Thursday, April 14, 6 and 9 pm | Duke Coffeehouse | Chuck Johnson, Marisa Anderson & William Tyler, Danny Paul Grody | $20 / $10 Duke students
Friday, April 15, 8 pm | von der Heyden Studio Theater, Rubenstein Arts Center | Steve Gunn (solo), Meg Baird & Mary Lattimore, Sunburned Hand of the Man | $25 / $10 Duke students
Saturday, April 16, 12 pm Karsh Alumni Center | Mary Lattimore & Bill Nace, 500mg, Wet Tuna | $25 / $10 Duke students
Saturday, April 16, 6 pm | von der Heyden Studio Theater, Rubenstein Arts Center | Body/Dilloway/Head, Gunn-Truscinski Duo, Lee Ranaldo with films from Leah Singer, Pelt, Bill Orcutt, and Chris Corsano | Sold out
The most common version of the Three Lobed Recordings logo consists of three interconnected circles, one significantly larger than the others. The edges are ragged and splattered haphazardly with paint.
For the musicians connected to the Jamestown, North Carolina–based experimental music label and its founder and sole employee, Cory Rayborn, the logo is more than an evocative illustration. “It’s one of my favorite logos,” says Sunburned Hand of the Man’s John Moloney. It reminds singer and guitarist Meg Baird of the surrealists or Kandinsky. Guitarist William Tyler calls it a “visual shibboleth” akin to the Black Flag bars or the Grateful Dead’s Steal Your Face logo. Harpist Mary Lattimore notes, “If I see someone wearing a T-shirt or a hat [with the logo], I’m like, ‘Oh yeah. They get it.’” And for guitarist and singer Steve Gunn, it’s the symbol of “a community and an aesthetic, a celebration of musicianship and music.”
Those themes—community, friendship, music—kept recurring in my conversations with these five musicians, all of whom are playing at the label’s twice-delayed 21st-anniversary festival at Duke University on April 14–16. Spread out over three days and three venues, the Three Lobed Recordings 21st Anniversary Festival sprawls out like a side-long track on one of the label’s LPs.
Each night promises a different combination of heady experimentation, be it the folk-inflected adventures of Meg Baird and Mary Lattimore, the abstract noise sculptures of Body/Dilloway/Head, or the sun-dappled guitar sojourns of Marisa Anderson and William Tyler. Two years of pandemic-related postponements have somehow made the festival—and the levitating effects of all the music in it—that much more joyful, regardless of whether you wear your Three Lobed shirt at all times.
Some of the performing musicians, like Gunn and Moloney, have put out piles of releases on the label; others, like Baird, Lattimore, and Tyler, only a few. Regardless, they all have a similar reverence for Rayborn, Three Lobed, and their fellow musicians on the label.
“Three Lobed is that cultivation of creativity in a positive way,” says Gunn, “where Cory is encouraging people to make music. He’s encouraging people to make releases and to put them out there. There’s a certain sense of fearlessness to that.”
Everyone seems to have a story about how Rayborn has encouraged them to make the music they wanted to make. In the mid-2000s, for instance, after years of playing in bands, Gunn had started recording solo songs in his Brooklyn apartment and self-releasing the occasional small-run album. Rayborn pushed him to make them into a proper album, which became 2009’s Boerum Palace, an album that helped launch his career as a solo artist.
“Cory was such a supporter of what I was doing, even if I kind of didn’t even realize what I was doing,” he recalls, laughing.
For Baird and Lattimore, a nudge from Rayborn was critical for the creation of their 2018 album Ghost Forests. “We had always just sort of loosely talked about how fun it would be to make a duo record together,” Lattimore remembers. “Even though we lived in Philly, we didn’t get to it when we both lived there. Then we both moved to California, and we still talked about it. Cory was really encouraging, and then finally he was like, ‘We need to make this happen.’ It was a really great experience.” She talks about the origins of her duo album with Mac McCaughan the same way.
A word that keeps coming up about Rayborn is “trust.” “People inherently trust Cory, once they get to know him,” says Tyler, “because they know he’s honest, which is a rarity in the music business. And he’s very impeccable with this word, which is also pretty rare.” Gunn concurs, noting that that trust goes both ways, “You can trust him. Trust is a very important part of being a musician and being an artist. He’s very open to people’s visions and what they want to do.”
All of this results in an experience of releasing music that is different from other labels. Three Lobed only puts out a handful of records each year, all on heavy vinyl with high production values. Even though Rayborn, who attended Duke as an undergraduate, has a day job as a business lawyer, he still finds time and energy to lavish attention on the label. (He recently joked on Instagram about playing hooky from work to mail out a massive pile of Sonic Youth LPs.) The artists, all of whom have released music on other labels, notice this care.
“He’s the best label we’ve ever worked with. I know people on bigger labels, way bigger bands don’t get the same treatment,” Moloney says before going on to talk about how Rayborn helped him put over 150 Sunburned Hand of the Man albums on Bandcamp, only a few of which were on Three Lobed.
Tyler concurs: “The fact that he is this one-man operation doing things he does is pretty remarkable. That’s definitely something we talk about as artists who are friends with him.”
“I love that Cory just keeps it very independent and very small and close-knit,” says Lattimore. “All the people he works with are his friends. Seeing things like takeovers and acquisitions and all that stuff, I feel like everybody wants to be so big. I think that Cory maintaining this very steady, cozy, professional, beautiful label is something that really stands out especially right now.”
“Everybody on the label knows each other personally, hangs around together, and plays shows together. It just seems like a mature, respectful, family vibe that’s happy to be around each other,” Moloney says, adding, “A nondysfunctional family.”
Three Lobed events, too—such as the consistently unpredictable Hopscotch day parties—function as a kind of family reunion for the label’s sprawling musicians.
Having heard so much about all the ideas people read into the Three Lobed logo, I asked Rayborn about its origins. His answer was telling and in character. He mentioned Alysha Naples, the designer who originally created it, and Robert McKnight, a former intern (one of only two ever for the label) who gave it its current, iconic “splatter” form.
And then he added, “It didn’t take long for me to tell the artists I was working with to feel free to take the concept of the logo and translate it in their own sensibility if they felt so moved. This has resulted over time in lots of variations and reimaginings, which I love.” Openness. Trust. The promotion of artistic self-expression. It really is the perfect encapsulation of everything the label stands for.
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