Interview: Sean Peoples of Sockets Records, DC

Right now its in this period where [DC] in peaks and valleys. I think we’re hitting a peak.

Ask anyone in the DC music scene and they would have most certainly heard of Sockets Records. The indie label has been growing for the past few years, adding a diverse array of artists to their roster, including the band Imperial China, Brooklyn’s Fly Girlz, and hip-hop outfit The Cornel West Theory.

The mind behind Sockets is none other than Sean Peoples. The enterprising American University grad started Sockets as a ways to document the music and musicians that in the burgeoning DC scene.

You can also catch Sean DJing every third Saturday for Fatback DC, a funk and soul inspired dance party which takes place every 3rd Saturday at Liv Nightclub.

What is your name and what do you do?

I’m Sean Peoples and I’m the owner of Sockets Records, a Washington, DC based independent record label.

What is your inspiration for starting Sockets Records?

I started back in 2004. I had a radio show back then and I would bring in a bunch of my friends to do these live sessions. I thought to myself that this is fun but it needs to be documented in some way. So I started recording them onto CD-Rs in limited quantities—25, 50, maybe even 100 if I thought people were interested, and over the past 5 years it’s just evolved. It’s been intense—CDs of 1000 copies or more—but it’s been good.

Are you from DC originally?

No I’m grew up in New Jersey, in a very small town, and wanted to live in the city. I [been here] for 12 years now. I went to school at American University and just stuck around.

It’s good because after you’re here for a while it seems like a small town. [The Buildings] are kind of vertically challenged too, so it’s got a small town feel but it also has that city vibe.

You have a very diverse array of artists on the label—The Fly Girlz, Cornel West Theory, Imperial China—is that just a refection of your taste is there a more strategic reason for signing these acts?

I want the label to be a refection of the great and diverse stuff that’s coming out of DC. DC is not just known for post punk, or singer-songwriter stuff. With the label, I want to have an outlet for the stuff that I’m really feeling, but also an outlet for the array of stuff that is happening in DC—the cream of the crop.

The response locally has been good?

We wouldn’t be around if we didn’t have the support-both friends and new people who have coming into the fold. We’ve gotten a lot of folks really interested in what we’re doing, so it’s been a really good last year.

Cornel West Theory Just dropped their new album and they got Cornel West on there?

Tim, the Chief spokesman for the CWT went up to him at a book signing and just told him that he was the inspiration for the group and really wanted to get him into the studio. So they brought him into the studio a couple of times and really they had the material with Dr. West before they had the completed album. They did a lot of shaping that album around what he had to say.

The group has been around for a while but I think that Second Relm is an amazing statement politically and musically. Chuck D said it was one of his favorite record of the last five years. A great statement from a childhood hero. So it’s been a great run.

I’ve always been curious about the Fly Girlz project. Can you explain more about that?

The Fly Girlz is the first in the series of youth-hip-hop records curated by this guy in Brooklyn, Sam Hillmer, from the band Zs—and experimental trio that’s on this record label … He started this after-school program and whittled down a group of students to these 5 girls.

The theory behind the project is that rather than just talk about gentrification, we would just take these girls from Brooklyn, and take some of these artists who are moving into this town and have them work together. No matter what you think of artists moving in and communities being changed, I think engaging it in that way is actually pretty a productive way of doing it.

The next in the series is by this group called 9/11 Thesaurus—craziest band name—and that’s gonna come out in September. This group is a bunch of guys and it’s a different vibe, A little bit more aggressive but its still fun. It’s funny too. It’s hip-hop made by people that aren’t necessarily known for hip-hop beats. It’s a lot of worlds coming together.

I’ve been loving the Imperial China album lately as well. Who are they?

They’re a DC band that started about 3 of four years ago. It’s post-punk music. It’s got this Dischord vibe to it. They’re experimenting with loops and soundscapes and on paper it might not sound like it works but when you hear it, it actually does. I love to support them. They’re great.

As someone who has been in the loop for almost 12 years now, what do you think about the DC Music scene in 2010?

Right now its in this period where we’re in peaks and valleys. I think we’re hitting a peak. I think there are so many great new bands, and finally DC has a hip-hop scene that we can all really be proud of. For years I think a lot of MC’s have toiled in obscurity. Now there is a lot more spotlight. There are a lot of arguments as to why that is, but the best part is that it’s quality. I think it’s a big part of the DC music upswing.

One of the interesting things about DC in general is that a lot of people like you in the scene have day jobs. How do you maintain a work/life balance?

I feel like when I retire I will just sleep (laughs).

My boss is very supportive and he’s also one of my biggest cheerleaders. You couldn’t ask for a better boss.

But I really love doing this stuff. I love doing my day job—I couldn’t even sit and lie to you and say it stinks—and I love doing this record label. I think that’s the only difference between someone who may not love their day job and wants to do something else. I get a sense of fulfillment out of each of those projects.

It’s tough, I’m in the same boat.

Yeah, you would know. But at the same time why not?

One of the things I feel about DC is that we don’t have that many record labels here.

Its true. A lot of people think “why do you want to even have a record label anymore?” But I feel like there needs to be a quality curator, and whether that’s me or the community around me—someone curating what is the cream of the crop is important. That gives [artists] confidence and increase the quality of stuff [coming out].

I know many musicians I talk to in this city are frustrated about DC not getting recognition outside of the area. Have you guys been noticed outside of DC?

I don’t have a great way of really gauging it, but we’ve gotten a lot of [website] hits from New York. A lot of hits from the West Coast. I think what’s best about the people and the music I’m dealing with is that we’re rallying just doing it for ourselves. We’re doing it for DC and I think that’s all you can ask for. So hopefully people are noticing that.

Follow Sockets records at their new website or on Twitter @sockets