In the Cut: Jeff Zeigler (Uniform Recording/Valley Exit/Soft Dystopia)

By: Q.D. Tran

December 06, 2016

Uniform Recording’s Jeff Zeigler has built an impressive reputation as one of the premier, go-to producers in Philly. His talents have assisted in sculpting critically acclaimed albums for lauded local artists such as The War on Drugs, Kurt Vile, and Nothing just to name a few. Zeigler has also earned praise for his musicianship and collaborative work with indie harpist Mary Lattimore, and this Friday, he plans to release the self-titled debut LP for his latest project, Valley Exit, a solo effort that has expanded to a full band with the additions of Josh Meakim (A Sunny Day in Glasgow, The Fantastic Imagination) on guitar, April Harkanson (Myrrias, Downtown Club) on guitar/keys/backing vocals, and Steven Urgo (The War on Drugs, Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band) on drums. And what has been about a decade-long idea, knocking around in his head, has recently come to fruition. Jeff has started his very own independent record label Soft Dystopia, a name inspired by the works of writer/designer Richard Littler. The label released its first album, Spectra, from dream-pop outfit Myrrias last week, and Zeigler and his band will be holding a joint record release celebration with them tomorrow night at Johnny Brenda’s so you definitely want to hit that. We also have new single from Valley Exit to share with you, called “What Pulls Us Through,” off their forthcoming album, and check out our interview with the man himself, Jeff Zeigler, below! 

The Deli: What inspired you to start your own record label?


Jeff Zeigler: In some ways, I don’t really know. I had been tossing around the idea for the last decade or so, and I became busy to the point where I have to keep it, for now, a really loose thing. It somehow seemed more feasible because I’m not putting some excessive pressure on myself to make it a business venture. I basically just bought a cassette duplicator, a master cassette deck, asked my talented friend Neil Cleary-Trask to design a logo, and know how to use the internet and a printer. It’s something anyone can do at this level.


TD: Why did you name it Soft Dystopia?


JZ: The name comes from Richard Littler’s Scarfolk Council blog, which is probably my favorite thing on the internet. I’ve always been a fan of dystopian fiction and film, and I ended up going through Littler’s Discovering Scarfolk book and finding that name. It pretty evocatively captured where we were at - the world’s becoming increasingly paranoid and divided, and language and truth are being manipulated in seemingly unthinkable ways, but we’re looking at it all through a hazy, semi-appealing, narcotized glow and becoming desensitized to just how bad it is. The idea behind the name went from semi-benign darkness into total mindfuck territory when Trump got elected, so now the name seems a little tame and almost lacking in foresight, but I guess changing it to “We Are Doomed Records” wouldn’t have as nice of a ring.


TD: How has working with artists and record labels helped with your new venture?


JZ: It’s always pretty eye-opening to see how many good bands aren’t able to connect with the right record label, for a variety of reasons, and I think being able to offer the option of a minor physical release from an outside entity can at least help push a thing in the right direction for them. So I guess my hope in the long run with some smaller bands would be that it could help in that regard.


And in terms of labels, at this point, I’m more into the idea of being pretty hands-off and just existing as a way for physical copies of a release to exist for certain bands. I’ve certainly learned a lot about what to do and what not to do from labels. I’ve worked with both as an artist and engineer/producer on a more expanded front, and if nothing else, think that just being able to say, “Here is this physical thing, I have zero means or time to do promotion... It’s still on you to do that as a band,” is in its own way important, as I’ve seen bands disappointed that their label isn’t doing more and probably didn’t know what to expect or never had that conversation.


TD: What record labels are you a fan of, and why?


JZ: Factory, Sacred Bones, Warp, Rough Trade, SST, Secretly Canadian, Paradise of Bachelors, Thrill Jockey, Young God, Kranky, Relapse, FatCat, etc. etc. I think the one thing tying them all together is there’s a curatorial aspect and specific aesthetic to their releases, and in a time where there’s such a mass of music out there and so many ways to discover it, it really helps build something tangible that’s not based on whatever’s trendy at a given moment and helps fight the tide of Pitchfork BNM/Whatever wave thinking.


TD: You just released Myrrias’ first full-length. What made you decide to make it the label’s first release?


JZ: It makes a lot of sense having Myrrias be the first release, as they’re one of my favorite bands, and Mikele and I have a long history of collaborating, and she’s been a huge part of getting this going at all. I’ve always taken a lot of pride in being able to work with artists whose work I deeply respect in recording and who are comfortable/appreciative of my sonic aesthetic, and I hope to be able to keep a sort of aesthetic logic and support going through helping people whose music I admire by releasing it in some form.


TD: You are also dropping your new project Valley Exit’s self-titled debut LP this Friday. It has certainly evolved from your solo instrumental electro-noise beginnings. Can you talk about the project’s evolution since its inception?


JZ: Well, I’ve always simultaneously been doing these two things: writing conventional-ish songs in the bands Arc in Round and before that Relay and playing improvised music - either solo or most prominently, with my bud Mary Lattimore. It gets confusing because I’m still performing solo under the name Valley Exit, and that still has a tendency to be a loose, somewhat improvised electronic affair, but then there’s also now our band playing under that name as well, who are focusing on performing the songs on the LP as well as some more improvised material. It’s still the same underlying aesthetic, and I think that’s what’s most important. So it hasn’t necessarily evolved as much as it’s developed a split-personality.


TD: Your releases will be available for digital download and on cassette. Is that to keep overhead costs at a minimum? Do you aspire to put out future releases on vinyl someday, or are cassettes the way to go?


JZ: Sure, I’d love to do vinyl, but yes, at this point, cassettes are a million times cheaper and still physical. Even if someone only listens to the download, I think having a physical copy of something is important, and I’m content to just do tapes for now.


TD: Vinyl and now cassettes have made a resurgence in the music industry. Do you think CDs or 8-tracks will ever make a comeback? Why or why not?


JZ: 8-tracks! Definitely not. I think CDs still serve a purpose, though in a very limited manner. I mean, old people and the British seem to still enjoy them so I guess they’ll be around a little longer.