Interview: Sundazed Music's Fresh Approach to Forgotten Gems
When you’re flipping through bins and discover some freshly reissued, bonkers, '60s psych-rock gem, it may be the product of Sundazed Music.
Since 1989, Sundazed has been releasing a mix of historic, legendary, and obscure LPs from an impressive array of artists and genres. For instance, Sundazed has a deep collection of classic curiosities to explore on vinyl and CD, many of which were originally recorded in the '60s and '70s, but you'd never hear just listening to classic rock radio.
While Sundazed releases can be found in local record shops, browsing its catalogue online gives you an good overview of its offerings, where you’ll see everything from Johnny Cash to Sun Ra, Blues Magoos to Aretha Franklin. The online shop also has a nice amount of colored, 7", and 10" vinyl options, as well as mono reissues, box sets, turntables, and accessories.
And, it turns out Sundazed also has a sister company, Modern Harmonic, that was just started in the last couple years as a catch-all for other vinyl releases. Given the already wide-ranging scope of Sundazed, that seems hard to believe, but sampling Modern Harmonic’s output— which ranges from country jazz to space sounds— it does have a flavor all its own.
Given the rate at which vinyl has been rebounding, Sundazed seems like was way out ahead of the curve with its niche and rare releases. I’d only recently discovered Sundazed after scoring one of its classic soul compilations, The Soul of Wand Records, this past Record Store Day. I’d seen the Sundazed name on albums here and there, but after enjoying the Wand release, I wanted to know more.
We sent Jay Millar, Sundazed’s Creative Director & Catalog Development guru, some questions. Millar is an industry veteran and clear vinyl aficionado, and he kindly took the time to answer.
On your website, Sundazed is described as “kinda like a record company, except fun and run by music lovers.” On Wikipedia, I’ve also seen it referred to as a record label, would that be correct? How did Sundazed get started and how does it work? Where does Modern Harmonic come in?
"The company was formed in 1989 by Bob & Mary Irwin (both of which still run the company) in Coxsackie, NY. About 10 years back they purchased a house in Nashville as well and for a while had two homes. They’ve now settled in Nashville and have opened an office in the historic RCA Studio A building on Music Row. The NY office still operates as the headquarters though.
"Sundazed was at the forefront of the vinyl thing and Bob used to get laughed at when asking for vinyl licenses, let alone mono ones. It’s come full circle where some of those contracts are finally being voided as some labels want to take a stab at it themselves now. We own a very vast catalog of masters but still license most of our releases from other labels, artists, and such. Modern Harmonic was started about two years ago as an outlet for things that didn’t quite fit under the Sundazed umbrella. They each have their own unique personalities and styles."
How much of your releases are restorations versus re-issues? Any original releases?
"I’m not sure what you mean by restorations, especially being different than reissues [Ed. Note: It was something I saw on Wikipedia, but think I just misinterpreted the terminology]. While almost all of the music we deal with is historic, in many cases we’re giving it its first ever release. There have been a small handful of current artists over the years when Bob was inspired to try it, but our bread & butter will always be reissues, and compiling compilations and other packages for unreleased or under-appreciated material."
Sundazed spans a lot of genres and tends to skew towards older artists. How do you decide which records to re-release and what’s your criteria/process for doing so? For instance, how do you go about getting permission to repress a Bob Dylan album? Does Sundazed do the remastering on something like?
"There is no standard way for doing things with Sundazed & Modern Harmonic. Most of the time it’s us approaching content owners about licensing or purchasing recordings, but we’ve been doing this so long and have such a solid reputation that people come to us and ask us to release their stuff often too. We just try to fill the musical wants and desires of ourselves and our fellow passionate music geeks.
"In the specific case of Bob Dylan, we have a long history with Sony so we often approach them requests and they sometimes approach us with opportunities. For many years Bob [Irwin] did mastering work for Sony too, but since he does all of the Sundazed and Modern Harmonic mastering he’s sort of focussed his attention there."
What’s your quality process for pressing and what type of sound are you looking to get from each record? How does your pressing process differ from a major label, for instance?
"In regard to quality, we put a few sets of ears on everything. We’ve developed a reputation as the most critical of test pressings and the biggest sticklers for quality and that’s something we’re proud of. What sets us apart is the desire to get it right no matter what the cost. We’ve passed on projects because the source material was not up to our standards, and we’ve delayed projects for great lengths when the pressing plants couldn’t meet our standards. We won’t settle just to make a street date.
"We’re very attached to each project and put a lot of pride into things so from all aspects from sound to presentation we are perfectionists. The biggest advantage we have too is Bob’s ear. He’s really second to none in my mind when it comes to mastering."
I’ve seen Sundazed albums in record shops and with special releases for Record Store Day. What’s your general distribution process like and how do you go about selecting/creating releases for Record Store Day?
"Records Store Day has an approval process these days to try to whittle down the large selection of titles each year. Thankfully we always seem to get ours through. Really we see it as a special day and when that right project comes along it’s just something that we know. We have meetings about A&R and scheduling and some things just seem like RSD type titles so we schedule them as such. Once the RSD team approves them we move forward."
What can people guarantee they’re getting when they buy an album from Sundazed?
"They can be guaranteed they’re getting the best sounding version of that record sourced from the best available masters. We’ve had privileged access to some very special tape vaults that we’ve earned over time and we spend a lot of our days hunting down masters. With Bob’s mastering, usually Kevin Gray’s cutting, and top tier plants we think you’ll be very happy with the sound and experience of your music, be it vinyl, CD, or digital."
Help settle this for me. Is there a difference in sound quality between standard/colored vinyl, 180 gram, and 150 gram?
"The easy way to solve that is to glue two thinner records together and see if it makes it sound different to you. That sounds like sarcasm (and partly is) but the only difference between the two is the thickness. The grooves are identical. You could make an argument that a 180 gram record is more at one with the platter due to its weight but the same can be accomplished by using a record clamp… or gluing it to another copy of the record.
"One good thing about 180 gram records is that they’re less likely to warp. One bad thing about 180 gram records is that it’s harder to control non-fill in a heavier pressing. With the current state of things I feel more comfortable pressing at 150, but as long as it’s done right they should both sound great… and exactly the same."