Off the grid with Matt Werth 

The Little Rock roots of Brooklyn's strangest record label.

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I asked him to describe the sound of the label and he said, "Honestly, I'll take whatever. It's open to interpretation, and it's about the personal experience. I don't mind genres or parameters; I like that conversation and think it helps. But I try to keep it really abstract, to be honest, because I'm not so sure. I'm not trying to be clever, but if we're going to deal in stratification I don't want to be the one creating those parameters. So I go with things like 'fried' or 'melted' or 'fucked up.' I know that's a cop-out."

Though the RVNG catalogue has extended well beyond his web of friends, he still prefers to work with artists he has some personal relationship with, an approach that has led most recently to his reunion with Lee Buford and Chip King of The Body, two friends of his from his days in the Little Rock punk scene. "We've kept in touch and seen each other sporadically through the years," Werth said, "but as you get older and you're geographically displaced, you don't necessarily see your friends as much as you'd like."

The group's new record, "I Shall Die Here," came out of Werth's idea that the duo should collaborate with the British producer and musician Bobby Krlic, better known as The Haxan Cloak. It's a dissonant and ambitiously forbidding album. More than almost anything else the label has released, it sounds "fried" and "melted" and "fucked up." "I hadn't seen Chip or Lee in some time," Werth said, "but I've loved their music from afar. So it's super special to be able to drop them a line and ask them to go on a journey."

While the label seems primarily oriented toward these types of forward-thinking projects by younger musicians, Werth is also passionate about paying tribute to older, little-known artists whom he believes have been overlooked or deserve some contemporary reconsideration. This is the impetus behind reissuing strange cult artifacts like "Synthesist," a gorgeous 1980 album by Krautrock percussionist Harald Grosskopf, and also behind FRKWYS, a series of releases featuring intergenerational and often unlikely collaborations.

The most prominent of the FRKWYS records to date involved Werth flying to Jamaica with West Coast experimentalists Sun Araw and M. Geddes Gengras to work with the iconic reggae group The Congos. "The Congos made one of my favorite albums ever," Werth said, referring to their 1977 classic, "Heart of the Congos." "To work with people that you admire and respect so much, to actually get into the creative process and DNA of those artists, is just so incredible. It's hard not to be awed."

"Walking into it," he said of his time in Jamaica, "I didn't know what we were getting into or where we would end up. I guess I still don't. I don't need to know where it's going, it's important not to have a grid. I like being thrown into situations like that, where you don't know."

Another recent "archival" release was inspired several years ago by a viewing of the 1982 documentary "Land of Look Behind," a portrait of the Rastafarian movement after the death of Bob Marley. Werth liked the film, but loved the soundtrack, became entranced by it and spent years digging for records by and information about its composer, K. Leimer. He eventually tracked down the reclusive artist, who it emerged was from Seattle, and "thus began two years of my life," he says, "putting together this definitive, unheard collection." The album, "A Period of Review: Original Recordings 1975-1983," is set to be released May 13.



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