to be called “Why?” was to always be questioning our reasoning, our process, and the meaning of our music. We understand we don’t have all the answers. Like, we ask ourselves challenging questions and view the label not just as a media outlet, but a tool for personal growth and collective change. I feel that the more traction and recognition we receive, the harder the questions we ask ourselves will become. Like, clout is power, so what are we doing with our power? Are we using it to beef ourselves up or to stimulate and support an artistic community?
So far you have digital and cassettes releases. Do you have plans to release on CD or vinyl?
Ruby: We’ll be releasing the Davis album Green Parakeet Suite on CD, and for Vinyl we don’t have any plans as of now.
Davis: As someone who collects vinyl myself it would be dope to have some of our own tunes on wax.
In the Chicago Reader article on Why? Records Leor Galil said “Virtue describes the label as ‘an insulated cell.’” Are you going to release other artists other than the main crew in the future? If so, what will be the flavor of artists you are looking for? You know like Sooper is the weird cats, Diversion Records is the indie/alt/dreamy birds, No Trend is the dancy punk wolfs, so uh, I guess, what silly off the cuff adjective noun combo are yall?
Joshua: Uh, maybe a crosspoint between introspection and cool jazz hip hop hype? Fuck man, I don’t know. It’s a tough question to answer but I like to say we are children of Doom. We love the lo-fi flavors and we like to say confusing shit. I feel like stream of thought is one of the things that brings us together—starting setting a vibe and then allowing that vibe to craft its own story.
Davis: I don’t know obviously at the moment we are currently pushing 100% Hip-Hop and 100% our releases. It would be nice to get on some Stones Throw shit and just go in every possible direction musically/ sonically with what we’re putting out through the label in the future. This whole thing is still in its infancy tho, can’t really predict how shit’ll turn out.
Ruby: I don’t know about this one! I think for now we’re definitely focused on the four of us and our projects, but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of releasing other artists’ projects in the future, it just depends. And uh, I would probably call us the weirdo rap label.
What has been or what do you foresee as the most challenging aspect of starting a record label?
Joshua: I second guap and everything. There so much information to keep track of. We have our own deadlines to meet. We have other people’s deadlines to meet cough Sick Muse cough. It’s nice having a group so the pressure is never on one person but when you’re running a label, there’s constantly new shit to organize. I think we all love it though. We’re definitely a workaholic tribe.
Davis: Unfortunately cash is king so…
Ruby: Literally everything. We started this not knowing a damn thing about what we’re doing, but thanks to people like Frances Farlee (our manager and intern at Sooper Records) and Glen Curran, we’ve been able to tackle each new challenge fairly easily.
How have y’all approached navigating new relationships as business partners coinciding with your relationships as artists and friends?
Malci: It’s felt very natural and I think that’s due to us all having similar visions and being friends first and foremost. It’s easier to discuss a conflict or a problem when everyone in the room respects each other’s opinion.
Joshua: Shit is like water pretty much. It just flows. Me and Davis have been friends for years so we can challenge one another without much friction. And me and Sam started Free Snacks very soon after we met so I feel like we all value one another’s perspectives and ideas. We have no leader really, it’s all an even playing field. Also our manager, Frances helps to keep us organized
Do you hope to interface with more Chicago local artist, musicians, and performers?
Malci: We are all so infused with the local scene, I think it would be impossible for us to not interface with the rest of the community.
Joshua: Absolutely! We all have our favorites and inspirations in the scene. If I’m keeping it real, I would also say we’re pretty top heavy with “cis dude” energy right now and I would personally like to incorporate a more diverse core of marginalized voices to raise up. I would love to have more femmes and non-black POC involved with Why? Records. There’s not particularly any excuse for not having that already but we’re already composed of who we’re composed of. It’s also kind of strange working this scene and building relationships with people who later discover are on fuck shit? It’s a lot. But art is meant to be shared and processed and to inform the way in which we conduct ourselves in society so if we didn’t interface with other artists there would be no point to this other than, like, capital gain.
Davis: From the jump for me at least this whole thing has been about community. We have all either collectively or individually played shows with, connected with, seeked guidance from, etc. many people within the Chicago music/arts scene, whether that be the south side punks at Rancho or fucking with elder figures like Rahim Salaam or Rich Jones. It’s impossible to thrive in this city as an artist without incorporating and instilling within yourself with a sense of community.
Ya’ll planning a Why? Records tour?
Joshua: Free Snacks and Malci are going on tour at the end of August.