Rock ‘n’ roll covered in moss

By HermineBloom

Cassette tapes— perceived as prehistoric artifacts collecting dust in the corner of a harshly-lit thrift store—are considered treasures in 22-year-old Joseph Blanski’s Ukrainian Village apartment. Blanski’s affinity for the CD’s distant brethren, or the vinyl record’s slightly younger cousin, led him to create Moss Tapes, an emerging Chicago-based music label that primarily sells reproduced, repainted cassette tapes.

The dubbing, or copying using a recorder, spray painting and designing has taken place in Blanski’s apartment just about every day since August 2009 when Moss Tapes began, he said.

“I like the fact that they’re not digital,” Blanski said. “They’re physical and you can hold them in your hands. As things get more and more digital, that aspect fades away and you kind of lose that.”

Blanski performs solo as Meester Magpie, as well as with RRRainbow Family Band, both of which produce music under the Moss Tapes umbrella.

Though Blanski claims to never have taken music seriously until college, he now plays everything from guitar and keyboards to didgeridoo and clarinet, devoting all of his free time to practicing music and reproducing tapes

for his label.

Other bands that belong to Moss Tapes, all of which comprise friends of Blanski’s, are eclectic in genre. Improvisational jazz, blues, noise and lo-fi bedroom urban country are just some of the genres of music that Moss Tapes represents, Blanski said.

In order to reproduce a cassette tape, Blanski said he generally orders 100 cassette tapes online, makes 50 copies for each band, gives 25 of them to the members of the band and keeps 25 to sell on his own. A tape sells for $4 and a refurbished tape player sells for $6.

“I sell mine, take the money straight to the bank and order more tapes,”Blanski said.

A typical day at Blanski’s apartment consists of nonstop dubbing, explained his girlfriend and fellow RRRainbow Family Band member, Lara Bourbon, 22.

“We have two double tape deck doubles in the basement and one upstairs,” said Bourbon, who plays the tambourine, organ, etc. “We’re running back and forth and doing that, spray painting tapes as soon as they come out, making the cases and making a flyer at the same time—just being creative together. It’s all about timing.”

The notion that the majority of people don’t own cassette tape players anymore hasn’t discouraged Blanski one bit.

“Those FM transmitters for iPods and other MP3 players never worked and tape players have started being put in cars again,” Blanski said. “I know people who have been buying cassette tape players and dubbers too.”

Much of the appeal of seemingly archaic cassette tapes stems from a desire for a grainier, warmer quality of sound, which Michigan native Blanski and Bourbon agree upon.

“It’s a scratchier sound,” said Bourbon, who works full-time as a waitress at Leona’s Restaurant. “You can tell if they’re being reused. It clicks throughout. Some of it’s much more lo-fi and some of it’s hard to master and it makes a more rumbly sound. I think certain people really like that, but some of them are really polished as well. It’s a mixture of both.”

Joe Dummitt, friend of Blanski and member of what Blanski calls a bedroom-urban-country band, CMI, said he designed his music specifically for cassette tapes.

“We do tracks that are 25 minutes long each and they all come together with city sounds,” said Dummitt, 25, who graduated from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2007. “We’re dubbing the tapes so it’s not a great quality transfer. I just really like the idea of my music disappearing into the static and deteriorating.”

The very first multiple act show Moss Tapes hosted was on Jan. 23 at Blanski’s apartment, or what he refers to as Dr. Who’s Warehouse, consisting of live music, comedy, theater and art.

CMI sold every one of their tapes at the aforementioned launch party, which he said has to do with the hand craftsmanship of their releases.

“It’s hard to deny that you’re selling a tape for $4 and it’s kind of a beautiful object,” Dummitt said. “We’ve all put a lot of work into our tapes and made a point to make them unique.”

Being a fairly new, innovative label, Bourbon said the goal of Moss Tapes is to continue doing what they’re doing and hopefully produce three times what they make currently.

“Moss Tapes is really beautiful in the fact that it’s really inexpensive and not that demanding,” Dummitt said. “It’s kind of time-consuming, but we produced my record with maybe $40 or $50. We’re all doing it really lo-fi.”

For more information as well as times and dates for upcoming shows, visit