Library-science student by day, independent label honcho by night, 27-year-old Rainbow Body Records founder Chris Sloan works at a high-end home audio store to finance the music. Having written his last rent check a year ago, he crashes mostly with his girlfriend. All in all, he says, he's been "between places for a little while."
From this, it's tempting to construct a romantic narrative based on dichotomy: young man forgoes a home to live out his rock 'n' roll passion while cramming for finals in nerddom (with the unwavering support of the very understanding lady these stories always seem to have). But Sloan doesn't see much contrast between running a label and studying to become a librarian. Both appeal to his inner collector and categorizer—one's just louder.
In 2006, deep in the throes of a heavy Brian Eno phase, Sloan and his roommate at the time were trolling MySpace for new bands, as they often did. They found Golden Birthday, then the solo project of Ryan Sullivan, and instantly locked in on his rhythms, which were programmed like new wave but loose like punk rock. "It was exactly where I was musically at the time," says Sloan. "I could tell he wrote pop songs in a very weird way."
Sloan sent Sullivan a message asking if he was serious or if this was just a hobby. "I knew nothing about him or his plans or directions, or if he'd even want to do a record," says Sloan. At this point, actually, Golden Birthday had yet to play a show. It wasn't really even a band—just one guy with his four-track and a few songs online. "He wrote back and said he'd love to develop it more in a direction so he could play live," Sloan says. "I told him if he wanted to do that I'd put his record out."
Of course, at that point Sloan had a "label" like Sullivan had a "band."
Sloan earned a BFA with an emphasis in sound from the School of the Art Institute, where he especially dug the classes on LP production. His music business experience by the time he hooked up with Sullivan included interning for a year at Drag City, then interning again at Thrill Jockey until they let him do some publicity. Ardent about music, with a vague dream of someday creating it, he'd accumulated a handful of synthesizers that he sold like a junkie hosting a fire sale in order to muster the funds for Rainbow Body.
Sloan wanted to start a label for "people who own record players" but give them the option to download a digital version. Rainbow Body became a legal affair in 2007, and Golden Birthday's Infinite Leagues became its first release in October 2008. Sloan says the album was "received extremely well by a very small group of people, and was largely ignored by most. . . . It was the debut record of a new band and also the first release from a new label—not the best combination for getting on people's radar."
Rainbow Body hasn't put out a great deal of product, but a couple albums—particularly those by unassertive industrial dance group White Car and former Chicagoan Robert A.A. Lowe—have stoked the Brooklyn crowds that often validate a band before they get national attention. And with a recent full-length release from Night Gallery (a duo featuring a member of the currently celebrated Gatekeeper), and another slated for November from similarly adored Konnichiwa, he may not be small potatoes for long. "The label is run off my laptop, a storage space, and my car," he says. "It's not ideal."
Still, he doesn't expect to depend on the label for his livelihood. "I don't want the success or failure of a record in terms of sales to have any bearing on my ability to live my life," he says, "because I don't want it to ever get to a point where sales take priority over the content of the music." So he's keeping costs as low as possible. Often, the individual parts of a Rainbow Body LP are manufactured in different places around the world, and when the pieces all show up he'll host an album bee. "Every couple months my friends sit around stuffing records with me," he says. Though Rainbow Body is officially a one-man venture, "the label is a 'we.' There's no chance I could do this by myself."
More Fall Arts Guide