Label Watch: Temporary Residence

For more than a quarter of a century, the relatively small label Temporary Residence has been a reliable source of music that feels very big. After a stressful and precarious three years, its founder Jeremy deVine and his team are ready to take a break.

A lot of the music that has been released through Temporary Residence Limited has the power to stop time. Whether it is the elegiac-yet-anthemic post-rock of label stalwarts such as Explosions In The Sky or Mono or the ethereal ambient music by artists like Eluvium or William Basinski: a good chunk of its back catalogue invites you to take a break from life and consider what a different world might look like. However, these otherworldly retreats are not permanent ones, a fact that is not only implicitly expressed by the label’s name, but also becomes clear if you dig a little deeper into Temporary Residence’s vast discography.

The music of, for example, newer additions to the roster such as June McDoom and Nina Nastasia is decidedly more down-to-earth, though still pushing the envelope. While for many the name of the label has become almost synonymous with the sound of the second wave of post-rock since the label’s inception in 1996, it offers far more than that—and all of it feels decidedly big even when it is dedicated to small gestures. 

Asked about how the team behind the label decides which artists to sign based on what criteria, founder Jeremy deVine has a pretty straightforward answer: »Genre, musical styles and approaches are irrelevant. It just has to move us,« he says via email. Indeed movement—whether emotional, stylistical, or just geographical—has always been crucial to the label’s identity.

Founded originally as an outlet for deVine’s own musical projects as well as those of his circle of friends in Louisville, it operated from different places before finally settling in Brooklyn. In its early years, the titles of compilation and release series like  »Sounds of the Geographically Challenged« and »Travels In Constants« underlined that the business was a somewhat free-wheeling, if not precarious one. In fact, deVine emphasises that it was never meant to be a business in the first place: »It has always been more of a long-term collaborative art project that operates within an industry that requires it to be treated as one—begrudgingly so.«

Stylistically unbound

Though not bound to one place in its early years, Temporary Residence became a go-to platform for high-quality music from the get-go, releasing records by Wino, deVine’s group Sonna and Bonnie »Prince« Billy as well as the German band Kammerflimmer Kollektief or Cerberus Shoal and Tarentel, the two projects that deVine today cites as the ones that made an international audience aware of his work. While happily genre-agnostic, Temporary Residence’s deep ties to the post-rock scene elevated the label to unexpected popularity once bands such as Sigur Rós, Mogwai and Explosions In The Sky—consistently signed to Temporary Residence since 2001—received mainstream attention.

Suddenly, those bands filled stadions and wrote the soundtracks of popular TV shows and movies. »It was weird because at the time it felt like post-rock had already hit its peak in the mid to late 1990s,« says deVine. »When Sigur Rós and Explosions In The Sky entered mainstream consciousness, it felt unexpected and confusing. We all saw it as a passing trend that would eventually return to its core audience.«

Jeremy DeVine
When Sigur Rós and Explosions In The Sky entered mainstream consciousness, it felt unexpected and confusing. We all saw it as a passing trend that would eventually return to its core audience.«/citation]

Up until this day, Temporary Residence caters to precisely this audience and underground culture more generally. This approach extends their relationship with their artists, many of whom have released the majority, if not all their albums through the label. »Our relationships are based purely on creative collaboration and compatible personalities. We don’t enter into a relationship with an artist expecting to end it at the first sign of a negative account balance,« explains deVine and quips: »Incidentally, we will never be accused of employing a sound or sustainable business strategy.«

He points out that Temporary Residence was not even profitable for almost the entire first decade of its existence and that the small staff—besides deVine, this includes publicist Anna Lopez, Tommy Cotter in charge of physical and digital marketing and distribution and Dan Goldin, who takes care of the direct-to-customer side of the label operations such as shipping orders—continues to struggle. 

Tough years, break needed

Like virtually every other indie label, Temporary Residence has to deal with the exact same issues that self-publishing and smaller artists face today: Streaming, deVine says, is today »significantly less financially positive« than it was in the early and mid 2010s and serves more as a »promotional tool for fans who wish to engage and support us in ways that are more sustainable such as physical media and downloads.« Vinyl is still crucial to the business that never wanted to be a business, but the production of the lushly designed records comes with a heftier price tag than ever before—literally speaking.

»The combination of COVID’s impact on supply chains and transport coupled with extraordinary delays and enormous price increases in production have honestly put us in a very difficult financial situation,« admits deVine. While the production issues—backlogs and logistical issues on virtually all fronts—have somewhat improved over time, the economic situation remains dire.

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If you just saw the label’s output these days, you wouldn’t expect to hear such a thing. In this year alone, reissues and compilations by seminal (post-)hardcore bands Falling Forward, Lincoln, and Moss Icon as well as Kieran Hebden a.k.a. Four Tet’s band project Fridge and the instrumental post-psych-rock group Grails rubbed shoulders with new material by relatively young projects and artists such as Party Dozen and June McDoom, while Temporary Residence staples such as Eluvium and Explosions In The Sky celebrated their triumphant returns to the label.

Taking into consideration how small this label remained while it kept putting out music that has always decidedly felt big at such a perplexing pace, it is not surprising that its founder admits that the team is exhausted. Asked what his plans for the future are, he again has a straightforward answer: »Take a break. It’s a very challenging time to do what we do, and the past three years have been the hardest of our existence,« he says. »Hopefully the world will still be here when we return.« Fingers crossed that it will also be a different one.