Past Inside the Present has recently become one of our favorite labels. With the releases like Stasis Sounds For Long-Distance Space Travel by 36 & zakè (which we still consider one of the best LPs last year) the label quickly gained the sympathy of ambient music lovers all around the globe. So, we’ve decided to ask a few questions about their activity and purposes.
Isaac Helsen (co-founder and executive director of PITP) represents.
Hi, how was 2020 for you?
Hi! 2020 was certainly a difficult year for us, as it was for everyone, but we feel incredibly grateful for the support we’ve had from our fans and artists. We released some of our favorite albums in 2020 despite the difficult circumstances and strengthened our involvement in our small community.
Do you consider yourself a successful label? What is a success for you?
I think we can consider ourselves successful at this point. We never expected PITP to be as successful as it has been, especially in just over two years as a label. Our focus has always been not money, but the music, the people who make it, and the supporters who listen and engage with us. In that way, we are more successful than we could have imagined. We have an amazing network of support and community.
Which releases of your label do you consider the most successful?
It all depends on how you want to view the concept of success. Some releases haven’t been as financially successful as others, but we would never consider any of our releases a failure based solely on the financial aspect. As I said, we’re all about releasing meaningful music from engaging, expressive, and positive people. That being said, we are particularly proud of our annual Healing Sounds charity compilations. We released our first volume in 2019 to raise funds for the Bahamian branch of the Red Cross to provide support for those affected by Hurricane Dorian. In April 2020, we released our second volume, donating all proceeds to Feeding America, a non-profit that provides support and resources to food banks in the US that were particularly underfunded and overworked when the COVID-19 pandemic hit stateside. Both projects together raised well over $10,000 for their respective charities.
What was the initial stimulus to start a label? What prompted you to establish it?
PITP initially started as more of a blog/curation project when Zach (zake) initially got it up and running. Zach’s incredible design and marketing skills made the project take off quicker than he expected and it rapidly evolved into a label. I got involved shortly after that and we’ve continued to build and grow the label ever since, especially with the help of our General Manager Kevin Sery (From Overseas), PR Rep/Content Producer and Fallen Moon Recordings sublabel manager Nick Turner (Tyresta), Mastering Engineer Drew Sullivan (Slow Dancing Society), curator/writer Cynthia Bernard (Marine Eyes / Awakened Souls), our amazing artists, and everyone who supports our collective efforts.
What’s the main idea behind the label?
Our mission statement refers to PITP as a “label and resource for the ambient listener” and I think it’s accurate in the simplest sense. We try to keep a good balance of the different styles of ambient music but it’s fair to say that we focus more on the peaceful, ethereal side of things. We use ambient music as a means of treating anxiety and other emotional struggles and we intend to operate PITP as a resource to provide that same benefit for others.
What’s the meaning (if any) behind the label’s name?
Listen to ‘Music is Math’ by Boards of Canada to find the answer.
How hard is it/was it to stand out from the sea of other similar labels and what’s your trick to achieve that?
It was a bit difficult at first, but the ambient community is so supportive, especially other labels, that it never felt like a competition or a battle. I think we stood out by working tirelessly at the beginning to release a large quantity of high quality releases with a consistent but refreshing aesthetic.
Based on which criteria do you select artists and albums for your future releases?
One of our main focuses is really the person behind the music. At this point in the label’s life, we have no shortage of talented and positive people to work with who are making incredible music. We unfortunately aren’t able to accept demos anymore as we are all much too busy to give them the proper attention they deserve, but we are grateful that we have the opportunity to work with people who share our beliefs about positivity, community, and expression.
Why go vinyl only (well, with little exceptions)?
Obviously in recent years we’ve seen a trend swinging back to vinyl as a desirable medium. It’s certainly not cheap or easy to produce, and the sound quality of digital is objectively better, but there’s something meaningful and tangible about a vinyl release that you can’t get from any other medium.
Please tell us about the visual identity of your label and the importance of it.
Our visual identity is mostly the work of Zach, who has an impressive array of creative skills. He’s a talented artist in almost every way, with an inimitable ability to create extraordinary visual designs on a regular basis. Zach’s work certainly focuses on ideas of minimalism more than anything else, but it’s been interesting for us to dip our toes into different design inspirations and to make sure artists have a proper say in the visual identity of their work.
Do you have any tips and tricks to share for choosing the right pressing plant? And what’s the importance of it in the label’s activity?
I think the choice of a pressing plant all comes down to a matter of personal taste, but I think other label runners will agree that you have to accept that you will not get a quality pressing if you aren’t willing to pay the right price for it. We’ve been so pleased with our relationship with our pressing plant, Gotta Groove Records in Cleveland, Ohio. They are incredibly kind, hard-working, and transparent, honest communicators. Our relationship with them is absolutely crucial to the success of the label and we would not be where we are without their dedication and hard work.
Same question about the importance of finding a right distributor. Will you change Juno to some other European distributor after the Brexit deal?
Finding the right distributor can be difficult depending on your location and the location of the majority of your fans. We have a great relationship with Juno Records and I don’t see any reason to make a change there at this time.
Do you think ambient music requires a better sound system than any other music?
Audio fidelity, gear, and sound quality are age-old debates for people who hold strong personal connections to music, especially in the ambient community. I think in some sense there are methods of listening to music that are not favorable to ambient, drone, and experimental music. The music we release is almost always very subtle in its complexity, density, and tonality. Personally, I think a proper sound system is important to appreciate the music we release in the way the artist intended.
What other labels would you recommend to check?
As I mentioned earlier, our fellow ambient labels have been nothing but a positive and supportive network for us, and we’re happy to call many other label-runners our friends and colleagues. We could never mention all of them but we will always highly recommend: A Strangely Isolated Place, Polar Seas, Aural Canyon, Stereoscenic, ARCHIVES, Rusted Tone, Home Normal, Mailbox, Azure Vista, Neologist Productions, El Muelle Records, Muzan Editions, Dauw, Hidden Vibes, Elm Records, and of course we are always inspired by Kranky, Ghostly, 4AD, Mexican Summer, n5MD, and so many more.