Knoxville-Based Gezellig Records Earns International Attention With ACLU Benefit Album

In Music Stories, Program Notes by Nick Huinkerleave a COMMENT

Last Friday’s inauguration of Donald Trump saw the kickoff of progressive resistance efforts across the spectrum, including the first official rush of a new era of protest-minded musical releases—and one recently minted Knoxville label has been making headlines alongside indie rock’s biggest names.

Ben Smith first conceived of Gezellig Records while living abroad in 2013. He launched the label in July, when he released the debut from Knoxville’s DJ Hatred (aka Mercury movie reviewer Nathan Smith). A handful of other releases have followed, so when Trump’s election spurred Smith’s friend Peter McCarville to pitch a benefit compilation, Smith was in a position to help him make it a reality. (McCarville’s Nashville-based music act, Best Friend, released the album Can You Believe It? on Gezellig in the fall.)

After months of coordination the finished product, Is There Another Language?, was released on inauguration day. Smith expected a modest and positive reaction, but it wasn’t long before the compilation’s tracklist—including exclusive music from indie favorites like Mount Eerie and the Pains of Being Pure at Heart—drew widespread attention from websites like Pitchfork, Stereogum, and Spin, putting Gezellig Records firmly on the map.

Smith is quick to give McCarville full credit for how the benefit turned out, from the curation (featuring other Gezellig acts and a few of McCarville’s Nashville contemporaries alongside bigger draws like Dean and Britta and Surfer Blood) to the selection of the American Civil Liberties Union as the destination for its proceeds. But Smith can’t deny that the deluge of attention has been a unique thrill.

“It really hit home with the international coverage, since that’s the goal of the label, really—worldly togetherness through music and art,” Smith says. “It means a lot, and I can’t really express in words how all this support has felt. And all for a good cause.”

The attention has been a boon for the benefit, with limited-edition cassette copies selling out within 24 hours and thousands of listeners visiting the album’s Bandcamp page. As for plans for his newly signal-boosted label, Smith hints at new music from local acts plus the debut record by Serbian band Crvi. But whatever’s beyond that is clearly up to the whims of a man keeping his ears open for what’s next.

“I hope everyone likes ambient music from the Ukraine and Iran,” he says.

Contributing Writer | huinker@gmail.com

Nick Huinker is fortunate to have spent the past 15 years living and covering Knoxville’s near-constant DIY music renaissance. Once a year he does his best to return the cultural favor as producer of the Knoxville Horror Film Fest; most of the rest of the time he’s of limited use.

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