Founded by Crystal Fighters guitarist Graham Dickson in 2014, Axis Mundi Records provides a haven for developing artists. Entirely independent, their Brooklyn, NY studio, The Mundi Jungle Hut, maintains an open door policy.
After touring for a few years with Crystal Fighters, people started asking me to produce their music. People were looking to me for creative advice and how to navigate life in the music world.
After one summer of doing festivals, a band named Psymon Spine, who’s now on the label, reached out to me. I was on tour with Crystal Fighters (we were supposed to play a show in Albany, NY) and they were going to college [about] an hour away. They sent me a song, said they liked my band and were friends with other friends of ours, a band called Is Tropical. They’d remixed one of our songs, so they kind of made the connection and asked if we could hang out if they came to the show. I listened to the song and thought it was amazing. I invited them and they came; we really connected and partied all night. That night, they asked me to produce their album. I asked them if I started a record label would they want to put it out with me. And they were like, totally, we’d love that.
On the same tour, another friend’s band, DrugzNDreams, also asked if I’d produce their record and I threw out the idea of a label. In the fall of 2014, I moved back to New York and overnight signed three bands, including Is Tropical.
A Mission of Unity
Our mission is to work with likeminded musicians. So if you’re in line with our ethos, we will happily work with you. Axis Mundi is a place where music and fun come first and everything else comes second. My label partner, Bill [Toce], and I consistently ask ourselves, “What do we wish our favorite labels would do?”
What sets us apart is that we really focus on unity, having the bands work as a collective. A lot of our bands produce each other’s music, engineer it or are involved in it one way or another. We like that.
I was inspired to break the mold a bit with contracts. With Crystal Fighters, I’d never signed a deal that was just one album or project. Signing a multi-record deal can have its benefits and its downfalls. We’re uninterested in keeping a band with us if they don’t want to be, so everything is very short-term. We’re not trying to fool anyone with the language in our contract.
A Nurturing Environment
Once you get to a certain point, you need a major label to get to the next level, but not all bands are aspiring to reach that level of fame. We’re focused on the birth of music and long-term development of projects. We’re aware of the peaks and troughs of anyone’s journey in music.
We don’t love just one album from a band; usually, we love years and years of their output, rather than just one moment. It seems the majors aren’t taking as many risks and are less interested in artist development or giving bands time to evolve. We like to watch bands grow and do what we can to help.
You’ve got to have a voice, stay true to it and try not to worry too much about what other people are doing. Make sure to develop your sound so it’s exactly what you want it to be before you start pushing it out to the world.
Inside and Outside the Industry
We’re not trying to be a totally punk, D.I.Y. label and reject everything that is the music industry. We don’t throw money at something and hope it sticks. We only spend money when it’s necessary. Sometimes, that’s paying for a PR company that’s known. Other times, it makes more sense for us to use our own resources. We have enough of a following that we can introduce a new project just to the Axis Mundi fan base and have that create a bit of a wave.
Personality First, Music Second
We’re always looking for new artists. We’ve found that if we like the person and are inspired by what they’re up to outside the studio we usually like what they’re doing inside the studio. So the first thing we do is hang out or talk to them on the phone and try to catch their vibe. Then, we listen to the music. That’s how it usually goes.
If you want to send us music, our email address is on our website. We listen to all of it and love that. Or play a crazy show and have us find out about you that way.
We’re huge supporters of vinyl and the physical element of music—buying a record, getting that record in your hands for the first time, taking it out of the packaging and putting it on the record player. The whole experience has a richness that sometimes the digital experience doesn’t provide. So, where possible, we print vinyl.
I have my father’s collection mixed in with my own and some of those records of his were from high school. I’m listening to those the same way he listened to those. You can experience listening to music in a timeless way when you put on a record.
Make Your Own Label
Go for it; there’s no better time. It’s very simple these days to set up a label and it’s incredible how easy it is to have a voice and generate awareness. What’s the worst that could happen? You end up doing it for a bit and then stop doing it.
We have a few projects we’ve recently released. One is Jack Killen, who goes by the king of detective rock. I produced his EP in 2016. It’s all influenced by pulp literature. He’s like a mixture of Frank Zappa, Ween, Meatloaf and Journey. He writes these anthemic power ballads that are incredible.
Is Tropical’s third album is out, Black Anything. They recorded that on five different continents and we released the album in two track installments, each with a unique transparent vinyl printed with the continent that they recorded that installment on, so once you get all five records you can stack them up and it creates a map of the world.
Our newest signing is a band called Dumb from Austin, TX. They just released their album, Live Fast Die Dumb. They play an amazing hard, deep-fried Southern rock & roll. Bakery is one of our bands from Berlin; we just released their debut album. They’re an amazing mixture of electronic and organic instrumental psychedelia. And we have four or five more albums coming out this year.
Growing and Surviving
At the moment, we’re just trying to stay afloat. We’ve always talked about an Axis Mundi festival or having a series of festivals around the world. We’re starting a new imprint called Koala Zone. It’s an international dance party series, which we’ve just started getting off the ground. So the idea is to take this day-by-day, but hope this will last a lifetime.
Information about Graham Dickson:
Years with Company: 3
Address: Queens, NY
Clients: Is Tropical, Psymon Spine, Simon Doom, Sun Abduction, DrugsNDreams, Jack Killen, Bakery, Mr. Divisadero, Dead Bees, Dumb.