Boone acts as hub for lo-fi art experience through cassettes

Boone acts as hub for lo-fi art experience through cassettes

Lovey Cooper

Billed on the label’s Tumblr page as a “smorgasbord of sounds,” New Body Tapes released their first recording locally as part of 2013 Record Store Day.

The band featured on the hand-lettered cassette tape was Hats, highlighting recent Appalachian State University graduate Devon Tuttle and senior art major Alex Swing, the two and only producers behind New Body Tapes – a now flourishing local brand of art piece music releases.

The label’s Tumblr now sports an order form for that and six other cassette releases by the same number of artists, some also from Boone, but others from Baltimore, Maryland Asheville and Athens, Georgia.

“It was kind of quick, which was an awesome way to start it – just pull the trigger,” Swing said of their first release, which the two put together mostly for fun, but also for the sake of tacking a local act onto the stores’ releases.

“I thought people might respond well to it,” Tuttle said. “I don’t know if they did, but some people liked it.”

In the year and a half since, the two have slowly gained momentum with their musical releases, growing to become a somewhat well-established regional feature amongst friends looking for exposure and an excuse to put music out, but also traveling acts in need of a physical album behind which to tour.

“There are so many cycles of music, or anything really, in Boone, and we felt like there was this cool little time this past year where a bunch of mutual friends were doing several projects at the same time,” Swing said. “We were both involved with our buddies anyway so we thought we might as well take advantage of that and put it out while its still happening – which is funny now – I don’t think it’s correlated, but now that we’re trying to put out more music some of our friends aren’t here anymore.”

With that said, the pair have no immediate plans to relocate from Boone, which serves as a central point for many artist-friends, and a small hub for traveling musicians in the same scene.

“The coolest thing about Boone and the worst thing about Boone is there’s not a whole lot going on unless you’re the one doing it,” Swing said.

Unlike bigger cities, where labels have to compete for more visibility, Boone allows artists to play the part of big fish in a small pond, although due to constantly shifting populations, it’s hard to predict anything past the next year, Swing said.

For the time being, New Body functions on a paycheck-to-paycheck basis, with the two investors breaking even between batches of tapes, but it’s not so much about the money, Tuttle said, as much as it is about the “curatorial spirit” of producing an art form – hand cut, translucent and stamped intimate objects – and using it to reach out to traveling bands.

“The bottom line is that we are trying to curate an aesthetic, with music at the forefront,” Swing said.

With both sharing background in visual arts and music, Swing sees the label as an opportunity to disseminate a local culture of creativity and intertwined artists, although both want to eventually put out printed material along with the tapes.

“It’s a highly curated thing,” Tuttle said. “We definitely want people to take their time with each release, listen to it and look at it.”

In a sense, the tapes themselves also serve to perpetuate a lo-fi culture of sharing physical objects that serve as art and music, but also an experience, Swing said – like an art book.

“It requires you to actively participate, look at it, pop it in, flip it over,” Swing said. “You understand how it works.”

Plus, they’re cheap.

Asheville artists Will Isenogle, who plays under the name Merryl, and Abe Leonard have been in contact with both producers since before college, and call themselves friends to Swing and Tuttle above all else. The four didn’t collaborate together until Tuttle began hosting shows for them to play in Boone in the mid 2000s. The two were among the first to release music onto New Body cassettes, and they both cite cost as one additional factor that played into helping out their friends, calling CDs “tired office supplies” and tapes “totally cool and cheap”.

For them and other artists, the music comes to the label pre-recorded on home computers.

“Some of this music doesn’t really need to be all slick sounding, some of it sounds better raw and noisy,” Tuttle said.

For the immediate future, New Body is a priority until Swing graduates, with plans of continuing the label remotely if the need arises, with at least two releases in the works at any given time. A split between Drippy Inputs, Swing’s one-man electronic act, and local band Mall Prowler is up next on the docket after being set aside for the summer to make room for more immediate traveling acts.

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Story: Lovey Cooper, Senior A&E Reporter