Labels We Love: International Anthem (Chicago / Los Angeles)

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Scott McNiece & jamie branch. Photo by Alejandro Ayala.

Join us for a dedicated listening session today 2-5pm at In Sheep’s Clothing NYC.

As we continue our opening days at In Sheep’s Clothing NYC, we thought we’d take some time to highlight the friends and collaborators who helped us along the way. While building our in-house collection, we asked some of our favorite labels to contribute classic and favorite releases from their catalogs. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be highlighting some of these labels with dedicated listening sessions and events. This week, it’s all about Chicago-born label International Anthem!

“International Anthem is a Chicago-born recording company that produces and promotes progressive media. The IARC mission is to make positive contributions to the changing state of the music industry, and to vitalize the demand for boundary-defying music by presenting unique sounds in appealing packages to untapped audiences.”

Today, from 2-5pm we’ll be hosting our dedicated listening hours program with full album side playbacks of eight classic releases from the International Anthem catalog.

Later this week on Wednesday, August 9th, International Anthem will also be hosting a listening party dedicated to the music of the late great jaimie branch. Capacity is limited. RSVP: intlanthem.com/jaimie

In anticipation of the listening sessions, we caught up with co-founder Scott McNiece over email to learn more about the label’s beginnings, essential releases, and inspirations.


How did the label first get started?

From 2010-2012, I booked a weekly jazz and improvised music series at the bar where I worked in downtown Chicago. In 2012 I started doing monthly residencies, where I’d book an artist to do 4 shows in a month, on the condition that they’d compose and develop original music for the space. December 2012 was the final month that I worked at that bar, and so to close out my series, I invited Rob Mazurek to do all the shows that month. He asked me if we could record, so I called up my old friend (engineer and musician who I had toured with extensively, back in our midwest DIY days) David Allen. David could only do 2 of the dates, so I called up another old friend, engineer Dave Vettraino. Between the two of them we recorded all of Mazurek’s sets, and after the residency was over.. I asked David if he would start a label with me to put the recordings out.

A month later, in January 2013, another bar in Chicago asked me to program a weekly series, and for that, I wanted to do an indefinite artist residency, and record every week. For that one, I called an artist I had booked several times at my previous series, Makaya McCraven. I asked him if he wanted the weekly residency, and if we could record him every week with the intention to develop material to be released on the label I wanted to start. Makaya said he was down. So I called Dave Vettraino and asked if he would come in and record Makaya every week. I told Dave he would have to haul in all of the recording equipment every week, and I only had $50/week to pay him. He said he was down. We recorded Makaya almost every week for over a year, and that pool of recordings ultimately became Makaya’s debut album In The Moment.

Rob Mazurek / Alternate Moon Cycles recording session
Photo by Kari Skaflen

Even though we decided in December 2012 we were going to start a label, and Makaya’s recordings happened across 2013, it took us a long time to get our shit together – we didn’t know how to start/run a label at all, we only had our experiences from our DIY days self-releasing music with our own bands, also we had a rude awakening about how much money we needed to press vinyl, so we had to run a kickstarter campaign to raise the funds to press wax – so the first release (Rob Mazurek – Alternate Moon Cycles) didn’t come out till December 2014. Makaya McCraven’s album In The Moment followed shortly after in January 2015. The rest is history, best read through the releases we’ve put out. But David A and Dave V are my ride or dies to this day – the three of us are managing partners of the label LLC.

Can you describe the ethos/approach behind the label?

Movement in service of the music. Service in a way that is mutually beneficial and respectful of ourselves and our fellow workers who serve. To celebrate the humanity that is inherent in what you hear and a celebration of craft in musicianship. An emphasis on telling the real stories of some people, and some things that happened, and how they sound. Focusing on context, how historical, communal, architectural and spatial context affects and informs musical composition & communication. The expanding and evolving nature of community and geography through sound. A celebration of community through collaboration. Probably some other things too.

IARC family photo by Carolina Sánchez

For those new to the label, what are 5 Essential Releases to start with?

This is a hard question, like asking a parent who their favorite kids are! There is so much personal biographical significance for me in everything we release, in addition to the way I process the outside perspectives and reception for each record.. Anyways, I will try to answer this question as objectively as I can, thinking about what releases might be more democratically chosen by people who’ve been following our label since the beginning…












“Getting to know jaimie on a deeper level while we worked on her first Fly or Die record together was some of the richest times of my life. We became very close in many ways. It was the best of times, and the worst, sometimes…”

Is there a particular record in the label’s discography that is of extra special importance to you? What’s the story behind that release?

I’m glad you asked lol (see above)… I’d like to mention jaimie branch.
Getting to know jaimie on a deeper level while we worked on her first Fly or Die record together was some of the richest times of my life. We became very close in many ways. It was the best of times, and the worst, sometimes… We had a special kind of clairvoyant, intuitive connection that made creative collaboration really easy for us, sometimes; and at other times it made us fight with each other, intensely. We had the same birthday, June 17th, gemini twins, and I think that gives some insight (for some) into the dynamic, to an extent. She saw me at my rock bottom at times, and I saw her at her’s. For a stretch in 2016 she was staying at my apartment in Chicago, I was attending to her while she was trying to get clean. There’s a lot more particulars to the story around those times for me and jaimie, but I’m still having a hard time fully sharing. Losing her last year was absolutely devastating for me. She settled for nothing less than the absolute truth of what was in my heart at all times; I’ve never worked with anyone else like that before and don’t believe I’ll be so fortunate to work with someone like that ever again. Times are just different now for me, anyways. Apologies if this is all sounding very vague, but working with jaimie was a real motherfucker, let me tell you! Real deal ‘essence of art’ type stuff, so much life.

As an “international” label that works with artists from all over the world, what local and smaller scenes are you excited about / would like to highlight?

I’ve become very excited by a lot of artists and music being made in Los Angeles. Truly a wonderful scene that I’ve had the privilege of getting to know more intimately over the last few years.

Jeremiah Chiu, Noah, May, Brian (Floating), and Scott McNiece
Photo by: Glen Jamn

As a label owner, what are your personal favorite labels?

On the note of above, getting to know the folks behind The Village and Preference Records in LA has been particularly inspiring. Their ethos of working alongside good friends to support the work of other good friends and the communal, familial, generational music that is relevant to themselves and their friends. It’s exactly the kind of label work that I believe in. It goes beyond “curating,” it goes deeper, into genuine community-building, using music as a means of strengthening family and bettering IRL humanity.

What is coming up next for the label?

We are going to announce a new album by Resavoir soon that I’m very stoked about. It’s incredible. If you haven’t heard the first Resavoir album that we released in 2019, I highly recommend catching up on that.. Just beautiful music.

Mekala Session of The Village, Angel Bat Dawid, Sam Lee, Scott McNiece and Francesca
Photo Courtesy of Sam Lee

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