Over the last decade, few segments of the music industry have weathered more uncertainty than record labels. But while CDs struggle against the streaming tide, vinyl sales have increased year over year, proving there's a market for carefully packaged and curated vinyl releases. Many of those come from boutique labels, and one of the more fascinating indies to emerge in the 21st century has been Sacred Bones, which Caleb Braaten started in Brooklyn in 2007 as a means to release a friend's 7 inch and maybe a reissue or two. "I love doing reissues, but immediately we started putting out new artists when I realized there were so many incredible artists I wanted to work with," he recalls to Billboard. Sacred Bones gradually grew into a recognizable, respected home for releases from critical darlings like Zola Jesus and The Men to projects from iconic filmmakers David Lynch and John Carpenter.
This year, Sacred Bones turns 10, and while founder Braaten remains mum on the meaning of the name ("We gotta have our secrets" he offers with a laugh), he's happily saluting the label's history. Saturday night (May 20) as part of the Red Bull Music Academy Festival, Sacred Bones celebrated its first decade with a concert including Jenny Hval, Zola Jesus, Marissa Nadley, The Men, Moon Duo performing with Jim Jarmusch and more; on June 10 & 11, another anniversary showcase will hit Brooklyn's Northside Festival.
Aside from anniversary concerts, Braaten recently spoke to Billboard about five key albums in the label's history to commemorate 10 years of Sacred Bones.
Eraserhead Original Soundtrack (reissue, 2012)
Braaten: David Lynch is a real personal hero of mine. His aesthetic and vision is something I look up to. From the beginning [of Sacred Bones] I had this pipe dream of working with him in some capacity, so I started keeping a copy of every release we put out. I had amassed this giant box of our catalog, and after four years I was going to send this box of records to David Lynch with a note like, "I'm a big fan of your work," or whatever I was going to say, hoping he would be into it and we would possibly come on his radar. As I was doing this, I finally found the correct address, and I was talking to a friend who was like, "Wait -- my friend works with David Lynch, let me put you guys in touch and she can help get this stuff to him." She ended up being his music attorney, sent it to David and they saw our stuff, liked it, and I got a call from his music engineer/producer. We had a good conversation, and I threw out the idea of working together, and pitched that we could do the Eraserhead soundtrack. David owned the rights to it, and I knew some of the other rights stuff was a little murky, and he said yeah. So we put together this elaborate packaging, pitched it to him, he was happy with it, and we were able to continue working with him. Because of that we were able to work on [his solo album] The Big Dream. He's great. He's such an inspiration and his team is absolutely fantastic.
John Carpenter, Lost Themes (2015)
Braaten: Through that same connection, this music attorney, we started working with John. She said, "Hey I started working with John Carpenter, he's looking to do stuff, do you have any ideas?" The majority of his soundtracks had been reissued already, but I'm a huge fan so I came back and said, "I don’t know really what he has, maybe you can ask if he has old music lying around that didn't make the soundtrack. Maybe he has odds and ends we can work on." She goes back and says, "He doesn't, none of that stuff really exists, but what he has been doing the last couple years is making music with his son and godson." And I said, "I'd love to hear it." She talked to John, they put together stuff for me to hear and that was Lost Things. It was remarkable. [Lost Themes] was still that signature John Carpenter sound. I couldn't believe these were new recordings. I was completely blown away and so happy to get to work on this stuff with him. Then he started doing tours and got into it, it's been really fun to work with him. He's very approachable and is honestly one of the hardest working people on our label. They toured tirelessly last year [behind Lost Themes II], he's done so much press -- he puts in the time. That said, he's a man who knows what he wants. It's black and white with him, which I really respect.
Zola Jesus, Conatus (2011)
Braaten: We started working with her very early on. Her first 7 inch we put out was in 2008 and she was a teenager, very young. Right off the bat, you knew there was something special about her. She had this incredible voice, drive and songwriting skill. I heard her on MySpace -- it was a bedroom project for her at the time, just this teenager in Wisconsin, recording songs in her room and posting them on MySpace. It was the old MySpace A&R days. Then we put out her first album The Spoils: A real, true album, a journey. And then she started getting some attention. Her story is a little like ours – we were on the same path. That album came out, she started to blow up a little more and that helped us blow up a little more. With the Stridulum EP, the Pitchforks of the world started paying attention. But Conatus was the explosion where she was selling out theaters, getting songs in movies and TV and the whole deal. That really helped us expand the label. Those songs are captivating and catchy at the same time. I think it appealed to a wide audience, maybe unlike her first LP.
The Men, Open Your Heart (2012)
Braaten: I was working at the record store Academy Records when they self-released first album Immaculada, and my friend Ryan, who I worked with, was like "Oh man you gotta check it out." Between Immaculada and [second album] Leave Home [released on Sacred Bones], their bass player, Chris Hansell, had been in touch with me. Chris hit me up at a show I was deejaying and was like, "Did you listen to that record [Leave Home]?" "Oh shit man yeah I'm going to." They were a punk band with hardcore influences, shoegaze influences on Leave Home, but Open Your Heart took them to a completely different place. On first listen I was just like, "Wow, this is un-fucking-believable." There's sweet, tender country moments that don’t feel out of place next to punk thrashers. It's a perfectly curated record. Something we like to do here is help build a record when we have advice – sequencing, notes, we love to be involved. Sequencing especially -- we take the concept of the album very seriously. That's why we focus on vinyl: it's the best way to experience an album. We don't force anyone, but we love to have our opinion heard. Open Your Heart was done [when we got it], maybe we had a suggestion but I'm not sure if they took it. But Conatus and Lost Themes we 100 percent helped sequence.
Jenny Hval, Blood Bitch (2016)
Braaten: Our first album with her was Apocalypse, girl, which was a masterpiece in its own right. We heard her Innocence Is Kinky record and I was a huge fan. I went to see her in New York on that tour and thought she had such an incredible energy about her. We started talking to her about working on something together and that's when Apocalypse, girl came together, but Blood Bitch is her masterwork. It's incredible conceptually, and as music, even beyond the subject matter, it's a great record. It made sense right off the bat [having her join us]. It seemed like she was talking to other people, but maybe we understood what she was doing a little better than some of the other labels.