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'Somebody standing beside you:' Local record label supports local artists

The Nightblooms perform on the sun stage at Sleepy Fest in Hillsborough on Saturday Oct. 28, 2023.

Singer and guitarist Joseph Terrell said when he records music with Carrboro label Sleepy Cat Records, he feels better about the outcome because he gets to spend time with the people he loves. 

The label's co-founders, Gabe Anderson and Saman Khoujinian, are people Terrell said he would want to hang out with anyway, whether they are recording music or not. 

"They're good friends, they're really good people," Terrell, who is a solo artist as well as a member of folk group Mipso, said. "I love the way they see the world. I love their values."

Sleepy Cat Records will be celebrating its five-year anniversary this June. As a small Carrboro music label, Anderson said they build on personal relationship rather than just business.

“It's a bit like a collective more than us looking for the next big thing,” he said. “It's more like we have these friends that we know and trust that we know they'll be good to work with and that they align with our ethics and politics.”

Sleepy Cat Records has 18 local artists signed across various genres.

Terrell said Anderson and Khoujinian are musicians first, so they understand what it is like to make music from both the business side and the emotional side.

The founders met and began playing music together during their junior year of high school in Florida, and eventually made their way up to Chapel Hill after graduating.

Following the highs and lows of the college band life in North Carolina, the pair began teaching themselves how to mix and put out their own music with the help of several mentors.

Anderson and Khoujinian made relationships with vinyl pressing companies and were able to design and distribute their own works, eventually expanding to distributing those of other local artists. 

Singer-songwriter Chessa Rich was the first artist beyond the founders to release music through Sleepy Cat with a two-song EP in October 2019.

She first met Anderson and Khoujinian through playing in the Raleigh-based band Towers. They also, at one point, shared a long gravel driveway that connected their houses in Chapel Hill, Rich said.

"I mean this is a great thing about any record label," she said. "But particularly them, they know me and they know my vibe and there's a lot of communication that happens about specifically what you want."

Because of their shared love for music and their close proximity, the three of them hosted a small music festival between their backyards called “The Back and Forth" for two years. Rich said it was their first time organizing a music event together, and since then Anderson and Khoujinian have offered her support in her performances. 

She continued producing with Sleepy Cat, and in April 2023, released her first full-length album as a solo artist, "Deeper Sleeper."

Libby Rodenbough, who is also a member of Mipso, has released several solo pieces with the label.

Rodenbough attended UNC on the Morehead-Cain Scholarship, joined Mipso during college and started touring after graduation. As she pursued her life and career in Chapel Hill, she said she started to feel a stronger connection with the local music community. 

Rodenbough said that especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, she has enjoyed living in Chapel Hill and feeling like a part of a community fabric that was experiencing the same things as her.

“The part that has been most useful is just having a very, tangible sense that somebody is standing beside you,” Rodenbough said. "And standing behind your work and saying we believe in this and we want it to have a life in the world."

This year, the label will be moving to a physical rented location at the Jubilee Church, where they will be able to invest more time and resources in events such as annual music festival Sleepy Fest, Anderson said.

Rodenbough said that, as a local label, Sleepy Cat can think about projects that can only be done with people that live in the same place.

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Sleepy Cat’s ability to be a local collective that is inspired by their community and the work they do with one another has allowed them to maintain artist authenticity, Anderson said .

“We all kind of work together to play on each other's projects — to contribute our resources and experience to each other's projects,” he said.