Going back to Motown, Blue Note, Decca, and Def Jam, record labels have helped shape an artist’s character and vice versa. For rock songwriter A. Sinclair, that record label came out of a phone call from fellow Austinite Jonas Wilson and his budding Mr. Pink Records. A. Sinclair‘s six separate Studio 1A sessions should cue you into the progression of his sound, and he’s especially seemed to have hit an artistic high since signing with Mr. Pink Records not too long ago.
Another recent addition to Mr. Pink’s growing repertoire, the Mr. Pink Video Hour, is chock-full of fun performances (opening with A. Sinclair’s “Evening Light”) that’ll keep you entertained throughout its entirety. If it leaves you asking for more, you can catch A. Sinclair this Saturday at the Mohawk with Van Mary and Quiet Company and learn more about Mr. Pink Records founder Jonas Wilson with an in-depth interview below.
Your performance resumé totes a ton of collaborations, including Night Glitter, My Jerusalem, and The Midnight Stroll. What are some other Austin groups that you perform/have performed with?
I’m currently playing in Heartless Bastards as a multi-instrumentalist. I still perform in Night Glitter while The Midnight Stroll is on hiatus. We are planning on returning to record some more as soon as Aaron and I can be off the road and line our time up.
I’ve played in bands since the early 90’s in Austin: Goudie, Alpha Rev, Lomita, The White White Lights, Altamesa, Christy Hays, What Made Milwaukee Famous (who has a new record coming out this year on Mr Pink), Mike And The Moonpies, Chief White Lightning, Deals, Ben Ballinger, and Galen Ballinger, and many more. I’m fortunate as a producer I end up getting to play a bit for everyone. I’m also a solo artist but that doesn’t get as much attention.
You’ve been playing in Austin for the past three decades. Who’d you play with first? What’s the most recent project you’ve attached yourself to?
I was performing solo as a young blues guitarist from age 13-18, playing at Antone’s and Steamboat in the early 90’s and touring Europe. Clifford Antone, Danny Crooks, and David Cotton were always supportive of young artists like me. I opened for people like Ian Moore and lots of other locals back then. I ended up in Goudie when I was about 18. They were just coming off being on a major label and all several years older than I was.
Recently, I joined Heartless Bastards which has been a gift and I can’t wait for the fall tour. The musicians in the group are incredible , and I’m a longtime fan of Erika’s writing. And I still make music with my dear friend Josh Logan in Chief White Lightning. We finished a new record right before COVID (first single coming out this fall). And I released a solo record last year as well and in the middle of another.
As a multi-instrumentalist do you find yourself naturally gravitating towards anything in particular? Or is it project-dependent? What’s the toughest instrument you’ve learned?
I’m always a guitarist at heart but now it’s just an extension of me: I’ve got an established personal style and sound. I really don’t care what instrument I’m playing, more what feeling I’m chasing and how to accomplish that with my skill set and taste. I’m okay with playing two chords on a piano and knowing those two chords had a key moment in taking an audience on a journey. When a project allows I personally always enjoy a more Eno/John Cage music of chance approach to things. I like tape machines and non-traditional instruments because making music to me is more process-driven rather than instrument-driven. I’m always striving to be a better pianist and love playing ragtime , jazz and junk New Orleans blues for fun. I had no formal music education and trained pianist look confused at my approach but I know the sound still comes out…
What led you to create your own record label? And how’d you settle on the name Mr. Pink? Is it a ‘Reservoir Dogs’/’Taking of the Pelham 123’ thing?
I was a big fan of K Records and Dischord as a young man. I always wanted to have an outlet to talk about all my talented peers and help keep a scene together. In 2005, my old band Lomita was signed to a local label Indierect (they put out the first Ghostland Observatory and The Black Angels records) run by Daniel Perlaky who is single-handedly responsible for my continuation as an artist. People like that who make it about the scene and family are the ones who gave me the perspective I needed to have Mr. Pink come to fruition… It’s really about a desire to have a support system for artists I love. They need people who believe and will be there for council and help in any way… It’s hopefully a label that encourages people to be themselves artistically at all cost: not to conform their work into just another product to sell. I like labels that want to figure out how to sell artist vision to willing participants and other believers, rather than an old-school label just nurturing plasticity and homogenization.
As far as a the name “Mr. Pink Records…” My dog Pink passed away as I was putting out our first release and I needed a name. My buddy Josh Logan (The Blind Pets, Chief White Lighting) came up with the idea of Mr Pink Records because it could also have that Reservoir Dogs influence which I loved. So it stuck! My wife Olga created our logo and she and Misti Hamrick (Pale Dian, Daiistar) help run the label.
Mr. Pink specializes in cassettes and 45s. What attracts you to these physical media? What’s something that may surprise most people about short-run production compared to larger scale printing?
I started this label with a $200 budget for cassettes and just cold-emailed my friends and local radio stations. Cassettes are cheap and I hand-make every one we sell. It’s a lot of hours but I love it. I’m an old-school punk indie fan and I just love all things handmade and niche. Short runs are great and fiscally responsible. I’d rather sell a hundred tapes to obsessive collectors rather than get a million streams from people who encountered it on a chill playlist and don’t even know the artist they are listening to. When bands start selling more than I can handle, I’ll outsource it and make more than a short run…
I’m getting more focused on helping bands find other opportunities for their music to make money while providing a cheap recording option for my artists. I’m hoping to get a lathe to do our own 45s within a year but it’s a lot of work and between touring this year I might continue to outsource our 45s.
You launched Mr. Pink in 2018, only giving yourself a year or two to grow before COVID dialed everything back. Any noteworthy challenges from those first years?
COVID was great for the label… My production and performance life hit pause and I just focused on continuing to put out my friends’ music. No profit was to be made from any of those projects, it was a pure expression of the person sitting at home dealing with this unprecedented situation. We now have an amazing collection of 2020 music that lives as a photograph of our community of artists. It was a terrible year for us as a business but it also gave time for me to consider how to move forward. It led the label to many undertakings and new partnerships: working with Jonathan Horstmann (Urban Heat) on Levitation Sessions for The Black Angels and Alex Maas, and a taping for Scott Biram in Bastrop. The label was collecting other filmed catalog which you guys are seeing for the first time here on KUTX! Michael Gibson (Not In The Face and Deals, a Mr. Pink act) helped along with Mosaic Sound Collective do some tapings and A. Sinclair live in the studio backyard. I think none of this would exist without the strange circumstances of the last two years.
What was your experience promoting and releasing your debut LP, ‘Science Fiction Post Blues’, in the midst of the pandemic?
I started that record in 2016 in between The Midnight Stroll albums, touring, and producing twenty other records. The original album release was supposed to go along an art installation piece at Radio Milk, but the pandemic hit and I just kept working on it and finally pulled the trigger. Promoting the record was a lot easier for me since I promote work all the time as a label now. I was able to get songs on playlists and get some press. I still would like my solo works to find another label home because you can’t promote your own work as convincingly as a third party can.
How does Mr. Pink enlist artists? Prior personal connections, cold calling, etc.?
Cold calls (Looking at you A. Sinclair!) do work sometimes. and I love that… but I really let an artist come into my sphere and it just happens organically. Someone I’m a fan of or someone I producing that doesn’t have help to put their music. It’s a scene and all are welcome to hang. I did turn down many artists lately because somehow people from Far distances like Korea and Germany were trying to send me music but I can’t get to know them personally as artists. I need to know them and see them play or talk about records and life. We will smoke a few joints together and be friends before I consider taking on an act. I also need to know that I have something to offer them as a label.
What was it like working with Ovrld on Mr. Pink Radio Hour? How’d that come about?
The radio hour is awesome, I love Morgan and the OVRLD team. They do nothing but support artists around here. Morgan was experimenting with OVRLD using newer podcast formats where we could legally play artists’ work and they would get fair streaming on Mixcloud, and he asked if I would be interested in doing a show. So I started interviewing people… I’ve had personal hero Alan McGee, founder of Creation Records, do the show and Larry Crane, producer and founder of Tape Op magazine.
What’s on Mr. Pink’s roadmap for the next year? Next five years?
No roadmap per se, I’m just going where the road leads as with everything else I do in life. I’m not a planner and it’s not a traditional business. I think we will continue to put out artists and engage in the opportunities life presents just by being open and putting out things with a fiscal responsibility and an art-forward view.
Anything else worth sharing?
July 17, Record Store Day will feature reissue cassettes of Deals (with a bonus B side of Deals Live at Mosaic), Dewey Ivy’s “Water Tower” and Cold Jackets “Affairs of the Heart” exclusively at Waterloo Records! Alex Maas’s Levitation Sessions limited edition pink cassettes will also be available at Waterloo with other Mr Pink gems on cassettes, 45, CD, and 12”!
July 29 at 8 pm, we are having our first showcase at The Green Jay. Cold Jackets, Dewey Ivy, Altamesa, and Pocket Sounds are on this bill. I will be hand-making cassette singles on site that night for each band!
Nathan Harlan has an amazing new single and video premiering August 6! And on August 21, a new single by Pale Dian is coming out! Cold Jackets have been doing exciting new collabs with great producers like James Petralli (White Denim) and St Christopher (Shakey Graves and more). Their new single is out August 28. Also, we have other cool new releases on the way! What Made Milwaukee Famous and Jon Lloyd (Hong Kong Wigs, Sweet Spirit) have full lengths out this fall!