Ruby Washington / The New York Times
There was plenty of good information, and at least one terrific cosmic gag, that couldn’t make it into today’s feature about Pi Recordings. Some of that material was too granularly, and would have been a drag on the flow of the piece. Some of it was of dubious interest to a civilian readership. But you’re here now, so let’s get into it, after the jump.
On a “house aesthetic”
Yulun Wang: I do think there is a house aesthetic. I have to give this to Seth, but Seth will probably give credit to the AACM. ...We’re looking for people who are great instrumentalists, and there are lots and lots of those; bandleaders, because we want to know they have the wherewithal to take their vision to the next level; and finally, really the most important thing is that they have to be composers. And not just composers, but almost game-changing composers. Guys who are really not thinking, “I’m writing these nice tunes,” but really thinking about what influences, techniques, challenging themselves to bring in new things to the music. That’s one of the things we’re focused on.
On label exclusivity
Seth Rosner: I think the guys on the label are pretty conscious of what’s appropriate for us and what’s not. There are other labels that release music like us, and also music by artists on the label that we have not released. So I think the guys are very conscious of what’s going to work for us, what we’re interested in, and what will sit in our house, so to speak.
Yulun: I also think the musicians who have recorded for other labels, they all know to save their "A game" for our releases. Their flagship releases with us are the ones that people are more likely to pay attention to. Because they know that we do a good job in terms of getting the music out. So they’ll work harder because they know that more ears will be listening to thisone. I think we have a sense of what is special. And I think we do a good job of getting enough people to think about what makes each one of these things special.
On checks and balances
Yulun: There have been many situations where one of us has been more enthusiastic about signing one person or another, and in this particular case, for example, Seth would just stop answering my phone calls. [Laughs] I sort of eventually would get the hint that maybe this is never going to happen. Our releases are so few that it really has to pass muster with both of us. And so, having to pass not one but both of us makes it that much harder to make it onto the roster. But yes, that happens all the time. And sometimes they’ve been mistakes because we’ve seen those people go to other labels and just take off.
Seth: There’s some good that’s come out of that, because it’s actually forced us to talk about who we are and who we want to be. To a certain extent, and to reference the AACM again: we take a lot of inspiration from these guys who continue to recreate themselves and continue to move forward. This idea of, you don’t stand pat on what you did yesterday; in fact, you don’t even really talk about yesterday. You want to continue to grow this thing. So when we have these differences, if nothing else, it sort of forced us to sit down and be like, ‘Well, cool: who do we want to be? And what are we interested in?’
Finally, on to the cosmic gag. I met with Rosner and Wang at the Blind Tiger Ale House in the Village. We sat at a table next to a cutout window facing Bleecker Street. As our conversation was winding down, I asked a question (one of several) having to do with the label’s approach to new signings. Here’s a transcript of what happened:
Yulun: For us, we’re always cognizant of staying ahead of the curve, and basically having people who are always going to be pushing…
[At this exact moment, a stooped, familiar Greenwich Village fixture, clutching a self-printed CD, interrupts, leaning into our window from the street. “Excuse me,” he mumbles, “wanna buy a copy of my album?”]
Yulun: Uh, no thank you. [The guy slumps off down the street]
Seth: That’s unbelievable. Un-believable.
Yulun: [really intent on finishing his thought] ...guys who are always going to be pushing forward. And with them, we’re always going to be staying ahead of the curve, and hopefully making people come to us rather than us essentially going back to them.