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Fat Cat Records was started by record store owners Alex Knight and Dave Cawley in England in 1989, and released dance and electronica 12-inches before rising to worldwide prominence with early albums by Icelandic postrock outfit Sigur Rós (1999's smash Ágætis byrjun) and Brooklyn neopsych unit Animal Collective. Like Team Love, it sports a dizzyingly diverse roster, and has released big-sellers by folk legend Vashti Bunyan and Scottish rock bands We Were Promised Jetpacks and Frightened Rabbit, as well as a wealth of titles by acts working in experimental music (U.S. Girls, Merzbow, Psychedelic Horseshit), electronic sounds (Matmos, HiM), noise rock (the Dead C, Transient Waves), folk rock (Vetiver), singer-songwriter styles (Nina Nastasia, Tom Brosseau), and, through its 103701 subsidiary, the "postclassical" sphere (Hauschka, Max Richter, Sylvian Chaveau). The label's US wing is run by Adam Pierce, who splits his time between an apartment in Hudson and a house-cum-recording studio in Cornwall-on-Hudson.
Raised in a musical household (his father performed as a jazz pianist and his brother works with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra) in the Westchester County village of Port Chester, Pierce is also the leader and percussionist of Fat Cat act Mice Parade and discovered music via "classic rock and metal, then punk, Fugazi, the Pixies—the same way most people my age got into it." While still in high school he started Bubble Core Records, initially a cassette label and inspired by Fugazi's Dischord Records. By the 1990s he was drumming for noise poppers the Swirlies, had set up a Bubble Core office in Brooklyn, and was releasing music that got the attention of Knight and Cawley, who were looking for American distribution for the fledgling Fat Cat. After a period of running Bubble Core and overseeing distribution for a clutch of labels that included Fat Cat, in 2005 Pierce jettisoned his other interests to focus exclusively on running the latter as Sigur Rós's jump to the majors saw its back catalog began to blow up Stateside. Given the challenges that he's faced and has seen others face in his chosen field, what's Pierce's assessment of the business these days?
"Well, after doing this for more than 15 years I'd say it's good—and at least semi-predictable, compared to how it was during the first few years the Internet was coming into play," he says. "But I'd tell anyone thinking of starting a label not to do it unless they're seriously ready to sink their teeth into it and know what they're doing. You wouldn't start a pizza shop if you don't know how to make pizza. You have to understand that you're guiding bands' careers and that 'breaking through' nowadays means a smaller piece of the pie."
In addition to the post-rocking Mice Parade, Fat Cat's locally based artists include the New Paltz-area four-piece Brakesbrakesbrakes (fronted by UK expatriate and ex-British Sea Power member Eamon Hamilton; for legal reasons the band is known outside the US as, simply, Brakes) and Beacon singer-songwriter Curtis Harvey, whose second album of roots-leaning music for the label is due out this summer. "I was really stoked to sign to Fat Cat because I'd become a fan of a lot of the bands on their roster," says Harvey, who previously performed with New York band Rex and Tortoise offshoot Pullman. "As far as I'm concerned, the role of a label, to help me get my music out there, is the same as it was when I was playing with my other bands back in the '90s. I've never liked the business end of things or been interested in 'becoming' a label, though I know that works for some artists. The way most people buy music, though, is of course different now. Since a lot of people just buy one or two tunes off an album, a lot of artists now will consciously shape their albums by front-loading them with the stronger tracks because they figure people will only buy the first one or two tunes they hear."