40 YEARS OF INDEPENDENT RELEASES
Since 1980, Independent Project Records has built an extraordinary catalog of music that stands proudly apart from both the mainstream and the underground. It might be most renowned for the eerie, shimmering soundscapes of guitarist and IPR founder Bruce Licher’s bands Savage Republic and Scenic. Yet it’s also branched into unclassifiably eclectic post-punk, post-psychedelia, and idiosyncratic indie rock by the likes of Camper Van Beethoven, For Against, and Red Temple Spirits. Independent Project is also one of the rare labels whose artwork and packaging, often distinguished by letterpress printed chipboard covers, are as distinctively idiosyncratic as the sounds they envelop.
Independent Project launched in 1980 with the seven-inch EPs Project 197 and Bridge, featuring experimental sounds by Licher and several friends. From their inception, IPR releases looked as strikingly different as they sounded. Three hundred copies of the Project 197 disc were pressed without a center label, the sleeve images mutated by silk-screening as the record slid in and out of the cover. The second edition boasted a different design, and IPR would often run several different pressings of the same release. As Licher explains, “The whole concept and idea behind that was to create a record as a piece of fine art.”
The concept truly took off with Savage Republic’s 1982 debut LP, Tragic Figures. Featuring IPR’s first letterpress printed cover, it went through no less than five editions with variant colors, sometimes even within the same print run. Just as important was the music, which drew upon the industrial sounds he’d pioneered in early experiments in UCLA’s utility tunnels. Exotically tuned and harmonized layers of droning guitars pushed the band toward a sort of Middle Eastern surf sound on their next album, 1986’s Ceremonial.
Even by 1982, Independent Project expanded its range from Licher’s groups to others he admired with similar bold and individualistic visions, starting with a double LP by Human Hands. As he told Version, “I really wanted one of their records for my collection and couldn’t get one, so I thought I ought to make one.” IPR albums by others working at the edge of the Los Angeles underground followed from Kommunity FK and Party Boys, though a demo tape from Santa Cruz’s Camper Van Beethoven led to a release that put the label on a bigger map. Their 1985 debut on Independent Project, Telephone Free Landslide Victory, sparked Camper’s rise to the top of the indie rock world. Licher’s work on the packaging of their 1988 album Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart received a Grammy nomination, as did his work on For Against’s Echelons the previous year.
IPR entered its most prolific phase in the late 1980s, expanding its reach beyond the L.A. underground to acts like Nebraska’s For Against and the UK’s Dentists. If most identified with sounds broadly categorized into post-punk and post-psychedelia, Independent Project broadened its scope into other alternative sounds by the likes of Woo, Shiva Burlesque singer Jeffrey Clark’s solo release Sheer Golden Hooks, and even a limited-edition EP by Stereolab. Although the label largely focused on recordings by Licher’s post-Savage Republic outfit Scenic as the twentieth century turned into the twenty-first, it still found room in the 2000s for an album by New York’s Springhouse with a more folk-rock-aligned vibe than IPR’s previous specialties.
While Independent Project didn’t expand its catalog much after 2000, it was reactivated with 2020’s Tape Excavation LP. Compiling intriguing previously unreleased tracks from the past forty years on which Licher performs, it spans pre-Savage Republic outfits to post-Savage Republic endeavors in bands like Scenic and solo recordings. It’s but a taster for what’s to come as IPR gears up to revamp its discography with new releases and a load of fascinating reissues and digs through the archives, both of its own catalog and work by crucial alternative acts of the past few decades like BPeople and David J of Bauhaus. They’ll continue the label’s wildly eclectic trip through the sonicsphere, connected by a determination to create spiritual-minded music that neither tries to follow trends nor create them.
There’s more on the history of Independent Project Records in the book Savage Impressions: An Aesthetic Expedition Through the Archives of Independent Project Records & Press, which includes a complete IPR discography through 2020.
Founder / Director of Everything
Bruce Licher founded Independent Project Records in 1980 to release his music on vinyl records with his own artwork and design. He soon expanded the catalog to include other musical groups on the cutting edge of the independent underground rock scene. For more than forty years, he has crafted creative sounds as guitarist with Savage Republic, Scenic, and other bands and projects. Licher continues to create his singular music, devising unusual tunings and harmonics without parallel in the mainstream or underground. His letterpress printed designs give IPR releases a visual trademark as distinctive as other iconic labels such as 4AD and Factory, gaining Grammy nominations for his design work on albums by Camper Van Beethoven and For Against. Highlights of his finest design work for IPR and others were showcased in the book Savage Impressions: An Aesthetic Expedition Through The Archives of Independent Project Records & Press published in early 2020 by the P22 Type Foundry. Licher is now collaborating with fellow musician Jeffrey Clark to relaunch Independent Project Records, releasing expanded gems from the archives of IPR’s catalog alongside new and previously unreleased recordings. He lives with his wife and frequent musical/artistic collaborator Karen Nielsen Licher in the Eastern Sierras in Bishop, California, where Independent Project Records & Press and Licher Art & Design are now based.
The Man in the Shadows
Jeffrey Clark has been active in the California alternative music scene since the early 1980's. As lead vocalist and songwriter in the group Shiva Burlesque, Clark contributed a mystical, poetic sensibility to the band’s music that one critic described as “too folk rock to be post-punk and too post-punk to be folk rock.” With guitarist Grant-Lee Phillips, Shiva Burlesque recorded two critically-respected albums at the end of the 1980’s. Jeffrey Clark’s debut solo record, Sheer Golden Hooks, was released on Independent Project Records in 1996, and in 2009 Clark released his second solo album, if/is. Jeffrey Clark currently owns and operates the Onyx Theatre in Nevada City, California, bringing independent art house cinema to the foothills of the Western Sierras. In 2001 Clark co-founded the Nevada City Film Festival, acknowledged in 2019 as the third best film festival in North America by USA Today. Clark is currently co-producing a feature-length documentary film on Gary Young, the original drummer from the group Pavement. Now in 2021 Jeffrey Clark is teaming up with Bruce Licher to relaunch the iconic record label Licher founded in 1980. Independent Project Records will now benefit from the direction and experience of these two creative artist/musicians.