Abbie Jones of Deli Cat Records On Post-Show Snacks and the Power of Bandcamp

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Flatbush, Brooklyn native Abbie Jones is a new graduate of Bard College, and an even newer resident of Philadelphia. She’s looking to restart Deli Cat Records, as well as undertake the revival of much-beloved music publication Le Sigh. Deli Cat’s collection of mixtape-style compilations have featured artists like Sneaks and Izzy True, as well as more well-known projects like Marissa Paternoster’s Bad Canoes.

Striking a balance between known and unknown artists, each compilation feels like a perfect timestamp of who’s who and who’s upcoming in indie rock. In a scene dominated by male-centric music, Deli Cat is an unassuming but powerful force in music discovery. I reached Jones on the phone on a sunny Saturday in September.

Hey Abbie, how’s it going?

I’m doing alright. I just moved to Philadelphia, so I’m settling into my new pad. Going to a lot of shows. Just kind of hanging out, it’s really nice.

How long ago did you move to Philly?

I moved to Philly a week ago. It’s a beautiful city with a lot of parks and happy dogs. It’s affordable to live here, which I think brings a lot of artists into the city. It's a place where you can work, but it also grants time to focus on music, art-making and other creative endeavors.

Does your new place have a porch?

Yeah, we have a front porch and a back porch, and I had breakfast on our porch with my housemate this morning. When we were house hunting, I was like, “We gotta have a porch.”

You mentioned you had just graduated college in New York.

I went to school at Bard College and just graduated. It’s a liberal arts school in upstate New York. I really enjoyed my time at Bard, and it allowed me to explore a wide range of interests.

What’s your musical background?

I remember getting really into The White Stripes growing up. I had a poster of Meg White in my bedroom and always saw her as this rock god. I grew up going to this all-female rock camp called the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls that empowers women through arts and activism. That was the first time I started learning drums. It was a really formative experience for me as a young girl, learning about women expressing themselves through music.

When I entered high school, I started playing in bands with my girlfriends and going to shows in Brooklyn at spots like Death by Audio, Silent Barn, Big Snow and 285 Kent. I felt really lucky to have caught the tail end of these amazing all-ages venues. It became this secret little world for me. I felt immediately connected and welcomed. Me and my best friends discovered so much music together, and I think it really strengthened our friendship. I would look up a list of shows in this print publication called Showpaper that promoted all-ages DIY shows in New York. A lot of weekends were spent riding the train deep into Brooklyn just trying to find these magical spaces.

It seems rare now to find a venue where, even if you didn’t know the band, you’d just go because of the place, but DBA was one of the gems. It was such a constant and ever-growing supportive space. It felt like a launchpad for so many bands and touring musicians.

Why do you think it’s important to make a label that focuses specifically on women and non-binary folks?

I think that part of the music community feels very marginalized to me. I remember going to shows in high school and witnessing a lot of misogyny in the scene. One time at this Vivian Girls show, a guy kept yelling at the musicians and making snarky comments, like “You’re not playing in tune,” or telling her to turn down her instrument. It kind of shook me up and made me realize the power dynamics that can exist in gig spaces. I think men need to be more mindful and conscious of the space they take up at shows. Especially when dudes start moshing. It can quickly change the vibe at a show. From this fun, euphoric time into an exclusionary space, where others feel marginalized.

I read this book Girls to the Front by Sara Marcus back when I was a freshman in college, and that was immensely influential to me. So me and some of my friends decided to update that term by saying “Bros Fall Back”. It’s a more inclusive term that welcomes everyone to the front, except those men who aren’t being mindful and are actively taking up space.

I think we are in a scary political time and it's all the more important to have female and non-binary voices front and center. It’s important to me that underrepresented artists have a platform to share their work. There is a meaningfulness in speaking up. Even if it feels like you’re just yelling into the void, someone’s paying attention.  

“There is a meaningfulness in speaking up. Even if it feels like you’re just yelling into the void, someone’s paying attention.”

Where’d you get the name for the label?

My post-show ritual was always getting a snack at a bodega. The one spot that I usually went had this adorable fat bodega cat. He always seemed so blissed out lying on top his kingdom of snacks. So it was part homage to him. It just felt like a fun name for a label and had always been in the back of my mind.

You mentioned Deli Cat Records is looking to expand. Are you going to stay with the compilation format?

I really want to keep the mixtape vibe, because I think you can listen to songs that are fully fleshed-out and others that are in this raw state of scraps and demos. I think it exemplifies this idea that it’s easier to be vulnerable as a collective and there’s not as much to hide as a musician. I wanted people to feel less marginalized—that they have a place and center in the music industry. But a lot of what keeps it in the mixtape territory is a lack of funding for full EP’s or whole records, too. I think it's cool to that there are scraps and demos, ‘cause I think it's interesting to see how the mixtapes can document the growth of a musician.

It’s interesting that you consider some of these songs unfinished. As a listener, I’ve always felt that because some of these songs are next to more polished songs, they stand on their own and feel purposeful and finished.

I think that’s really true. I like to have that mix of polished and unpolished songs.

A big inspiration for it was Greta Kline of Frankie Cosmos. She has a huge discography that she’s been releasing since she was a teenager, and its just EP’s and demos—scraps of songs. I think it’s cool to see one song that was released very early on in her career, but then see that same lyric in a fully fleshed out version of the song years later on a full album. It made me realize that if you put out something small or even just a scrap of something, it doesn’t make it any less worthwhile. I wanted to translate that idea into mixtapes filled with songs that were in this raw state that felt very honest and unedited.

“i think it’s interesting to see how the mixtapes can document the growth of a musician.”

How do you find these artists?

I poke around Bandcamp a bit, and a lot of it is just going to shows and discovering bands that might be flying under other people’s radar. I wanted to make an effort to reach out to artists who didn’t have a label or a publicist. I think the internet connects us all in interesting ways. I’m a big fan of Bandcamp, and how anyone can upload music as an artist. It’s accessible and allows anyone to share music. I know my label is very small, but there tends to be a hierarchy to the music industry, and I wanted to break down that structure by featuring a wide diversity of artists on these mixtapes.

Why did you go on hiatus?

I went on hiatus from the label because it became a one-woman show. It started off with me and another girlfriend as a way of staying connected to each other while separating for colleges. So we decided to start this label so we could bond over our shared love of music, but it ended up becoming my own project. It was hard to do it all by myself.

I saw that you used to write for Le Sigh. Is that coming back ever, do you know?

I love Le Sigh! I think a lot of the ethos behind Deli Cat records was inspired by that website and how much heart Diana, the founder, put into the site. This past year Le Sigh decided to take a break and the creators were going to let it die, but I was like “No, it’s so important to me!”

So Diana reached out to me and another writer, Amy, to assist us in launching a new publication with the same style and mission as Le Sigh. It's going to kind of be like the next generation or adult version of Le Sigh. We actually have been planning a goodbye TLS show and fundraiser for the new publication at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn on October 21st. It’s going to be a great night with an all-star lineup of Lexie, Emily Yacina, Susie Derkins, Anna Altman, and Clara Joy. All really great non-binary and female artists!

Do you have any advice for someone who wants to start their own label?

Keeping yourself motivated is really important. Deli Cat has always felt like a huge art project to me. Have fun with it! When it starts up again I’d want to release more regularly. so next time I’d want to have a more people helping me out.

But I’d just say to everyone, just go for it. So many of the mixes were just bands I was excited about and felt deserved more attention. I think making music can feel like a very lonesome process, but sharing it and putting it out into the world can feel all the more rewarding when someone can connect to it. I was just gonna make mix tapes and whoever finds it, finds it, and if it’s special to someone, great.

For me, it’s a great way to express my love for music.

Colin Vallee