Carrboro label Sleepy Cat Records elevates laid-back camaraderie to its biggest label showcase yet


Sleepyfest 2022 ft. Blue Cactus, Chessa Rich, Joseph Decosimo, Libby Rodenbough, Lou Hazel, Magic Al, Nightblooms, Owen FitzGerald, Sunsp.t, T. Gold and Tripper & Askers

Down Yonder Farm, Hillsborough | Saturday October 22, 12 p.m. – 11 p.m. | Tickets start at $35


Major record companies are usually built around a central organizing principle. For some labels, it’s the genre; for others, it is the geographical location. For Carrboro’s small but mighty Sleepy Cat Records, it’s a vibe: laid-back, family-friendly, and full of creative resources.

Founded in 2019 by longtime friends and musical partners Saman Khoujinian and Gabe Anderson, Sleepy Cat Records is taking that ethos to its biggest stage yet this Saturday, October 22 with Sleepy Fest 2022. Eleven musical acts, ranging from folk and ancient to indie rock and electro-pop – join 13 artists and creators and six food and drink vendors for 10 hours of joy at Down Yonder Farm in Hillsborough.

“Saman and I have always enjoyed hosting events and experiences in a fun and refreshing way,” Anderson said. INDY Week a busy Wednesday morning at Weaver Street Market in Carrboro. “With 11 unique artists releasing stuff with Sleepy Cat, it just made sense. That’s a critical amount to put on a party.

Low-key celebration and laid-back camaraderie also permeate Sleepy Cat’s aura. The pandemic has been difficult for everyone in the label’s orbit, most of which operate down a decidedly DIY path and thrive on collaboration. This puts them in line with other Triangle labels like Merge Records and Potluck Foundation, which may operate on different scales but share a very united sense of connection.

“Sleepy Cat’s overall mindset is community-driven,” says Khoujinian. “We’re all pretty laid-back musicians, people who make music just because they love making music.”

One Sleepy Cat artist, Steph Stewart, has become such an integral part of this community that she now finds herself playing a bigger role with the label. She suggested Down Yonder Farm as the venue of choice for the festival, brought in the 22 local sponsors and enlisted Raleigh Jill-of-all-trades Cameron Laws, program director at Artsplosure, as an operating partner. Stewart will also be headlining Sleepy Fest with his band, Blue Cactus.

“It’s really exciting to have Steph,” Anderson says. “We’re so confident in her understanding of the Sleepy Cat brand and vision – she can make the calls and run with it.” Khoujinian goes further: “Steph kind of taught Gabe and me how to run the label. When Blue Cactus arrived, we realized, “Oh, we have to run a business! Let’s make it legit if we really want to provide value to our friends. “

Stewart deflects such praise, reminding them of Sleepy Fest’s early roots in Dr. Poplar’s Back and Forth, a DIY two-step shindig that bounced between Anderson’s home and Khoujinian on West Poplar Street, where their band T. Gold was based, and the house behind, where the folk quartet Mipso lived. As we speak, the three of them smile and finish their sentences remembering those early days steeped in ingenuity and awe.

Khoujinian and Anderson first cultivated this vibe as teenagers playing punk rock and studying Afro-Cuban jazz in Miami. They moved to North Carolina in 2009 and 2011, respectively, immediately falling into the Triangle’s thriving folk, Americana and indie rock scene.

Along the way, they quietly accumulated more knowledge: Khoujinian taught himself audio engineering, production, mixing and mastering, while Anderson extended his years of experience working for the family business. of Pilates by “exploring the vision” of all possible avenues of the music industry: project management, graphic design, website development, synchronization licensing, vinyl production, digital marketing, artistic direction, etc.

“As we built a visual universe for our own art, the label became an extension of that thread,” Anderson explains. “We created a place for our music and then found that all of our friends wanted to stream music too. We didn’t do a ton of research; there is such a demand for good artists here. Luckily, we happen to love all of their music and love them as people.

Khoujinian describes Sleepy Cat as a home base for some of these people and a springboard for others. Yes, the label is a working business, with income and expenses – Anderson’s meticulous spreadsheets prove it. But they are there for fun, engagement and empowerment more than anything; as Sleepy Cat’s website puts it, “We’re a small business run by 2 darlings…friends making art.”

The growth of the Triangle music scene has been marked by this kind of self-sufficiency, with access to more local studios, producers and labels, such as with the trifecta of Sylvan Esso – Betty’s, Nick Sanborn and Amelia Heath behind the dial, and their Psychic Hotline label.

“I don’t think we have the bandwidth to work with someone who is deeply career-oriented or wants to be the all-time dominant pop star,” Khoujinian says. “It’s more ‘Here’s the scale we can operate on. If we can make some money doing the music we love, that’s great. Our friends understand that. And if they don’t no, they can leave. [Laughs] In fact, we encourage them to do so! We’ll be there if they knock, which we hope they don’t.

Currently, finished albums by former Sleepy Cat students (and Sleepy Fest performers) Libby Rodenbough and Chessa Rich are being picked up at larger outlets. Lou Hazel – the musical pseudonym of Chris Frisina, who is the unofficial photographer and graphic designer for Sleepy Cat – also has another near-completed record.

“Yeah, we’d love to release it,” Anderson says. “It really represents our vibe. But I’m polyamorous, so tasting other labels means a lot to me: “Please go out with someone else for a bit!” It’s an honest and healthy exchange that we have with our friends.

As individuals, Khoujinian and Anderson are open to this kind of educational exchange: they learned how to create, record and produce music, then market and license it. They learned how to build back-end support systems for contemplative artists like Trippers & Askers’ Jay Hammond and facilitate the bold creative ideas of big thinkers like Owen FitzGerald. They learned when to back established musicians like Rodenbough and Blue Cactus, who are responsible for Sleepy Cat’s two best-selling albums of the 2020s. love show and 2021 stranger again, respectively. And they learned to venture into new territory, like with Joseph Decosimo’s next album. while you were sleepingwhich widens the universe of Sleepy Cat to old and bluegrass.

“It was fun to see what our value is to each artist individually,” Anderson says. “Some, like Owen, have clarity and intent on every detail and every image. Some, like Joseph, teach us.

Khoujinian mentions combing through public domain databases to find songs that Decosimo learned from aged pickers on the Cumberland Plateau, many of whom only exist within the families who have passed them down for generations. Anderson raves about Decosimo’s meticulous liner notes and insistence on using Bandcamp as a promotional platform, something Sleepy Cat had never done before.

It’s hard to resist the duo’s excitement about what they’ve accomplished and what awaits them once they wrap up Sleepy Fest 2022. They’re passionate about giving artists a fair jolt. financial and contractual while expanding the Sleepy Cat universe outward to include more diverse artists. (“non-white guys,” Anderson points out).

They rave about the potential of the compilation model, best exemplified in the summer 2022 release of Sleepy Cat Cruise ! Filled with B-sides, covers, house recordings and one-off artist collaborations, the nine-song sampler is stylistically divergent and downright joyous.

“That’s the label’s main philosophy: to be a platform to generate new music,” says Khoujinian. “If we do these compilations consistently enough, in 10 or 20 years we’ll have a huge archive of music.”

Other ideas they’re tossing around include more music videos, more studio time at hotspots like Big Fish, Small Pond Music and Bedtown Studios, more opportunities for artists to produce their own music, and as income increases, more likely to be financial benefactors for promising young artists.

“One day we would like to fund the records we want to see around the world,” Khoujinian says. “To a certain extent, it’s an old-school label model – ‘We’ve got the money, you’re just the talent!’ “”

Laughing, Anderson chimes in, “The big question is, how do you get that money in a sustainable, non-exploitative way?”

Khoujinian smiles and finishes, “It’s more about loving and trusting someone’s creative vision enough to help them from scratch. If we can be a vehicle for music that otherwise wouldn’t have been born, I’m satisfied.


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