Label Focus: American Laundromat
Mystic, Connecticut, is not just the home of classic film Mystic Pizza (or this journalist), it’s also where record label American Laundromat operates.
The label, founded by Joseph H. Spadaro, has put out a ton of amazing compilations, including one of Wes Anderson-inspired tunes called I Saved Latin!, as well as Juliana Hatfield’s newest offerings. We spoke with Spadaro about how and why he founded his label, plus, he made a playlist of American Laundromat Records classics to get the uninitiated started right.
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How did you get into the music business? What motivated you?
I was in a band back on Long Island and had all these friends that were also in bands. I started the label to sort of be a home for us. I figured zines and college radio might take us more seriously if we had a label.
Originally I conceived it as a collective, but all the bands started looking to me to put out their records. I couldn’t afford to do that so, instead, I put out a compilation of eight bands, each contributing two original songs called Transistor. It did well and I kinda got the bug to release more albums.
Which, if any, labels were your own role models or guiding stars when you started up?
Early on it was Twin/Tone, Mammoth Records and 4AD. I was a fan of the bands they put out. Later on, Merge, Barsuk and Polyvinyl were all labels I hoped to emulate.
What does American Laundromat stand for as a label?
It’s just a name I came up with. I had a photo that I bought by a photography student. He was selling them outside the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. All black and white photos. I loved this one he took of an old laundromat and purchased it.
What has been your biggest achievement as a label?
That’s a tough one. I don’t really feel like I can point to one specific event or release that I would say is my biggest achievement. It’s been a collection of everything the label has done over the past 14 years.
Did you have an initial idea of what the label should be and how it could evolve in the future when you started it?
I didn’t have any idea what I was doing when I started the label. However, my second release was a tribute celebrating the teen films of the ’80s. My idea was to cover songs that appeared in Sixteen Candles, Some Kind of Wonderful, Pretty in Pink, Valley Girl, etc. I was lucky to get established artists on the project, including Matthew Sweet, Kristin Hersh, Frank Black, the Dresden Dolls and John Strohm (Blake Babies).
It was received really well, and we attracted a lot of attention, which was exciting. That set the path early on. For the first 10 years or so I focused primarily on tribute albums and themed compilations. Now, I’m hoping to evolve into a more traditional label releasing original music by established and new artists.
What are you looking for when signing artists?
I need to be a fan of the artist. That’s important. The record label is a passionate hobby for me (I have a full-time career), so every project needs to be something I truly believe in because all my available time and resources are required.
How has it been working with Juliana Hatfield? She’s such an amazing, creative artist.
Juliana is fantastic! I love working with her. She’s one of the hardest working and most prolific artists I know. Super smart, too.
How did you start working together?
Juliana covered ‘Needle in the Hay’ for my Wes Anderson tribute. I had reached out to John Strohm when I started working on the project and he was kind enough to share the project details with many of his clients and friends. Juliana immediately requested the Elliott Smith track that appeared in the Royal Tenenbaums. I loved her cover, and we stayed in touch. When I learned that the Juliana Hatfield Three was putting out their long-awaited sophomore release, I reached out about helping to put it out. We’ve been working together ever since.
Where do you want the label to be in 10 years?
I hope to be a well-regarded indie label that releases excellent music by independent artists.
The music industry goes through rapid changes these days. How have those challenges affected your work?
As a small label, I think I have a lot more flexibility to adjust to changes in the industry. It hasn’t really affected the way I work.
Any regrets? Anything you would do differently if you had a second chance?
None at all. I enjoy running this little label and look forward to seeing how it continues to evolve.
What’s the next thing you’re excited about that you’re releasing?
I’ll be putting out the debut album by Dragon Inn 3 which is made up of members of Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin and friends. It’s a fantastic album. It’s got an ’80s synth vibe, think Blondie meets early Depeche Mode meets Stranger Things. I’m really excited to put it out. The songs are addicting.
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