Swan City Sounds brings cassettes back

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by Kelly Fahey

In his living room that doubles as a makeshift studio, joined by his fiancée Jess, 3-month old daughter Charlie, and his dog Rouge, Clifford Parody excitedly presents to me a Recordex tape duplicator: the machine that keeps his DIY tape label, Swan City Sounds, up and running.

A modest $90 machine and the cost of supplies are the only overhead for the label he started with co-founder Brandon Adams less than three years ago in his hometown of Lakeland, Fla. Since moving to Greensboro in July 2013, Parody has released an impressive collection of tapes by local musicians including hip-hop artist Dante CK, the Old One-Two and his latest release, a collection of B-sides and rarities by Black Santa.

“I grew up with cassette tapes and making mix tapes off the radio, so it’s cool that I’m getting back into it later in life,” Parody said.

The kicker: None of the artists who release their work on Swan City Sounds pay a dime to do so. Say a band produces 50 tapes. They keep 25 of them and Clifford keeps the other 25; each party takes the revenue from their own sales, which can then go towards recording and producing more music, or in Clifford’s case, back into the company.

“Even if I did make money off of this, it wouldn’t be that much,” Parody said. “So what’s the reason even trying when I could do something that’s supporting the music and art community?”

In a best-case scenario, Swan City Sounds breaks even. But for the artists, they get an affordable and professional product to sell at a cost far lower than that of CDs or vinyl.

Parody moved to Greensboro to attend UNCG’s graduate poetry program. He noted the diversity and liveliness of Greensboro’s music scene compared to that of his hometown of Lakeland.

“I really dig the house-show scene,” he said. “Everybody respects one another and what everybody is doing. It’s a very welcoming attitude.”

And it turned out convincing the bands to release material on cassette — vinyl’s trashy cousin — came easily.

Arthur Boudman, Black Santa’s drummer, recalls how involved they were able to be with the process.

“We got to do our own art,” he said. “We used our hands and physically made it. Each one is a little bit different.”

While it’s unlikely that you’ll see U2 or Jack White’s next album being released on cassette, the mid-tones and compressed sounds that come from a cassette suit many types of music. Tristan Munchel, Black Santa’s guitar player, feels that this is one of the upsides of working with Parody.

The Swan City Sounds catalogue
The Swan City Sounds catalogue

“It’s a good medium for things that aren’t incredibly complex or over-produced,” Munchel said.

The Black Santa cassette itself is vibrant in pink and green, and each tape has a different stamp, with old Polaroid pictures that Parody and the band found in his attic. These cassettes are more than your average band merch, they’re collector’s pieces.

It’s likely that the quality of the cassettes stem from Parody’s love for the medium. His shelves are packed with an impressive collection, a few of which, like his copy of My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, hold a special significance to him. He even remembers the tape that got him hooked in the first place.

“My cousin gave me the Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream on cassette, and that changed everything,” he said.