By Camille Haimet & Laurent Altier
The founders of record label Wolf+Lamb, as well as Dj’s No Regular Play discuss the balance they have managed to find amongst themselves; and the new kind of shelter they have created, far from the crumbling music industry.
The record industry is a sinking ship, haven’t you heard? In spite of this, a few rare labels are finding innovative ways of keeping our interest as they continue to churn out successful artists. Take DJ duo turned record label Wolf+Lamb for example. Doesn’t ring a bell? These are the guys who brought you big names in the world of Minimal like Soul Clap or Nicolas Jaar; and now emerging artists No Regular Play. We at The GROUND have decided to navigate the graffiti-ridden streets of Williamsburg to the Marcy Hotel to blow away their discreet profile and learn a few secrets of staying afloat.
Greg Paulus of No Regular Play greets us at the large metal door. Immediately, we are immersed in a world far removed from the busy seventeen-lane intersection outside. The honking ceases. Chandeliers artfully crafted from twisted wire and beads hang over a velvet couch in the living room; and a ladder leads up to what looks like a bedroom. Now also a functioning hotel, the Marcy is a space entirely conceived by the Wolf + Lamb guys as an outlet for music production.
We are introduced to Zev Eisenberg and Gadi Mizrahi of Wolf+Lamb and to Nick Debruyn, second half of No Regular Play. Casual icebreakers are exchanged as the atmosphere becomes reminiscent of evenings at the apartments of kooky Brooklyn friends.
Zev and Gadi’s dynamic is almost self-explanatory when I learn the meaning behind the label’s name: Wolf and Lamb is a direct translation of Zev and Gadi respectively from Hebrew.
Zev: “You could say that we’re driven by differences. One of us is the wolf, the other is the lamb, but it switches frequently. For example, if one of us is in an anti-social phase, the other will be sure to overcompensate.”
It is this sense of balance that keeps the pair continuously moving forward, without having to pause and recuperate, which is quite important as touring and producing need to be alternated and continuous in order for artists to stay alive. Over the years, they have come to an organized understanding of these cycles in which they make up for each other’s shortcomings. Gadi tends to bring in various sounds and influences to work with while Zev acts as a censor, picking out which of these work the best. They are both obviously business savvy, but Zev likes to take care of the business side of things so that Gadi has space to be creative. Because of this system, the origin of specific contributions is erased and the two are completely locked into sync.
But it hasn’t always been stability and rainbows.
Zev: “we’re both hot headed, and after we met, we got close very quickly. Before we knew what was happening, we had dumped all our friends on each other’s advice. One day everything just exploded. It was like a mushroom cloud drifting over Williamsburg. New York wasn’t big enough for the both of us. I met this girl at a party who mentioned she was moving to Mexico. I said “give me 2 days!” (laughs)”
It took the pair approximately one year to get back in touch and decide that they could work through their differences. There were still waves after that, but ultimately they gained an understanding of the tremendous potential they had for creativity if the chemistry was controlled.
Gadi:“It takes years to figure how much of someone you can actually stand before you need to take a break.”
Zev: “It’s all about harnessing the power of that friction.”
This all seems to ring true to the guys of No Regular Play. Both come from a musical background and have acquired a mutual trust from growing up together listening to the same music. Like Wolf+Lamb, they feel that their individual strengths and weaknesses end up compensating for one another. Greg acts as the self-described “creative weirdo” while Nick takes on more practical responsibilities.
Greg: “Like, you know, when I pass out in a hotel room and he drags me out (laughs)”
Nick: “No but seriously, he can go off the deep end if he wants and I reign him in.”
This particular balance enables a very specific work schedule. They explain the rotation of sleep cycles involved in creating their debut album.
Greg: “We would work together until 2 a.m. and Nick would go to sleep. I’d continue on the album until about 6 and take the computer up to my room with me (I was scared it would get stolen cause we don’t have bars on those windows).Then Nick would come get the computer and work until I joined him in the late morning, etcetera…It was a continuous cycle.”
We are curious how long this went on for.
Gadi: “long enough to knock out an album in no time at all (laughs)”.
Greg stresses the importance of this organization. For one, it was necessary to set a deadline and stick to it because both members of No Regular Play were busy touring. If they were not together in Europe, Greg was in the US on tour with Mathew Deer’s Band. But the deadline also helped creatively.
Nick:“ It allowed us to really focus. Although each track was different, the fact that we made them in such close intervals allowed a similar sound to transpire through them. This gave direction to the album, which would not have happened otherwise.”
Greg: “Your tastes tend to change when you make an album over the course of a year or more. That can be great in terms of eclectic sounds, but it can get a little all over the place.”
No Regular Play moved into the Marcy immediately after signing with Wolf+Lamb and they all became a family of sorts.
Greg: “I had finally decided to be like “fuck jazz music and that whole circle” and moved up to NY. Right away, I wound up at a Wolf+Lamb Third Ward Party. I was just thinking “what the hell is this?” (laughs) But I thought the music was amazing. It was one of the first times I heard Minimal. All I knew was that I wanted to move as close to The Marcy as possible. I would drive by every weekend to figure out when the next party was.”
Nick and Greg came to these parties for a couple years only very briefly meeting Zev and Gadi.
Nick: “Then you guys sent that investigative team over to our place (laughs)”
Zev: “Yeah, someone was like “go check out these guys a few apartments over, they play some cool music”. Then we just went from there.”
When working with new artists, Zev and Gadi do not believe in censorship or direct influence. Before the artists in question are at the album level, they will give advice on tracks that may need work.
Gadi: “It’s kind of like: these six are solid, these two need a little tweak, and these two…maybe keep them for another project (laughs).”
Greg: “Having this sense of support was great because you don’t want to go out there and fall flat on your face.”
The Wolf+ Lamb label is supportive of each artist’s individual style but acknowledges the importance of making a few modifications.
Zev: “It’s kind of like having an art teacher. Criticism is not coming from an egotistical place but rather from people who want you to succeed.”
They give the example of one of their most noted artists, Nicolas Jaar.
Gadi: “He came in and we loved his stuff. It was instrumental and super creative. We just needed a few more beats in there to make it fit with the dance vibe.”
We ask if anyone has ever ascribed this to creative differences and gone elsewhere with their music. But both insist that the trust and bond between the artists is quite strong, so the quality control is reliable.
Gadi: “Most labels aren’t very crew oriented, but we really look out for each other. It’s a rough industry.”
Because everyone under this label adheres to the notion of family, particular attention must be paid to balancing work and play. Even though the atmosphere is casual this evening, all four constantly take breaks to work on No Regular Play’s album cover or to talk excitedly about new track ideas.
Gadi: “There’s no going home from work. Touring, making music, and chilling together is what we do, even on vacation. It is more of a lifestyle than a business. Besides, every aspect of this job is essential and influences the other parts. We all work together to make it happen.”
This seems in line with the pervasive DIY spirit that their label conveys. From the design of The Marcy to the management of press and touring schedules, Wolf+Lamb are completely self-sufficient.
Zev: “We decided that we never wanted this project to get bigger than us. And if it did, we would just have to scale back.”
Many labels have, in fact, made offers to buy Wolf+Lamb, but Zev and Gadi continue to refuse. They insist that after all the work over the years, it is very rewarding to see what has become of their initial idea. They feel good about the freedom they have in their decisions and are not considering any other projects.
It is an interesting comparison between the Wolf+Lamb label and the rest of the industry. They have touched upon a way of doing things that is quite different and may just be the new model; have a new place in culture.
Greg: “I think our music could be considered underground but is also fairly accessible. My parents like it, which is cool.”
Zev: “What is underground is always debatable, but it’s all about seeing what share of the world’s ears are listening to you. Mainstream will reach views in the millions in the first week. Most of our stuff is in the hundred-thousands. Figure-wise, fan base-wise, and sale wise we’re underground.”
Greg: “Yeah, the money’s pretty underground (laughs).”
Gadi explains that even as they have started touring and expanded their reach, they have never felt removed from the spot they occupy in the underground. He thinks it is harder to define their place in culture as they do not have a wide lens on what it represents today. Outside the world of minimal and techno, it seems that members of the Wolf+Lamb label do not feel any real connections with other musical genres. However, Zev and Gadi are constantly experimenting with new sounds in order to gain insight into modern interests.
Zev: “A big part of this for us is the DJing. We want to see what’s new and epecially what’s working. We are ever-evolving.”
In fact, the Wolf+Lamb label is based on the concept of evolution. The duo is always innovating and leaving the past behind, which seems crucial in an industry that constantly demands stimulation. When we ask to hear some of their early tracks, they announce that everything before 2008 is no longer being circulated.
Gadi: “It’s just about moving on to another sound. At the time, it was the best we could do but now we’ve improved. We felt it was not representative of who we are today and the line was very clear.”
As the concept of constant evolution is so important in the label, I have to wonder “what’s next?”
Gadi: “We’ve been considering doing some instrumental stuff but that’s really complicated. I’m not sure it’s in the cards for us. It’s pretty different from DJing. I’m currently considering a few new influences, like disco, but who knows…”
Certainly, there is no way of knowing what the pair will come up with next, but it is a safe bet that whatever it is will continue to reflect the perfect balance between quality and innovation. With the release of Wolf + Lamb’s LP Versus last October and No Regular Play’s debut album Endangered Species, out November 23rd, we’ll soon find out what’s cooking for us in the future.
Photography by Yeon J. Yue
The GROUND Issue #03