For Three Lobed Recordings Artists, its Durham Festival is another family reunion
Thursday, April 14, 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. | Coffee Duke | Chuck Johnson, Marisa Anderson and William Tyler, Danny Paul Grody | $20 / $10 Duke students
Friday, April 15, 8 p.m. | von der Heyden Studio Theater, Rubenstein Arts Center | Steve Gunn (solo), Meg Baird & Mary Lattimore, Sunburned Hand of the Man | $25 / $10 Duke students
Saturday, April 16, 12 p.m. Karsh Alumni Center | Mary Lattimore and Bill Nace, 500 mg, Wet Tuna | $25 / $10 Duke students
Saturday, April 16, 6 p.m. | von der Heyden Studio Theater, Rubenstein Arts Center | Body/Dilloway/Head, Gunn-Truscinski Duo, Lee Ranaldo with films by Leah Singer, Pelt, Bill Orcutt and Chris Corsano | Exhausted
The most common version of the Three Lobed Recordings logo consists of three interconnected circles, one significantly larger than the others. The edges are jagged and randomly splattered with paint.
For musicians connected to the Jamestown, North Carolina-based experimental music label and its founder and sole employee, Cory Rayborn, the logo is more than an evocative illustration. “It’s one of my favorite logos,” says John Moloney of Sunburned Hand of the Man. It reminds singer and guitarist Meg Baird of the Surrealists or Kandinsky. Guitarist William Tyler calls it a “visual shibboleth” similar to Black Flag bars or the Grateful Dead’s Steal Your Face logo. Harpist Mary Lattimore notes, “If I see someone wearing a t-shirt or hat [with the logo], I’m like, ‘Oh yeah. They get it. “And for guitarist and vocalist Steve Gunn, it symbolizes “a community and an aesthetic, a celebration of musicianship and music.”
These themes—community, friendship, music—remained recurring in my conversations with these five musicians, all of whom play at the label’s 21st anniversary festival at Duke University from April 14-16. Spread over three days and three locations, Three Lobed Recordings’ 21st anniversary festival unfolds like a parallel track on one of the label’s LPs.
Each night promises a different combination of heady experimentation, whether it’s the folkloric adventures of Meg Baird and Mary Lattimore, the abstract sound sculptures of Body/Dilloway/Head, or the guitar-sunny sojourns of Marisa Anderson and William Tyler. Two years of pandemic-related postponements have somehow made the festival — and the levitating effects of all the music in it — that much more joyful, whether or not you’re wearing your Three Lobed shirt at all times.
Some of the performing musicians, like Gunn and Moloney, have released loads of releases on the label; others, like Baird, Lattimore and Tyler, just a few. Either way, they all have a similar reverence for Rayborn, Three Lobed and their fellow label musicians.
“Three Lobed is this culture of creativity in a positive way,” says Gunn, “where Cory encourages people to make music. He encourages people to release and put it out there. There’s a certain sense of fearlessness at that.
Everyone seems to have a story of how Rayborn encouraged them to make the music they wanted to make. In the mid-2000s, for example, after years of playing in bands, Gunn had begun recording solo songs in his Brooklyn apartment and releasing the occasional small album himself. Rayborn pushed him to make a real album of it, which became the 2009 one. Boerum Palacean album that helped launch his career as a solo artist.
“Cory was such a believer in what I was doing, even though I didn’t even realize what I was doing,” he recalls with a laugh.
For Baird and Lattimore, a boost from Rayborn was key to creating their 2018 album ghost forests. “We had always talked vaguely about the fun of making a duo record together,” Lattimore recalled. “Even though we lived in Philadelphia, we didn’t make it when we both lived there. Then we both moved to California, and we talked about it again. Cory was really encouraging, and then finally he said, “We have to make this happen.” It was really a great experience. She talks about the origins of her duet album with Mac McCaughan in the same way.
A word that keeps coming up about Rayborn is “trust”. “People inherently trust Cory, once they know him,” Tyler says, “because they know he’s honest, which is rare in the music business. And he is very impeccable with this word, which is also quite rare. Gunn agrees, noting that that trust goes both ways: “You can trust him. Confidence is a very important part of being a musician and being an artist. He is very open to people’s visions and what they want to do.
All of this translates into a music release experience unlike other labels. Three Lobed only releases a handful of records each year, all on heavy vinyl with high production values. Even though Rayborn, who attended Duke as an undergrad, has a day job as a corporate lawyer, he still finds the time and energy to devote his full attention to the label. (He recently joked on Instagram about playing hooky from work to ship out a huge pile of Sonic Youth records.) The artists, who have all released music on other labels, take notice of this care.
“It’s the best label we’ve ever worked with. I know people on bigger labels, bigger bands don’t get the same treatment,” Moloney says before talking about how Rayborn helped him put over 150 Sunburned Hand of the Man albums on Bandcamp. , only a few of which were on Three Lobes.
Tyler agrees: “The fact that he’s this one-man operation doing the things he does is pretty remarkable. It’s definitely something we talk about as artists who are friends with him.
“I love that Cory keeps it very independent and very small and very tight-knit,” Lattimore says. “All the people he works with are his friends. Seeing things like takeovers and acquisitions and all that, I feel like everyone wants to be so big. I think Cory keeping this label very stable, comfortable, professional and beautiful is something that really stands out, especially right now.
“Everyone on the label knows each other personally, hangs out together and plays shows together. It feels like a mature, respectful family vibe that’s happy to be together,” Moloney says, adding, “A non-dysfunctional family.
Three Lobed events, such as the ever-unpredictable Hopscotch Day parties, function as a kind of family reunion for the label’s sprawling musicians.
Having heard so much about all the ideas people read about the Three Lobed logo, I asked Rayborn about his origins. His response was revealing and characterful. He mentioned Alysha Naples, the designer who originally created it, and Robert McKnight, a former intern (one of only two ever for the label) who gave it its current, iconic ‘splatter’ shape. .
And then he added, “It didn’t take long for me to tell the artists I was working with to feel free to take the concept of the logo and translate it into their own sensibilities if they felt so moved.” Over time this has resulted in many variations and reinventions, which I love. Opening. Trust. The promotion of artistic expression. It really is the perfect encapsulation of everything the label stands for.
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