We talked to Jered Dowden about founding a label when he was 17 and his roster of equally precocious, prodigious teen artists.
What were you doing in high school? I know I was dedicating my life to skateboarding, playing video games, and not getting laid—all things that, for the most part, still hold true. Since I was so lame then, I am very envious of this new generation of bright young things who are actually doing great, honest work.
A couple of years ago, when I was living in Orlando, I found out about this small record label called Relief in Abstract, which was coming out with some truly remarkable electronic music. Considering Orlando has a very small but extremely good (and growing) music scene, I soon met all these affiliates at a show they were hosting. I was shocked to find out that everyone involved was still in high school—the youngest, Marcel Everett aka XXYYXX, being only 15-years-old at the time. Though my envy was strong, my love what they were doing was even stronger. It was so refreshing to see young people apply themselves towards something with meaning and purposeful, rather than watching terrible television and complaining on Facebook.
Relief in Abstract has come along way since then and is still gaining momentum. I sat down with one of the co-founders, 19-year-old Jered Dowden, and talked about how it all started, the growing trend in electronic music, and what's in store for the future.
Before I started recording [this interview], you said you're celebrating your nephew's birthday right now?
Jered: Yeah. He turned 20. He works at Kmart and lives here with my parents. It's weird, because my two nephews live with my parent's, but I live on my own.
I want to start with the beginning, since that's usually a good place to start. When did you start Relief in Abstract and how old were you at the time?
About a year and a half ago, getting close to two years. I was actually painting my room with my friend Lex Johnson and he was talking to me about how our friend Marcel (XXYYXX) and our other friend Bryce (Fortune Howl) were making electronic music at the time. We were thinking about how we should do something to help promote their music and get it out there to a broader audience. Lex had the idea that we should start a record label. Although we didn't quite understand the whole business of it, we just wanted to have a project that we were supporting and [we wanted to] get their music out there. That's how it all started. I was just painting my room with him and it was just a weird idea that came to mind.
Starting a record label sounds like something that kids that age wouldn't be into. Besides helping your friends, what attracted you to the idea? What made it interesting?
For me, I've tried to become a musician myself. I've tried to play guitar and I've tried to play piano, but it never really worked out for me. I guess I never had the patience or I didn't have a natural talent for it. Lex Johnson is actually a musician. He can play drums, guitar, and sing. I just wanted to get involved with music because I'm so passionate about it and I love listening to music and exposing more underground artists. I always recommend music to my friends, and my friends usually come to me when they want to hear new music. I felt like maybe I have a forte for good music or something of that sort. I don't want to sound conceited or anything; my friends were just coming to me about that sort of thing. The age didn't really matter to me. When we were starting up Relief in Abstract, we weren't thinking it was going to be a major thing. It was just going to be a small thing amongst friends. It suddenly started to expand. After one of the first reviews on XXYYXX in Earmilk, we started thinking about taking things seriously. We started thinking that if exposing our friend's music is actually becoming legitimate to other people out there, maybe we should start taking this seriously.
Your line right now is mainly electronic music. When did you start getting into electronic music and what were some of the early artists that you liked besides friends?
At the time that XXYYXX was making music, he was showing me music he was listening to. Stuff that was on Pitchfork and other various blogs. I got into Atlas Sound, Toro Y Moi, Washed Out. I actually went to a Washed Out show with Marcel and Emily Reo, and I think that's what really got me into electronic music. It's not to say that I didn't listen to other electronic artists prior to that, but it really wasn't my main focus. I was more into post-hardcore music, which is such a strange change—from post hardcore to electronic. I used to listen to Aphex Twin and Nine Inch Nails back in the day. Marcel showed me Flying Lotus and I started listening to James Blake. That's the more trendy side of electronic music, but it seems to be the more prevalent influences with electronic music right now.
Fortune Howl - "Fess Up"
Do you think the younger age bracket, like 14 to 17-year-olds, are a lot more into electronic music? When I was 16, that really wasn't a thing. Would you say it's an up-and-coming trend?
I would definitely think so, because when I was 15—which wasn't too long ago—there weren't a lot of people who were listening to electronic music. However, now it's so easy to make electronic music with tools like Ableton, LogicPro, these digital audio workstations. Sampling is becoming a very prevalent thing in electronic music. Anyone can sample. I supposed it matters where it comes from, but that's a whole different topic. Electronic music is definitely a trend, but I think it's a positive trend. I think I like where it's going.
Do you think it's fad at that age or more genuine?
I think it's a 50/50 thing. There are some people who are trend-riders and there are some people who legitimately enjoy and get the message behind the music. Messages in music sometimes are really cryptic. It's hard to understand and appreciate it. There's really never one side to an issue like that. It's definitely a 50/50. There are some people who are listening to it as a trend and some people really do like what the artist is doing.
XXYYXX is definitely on the rise. He just went on a Europe tour and now he'll be going to New Zealand and Australia, is that correct?
Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and U.S.
Oh damn! That's awesome. I wish I was doing that when I was 17. [Laughs]
Fuck yeah, dude. [Laughs]
I heard he turned down some bigger labels to stay with you and RIA. Is that also true?
It's true to an extent. They never fully gave an offer. He got contacted by a two labels, and both had some pretty serious artists on their roster, but he felt like he was getting into the game too young. He felt like people were picking up on his music too fast and he was afraid that they were only interested in his music because it's what was popular at the moment. He didn't want to go with a label that would abuse his talent for money and not be genuinely interested about the message behind the music and what he's trying to do with his music.
XXYYXX - "About You"
I feel that was very wise of him. I heard about a car accident you got into a little while back. What exactly happened?
Basically, Lex and I were driving on the highway on our way back from Warped Tour. Going to Warped Tour is just a thing I do. Even if I don't like the music, I always go every year. I've gone for four years. It's kind of like a tradition and I love the atmosphere, but that's besides point. I've never been on the highway and drifted off to the side of the lane where there are bumps on the side of the road that's supposed to inform you that you shouldn't be this far over the line. That startled me and I tried turning the wheel back to the lane and I turned the wheel so fast that I ended up turning into the median. It was just a grassy median, so I attempted to brake as I was going through it. For some reason though, I continued to slide through the median and I hit an on-coming car. I somehow dodged a truck and another car and ended up hitting another car head-on. Their car ended up in a ditch on the other side of the oncoming traffic lane, and I was stopped in the middle of the highway. Basically, it damaged my hand, my legs, and I couldn't move. I was completely conscious for the entire thing. Lex was able to get out of the car and walk away from the car. Surprisingly, all the damage to the car was on his side, but he was able to get walk out perfectly fine. I was in the hospital for a couple of weeks and then went to rehab to learn to walk again.
Learning how to walk again—what was that experience like?
When I was in the hospital, everyone talked about how serious the accident was, but for me, it was done and over with, now I just have to get back up on my feet again. That surprised a lot of people, because they felt that I would be traumatized by it. I've been driving since October and really, the only thing that's really traumatized me was driving on a college campus. [Laughs]
Learning to walk again wasn't as bad as people would make it seem, at least for me. I had to go through physical therapy for two weeks and I had to do different exercises with my legs and different muscles. I had two metal rods put into my leg—one into my femur on the right leg and one through my tibia and fibula on my left leg. I was in a wheelchair up until I had to do the exercises daily and I had to use a walker. For about three or four weeks when I was out of the rehab center, I had to continue using a walker, then a cane. When started using a cane, I felt like I could walk again. I couldn't run, but it worked out well. My muscles healed quicker than normal. They said it would take six months when I first got out of surgery, and I healed in three months.
After experiencing that accident, has that affected how you run the label or personal life?
Because of the accident, my brother and his fiancé ended up creating a Give Forward account, which is basically like a Kickstarter, and that allowed people to donate money to help pay for my medical bills. When I saw so much support through that and so much support on my Facebook with people sending me get well soon messages, it made me really think that there was a lot of people out there who really cared about what I was doing with music, as well as the community of friends that I have. I'm really happy that I have that. I'm really glad that people are appreciative of what I'm doing with music. I'm not trying to take that from a conceited perspective. I hope people don't take it that way. It has made me think a lot about what I should be doing, which is what I am doing. Relief in Abstract is what I should be doing; it's a positive thing for my life as well as for others. I actually got a care package from the guys at Chill Mega Chill Records. They sent me three tapes as well as a letter expressng their concern for me. Even other people, who I haven't even met in real life, ave been asking me how I'm doing, how I'm healing. It made me feel like they actually cared about me.
It's really great to see so much support, even from people you don't personally know. I think you're doing the right thing. Relief in Abstract is launching a new website. What are some things that you're excited about for the new site?
I'm really excited for the design, as well as the backend of it. Jordan Shih (JSHIH) and our creative director, Guillermo Cassanova, are designing it. It's going to have some new features that we felt our old Tumblr website wouldn't be able to handle. Guillermo and Jordan will have some pretty interesting things to include on the new website that I hope will be different and innovative. I can't necessarily say that it will be, but I hope it can be something new.
Is there an ETA on that?
It's currently in the works. I can't say a date, but I know Guillermo and Jordan are both very adamant about supporting the label and getting a greater web presence from it. I'd say sometime soon.
I think that's it. Anything you want to say that you didn't get a chance to?
I just want to say I'm very thankful for everyone who supported the label. I'm really glad to be involved with such charismatic and caring people. Lex Johnson, Guillermo Casanova, Marcel, Bryce Linde, Grant, Alex, Nathan, everyone one the label. They are such talented, artistic people and I'm really happy to be working with them in this collective. I really hope that we can make it big some day.
Follow Daniel on Twitter - @danieldorsa