The Des Moines-based artist and musician Trey Reis runs Warm Gospel Tapes, a label that has grown an impressive collection of electronic and experimental music by artists from Iowa and around the world. Some of the notable Iowa artists from the label include Annalibera, Curt Oren, Nicholas Naioti, BBJr, and TIRES.
Reis has made his own music over the years, sometimes in collaboration with his siblings. And he and his brother Trent operated a music venue in Boone called the Elephungeon. They brought touring electronic artists to small-town Iowa, which was significant at the time because the Practice Space — which had been the venue for experimental and underground music — had just closed its doors in Ames. Elephungeon helped rally the Iowa noise community, fostering collaborations that resulted in a couple music festivals and zines.
We touched on that scene a bit when the Informer reached out to Trey to talk about collecting music, Warm Gospel Tapes, and the police reform-focused organization Reclaim the Block, to which the label recently donated a portion of proceeds.
There’s been a well-documented resurgence of vinyl records in the past decade but it seems like tapes have made a comeback too, at least in DIY circles. What do you think is behind the appeal of cassettes? What made you want to start a tape label specifically?
The resurgence of the cassette tape likely has a lot to do with tangibility. As digital continues to become more and more of the standard for storage of nearly everything in our lives, it seems people were bound to start missing the physical connection with objects. I think about it the same way I think of art museums. You can browse an entire artist’s collection on the Internet, but that will never take the place of actually seeing and experiencing the work in person. The lighting, the positioning of the artwork on the wall, the size of the room – these are all intentional choices made regarding how one will experience it. To me, those things are the same as hearing the warmth of a cassette tape, unfolding and reading the J-card, or flipping the tape from Side A to Side B.
I decided to make Warm Gospel (primarily) a tape label for these same reasons. I have always loved CDs but I never really figured out how to make them look good using my stubbornly DIY techniques. Records are also great, but necessarily expensive, and I knew the label would likely never be large enough to do every release on vinyl, as much as I would like to.
If someone is new to your label, what are some releases you’d recommend checking out for starters?
Nearly everything I release through the label is rooted in electronic music experimentation. Some of the releases I would start with to get a feel for what Warm Gospel is all about are the following:
- DJ DJ TANNER — MONSTER
- BigCat — Idle Chatter
- Andrew Cosentino — In Kinder Light
- J. Hamilton Isaacs — Tolerance Clock
- Spliff Jacksun — Habitat
Let’s reminisce a little. Electronic and experimental music were also the focus of the DIY venue Elephungeon, which you and your brother started in Boone in the late-aughts. I saw some mind-blowing performances there and it was a big influence on me. What are some of the Elephungeon shows you remember fondly?
My brother, Trent, was the one mostly responsible for the shows that happened at the Elephungeon, so I can’t really take any credit beyond day-of setup and cleanup. What an unexpected and great spot that was, though.
I have to start with the Leslie and the Lys show. Attendance for that show was the best we ever had, and seeing her entire stage setup and live production translated to a small, crowded basement in Boone, Iowa, was crazy. I don’t even remember being able to see much of the show because of how many people were there, but the energy was palpable.
Trent and I played a show at the Elephungeon with Pictureplane and BDRMPPL — a couple of bands associated with the legendary Rhinoceropolis venue in Denver, and that show really reshaped my entire interest in music for years to come. There weren’t even very many people there for that show, but many of the ones that were (including myself) still regard it as one of their favorite shows they have ever seen. Also, we blew up the PA that night right near the end from blasting synthesizers through it, which felt like a fitting end to the show.
The Elephungeon was also where I first heard Baby Birds Don’t Drink Milk, who have gone on to become one of my favorite groups. I remember picking up some of my first cassettes at that show and I credit it as the night I realized I could start up a tape label of my own. Years later, I ended up releasing a tape for them on Warm Gospel, which was a major personal accomplishment for me and a milestone for the label.
The first few Zeitgeist music festivals also occurred at the Elephungeon, which pulled together a lot of regional experimental music acts and helped reshape that scene in Iowa moving forward.
The Zeitgeist festivals were connected to the All Iowa Noise Insurgency zine, I’ve read the first two issues and they’re great. You also made a zine called Never Knows Best, I have a copy of issue #2, I love it. It has a cool one-act play and some comics, poetry, a travelogue, and an essay about Des Moines. How many issues of Never Knows Best did you do? Do you still make zines? It seems like zines and tapes go together.
There has always been some crossover between the zine and tape world. I think it has to do with the accessibility of both mediums to DIYers, as both can be made entirely by individuals, end-to-end at relatively low costs. I ended up doing five issues of Never Knows Best, and three issues of a collaborative zine while I was at Iowa State University called Neat Zine. The last zines I did were the two issues of the All Iowa Noise Insurgency zine when I moved back to Iowa.
Aside from a couple zine workshops I put together with kids over the past few years, I haven’t really done anything in the zine world for a while now. That’s mostly due to finding other outlets for my creative work including making larger scale visual art and putting together music write-ups and reviews for various websites and publications. I’ve also been busier with Warm Gospel in recent years and have now begun making handmade lathe-cut records with an old Presto 6n with my friend, Phil Young, for our business, vIAnyl Records.
What kind of music are you into collecting, any particular labels or artists?
I’ve gone through a lot of phases throughout my years of collecting music. I currently find myself interested in vocal music, both traditional and religious. Jean Redpath was a Scottish singer and I found a number of her records that I can listen to on repeat. Shanachie Records has been around since the ‘70s and has put out so much fantastic world music over the past decades. I will usually buy anything I find from them, whether I’ve heard of the artist or not. Also, anything rooted in Shaped-Note singing and the Sacred Harp.
In the electronic/experimental world, I try and check in with Orange Milk and Hausu Mountain, both of which I take enormous inspiration from for Warm Gospel. RVNG INTL. has an ongoing collaborative series called FRKWYS and I make sure to pick those up whenever a new one comes out. Duppy Gun is a label started by LA’s Sun Araw and M. Geddes Gengras that has been doing a lot of releases combining traditional dub and reggae techniques with more experimental-leaning electronics, and I can’t seem to get enough of that combination of genres.
Oh, and Jackson Browne. Lots and lots of Jackson Browne.
When you recently released your latest batch of Warm Gospel tapes you donated 25 percent of the initial proceeds to a Minneapolis-based nonprofit organization called Reclaim the Block. What do they do, and why is their mission important to you?
Reclaim the Block seeks to reallocate funds in the Minneapolis city budget towards public health and safety programs and violence prevention. The organization wants to restructure how we think of public safety by including social workers and healthcare professionals in the response, ultimately reducing the massive list of public issues we ask our law enforcement officials to respond to and deal with.
We have an overwhelming amount of data and empirical evidence to see how the expansion of police departments over the past 40 years has in many ways impacted our communities negatively and unevenly across the board. This has been made especially clear in our communities of color nationwide. I would like to see us now try the opposite approach, that is, one rooted in empathy, compassion, and rehabilitation rather than failed incarceration and zero-tolerance policies.