When it comes to record labels specializing in elaborate, handmade packaging, there’s no getting around American Tapes. It was a record label run by John Olson, a founding member of the seminal noise band, Wolf Eyes, as well as over a hundred other bands and solo projects. American Tapes started in the early nineties (there were a series of early, unnumbered tapes that are poorly documented prior to the start of their ‘official’ catalog around 1995) and ran for twenty years, closing shop in 2015, accumulating an incomprehensible mass of approximately one thousand releases in total.
Olson’s label was known for releasing minuscule editions of experimental music, often released in elaborate handmade packaging. In an interview conducted via Skype, Olson explained that he was inspired by the similarly inventive packaging pioneered by noise artist MSBR (Koji Tano), and that he often used extra odds & ends that he obtained while working in an antique store. He also shared with me his passion for lacquering things — which was often the final step in producing an American Tapes creation.
Many of Olson’s American Tapes releases were immortalized on the Geocities-hosted American Tapes website, where he documented his discography and included images of the creations, which now are all that remains of many of the releases. Much of the website has dropped from the internet, but subsists in archived form and on Discogs. It has been said that Henry Rollins himself has been attempting a full archive of Olson’s tapes and records.
Many of American Tapes’ releases were by John Olson sound projects, of which D.L. Savings T.X. was one. This “band” was originally named Daylight Savings Time, inspired by a particularly nerve-rattling daylight savings time day; he shortened the name after being inspired by a fellow Lansing experimental musician named D.S. Hastings, who himself once stuck a microphone in a laundry dryer, recorded the resulting rattle, and released it on tape.
Thank You Urine Doll, which was release number 28 for the label, has an especially distinctive cover. Olson, who loves commemorating occasions where he subtly mishears a spoken phrase, states he named this tape after drunkenly mishearing a friend telling him, “thank you, you’re a doll.”
To construct the cover, he took a bunch of seven-inch records and coated the surface of each with as many noxious chemicals as he could think of, including lacquer, enamel, acrylic, laundry detergent, Windex, oil, and paint remover. He then left the toxic stew for a month to react. Together, the chemicals were about half an inch thick, and by the end, the surface of each record looked a little like the surface of Mars. Each mutated disc was then fixed to the surface of one of the tape containers.
The tape, each side of which is a prolonged jam (at the time, Olson’s preferred method of sonic exploration), has two track titles. Olson loves naming things, expressing a preference to establish song titles first, then hit record. He explains that “Bird On Wire” is a Leonard Cohen reference, whereas “Front And Center At The Bargaining Tab” was a truncated version of an oft-spoken phrase on NPR.
The only known image of Thank You Urine Doll comes from the defunct (but fortunately archived) American Tapes website, and this is also the image that appears on Discogs. An mp3 rip of the tape was put up on the New Noise Net blog in 2009, which suggests at least one other copy still existed then, though the link is now dead.