What's not to love about a label bold enough to release records by jazz trombonist Phil Ranelin and dirty techno-meister T. Raumschmiere? Despite, or perhaps because of, brash eclecticism, John Hughes III's Hefty Records has cultivated a dedicated following in the fickle world of independent labels. This year, Hefty celebrates 10 years of releasing records by bands like Telefon Tel Aviv, Savath & Savalas and Hughes himself as Slicker.
A self-described "studio rat," Hughes has to find a quiet room to talk on the phone so as not to wake his one-week-old baby boy. When he settles down, he explains that he founded Hefty as a way to release his own music; it has since grown into a home for music that shares a common headspace, if not an instantly recognizable sound.
Growing up, Hughes relied on labels like Def Jam, Mo' Wax, and early Warp Records for consistently good releases, but he doesn't necessarily see modern-day parallels. "[Labels with a specific sound are] kinda missing right now, I think," he says. "[But] for me personally, it's all about longevity. It'd be very easy to make the direction of Hefty genre-driven and work on a specific sound, but I feel like if you do that you've got maybe five years and then you're dried up."
Still, there are sonic similarities (and shared band members) between Hefty artists like Telefon Tel Aviv, L'altra and Hughes' new project with Shin Tasaki (Spanova), Some Water and Sun–namely, an obvious appreciation of hip-hop, a near-obsessive attention to instrumental detail, and a fractured love of melody.
It's clear that, despite an ambitious schedule that will see four records released in early 2006, Hefty isn't just churning records out as fast as possible; instead, they're thinking about the long haul, something Hughes partly attributes to his hometown.
"Chicago is a pretty impressive city just to visit and I definitely think it brings something to Hefty, just knowing what sort of history there is to music here–it's always in the back of your mind. I think it's a hard city to impress anyone in, so it keeps you fighting."