It is high noon on a sunny Saturday in late November in Atlanta, and Brad Hurst is barreling down Buford Highway, making a beeline for Low Yo-Yo Records in Chamblee. In less than a week, the co-owner and mastermind behind the perplexing boutique label Hoss Records is leaving the city where "every day is opening day" and heading for the more accommodating musical environs of Baltimore, Md. Today's trek into the outer reaches of the Perimeter is part of a last-minute rush to get Hoss' releases into most of the local record shops before leaving town. Along the way he erratically breaks his pleasant and matter-of-fact tone to shout obscenities at other motorists on the road who are blissfully unaware of his presence. Just as quickly as he snaps, he slips back into the conversation without missing a beat. "One thing that I am not going to miss about Atlanta is these Sunday drivers out messing up traffic on a Saturday afternoon," he laughs as he swerves around a shiny new Lexus that cruises along at a cool 25 mph.
His clash with the flow of traffic is a telling metaphor for Hoss Records' time in Atlanta. Since 2004, Hurst and his Washington D.C.-based label partner Nina Walia have fostered the label not so much as a harbinger for any kind of local scene, but as a vehicle for their own impulsive tastes in music. And whereas the standard model for most upstart indie labels is to begin by releasing a spate of 7-inches by friends and local bands, Hoss aimed for a higher mode of operations. The label's initial burst of activity culminated in a series of split 12-inches that placed high-profile but still under-the-radar experimental acts such as Chicago's Lichens against Baltimore's Lexie Mountain, and NYC-based Atlanta expatriate LebLaze opposite of Excepter. Hoss even released an early 12-inch that features Atlas Sound (Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox's solo project) on the flip side of Hurst's own postindustrial/noise-crunk project, Mexcellent. These pairings are anything but random, and the dynamics of the series encapsulate a considered aesthetic.
It isn't out of line to throw the term "avant-garde" at Hoss Records, but there is a sense of humor, albeit off-kilter, ingrained in the label's releases that transcends the typically weighty and serious inclinations of such terminology. It's not an overt sense of humor, and to the uninitiated the looseness of Hoss' releases is easily lost in translation. And for Hurst, that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
"Some of my favorite artists and favorite records are all things that I didn't really understand at first," he says. "I hope that the stuff that I'm helping to bring into the world has that same quality. I want the music that I'm releasing to have a number of layers to it that work on multiple levels, but I don't want it to be impenetrable. That was the whole point with the split series; one side is a little tougher to crack into than the other."
The label's most recent offerings include a full-length CD/double LP by These Are Powers, which features former Liars bassist Pat Noecker, called Terrific Seasons. Hoss also recently issued the LP Version of Baltimore; noise group Wzt Hearts' second full-length, Threads Rope Spell Making Your Bones; as well as a new full-length from the D.C. experimental hip-hop act Food for Animals, titled Belly. Despite these being the label's highest-profile releases to date, their arrival has made little to no waves within Atlanta's musical community.
Aside from a few, overlapping connections to Atlanta, Hoss' growth has emerged parallel to the recent victories of the Atlanta rock scene. And unlike local labels such as Die Slaughterhaus, Rob's House and Douche Master, Hoss doesn't have the same kind of support from the ground troops these other labels have in place.
Much of Hoss' catalogue is comprised of works by groups from Baltimore and New York City, so setting up shop closer to the area is only a logical step. "It couldn't hurt to be closer to the bands he's working with," says Jason Urick of the band Wzt Hearts (pronounced Wet Hearts). "There are a lot of other great bands up here that mesh with the Hoss aesthetic that are sometimes distrustful of small labels they don't know. Brad being around and melding into the local culture will benefit both Baltimore and the label."
It's a sentiment Hurst echoes when he runs down a list of opportunities missed and records by groups he could have released, had he been in Baltimore at the time. But all of that will change in a week. "It will be easier to run the label where I have a network of people who are interested in fostering it and helping it grow. That's not a dis on Atlanta," he clarifies. "I've gotten a lot of great support from people here, but it's just not the right time for me to be here."