What’s the value in a cassette tape? For Brian Cohen, lead guitarist of Portland punk outfit The RattleSnakes, the answer is simple: it’s in the aesthetic, sonic and nostalgic quality of the medium. That’s why the band has been releasing albums on tape for the past seven years.
“The fidelity on the tape is a bit different, too. You have a warmer sound,” Cohen said.
Now on their fourth release, The RattleSnakes are prepping the cassette version of their newest EP Spine. Cohen said the tape will be available soon for $4 at Strange Maine, a Portland novelty shop, and any concerts they play — including a Feb. 10 show at The Bomb Shelter in Brunswick and another on Feb. 26 at Flask Lounge in Portland.
Cohen said this is the first time the band is using a production company to make 100 tapes. In the past, he said the band made tapes on their own, buying blanks from Radioshack and dubbing over them. But the process became too lengthy, so Matt Lajoie of the Portland psych-band Herbcraft and underground label L’animaux Tryst referred them to National Audio Company, a company based in Missouri. Lajoie has released tapes in the past both through his band and label through the company.
“Before it was cheap because I would use paper bags and scraps to make inserts for a small run using cheap tapes from Radioshack,” said Cohen. “This time though, it was about $170.”
Although production was taken out of their hands, the process moved slower than expected, and according to the guitarist, it seemed like the company made the project a low priority at times. “It was kind of a pain to deal with them,” Cohen said. “It was pretty frustrating.”
But, Cohen added, the benefit was to have their own art professionally printed on the cassette and packaging — a luxury they didn’t have in the past. This is something Cohen said he first liked about tapes when he was younger. “My all time favorite is Beastie Boys’ Ill Communication,” Cohen said. “It was a green tape. It looked really cool.”
It may be no coincidence that Spine’s tape is the same color.
Cohen also said the use of tapes has a more practical use for local bands like his since production is relatively cheap.
“Vinyl is kind of expensive, so cassettes are the next best thing,” Cohen said.
He said the band has done CD-Rs in the past, but the product doesn’t feel as special. “The cassettes are more of an artifact, more of a keepsake,” Cohen said. “They have longevity.”
To add to the tape’s value for the release of Spine, the guitarist said the band is bundling a digital download code to Bandcamp with every cassette. He said the band wants to keep up with the times, and they also wanted to give fans an opportunity to share the album with friends.
Though many publications have declared a cultural comeback for tapes in the past few years, Cohen said the band doesn’t feel like they’re part of any movement. Instead, he said it’s more about the time period they grew up in.
“Most of us had cassettes when we were younger, so it’s kind of nostalgic.”
Want more Spine? Check out our review.