Janel Leppin Fills a Void in D.C.’s Music Scene with Her New Label, Wedderburn Records
The brainchild of accomplished musician and D.C.-area native Janel Leppin, Wedderburn Records is a brand new label that aims to release music that has a “magical or mystical essence.” Inspired by her desire for more personal artistic freedom, and named for the fairytale-like community in Northern Virginia where she grew up, Leppin is hoping to fill a void in the area’s independent music community. Wedderburn’s next project will be to release work from a series of female and non-binary artists, with the first expected next winter.
Wedderburn Records is just one of the labels that’ll be featured at Sound of the City’s Record Label Expo this weekend. Make sure to come by–it’s free and all-ages. Before the big event, we spoke with Leppin on her exciting new project.
Could you give me a little information about your background in music?
I’m a cello player, that’s my main instrument. But I play a lot of different instruments as well. I play piano, a lot of different kinds of keyboards, bass, guitar, and I sing a lot. I think that’s pretty normal to a certain extent, but since I’m classically trained I play through a bunch of electronics and I’ve studied a lot of different improvisational styles, so sometimes I improvise and sometimes I perform written work. There are a lot of threads going in my work; it all has roots in classical music.
I listened to a lot of Sonic Youth and all these grunge bands in the ’90s growing up–and I love pop music–so that seeps in. I also love jazz. I love Alice Coltrane, and I love certain aspects of free jazz and avant-garde music, so all of that creeps in there. I love world music, so sometimes Japanese traditional music gets mixed in. I love Indian classical music, so that gets in there too. The next record I’m releasing is cello-based, and I’m going to be singing on top of that. I’m going to do that at Songbyrd at the [DCMD] Record Label Fair.
How many records have you released?
As a soloist, this is going to be my third record. Those are all under my new record label, Wedderburn Records. Other than that, I have two records with a band called Janel & Anthony. Anthony is my husband, and we’ve been playing together for ten years. Other than that, I play on a lot of other kinds of music–I just played on the recent Priests record on Sister Polygon, so it kind of runs the gamut.
How did your new label, Wedderburn, come together?
It started out because I was having some trouble releasing my first solo album, Mellow Diamond, last year. They finally released it, but it was done several years before that. Unfortunately, and I’m not certain why this happened, but I have a feeling that as a woman I was kind of being yanked around by this label for a long time. It’s a label in New York state, and basically the guy wanted me to send him all my tracks and re-do everything even though it was a completely finished album. I don’t think if I was a man he would have been like “send me all you files” with no contract or anything. I got fed up with the process of trying to make this guy specifically happy. It made more sense to self-release.
Would you say that you were inspired to create Wedderburn just by your negative experience with this other label?
Having your own ability to decide when something is released and how it’s released is a very valuable thing. I think everyone in music knows things like this happen, we just don’t talk about it. But, we should talk about it because it happens all the time.
This actually leads me to another point: I’m starting a series that’s reserved for female and non-binary artists. I really wanna work with people who may not have been offered the opportunities to do their solo work others were. Im really excited–I’m going to announce the first artist later this spring.
Would that be through Wedderburn?
Yeah. I’m also trying to fundraise for it. I think it’s a concept that people can get behind, but I’m still like a DIY artist myself and teach for a living. If the community wants to support it, I’m definitely going to try to encourage that.
Can you tell us a bit about the name “Wedderburn?”
It’s a place I used to live, in Northern Virginia, and it was kind of like an artist enclave. My family lived there for several generations. There were always bands and visual artists who lived there. It was like a virgin forest. It was a very idyllic setting to grow up in, and it’s so close to Washington. Unfortunately, it got bulldozed. But to me I want the spirit of Wedderburn to live on these records in a way. It’s like a home for art.
What are your thoughts on the D.C. music community as a whole? What do you think makes it unique? Are there areas you wish it would improve?
I have a lot of thoughts! I would like to see more scenes collide. I’ll play a show in, let’s say, the free jazz scene and then I’ll play a show in the indie rock scene and then I’ll play a show in experimental music and kind of go in these different directions. They’re all interesting people who love music, but they don’t seem to go to each others’ shows. It doesn’t seem like the audiences get a well-rounded take on what is available.
I also feel like the people on stage–the bills– shouldn’t just be all rock or punk; I find that to be boring. It would be more interesting for me to go to a show where there’s a jazz band, a solo female guitar player and a musician playing his instrumental hits. I just think it’s more interesting as a musician who loves music. I just like music, I don’t care about genre. If D.C. got more out of its genre biases I think it would be healthy. Mostly because the audience would get more informed about what is available here. When I perform in a showcase, I want something completely different from what I do because that makes the contrast more interesting for the audience.
Since the label is still relatively young, what do you hope it achieves?
I would love to have a really far reaching and interesting roster of artists, and I think it would be great if I could do vinyl for everything. Digital is great, but having that physical copy is really something for some people. That’s kind of my priority at the moment. For me, I’d envision it to be the go-to label to hear some interesting female or non-binary creatives.