|Parent company||fully independent|
|Founder||Alec Hanley Bemis and Aaron and Bryce Dessner|
|Distributor(s)||ADA, The Orchard, PIAS, and Hostess|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Location||New York City|
Brassland is an artist-operated independent record label started in 2001 by Alec Hanley Bemis and Aaron and Bryce Dessner. On their 10th anniversary, The Guardian said it was "the centre of New York's other music scene."
In Brassland's early years, Bemis's primary career was as a freelance journalist for publications such as LA Weekly, the New York Times, and the New York Times. The Dessners are twin brothers and musicians with differing artistic focuses—Aaron is a producer and songwriter, while Bryce is a guitarist, composer and curator. Both are primary songwriters behind The National, while Bryce is equally known for his collaborations with artists such as Sufjan Stevens, Bang on a Can All-Stars and other creative musicians. Brassland is based in Brooklyn, New York, though it claims to operate "a satellite office in California." The label also has close ties to Ohio, where the Dessner brothers were raised. (All five members of the label's original flagship band, The National, hail from Cincinnati, Ohio.)
The label's first two releases were debut albums by The National and Clogs which were influential in shaping two tendencies in early 21st century independent music. Clogs kicked off what has been called the "indie classical" scene, while The National became the first generation of "indie" musicians to regularly play arena-sized venues and headline festivals around the world. (Others in their cohort include Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, and Death Cab for Cutie.)
Over the years, Brassland has also released albums by musicians such as Thomas Bartlett aka Doveman, Nico Muhly, Buke and Gase, and Baby Dayliner. The label considers itself an intentional community, making collective A&R decisions based on the tastes of both its founders and the interests of the artists involved in the label, actively encouraging collaboration and a sense of community among its roster. “Art is a way of life,” Dessner has been quoted as saying. “We don’t think in isolation, we exist in a community with each other.”
In a 2015 profile in the Irish Times, Bemis explained “We give bands and musicians a level of infrastructure, but without putting on the pressure that if they don’t sell 20,000 records they’re going to be out of luck. That said, it’s probably more of a corporate experience than they had before we found them. But Brassland is not trying to become a major label. It’s as much about interaction between the different musicians as it is about whatever audience will be for them." For example, founding Clogs' member Padma Newsome contributed regularly to The National's music after the band signed to Beggars Banquet; onetime label artist Erik Friedlander performed on Clogs' "Stick Music"; while yet another label artist Pela included a guitarist, Nate Martinez, who frequently acted as a fill-in guitarist during The National earliest years. Thomas Bartlett in particular has worked as a player and producer with many musicians connected to Brassland's extended family such as Muhly, Sufjan Stevens, and The National.
Brassland published this mission statement on its website: "Music is our current focus. We like music that transcends genre. At the same time we try not to make transcending genre a cliché by applying labels to what we do: funk-metal, progressive punk, Afro-Cuban jazz, underground hip-hop, intelligent dance music, whateva! We like musicians who play well and possess the elusive tonic of personality. Most of all we just like music."
Musicians formerly on the roster
- Snapes, Laura (June 16, 2011). "Brassland: the record label at the centre of New York's other music scene". London: Guardian. Retrieved June 16, 2011.
- Crawley, Peter (May 7, 2015). "Bryce Dessner harnesses Cork’s creative potential'". Dublin: The Irish Times. Retrieved May 7, 2015.
- Clayton-Lea, Tony (January 7, 2015). "Brassland label mixes spirited music with 'the elusive tonic of personality'". Dublin: The Irish Times. Retrieved May 7, 2015.
- Alec Hanley Bemis's website
- Bryce Dessner bio @ Clogs' site
- Interview with Aaron Dessner
- Interview with Alec Bemis on Brassland