Funny / Not Funny Records brings new sounds to classic listening mediums
“You don’t go to a show and buy a CD.”
The digital music disc is still the most widely used physical music format in the world, and its relationship with the MP3 lets it flex its versatility as well. While the CD’s place in mass culture seems solidified, the denizens of Harrisonburg’s music scene don’t buy — even literally — into this use.
“You go to a show and you hand that CD to a person that you want to listen to your music,” Harper Holsinger, co-owner of Funny / Not Funny Records, says. “You don’t ask for money in return.”
For Holsinger and partner Ben Schlabach, permanence, artistic preservation and even a lighter wallet are the qualities they stand by and preach, but the medium is far from massive. Or even new.
They’re going analog.
Holsinger and Schlabach run Funny / Not Funny Records in Harrisonburg. For these two longtime friends and their record label, vinyl and cassettes reign supreme over their digital counterparts. The company serves as the middleman between local bands and vinyl manufacturers.
“You want to have a physical, tangible piece of art,” Schlabach says. “You want to be able to hold it and see it. If you look at a CD and a vinyl record, which one are you gonna want?”
Funny / Not Funny Records doesn’t set the artistic vision for the bands it works with, nor does it produce any records in a studio. It functions solely to get the records of the duo and their friends to exist in vinyl.
When you talk with Holsinger or Schlabach about their label, their infatuation with these vintage media doesn’t come from a place of pretentiousness. Rather, their love was cultivated through years in the small Harrisonburg music scene that they grew up in.
Holsinger, a 2007 JMU grad and former MACROCK planner, met Schlabach, a 2006 EMU grad, at the local house and bar shows that still dominate downtown Harrisonburg today. Holsinger’s analog nostalgia was fostered from the car he drove at the time, a ’96 Hyundai Sonata — and its tape deck. Schlabach remembered the Plan 9 record store that was once stationed in the middle of downtown and his treks to the “Mecca” location of the store — situated two hours away in Richmond.
These experiences created a lasting impression for the duo that laid the foundation for the label.
“A label was something that I always wanted to do,” Holsinger says. “It was in the back of my mind. It seemed like the right time and the right spot to do it.”
Both grew up with record players and cassette decks readily available, and these formats became their platforms of choice. However, when it came to their favorite local bands such as Invisible Hand, based out of Charlottesville, their record shelves seemed thin. A music label was something the duo had discussed, and the analog angle was something they thought they could address.
“For me, it was important to go that route because that’s the way I wanted to present things, and also, selfishly, that’s the stuff that I wanted to have for my personal collection, you know,” Schlabach says. “I wanted to have Invisible Hand records for my personal collection.”
Their desire to help create this niche product was born out of necessity, Holsinger says.
“Not only was it something we wanted to do, but we felt like we had to do in order to document what was going on,” he says. “Our record label is more of a family affair than it is a record label. … We felt like that need was there, and we filled something that we thought needed filling.”
Schlabach offered a much more candid reasoning.
“Apparently, I have a glutton for punishment and I always have to be doing something,” he says.
When Funny / Not Funny was conceptualized in the middle of 2009, they planned a tour to promote the label’s first release: a split 7-inch vinyl featuring a song from Invisible Hand and a song from the Alphabet, who Holsinger was playing with at the time. As the tour crept closer, they realized why indie, DIY vinyl labels weren’t very common.
The vinyl presser that was supposed to manufacture the records wasn’t going to have them ready for the tour, which meant the tour designed to promote these vinyl records wouldn’t even have them available.
In a panic to take something with them, they ordered 50 test presses, versions of the records typically distributed as quality-control copies for the label to sort out any issues before the final pressing. After an error involving the color of the test presses, the plant sent 50 more of the raw, unfinished records.
“So then we ended up with double the test presses for half the cost, which is great, but then all of a sudden you’re like, what the hell are we going to do with all these test presses?” Schlabach says.
They were able to successfully finish their first tour as a label without another significant hitch, but the experience taught them a couple very important lessons about their business from the get-go: Never expect things to be on time and always plan for the worst. This applies doubly when dealing with the now-obsolete technology of pressers.
“There’s probably a handful of places in the United States that are pressing records,” Schlabach says. “There will be times where we’re trying to press 200 7-inches and the place is also pressing 50,000 Elvis represses at the same time, and you’re like, ‘But come on!’ And no matter how loud you kick and scream, your 200 7-inches are probably not going to outweigh the Elvis camp.”
Funny / Not Funny’s newest addition to its catalog, Bishops’ “Silver Lining” cassette, marks the 26th release for the label. The label’s roster of artists has grown slowly since its inception, but its area of impact has increased dramatically. By meeting bands and groups with similar interests along the East Coast, the label’s analog projects have gotten bigger and bigger.
While the label is a business, to Holsinger and Schlabach it works as an extension of the friendships they already hold with their fellow musicians. This means that success, variation and experimentation in a band’s future, regardless of whether that future is with their label or not, do not serve as barriers to Funny / Not Funny’s vision.
When Holsinger uses the term “document,” he uses it the same way that historians or ancient scribes would. It’s not a necessity for he and Schlabach to put out these records, but it is a necessity for these records and prints to exist. This is why they don’t require contracts — to Holsinger, no “contracts in blood.” If a band wants to try another label for vinyl printing or move up in the world or music, Funny / Not Funny only welcomes it.
“If you want someone else to put the record out, I’m not really gonna be sad about it. That’s not to say I don’t want to do it, but I’m not gonna feel [upset] if you are actively pursuing a bigger label or if you think there’s another label that can do something that we can’t do for you,” Schlabach says. “I feel like we … know our place in the scheme of things. If we knock on your door and say we have records for you, you’re probably gonna go, ‘OK, who are you?’ If Jay Z knocks on your door and says, ‘Hey, I’ve got records for you,’ you’ll probably recognize who he is right away.”
The two also continue to promote these bands’ other projects on their site, regardless of its branding.
“I would like us to be somewhat of a stepping stone because it’s not going to hurt my feelings and it’s going to benefit all of us in the long run,” Schlabach says. “Idealistically, everyone knows what we’re doing and they’re comfortable working with us.”
For the foreseeable future, Funny / Not Funny plans to continue the pace it’s already set for itself. More projects are planned for early 2014, with Holsinger and Schlabach holding parties and shows around the area to promote their freshest pressings.
If you meet the gang from Funny / Not Funny at a show, talk about vinyl, share a PBR and take their most recent label mix CD. Just don’t expect to pay for it.
“When it comes to digital music, that stuff is for discovery and for access and not really collectible. It’s stuff that should be heard,” Holsinger says. “That’s the way we do it.”