By Brian Walker
I spoke with the founder of Grimalkin Records about the origin story behind their queer focused collective. Grimalkin Records includes 18 members from all over the world; Brazil, UK, Philippines, US and Canada. The label is prioritizing releases by QTBIPOC artists. Many of their releases are focused on supporting mutual aid and grassroots organizations. The Philadelphia Globe is honored to have a conversation with Nancy Grim Kells in today’s interview.
How did Grimalkin Records start?
I left Los Angeles after living there for 12 years and moved here to a rural area in Virginia which is located a little over an hour south of Richmond. I was teaching at the time. I had been a special education teacher for 14 years, and for various reasons, resigned in 2012. Prior to that, I was doing organizing work in LA, but since moving to Virginia, I was pretty isolated (intentionally) and really wasn’t involved in any kind of music scene or community organizing. After retiring from teaching, I had switched over to doing disability advocacy work, and after several years decided it was time to venture out and see what kinds of things were happening in music, organizing and mutual aid and the nearest city to me is Richmond. I started going there often. I got involved in volunteer work with the Virginia Anti-Violence Project and Nationz Foundation. I started going to shows and checking out the local bands. A lot of people in music are also involved in organising and mutual aid work. I started meeting people, building relationships and organizing benefit shows for local non-profits and mutual aid collectives. We also did a couple of compilations under the name Friends For Equality. I was dissatisfied with how a lot of things work and function within the music industry and music scene. I started thinking about how I wished and hoped things could be done differently and wondered if I could run a label doing things differently and that led to me thinking of how forming a collective would be the best way to go about structuring it. Several friends were into the idea and wanted to be part of it. I tried out some test runs of tapes and lathes to see what kind of work and money is involved and if this would even be a realistic endeavor. I was personally driven by the desire to create and nurture a safe and supportive space for marginalized people to release music, play and organize shows, create artwork, and to collaborate both with each other and with like folks outside the collective. We strive to cultivate a community of support and lift others up. We don’t profit off of artists. We also wanted to focus on queer, trans and BIPOC and also folks with disabilities. Most of us at Gr are trans and all of us are queer or LGBTQIA+. Most all of us are on the spectrum and/or have a disability or disabilities as well. I’ve always had a love of all kinds of music and so we didn’t want to be genre-focused and instead give priority to QBIPOC. On a personal level, moving to Virginia has truly transformed my life in so many ways, and Grimalkin is a culmination of all the positive things that have happened since I moved here. Gr has allowed me to combine all of my passions (teaching, facilitating, grassroots organizing, mutual aid, community, found family, advocacy, and music) into the work that we do. We have been slowly growing, especially over the last year. Since there hasn’t been anything quite like what we are doing already in place, we are constantly finding our way and figuring out what works and doesn’t work. We are constantly learning and growing.
How can music communities be more supportive and inclusive of queer artists and queer creative communities in 2020 and beyond?
I’m sure we can all agree that the music industry needs to be more inclusive. Here’s the thing: You won’t be able to do this overnight. There isn’t a quick fix. It takes time, energy, work, and love. A single release or compilation is not going to bring us the change we need, but if you’re serious about Black Lives Matter, Trans Lives Matter, etc. then you can take slow, conscious steps towards bringing positive change. It is simply not enough to say you want to be more inclusive or release more music by Black and Brown people and then expect them to see your submission call and come to you. You need to build positive, sustainable relationships and intentional systems to make this happen. Here’s how we do it:
Becoming More Inclusive:
Tips for White folks involved in DIY music (esp. White-run labels)
- Actively learn about BIPOC, Queer, and Trans -led grassroots organizations and mutual aid collectives in your local communities. Many of the people involved in these organizations are also artists and musicians.
- Learn more about BIPOC, Queer, & Trans musicians in your communities. Go to their shows. Talk to them. Buy their merch. Share their music on social media and with your friends. You’re in the music scene. Get to know them and become friends with people by listening and offering support.
- Slowly build friendships over time with people in these grassroots orgs, mutual aid collectives, & bands. Listen to them. What issues are they having? What resources do they need? What kinds of specific support are they asking for?
- Volunteer your time for these organizations. It doesn’t have to be a ton of time. Maybe an hour once a month. See what help they need. Do you have other skills outside of music that you can offer them? Learn about their specific needs, and then organize and fundraise for them by hosting a benefit show or music compilation. Do this repeatedly.
- Book shows featuring majority marginalized people. Do not make them just the token or the opener! Also, pay them! Book shows at venues that pay artists or make sure they get the door fees and donations. If you need to fundraise beforehand to make sure they get paid, do so! If you don’t have money, arrange for a work- or art-trade.
- Slowly work on bridging the gap between music and grassroots organizing, and encourage and support and collaboration within the local community. This is key! Be transparent about money, how and when your artists will be paid, how much is being made by their releases or a show, and how and when those monies are paid. This should be arranged prior to releasing anyone’s music booking a show
- Make anti-racist and inclusivity work your top priority in life. Continue to self-educate and integrate these ideals into every arena of your personal and work lives, and do it with the love, joy, and passion it needs to be sustainable!
Finally, you can visit the Guide for Allies page we put together on our website for more general tips and resources.
How can an artist contact you if they want to work with your label?
We do A&R collectively at Gr (which takes a little extra time) and ask people to email firstname.lastname@example.org and there is also a release page on our website.
Here are some tips:
1. We do not consider future releases based on music that you already have out. Please reach out to us only after you have a new, completed project. (Reissues or previously released music is not out of the question, but it’s usually by our close friends and reserved for special occasions.)
2. We only accept streaming links. This includes but isn’t limited to: Dropbox, SoundCloud, Google Drive, Bandcamp if you have a pro-account and can do private streaming, etc. Do not send us a download code or private link that only me or this email address can access—we will not listen to it due to time constraints.
3. We recommend that you learn about our work to make sure our values align with yours. Listen to our catalog and check out our website to learn about our work and who we are, and then let us know why you want to release with us. When reaching out, we also like to know how you found or heard of us.
4. Grimalkin is about building relationships and making genuine connections as part of our mission. We want to support and collaborate with others and that process evolves as we get to know each other and build trust. We also encourage you to follow us on social media. It doesn’t hurt to interact with us or try to get to know us better if that seems appropriate for you.
What does growth mean to you for Grimalkin Records?
Growth means a wide range of things. We want to grow as a collective and branch out more internationally and build our QBIPOC perspective. We also want to keep fostering relationships with people involved in various sects of the music industry and hopefully inspire change within these systems and find new ways of doing things that don’t exploit artists and that work around or tear down the gatekeeping that is constantly happening. We aim to keep building our work in mutual aid, non-hierarchical organizing, and support other mutual aid organizations. We hope to become financially stable through building our patrons on Patreon, Bandcamp subs and by applying and hopefully obtaining grants to continue this work. Accessibility is also important to us and we are working on ways to bring disability justice work into what we are already doing. We strive to encourage and inspire others to get more involved in their local communities. We aim to foster the idea of being in service to others, as well as ongoing self reflection, self improvement, and educating one’s self for the greater good of one’s community. We encourage skill and resource sharing, as well as paying reparations to BIPOC. We also strongly believe that music and art are vehicles for positive change and that they’re a way to document stories, experiences, and history for marginalized people. We hope one day to have our catalog donated and archived in a queer and trans library or museum as a part of this process. I believe all of these things are various ways we hope to keep on growing.
Do you have any exciting projects coming up towards the end of the year or next year?
We always have a ton of great releases and exciting things coming up! We are planning an end of the year online fundraiser. It is going to be a Grimalkin showcase where all of our artists and friends can come and hangout and we will be streaming live songs from each of our members and friends. We’ll be chatting and discussing the performances between songs. We plan to stream all of this on our Youtube so that anyone who wants to watch the performances and chat, can join and interact in a chat room. It’s going to be a nice way for all of us to hangout and celebrate the end of the year and also hopefully raise a little money for Gr. We are talking about possibly doing another Grimalkin and Friends compilation to celebrate the new year as well, but that is not set in stone. We have a ton of great releases coming in the new year. Another cool project we have planned for the new year is a music video compilation on VHS so stay tuned for that. The first release of 2021 in January will be Quinton Barnes’ new album, As a Motherfucker. We are really stoked about that. We have a ton of other releases in the works for 2021 too like Ishtar Sr., AC Repair School, Evvy Shark, Fell Decay, Spinster City, Qween Paz, Berko Lover, among others. 2021 is surely going to be our best and biggest year yet so I hope if you enjoy the work we do and believe in our mission, we hope that you’ll follow us on Bandcamp. Please check out our website and follow us on social media on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.