2.24.21 by Matty McPherson
For over a dozen years, Geographic North has been following their own “classy, yet sassy” rhythm. Operating as a vinyl 7” club before pivoting into tapes in 2014, Bobby Power (former Tabs Out contributor!), Farbod Kokabi (of Lyonnais!), and Farzod Moghaddam have made Geographic North into a prime boutique label of deep ambient zones. Blink and you’ll miss that tape drop! In between the semi-recurring Sketches for Winter series (a Durutti Column reference perhaps?), the label has been known to crank out the occasional delicious autumn compilation. Last years’, entitled A Little Night Music, was practically a victory lap for Geographic North, boasting over 2 dozen artists across a double cassette, a first for the label!
Last year, I wrote about the compilation for the indieheads subreddit’s 2020 Album of the Year series (you can read that over here). For that piece, I interviewed Bobby Power and Farbod Kokabi at the start of November–a day after the compilation arrived in my mailbox. It was terrific fun gushing about our love of Kranky alongside the label’s cataloging system and sequencing of compilations. However, a good chunk of the transcript never made it into that compilation analysis. So, with a new Sketch for Winter (X!) dropping rather soon, here is an edited transcript between me, Farbod, and Bobby about one of the buzziest lil’ tape labels around. We’ll cover everything from how they sequence a tape, to the coolest memory-holed Kranky acts, and how Geographic North even approaches college radio PR machines!
Tabs Out: I wanted to start with-college radio origins. Both of y’all were working at your college radio station in 2007-2008, and that’s where the idea of Geographic North originated?
Bobby: Yeah – I wasn’t there in the beginning of it. It was Farzod and Farbod who started the label together.
Farbod: Yeah, Farzod and I started the label-we were working at WRAS at Georgia State University-a real powerhouse of college radio (in the nation, it had the largest reach/highest wattage of any noncommercial/student run station). There’s a lot of opportunity to meet eclectic artists and different perspectives. Farzod and I aligned in our interests of counterculture arts (film, music, literature, etc). We’re also both Iranian kids and bonded over these things. I was studying graphic design at the time, Farbod was studying biology. Farzod was the music director for two years, I was assistant music director for a bit. Both of us started talking about reaching out to artists we had built relationships with and see if they wanted to put out 7”.
At the time 7” subscription series were in vogue, Social Registry out of NY had put out wonderful weirdo records where you’d pay a flat fee and get a 7” in the mail (probably late) from an artist you might not know. It was visceral and unique to have this relationship with music and we wanted to try our hand at it. I started designing records at the time and still am. This was an opportunity to design records! So we collectively put together our money and put out our first 7” from the band A Sunny Day in Glasgow. They were popping off at the time, along with other shoegaze revival bands.
Tabs Out: Like Belong’s October Language?
Farbod: Yup. That’s also where Bobby comes in. I was doing a radio show called Post-Script and I occasionally would run into Bobby at shows. We got to talking and bonded over October Language and we were impressed that we both knew that record. We were lucky enough to reach out to them and we had some mutual friends with Belong. They wanted to put that album out on vinyl and we wanted to put out anything cool, so we were alright with doing a reissue at this point. I wish we had more of an opportunity to work with them!
Bobby: There was another group one member (Michael Jones) was involved with, Second Woman-
Farbod Also with the “Telefon Tel-Aviv” dude! Anyways, October Language is a classic and it solidified the relationship with Bobby and then it was the three of us.
Tabs Out: At the time all of this is happening with SDIG and Belong, the [perennial “shoegaze revival] band that comes to mind [in the Atlanta scene writ large] was Deerhunter, a relationship that Geographic North somewhat solidified with the 2014 Lotus Plaza tape and recent Moon Diagrams releases.
Bobby: Both Farzod and Farbod were close with those guys!
Farbod: Moses would sleep on Farzod’s couch-I think he got kicked out of his parents’ house and was totally committed to band life. That’s where that relationship would have developed.
Tabs Out: I found Geographic North because of Lotus Plaza-specifically the art and an endless barrage of “sold out” tags. A Little Night Music is the most gorgeous packaging done to date, and the closest y’all have come to doing a Factory Records style box. Why the love for the Factory boxes over a contemporary like 4AD?
Farbod: Well…all of it comes together. We do adore 4AD artwork’s aesthetic; the Factory Art is STAUNCH MODERNISM. Lots of it is conceptual-not just art for the sake of art. A lot of the work Peter Saville was doing had this conceptual basis in historical reference or plays on roman numerals (a la New Order’s Movement). It was all clever, nothing was decoration or superfluous. Everything was purposeful in the art. We admired that ethos in the art we wanted to make for the personality traits we wanted to mimic in our packaging.
Tabs Out: Also, do you catalog your shirts?
Farbod: We catalog all of it. It carries beyond Factory! It’s really cool, akin to a visceral relationship with the music and label. You need to have these relationships to speak to more than just the physical piece. There needs to be a physical connection. Cataloging everything, even shirts offers a permanence. The factory work was so illuminating because it had its place. Another example, Jeff Hunt’s Table of Elements. ToE was one of those labels that catalogued all their elements by the Periodic Table of Elements. It seems silly, but it was practical and clever.
Bobby: They played with sub labels and series, they started in Atlanta [in 1993] before our time for sure. They were working with [Thurston Moore, John Fahey, Gastr del Sol, etc.]
Farbod: That relationship with their albums, made it feeling like a “big whole thing” that we wanted to mimic down to the shirt.
Tabs Out: Before you started doing these Autumnal Compilations [Don’t Look Back, Death on the Hour, and A Little Night Music), the recurring Sketches for Winter series premiered in 2015. How did this series come about and what was the necessity for artists to play with making music for “winter”
Bobby: We’ve always tried to consider the set and setting of where you can play a record. It’s not just another release, but it is “the perfect soundtrack for a late night drive”. Halloween is huge for Farbod and I. Soundtracking the season, these specific areas and settings have been crucial, and provided artists who were on a certain track of releasing LP after LP a challenge or “problem for them to solve”. Something fun to play with that wasn’t just a next album. Something for the winter series. People have been into it! Out of box ideas like David Jacober brings us an album inspired by ghosts of the southern coastal shores, that’s not really ice or cold. That’s something that neither Farbod or I would ever consider having opened up those possibilities, super inspiring.
Tabs Out: In 2016 you started Autumnal Compilations and it’s where the label really shows its flair for Kranky. What’s the relationship to Kranky-spiritually/aesthetically?
Bobby: There’s obvious overlap-we came to this project as music fans. We wanted the best music and packaging. There’s been natural overlap (a la Deerhunter). And, when we are brainstorming for the Halloween comp especially, we just try to find artists we like and want to put on, which often overlaps with Kranky folks.
Farbod: I think you are underselling the relationship to the label. A lot of the friendship Bobby and I developed even BEFORE Bobby joined GN is based around records like Stars of the Lid and Labradford.
Bobby: Every single thing that came out for years-
Farbod: We would just devour this stuff. Our ears were brand new! Like at the depths of the catalog, like Magnog
Tabs Out: I have More Weather-what the fuck were those kids doing?!
Farbod: The most incredible drugs! It was stuff like that where even if you were a fan on the periphery of genres or music labels that Kranky touched on, you may not have been going digging for Magnog. Yet, Bobby and I kept discovering stuff like Tomorrowland and Windy and Carl and were in love with these artists. All of that stuff gets sucked into the vacuum of inspiration and you never try to directly rip it off, you take the things you are directly inspired by and let it run its course through your own DNA and come out the other end with something special and unique. To us, we loved these Kranky artists.
We were into seasonal music, let’s reach out to these people that we already admire a ton. There’s overlap there and it’s fine with us-we wear our inspirations on our sleeves and we’re proud of that. You should want to share your favorite things with people and it sucks that certain releases have sold out! We want everyone to enjoy the music and if we reach out and the artist wants to work with us, great! Now we can reintroduce them. A natural overlap and influence.
Tabs Out: A Little Night Music feels like a culmination of Geographic North. What was it like sequencing this? Was there cutting room material?
Bobby: We started to work on this in January. It’s our favorite thing to do! We start with brainstorming, asking as music fans “who do we want to work with?”. Most of the people we asked were super on board, excited about the theme of the project and the charity cause [Over $7,000 in proceeds were raised for the Atlanta’s Women’s Center]. This brainstorming process took about 5 months.
Farbod: Bobby is incredible at Google Docs. He organizes 6-8 weeks out in google docs and lists out every single thing he’s got to do! So for the compilation, Bobby sets up a google doc of everything we are listening to, along with who the label has worked with and any other ideas that come to mind. We’ll add to it for 2-3 months, to the point where there are 150 artists, spending time whittling it down to people who seem most reasonable to be on the compilation. It ends with a combination of those who we have relationships built with and those who we want to have relationships built with-really what works best.
Tabs Out: So, how’d you score Fennesz? Was there anyone else?
Farbod: Fennesz was a surprise. You don’t know until you ask, but we have a vision and we’ve pulled it off two previous times! Some of the people who were going to make it out last time on the comp made it on this one. Persistence wins out. GN is not trying to pester people, but we’ll ask 8 months out just to check! There seems to be more meaning when you add meaning to pay money for this stuff. That is an incentive to pull out some folks.
Also, Bobby is massively resourceful at finding connections! We were in touch with William Basinski, Ryuchi Sakamoto, Mica Levi, amongst a few others during the early brainstorming part.
Tabs Out: The Lotus Plaza piece struck me as the highlight of the album-how’d you call Lockett out of hiatus?
Farbod: Well he’s a born talent, ya know? Deerhunter is a complicated story unto itself and the relationship they all have makes it difficult to explore what they want to do outside of the barriers of the band currently withstanding. I’m not certain people are knocking down on his door for a new Lotus Plaza LP.
We just emailed Lockett, and we’ve had a working relationship for over a decade. He knows us and what we’re about. Despite having kids and a new career coming together outside of music, it was just a need to find time to do it. Right before summer, he jumped on and created a piece. That he did not have to be committed to a full record changed things.
Tabs Out: I chatted with Forest Management and his label, Reserve Matinee, earlier in Spring. What was it like to get him on the compilation?
Bobby: We’ve been casual fans for ages; I was doing a lot of music writing with Decoder when he was making music earlier in the last decade. I wrote up his first CDr, Colour and Light. It was the perfect late night nocturnal ambient, uniquely of his own. It naturally came out of nowhere. We just wanted to make a well rounded compilation. His was one of the later tracks we got–ironic as he was one of the first people to sign on and wasn’t able to make the last comp!
Farbod: He had a CD that smelled like cologne.
Tabs Out: How difficult was it to sequence? Was it like a jigsaw falling into place?
Bobby: Well we did not actively sequence it until it was all together.
Farbod: We both took multiple early stabs. I thought I had gotten it! And then I’d listen to Bobby’s sequence and be jealous. You want to think about it as someone who is going to be living their life around it. No one’s really sitting around listening to music without doing anything anymore. Logistics of life. (Ex: You’re riding around and you pop in tape two, how does that kick?) Bobby knew how to turn that into something like a “car ride going to a pumpkin patch” sequence. In my mind, Bobby read it well.
Bobby: We had sequenced the other ones together, especially the last one, just sitting for a few hours just going “yes this works. no this doesn’t.”
Farbod: There’s kinda an alphabetical order on the last comp.
Tabs Out: Who are you all dubbing tape from?
Bobby: We’ve used NAC for 80% of our tapes. We did go with duplication.ca for A Little Night Music. The quality/customer service is amazing and the attention to detail, allowing us to achieve the imprint on the shell was crucial. We wanted this to turn out good.
Farbod: Being nice to people is so critical! We’re novice at doing this, but we love interacting with people who are genuine about what is at stake, and that’s not the case all the time.
Tabs Out: For Sandy’s Traces, you all partnered with college radio promotion. How do you all figure what you might send out to college radio?
Bobby: A lot of our early PR was to college radio (especially locally to WRAS). Ongoing PR to college radio is a case by case basis. We do contact a handful of people to spread this stuff out; we trust that speciality show hosts and Music Directors are in the know and digging for this stuff. Plus, we’ve already got an audience of people buying each release as it comes out chronologically!
Farbod: Part of this is the capacity as people. You’re looking at the label here! Both of us handle artwork, label, manufacturing, along with other jobs and our families outside of the label. When working with artists we are upfront about what we can afford them. With Sandy, Bobby and I thought it was beyond our realm of musicality; they were essentially making kick ass pop songs and really wanted to work with us. So, we tried promotion on it! We still think this record can open people up to GN that might not normally be tuned in to what we are putting out. Promotion is worth trying-sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you don’t. When these albums come out, we put everything we can into it! We are still hitting people up [on November 1st, 2020] to check if they listened to the compilation. It should not fall into the ether and only exist for a few weeks and then be gone.
Both of us are really comfortable getting to put out records and design them, while designing copy and press in-house! And that’s a rarity for most labels.
Tabs Out: Finally, can you lead me towards any information about the Geographic North House Band?
Bobby: Someone knows, but we’ll never tell…
Bobby and Farbod recommend:
–Jusell, Prymek, Sage, Shiroishi’s Fuubutsushi (風物詩)
(Farbod calls it the best album of 2020!)
GN discography to date
(GN63) Various Artists-A Little Night Music: Aural Apparitions from the Geographic North
(GN62) Secret Pyramid-Embers
(GN61) Keep Walking…Tee & Sweatshirt
(GN60) Fruit Tea Redux/Artist TBA-Sketch for Winter X
(GN59) Carmen Villain-Perlita (Sketch for Winter IX)
(GN58) Aria Rostami & Daniel Blomquist-Floating Tone (Sketch for Winter VIII)
(GN57) Louise Bock-Abyss: For Cello (Sketch for Winter VII)
(GN56) Ilyas Ahmed-Behold Killers
(GN54) Moon Diagrams-Trappy Bats
(GN53) Clarice Jensen-Drone Studies
(GN52) M. Sage-Catch a Blessing
(GN51) Various Artists-Don’t Look Now: Aural Apparitions from the Geographic North
(GN50) Nick Malin-Slow day on a Brilliant Drive
(GN49) Félicia Atkinson-Coyotes
(GN48) Rafael Anton Irisarri-Midnight Colours
(GN47) Night Cleaner-Even
(GN46) Jon Porras-Tokonoma
(GN45) Café Ale-Transformative Nature
(GN41) Moon Diagrams-Lifetime of Love
(GN40) Hiro Kone-Love is the Capital
(GN39) Strategy-The infinity File
(GN38) Various Artists-Death on the Hour: Aural Apparitions from the Geographic North
(GN36) Donne/Vitiello/The OO-Ray-Nuvole
(GN35) Jefre Cantu-Ledesma-In Summer
(GN34) Danny Paul Grody-Other States (Sketch for Winter VI)
(GN33) Mark Van Hoen-It’s Not Me (Sketch for Winter V)
(GN32) Lyonnais-Anatomy of the Image
(GN31) Fruit Tee
(GN30) Jacober-The Gray Man
(GN29) LebLaze-When Doves Fly
(GN28) Jesse Osborne-Lanthier, Noir, and Robert Lippok-Timeline
(GN27) Moon Diagrams-Care Package (Sketch for Winter IV)
(GN26) Night Cleaner-Green Sleeves (Sketch for Winter III)
(GN25) Pan American-Rue Corridor (Sketch for Winter II)
(GN24) A Sunny Day in Glasgow-New Christmas Classics (Sketch for Winter I)
(GN23) The Flag-Heat Waves
(GN22) Mountains-You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever 11
(GN21) M. Sage-Data in the Details
(GN20) Hiro Kone-fallen Angels
(GN19) Auburn Lull-Hiber
(GN18) James Conduit-Two Lines Thick
(GN17) Lotus Plaza-Overnight Motorcycle Music
(GN16) TWINS-Love is a Luxury
(GN15) Tinniens-Dub Guns
(GN14) Clipd Beaks-You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever 10
(GN13) Test House-You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever 9
(GN12) Windsor for the Derby-You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever 8
(GN10) Windy & Carl-You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever 7
(GN09) Warm Ghost-Claws Overhead
(GN08) Soft Circle-You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever 6
(GN07) Landing-You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever 5
(GN06) Belong-October Language
(GN05) Psychic Powers-You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever 4
(GN04) Tarentel-You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever 3
(GN03) One Poster
(GN02) Tussle-You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever 2
(GN01) A Sunny Day in Glasgow-You Can’t Hide Forever 1