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“Keep the entire undertaking pure”: Nadine Records founder Mandy Morgan

A conversation with the Nasalrod bassist and DIY label chief.

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Nadine Records founder Mandy Morgan. Photo by Janice Morgan.
Nadine Records founder Mandy Morgan. Photo by Janice Morgan.

There are a handful of bands known to every music-lover who’s been around the grubbier parts of Portland for long enough. If you limit your musical adventures to the ivory towers of church and academia–the classical cathedrals–then you might never have heard of Gaytheist, Rabbits, RLLRBLL, Kulululu, !mindparade, Hot Victory, and so on. But if your milieu includes subterranean haunts like Doug Fir Lounge and the World Famous Kenton Club and Goodfoot and a dozen other spots that have long since gone belly up, you certainly know about Nasalrod.

They were always a rare breed, a four-piece in a scene full of trios and (mostly) duos. Weird but not in too overt a way–but very definitely weird. Classic punk rock for sure, sometimes veering into metal, Dead Kennedys with a big slice of Dio and maybe just a soupçon of Voïvod. Their drummer, the aptly-nicknamed “Spit Stix,” infamously played with–and still plays with–the old L.A. hardcore band FEAR.

Classic crusty old Portland shit, in other words.

And then there came a moment in the band’s history when they suddenly jump-kicked into overdrive: in 2013, when they hired Mandy Morgan to play bass. Everything got punkier, groovier, proggier, rawer and somehow also tighter, all at the same time. The fans were thrilled to pieces.

And then before too long they were not only making a full-length album, they were pressing it to vinyl–on Morgan’s new record label, Nadine Records. Dozens of related releases followed, a snapshot of a microscene, bands you’d seen in basements or played with in backyards in the middle of the night, friends of friends of friends, gonzo lurkers who turned out to be songwriting geniuses.

Now, ten years later, the label is still going strong. You can find their releases on the Nadine Records Bandcamp page (just in time for the next Fee Free First Friday), with worldwide physical distribution through MVD. They survived the goddamn pandemic, and now they’re re-pressing vinyl for touring bands (Spoon Benders) and doing split records with ‘80s hardcore bands (Victims Family) and putting etchings on their B-sides (The Mistons).

That last one requires an explanation. Morgan explains:

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The next Nadine release will be an EP by doomtown rockers The Mistons. Side A of the vinyl will be comprised of 5 high-energy blasts of garage/punk goodness, while the B side will contain an etching by celebrated local artist and Mistons’ singer/guitarist Sean Croghan. Look for it in mid-Nov 2023.

We needed to know more about this label and the musician who runs it, so we asked our usual bunch of questions about A-Ha Moments and The How And Why Of It All.

Nadine Records founder Mandy Morgan. Photo by Dave Mandel.
Nadine Records founder Mandy Morgan. Photo by Joshua Hallas.

The following has been condensed and edited for clarity and flow.

Oregon ArtsWatch: Can you tell us about your musical A-Ha moment?

Mandy Morgan: I don’t know if there’s one specific “a-ha” moment, but I always had the overall sense that music was really important to me, and this feeling only became more powerful and pervasive through the years. As a kid I would listen to specific songs over and over again because they could change my mood or make me feel certain ways. I remember getting chills from the Concrete Blonde song “Joey” when Johnette Napolitano’s voice went from the low register of the verse to the higher, more emotionally amped chorus.

I have a childhood memory of being completely transfixed while listening to “I Am The Walrus,” not really understanding what I was hearing or where it was taking me. It was riveting, but also a little bit scary. Now I identify that as maybe my first taste of entering an “altered state.” It was exciting to me that music could do that, and I still crave that disoriented feeling when I listen to something new.

I really liked lyrics and the poetry in songs, rhythms and cadences. I memorized all the words to “Subterranean Homesick Blues” when I was 9 or 10, stuff like that. Music became a refuge for me pretty quickly too, a way to comfort myself. REM was an early band I felt belonged to me in a really intimate way. Then in high school I got into punk rock, which brought the possibility of playing this music that meant so much to me within reach and ultimately changed the course of my life. I started a band and that became the thing around which everything else sort of revolved.

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OAW: How and why did you start a record label?

MM: I wanted to put out albums for my own and my friends’ bands. I was inspired by independent labels like Dischord and Recess Records; that DIY spirit. I finally started Nadine Records in 2013, putting out a CD for my friend Tyler M King. It was a labor of love from the start. I have an excess of enthusiasm and I enjoy seeing a project through to fruition.

Most of my early hiccups had to do with releasing too many things at once (without any kind of a PR rollout), and I’m still figuring out how to make the whole endeavor financially and energetically sustainable. But making and putting out any record is like this complex collaborative art project. There are so many moving pieces that have to come together to create the final finished product, and I love to be a part of the process of actualizing a dream. Every time we birth a new album out into the world it feels like a success. So far the label has 27 releases and more on the way.

OAW: What’s it like pressing vinyl? How did the pandemic impact that?

MM: Getting hired at Cascade Record Pressing really demystified the record making process and my focus naturally turned more fully to vinyl. It’s definitely been learn-as-you-go, with a substantial amount of trial and error. The pandemic really messed up the supply chain for awhile. We were having trouble getting reliable shipments of vinyl compound and paper products for most of 2021 and early 2022–which was the same time frame that so many artists were wanting to release their recorded-during-lockdown masterpieces. So there was this crazy bottleneck and it was taking sometimes over a year for people to get their records pressed. But things have mostly settled back to normal now, and our turnaround times are only 3-4 months at Cascade currently.

OAW: Where did the name “Nadine Records” come from?

MM: I named the label after my maternal grandmother, Nadine! She was one of the most generous, kind, loving and hard working people I’ve ever known, and she’s someone who always believed in me. Naming the label after her is my way of intentionally aligning it with the best parts of myself and attempting to keep the entire undertaking pure. 

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OAW: You joined Nasalrod ten years ago–how did that happen, and what has it been like?

MM: The original bassist had a professional job that didn’t really allow her to tour. I’ve known Justin (Nasalrod’s guitarist) since we were 14, and we’ve played together in other bands, so he suggested I try out. I’d never been in a band before that I didn’t help start, and I was super nervous! But my first time playing with them was totally electrifying. The chemistry was instantaneous and undeniable. To this day it’s by far the most collaborative and technically challenging band I’ve ever had the good fortune to play in. It just opened up this whole new world in my musical brain.

Building Machines was the first full length album that we all wrote together and the first vinyl record ever released on Nadine Records in 2017. We put out the Nasalrod Live From Rontoms CD/ DVD in 2020 during the height of the pandemic when we were isolated from one another and grieving the loss of live music. The footage is from a really fun show we played on the back patio at Rontoms in July 2019, which was recorded and filmed by Banana Stand Media. We wanted to release it to tide everyone over until we could get back out and play live again.

At the time of writing this, Nasalrod has just finished mixing a new 5 song EP which will be one side of a split 12” record with the SF band Victims Family. The split is coming out in 2024, after which we hope to do some US and European tours.

OAW: There are a few other Nasalrod names in the Nadine catalog–could you talk about those?

MM: Time & The Bell is a dreamy folky duo I play in with my longtime friend Allisa. The two of us love to write intimate, hypnotic, harmony laden songs. I call it my “pretty” music. Most of the bands I’ve been in have an aggressive edge, and Time & The Bell definitely shows a more meditative, sensitive side.

MM: Similarly, The Chair Project (whose 2 song 7” record I recently put out) showcases the softer side of Chairman, the lead singer of Nasalrod. The Chair Project is his solo venture of stripped down, introspective, soul-punk crooning accompanied by bass guitar. 

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MM: M.A.R.C. & The Horsejerks is this crazy comedy band fronted by Justin Stimson (Nasalrod guitarist/ vocalist) but from the perspective of his alter-ego, M.A.R.C., who sings songs about his life on a horse-breeding farm in Greece. It’s wacky and musically adventurous–one reviewer likened it to Tom Waits fronting Ween. 

MM: Justin and I were also in a rock band called General Electric with our friends Tyler and Broc, and Nadine Records put out a cassette tape and a limited lathe cut EP for this band as well. 

OAW: How about some of the more recent Nadine releases? How did you get connected with bands like Tacos! and Spoon Benders?

MM: Tacos! is a Sea Tac metal/punk trio featuring Lupe of Wild Powwers, Hozoji of Helms Alee, and Donovan of Gold Sweats. Their latest album 3 came out on Nadine Recs on Aug 4th. It has that combination of heavy, ripping, hard rockers and cathartic slow burners that I just love. Plus all the members sing, so there’s lots of harmonies and trippy vocal layering. It’s very gratifying to help get this one out into the world. We even pressed a glitter vinyl variant matching the amazing cover art!

MM: Spoon Benders are a badass psych-garage band from Portland that recently relocated to LA. Their singer/guitarist, Katy, approached me about the possibility of helping them get their two previously self-released albums, Dura Mater and How Things Repeat, re-pressed in time for a month-long US tour they had booked. It’s something I’d never considered doing before, but they’re a very driven and hard-hustling band that I felt I could get behind. It worked out timing-wise with what the label had going on as well as with the pressing schedule at Cascade. When you’re out on the road, whether or not you’ve got vinyl to sell can sometimes determine if the gas tank gets filled, so I’m very happy we pulled it off! 

OAW: What are you listening to, watching, or thinking about right now that has nothing to do with any of this?

MM: I saw Deerhoof live a few months back and they blew my mind. They’ve been a band for almost 30 years at this point, so I’m super late getting into them, but that’s just how it is sometimes. I’m stoked to be exploring their massive back catalog of music now.

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It’s summertime, which is my favorite season and when I feel most alive. So I’m getting outside and into bodies of water as much as I can. My partner and I have a big garden and we live about 10 mins from the Tualatin River, where we like to go paddling. The bulk of my time, energy and focus goes to music and the label–creating, coordinating, planning, promoting, etc—all of which I love. But when I’m able to take breaks and be in a different headspace I prefer to totally turn off my higher brain and just experience the present moment in mama nature.

Nadine Records founder Mandy Morgan. Photo by Dave Mandel.
Nadine Records founder Mandy Morgan. Photo by Dave Mandel.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

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Music editor Matthew Neil Andrews is a composer, writer, and alchemist specializing in the intersection of The Weird and The Beautiful. An incorrigible wanderer who spent his teens climbing mountains and his twenties driving 18-wheelers around the country, Matthew can often be found taking his nightly dérive walks all over whichever Oregon city he happens to be in. He and his music can be reached at monogeite.bandcamp.com.

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One Response

  1. “They were always a rare breed, a four-piece in a scene full of trios and (mostly) duos.”

    wat? what scene would that be?

    I adore Nasalrod, but in what world is a 4-piece an oddity?

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