“Everyone’s in it to make music, not to make money.” There’s nothing new about musicians giving their work away for free, forfeiting track or album sales to encourage future gains. Free downloads hypothetically attract more fans to listen, encouraging increased attention and exposure, and potentially leading to performance income or merch sales. The formula isn’t groundbreaking, neither is it complete when encapsulating what Day Old Records is all about though. Here, Victor French — who records and releases downtempo electronic music for the label as Caveman the Wise — is referencing something greater than an art versus commerce debate: He’s talking about community.
Day Old might not place a premium on download sales, but to wring out an already dried up cliché by saying the indie label is “all about the music” also overlooks the creativity and friendships that have sprung from its existence. John Stout, who creates lo-fi beats and videos as JOTA ESE, could be considered one of the label’s founders, though he’d be the first to say it doesn’t matter who founded Day Old Records; he just happened to be part of a group of friends that adopted the name nearly a decade ago in Macomb, Illinois. As for releasing their music for free, Stout adds, “I think money would just fuck it all up.”
While dozens of “crew” member names are listed on Day Old’s website, beyond the aliases, in-jokes, and long-retired projects, only 10 (“or so”) artists currently contribute to the label. One key name from that list is Stout’s high school friend Montrell Daniels, known to the Day Old family as Off the Rail Trell. “My buddy got a huge roll of these stickers from a Casey’s General Store,” says Stout of the donut labels Daniels came home with one day. “We all skateboarded, so we just involved everything we did under ‘Day Old’. The stickers kind of determined the name.” Stickers and skateboarding aside, the most influential phase of the Day Old timeline came once Stout began attending Western Illinois University, when a dream encouraged him to create a D.I.Y. performance space. From there the Day Old Basement was born.
After getting approval to take over his dad’s basement for use as a venue, Stout received help from friends in a band called the Deadbees to prep the spot for events. The first show took place in August of 2007, and for a few years the Day Old Basement would see a heavy stream of local, national, and even international bands pass through. “We had a professional P.A. system,” he continues. “We built a stage out of pallets and plywood. Almost every weekend we would do some shows.” Already having gained popularity as one of the only places for students to experience live music outside of bars, the donut stickers were given away to attendees who then spread them all over Macomb, which only created more local buzz about the venue.
During these years Stout played bass in Ass Factory 7, the Dope Boy Allstars, and a jazz combo with French on saxophone, but eventually groups grew apart, students graduated, and the Day Old Basement came to an end. It wasn’t until 2011 that Stout (who’d moved to Nashville) and French (who was then attending Southern Illinois University in Carbondale) would find their paths crossing again. “I was just making random-ass ambient shit,” says French, looking back on his first attempts at creating electronic music. Searching for new sounds online he came across a familiar name who was now releasing through Day Old as JOTA ESE, which then influenced a turn in his own direction. “There is a sound I was not really familiar with, and it was someone I knew from Western. That’s something I can do,” he says, speaking to the sense of inspiration that followed. “I know this guy.” Day Old Records became further entrenched in Nashville when French relocated to the city last July.
While still releasing lo-fi guitar music from the Deadbees and slightly-blunted hip hop from Off the Rail Trell, Day Old has grown exceedingly focused on loop-heavy, beat-based audio and video since Stout and French reconvened. Digital albums have followed from (inter)national artists including Dogbee Offla, nappychan, and lerabot, in addition to numerous releases from both Caveman the Wise and JOTA ESE, including JOTA's collaborative release with Truth Clipsy and Super Dank II, which prompted the Nashville Scene to dub him the city’s “Best Experimental Hip-Hop Producer” in 2012.
JOTA’s Super Dank II was also released as a VHS beat tape that year, patching together found footage, inspired by the video collages of Human Manwich (who collaborated with JOTA on “Human Ese” in 2013). Other videos have been produced by Kenneth Anger, Terry Larkin, and Lucas Young, who connected with Day Old online before creating visuals for a couple Caveman the Wise tracks. “Dude hit me up and he was like, ‘Look, I like your songs’,” says French of their online introduction. “I had a two minute-song called ‘Malice’ and [he asked] ‘Mind if I make some videos for your songs?’ and I was like ‘Hell yeah - go for it!’”
As Day Old’s foundation has become further rooted in Nashville, the duo have started to meet and work with different groups of electronic musicians within the city. “It’s been good because, y’know, most of the other beat-makers are like, ‘Oh, we thought we were the only ones’,” says French. “[Like] two alien civilizations, really, making contact.” “We’re definitely the weirder arm,” Stout adds, referencing their place in the scene compared to producers including Strooly, Treekeeper, Robin Carnage, and KDSML, who work under the Full Circle Presents banner. “Our goals are much more different, [but it’s] been good to work with them.” Another Nashville act that recently connected with Day Old is Gay Vibes, the solo project of director Seth Graves.
“The general public's response was pretty non existent,” says Graves of Gay Vibes’ 10 track audio-collage called My Baby’s Got Worms which he self-released last November. Dissatisfied with the positive-but-passing reception, he began looking for outlets to help expand the reach of his next release. “Day Old was my first choice.” “We get artists that hit up Day Old Records all the time,” says French, “[but] there’s definitely got to be a certain kind of feel to it.” The vibe of Gay Vibes' submission hit its mark, and the five song Karate All Day EP dropped under the Day Old banner this past February. “I love what those guys are doing and it was very validating on my end that they let me be a part of it,” adds Graves. “Their approval inspired me to make a great piece of music that is in turn pushing my art forward.”
Forward, here, is the motion for all... For Caveman the Wise, the future looks to deliver an evil doers-themed EP series called Villains, which he also plans to develop into a live show which will incorporate use of his prized possession, a Selmer Paris Reference 54 saxophone named Zoey. For JOTA ESE, it means following his friend in experimenting with beats and live instrumentation, and releasing the Super Dank III tape, which he hopes to have ready by 4/20. And for Day Old Records, French says that forward means staying true to their philosophy while trying to help elevate the electronic music scene in a city that’s known for anything but. “The beat scene in Nashville doesn’t stand a chance unless we’re unified.” It's never just all about the music, but to Day Old Records the only thing more important might be the people.