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Community on cassette

Tulsa music label Cult Love Sound Tapes is a labor of love

Co-founder Natty Gray Watson, chief financial advisor Lauran Drummond and co-founder George Christian Holtzscher make up Cult Love Sound Tapes.

Ethan Veenker

There’s not much money in cassette tapes these days. Despite its recent comeback in underground music circles, starting a music label dedicated to the cheap and durable format of yesteryear isn’t exactly a high-reward economic investment. Just ask the Tulsans behind Cult Love Sound Tapes. 

“It’s actually reckless financial abandon, are you kidding me?” said co-founder Natty Gray Watson. “There’s no reward.” 

Co-founder George Christian Holtzscher and self-described chief financial advisor Lauran Drummond laughed in agreement. “We’re breaking even now,” Drummond pointed out.

“But that’s not why we do it,” Holtzscher added.

Speaking with the three 24-year-olds in the empty stage area behind Chimera Café, it’s clear money is not the motivation behind Cult Love Sound Tapes. The tapes they produce come in extremely limited quantities, rarely if ever numbering above 50 copies (though the music is all available digitally on Cult Love’s Bandcamp page). Nothing ever gets re-released in the same format.

“It makes everything more personal. Like, this is your special set,” Drummond said.

“It’s an engagement to the person that’s on the other end of that transaction, or whatever you want to call it. It’s not really monetary, as much,” Watson added.

Launched in 2015, the label and art collective produces limited quantities of cassette tapes for releases from an international roster of bands, spanning from Tulsa to Tokyo. The emphasis, though, is on local music, with releases from bands like The Lukewarm, The Daddyo’s, and Zunis, among many others.

Beyond tapes, Cult Love has occasional merch runs: T-shirts, art, zines—all just as limited. The label’s releases are fleeting in the sense that they sell out quickly and permanently, and Cult Love is constantly on the move. New bands and releases crop up. A new T-shirt design goes on sale. The Cult Love crew hardly spends any time looking backward.

But why tapes—that long outmoded, outdated, generally inferior medium?

“It’s a nice, tactile object,” Holtzscher said. “It’s a great way to represent a band’s identity, and it’s just a special thing to have. Even if you don’t have a cassette player, you have that physical copy.”

The format is convenient and reliable, according to Watson. “And they’re great for bootlegging,” he said. He’s recorded bootlegs of almost every show he’s been to in the last three or four years—adding up to around 300 cassettes he keeps around for archival purposes. The eventual goal is to digitize all these cassettes, but the process is time-consuming, to say the least. Watson’s hope is to document the sound and history of a flourishing, underground, DIY music scene.

This relates to the genesis of Cult Love Sound Tapes: community. “When I went to college, I decided I’d always wanted to do something with music, and I was like, ‘Well, it’d be really cool to do something that could help promote Tulsa as a whole, bring people together—for the purpose of advancing the whole creative community in Tulsa,’” Watson said.

“Giving a platform to people who might not necessarily have one,” Holtzcher added.

As for the sorts of musicians to whom Cult Love extends their platform, there’s no easy genre net to cast over them. The 62 releases on their Bandcamp page range from indie rock to harsh noise. “The genres we work with span literally to everything. Anything that’s local that we fuck with,” Holtzscher said.

“But it all comes down to community,” Watson added. “If they’re out there, seem to be pretty wholesome, doing the right thing: we’ll do a release for them.”

Despite all the work that goes into such a labor of love, don’t expect Cult Love Sound Tapes to slow down any time soon. The label’s future will be sustained by “grinding harder,” Holtzscher said.

“This is the most optimistic I’ve ever felt about it,” Watson added. “It only took five years to start seeing tangible advances.”

Catch Natty Gray Watson’s solo project and Cult Love-affiliated noise act Video Nasty at Chimera Café (along with local band Søaker and Baltimore-based Curse) at 8 p.m. on Nov. 7. You might find yourself immersed in a community of which you were never aware, extending further than you might imagine. 

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