• 'Stache Deep

Manis Builds Chicago Label Moniker Records

written by: on November 2, 2011

Robert Manis and John BellowsRobert Manis, 32, of Tulsa, Okla., works at Permanent Records in Ukrainian Village. A 2005 audio arts and acoustics graduate of Columbia College Chicago, he started Moniker Records, his own label, after working with Drag City in 2009.

Listening to him describe the sound Moniker exudes is like witnessing a scribe meticulously branding ancient letters into a Book of Psalms. Manis’ passion for music is undeniable.

Moniker was created in winter 2009, said Manis, who noted the reissues of Death’s For the Whole World to See and J.T. IV’s Cosmic Lightning on Drag City Records as inspiration for his own label.

What differentiates the label from other independent labels?

At Moniker, Manis focuses on reissuing music and uncovering albums that might not otherwise garner much attention. Manis seeks out solitary musicians: pop, synth-rock, subterranean, and any and all that are strange or unusual. He has found the musicians signed thus far by attending underground shows locally and nationally. Manis looks for a certain personality that excites him. After weaving through the sounds of each album on Moniker, the excitement of this endeavor is evident.

A venerable and passionate music enthusiast, Manis has Moniker on the forefront on his mind. With five releases out and three more on the way, “There is a lot to look forward to,” Manis said. Rollin HuntJohn BellowsTrailblazer and Stacian (to name a few) are signed to Moniker Records, and more are expected to come.

“Metal Mountains” by Stacian

For her debut single on Moniker Records, Stacian is described by the label as a “one-woman Krautrock storm.” Further description continues with Stacian (synth-sorceress Dania Luck) weaving a wildly fantastical backstory involving a medieval child and his imaginary pet swan, who use synths and drum machines to do battle with repressive forces in a “treacherous valley where fur traders and militiamen reign supreme.”

The label cautions that alongside fellow travelers such as Fielded and Zola Jesus, “Stacian brings a rich, textured and experimental sensibility to a genre long-dominated by gearheads and revivalists—fur-traders and militiamen be warned.”

“Crack Whore” by Moniker Records

Among the artists are heart-wrenching swoons of  Yva Las Vegass. The Venezuelan-born Seattle street musician first fronted Krist Novoselic’s post-Nirvana project, Sweet 75, in the grungiest of the 1990s. She has lived rock ‘n’ roll and all of its glorious stigma. Years later, with stories to tell and spill, she started her solo career.

She was signed to Geffen Records and has put out a few releases since. In March 2012, her first full-length, self-titled album will be released on Moniker Records. It’s an album Manis describes as introspective, full of soul, wretched and painstaking. Her poignancy is what Moniker models the subliminal sound around: pure, unadulterated honesty.

“Criminal” by Moniker Records

Rollin Hunt, for instance, has gained a cult following, as he writes all of his own music, which is often covered by fellow musicians. Even though Hunt has not put out an official album, he has toured with several artists, including Chicago native Anni Rossi.

“Bare to the Bone” by Moniker Records

Manis describes his encounter and eventual release of Jealousy‘s √iles LP on the label’s website as a “first stab at recording made to create a map for live performance with a unique and bizarre group of songs, instrumentals and poetry.”

“Essentially, it’s the kind of weird, chemically pummeled synth-loner record I look forward to receiving.” Manis said.

“Attica” by Jealousy

Manis recently signed Hot and Cold, a band based out of Beijing. The music has a CAN crunch to it. Visualize a crazed man on the street, screaming nonsensical banter somewhat melodically. Add drums and hums, and you have Hot and Cold. Manis’ ear and knack for discovering talent shines while listening to a single track through old school headphones on his cassette player.

Hoping to have Hot and Cold on the road touring, Manis hit one road block. They don’t have any experience driving a vehicle. “Well they need to learn how,” Manis said. There’s no hostility in his voice, just an effervescent sense of anticipation, which is reflected back by customers of both the label and Permanent records.