Frenchkiss Records

Get to know the label behind the Hold Steady, the Antlers, Passion Pit and more beloved bands.

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  • In November 2010, Frenchkiss moved its operation from a space on Fifth Avenue it shared with other labels to its Union Square office, just above the Strand. "This office was calling us."

  • This is what we refer to as the wall of Meric!" says general manager Paul Hanly with a laugh. "It's basically just pictures of Meric [Long] from the Dodos."

  • Frenchkiss founder (and Les Savy Fav bassist) Syd Butler demonstrates his hockey skills on a square of fake ice. "I'm an obsessive hockey fan," he says. "Some guys have [golf] putters to relieve stress. When I get really anxious, I'll come over here. We have dreams of a whole hockey hall with goals and pads. I liked it better when we didn't have the couch here, but I understand why I got out-voted."

  • Frenchkiss merch. Hanly loves the Les Savy Fav skateboard decks.

  • "All of us are involved in every different department. We are all almost product managers in our own way," says Hanly. "I think the greatest challenges are the records themselves. [We want to have] everything in place to make sure we're going to give the record the greatest send-off that it could possibly have."

  • At its old space, Frenchkiss was working out of some cubicles, and staffers didn't have the freedom to listen to music together. Now, they play everything from hardcore punk to '90s R&B to test presses of new releases. "If we've got a test press that we have to approve or a band that just sent us some demos, and we like the band and are thinking about signing them, we close the door and blast the music," says Hanly. On the day we visited, recent acquisition the Drums and a new record by Young Man were on heavy rotation.

  • Butler inscribed the wall behind his desk with this quote: "only agree to think about it," which he attributes to his lawyer Richard Grabel. "I have these thoughts, and I'm always like, Yeah, that's awesome, let's do it!" Butler says. "Then my lawyer is always like, '[sighs], I have to clean up your mess.' He's the best lawyer I know, and he's the best lawyer in the music industry."

  • Tim Harrington, Les Savy Fav's frontman, designed the label's logo. Sonya Balchandani, the bass player from Frenchkiss band the Big Sleep, made the banner.

  • When asked what first prompted him to apply to Frenchkiss's MySpace call for interns three years ago, director of new media Phil Radiotes says simply: "To tell you the truth, I was a really big fan of the logo. I really like the heart."

  • "[Owning a label and being in a band] provides an incredible, unique experience. I'm hanging out with the promoters, and I'm hanging out with the other bands and it's like, 'Oh, you get what I'm doing, you're are also in the same trench as I am.' When they say something, I believe it, because I know it's authentic," says Butler. "Some of the people in the business are not in the bus. They're not in the van. They're not going to the bathroom in a Porta-Potty in a rainstorm, like bands have to do. There's a weird bonding thing that happens when other bands see you doing the walk they're doing. I think that also adds a unique thing to the Frenchkiss family."

  • Radiotes would eventually like to get to the point where he could tour with his own band, Phil and the Osophers, and still work at Frenchkiss. He says working for Butler has exposed him to many contacts in the industry, but more important, has clued him in to how things actually work. "I'm in a band, and before I started working at Frenchkiss, it may as well have been a shot in the dark," he says. "I had no idea I was going about things completely wrong. In every way, [working at Frenchkiss] has changed my perspective on how a band should approach getting their name out, working at your own time frame and at your own pace."

  • A shot of Butler on stage with one of his kids during the Solar One festival in 2007. "Syd has never made a move that I wouldn't make personally," says Radiotes. "He's basically like my Jack Donaghy: He's a great boss, he's a great dude. I look up to him in a lot of ways."

  • Butler poses with a poster a video company sent the label. "It's been an interesting road, from selling [a record] out of your car to literally having a giant billboard at Virgin when it was around. I feel like I've been really lucky to be part of the transition era, starting with vinyl and tapes and CDs, and going in between those sectors," he says. "I think the music business is really crippling people that never had to move that quickly, based on technology. We've been really fortunate---because we're so small---in that we can adapt really quickly and be nimble, but have the same power on the Internet as other people."

  • "I love the city. I love New York City. I've been everywhere, Barcelona, Paris---I've seen a lot of places. But the food here is amazing, the people are amazing. The music is amazing. There's just so much music happening at the same time," says Butler. "In L.A., you have to drive to a show; you can't go see a band at the Troubadour near Beverly Hills and then drive to Silver Lake and see a band playing 15 minutes later. You're stuck. Here, [you'll see a band] playing at Pianos, and around the corner is Mercury Lounge. You go wherever the fuck you want to go. In a night, you could see four or five bands at different venues. That's the magic of New York. And all the bands have to be good. Just like the food has to be good. And every band comes to New York."

In November 2010, Frenchkiss moved its operation from a space on Fifth Avenue it shared with other labels to its Union Square office, just above the Strand. "This office was calling us."

At Frenchkiss Records, DIY isn't just an attractive aesthetic, it's the label's entire reason for existence. Les Savy Fav bassist Syd Butler started the company in 1999, originally as a means of releasing his band's second album, The Cat and the Cobra. "We just wanted to put out a record and be really happy with that," he says. "But we kept going on tour and meeting these great bands, and I was like, 'You guys should put a record out. What, you don't have a record? Well, I don't have that much money, but I know how to put a record out.' In the last decade, Frenchkiss has evolved into a beloved indie label that has launched the careers of groups like the Hold Steady, the Antlers, Passion Pit, Local Natives and the Dodos. In the music industry, lines tend to be drawn with permanent marker: Either you're a musician or you're an industry person, and rarely do the two overlap. But Butler, who continues to record, tour and play with Les Savy Fav, is a rare owner in that he has been intimately involved with every aspect of the business, from camping out with his bandmates during their first tour to conducting his own A&R and selecting the bands he feels best represent his vision for the Frenchkiss family. "You're carrying the weight of people's expectations and trust on your shoulders when you sign a band. You're saying, 'This is something I think is cool, and I believe 100 percent in my core that you will too,'" he says. "People want quality in their life, they expect it. They want to trust quality, and hopefully that's what we deliver to our fans—that trust."

The label puts out approximately five records a year, choosing to keep their releases minimal in order to ensure each band and each album receives the fanfare it deserves. "We try to spread them out as much as we can," says general manager Paul Hanly. "I think that something would get lost [if we were putting out more]; we wouldn't be able to promote those releases as much as we could." Frenchkiss outsources its PR, digital distribution and licensing, choosing to focus on the producing and selling the music, plus signing new bands and developing their stable of artists. "We have a lot of fun here," says director of new media Phil Radiotes, crediting Grace J. Lee, the office manager, as the company's "vibe maestro." Often, staffers take a group trip to the nearby Goodburger for milk shakes around 4pm, when sugar cravings hit. "I did win the World's Best Boss [award] last Christmas," says Butler, searching for his commemorative mug, which has the Frenchkiss logo on it. "I beat out several guys from Germany and from Brazil."

Wanna work here?
Frenchkiss is a small operation, but it hires one intern per quarter. Radiotes distinguished himself as an intern, and was eventually offered a full-time position. If you'd like to be considered, send a rsum and cover letter to iwanttointern@frenchkissrecords.com. "[We look for people who] love music, go to shows, are active, are up-to-date on what's going on with new bands, read all the blogs and have the ability to form [their] own opinion about stuff," says Radiotes. Butler emphasizes the emphasizes the importance of actually showing up for work. "I get 'I've done this' 'I've studied this' or 'I've majored in this,' and I'm like, 'Dude, can you show up?'" he says. "Most people are entitled, or they expect something else. If you just show up and work hard and participate, then you will be rewarded. You'll get a job. Someone will want to hire you."

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