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Know your local labels: Totally Gross National Product

by Luke Muyskens

March 12, 2014

On the surface, there seems to be little that connects the indomitable swagger of Lizzo, the aggressive enigma of Marijuana Deathsquads, and the digital seduction of Poliça.  Sonically they stretch across the board and reach varied audiences, but all three are dedicated to groundbreaking music that challenges genre and convention, with an ethic and attitude that stems from the community of artists at the label they share: Totally Gross National Product (TGNP).

The values these artists share were foundational for the label. Ryan Olson, the mastermind behind TGNP, founded the label after moving to Minneapolis from Eau Claire with Drew Christopherson. “Growing up in Eau Claire, there weren't anything like record labels around,” Christopherson said. “Yet, at the same time, there was a large amount of young people getting into making music and being influenced by bands and records from all over the world. The only way for us to feel like we were doing what we wanted so badly to do was to make recordings and package them up ourselves. This DIY mentality really stayed with us as we grew up. When we moved to Minneapolis and started taking music a little more seriously we maintained this idea that the only way to get our music out there was to package it up and sell it ourselves. This was basically the beginning of Totally Gross National Product.”

This core group of musicians would form the Totally Gross National Product family. “The early years of our label were spent pretty much just releasing our own bands' records,” Christopherson said, “but when we began working with friends and other musicians from the area it became more focused on stuff that Ryan was discovering and being turned on to.” The family became more incestuous as bands formed and mutated into new ones, with few artists under the TGNP banner involved in only one project. Some artists overlap over two or three bands—like Olson, Christopherson, Jeremy Ylvisaker, Jeremy Nutzman, and P.O.S. The crew is so prolific it can be hard to keep track of who is where and with which band. The label “was always meant to be an umbrella that we would channel our projects and projects we loved through,” said Christopherson.

Their artist-driven and music-focused approach has led to some immense diversity. The new bands, recruited largely on the basis of what excites Olson, run the gamut. “We have always wanted to be an artist-driven entity, free of any expectation or classification,” Christopherson said. “A genre-less record label that helps promote music that we feel is worth something regardless of its background or direction. We've always been more concerned with releasing and archiving quality product rather than creating things that cater to what we think will sell well. This is not to say we aren't interested in commercial success. In fact, we love the idea of the music we release getting broad attention, but it's never been the deciding factor on whether we will put time, effort, and money onto a project…If there's one thing we'd like to be known for, though, its that we put out music that we stand behind on a creative level rather than music we think will pay the bills.”

The steady work ethic and attention to quality and detail has brought TGNP more than a few commercial and critical successes in the last couple of years. “[Polica’s Give You The Ghost] has been pressed and sold the most out of any record that bears our logo,” Christopherson said, “but right now we are seeing the Lizzo debut quickly become one of our most successful releases to date. We like to gauge success on a number of levels, though, and with that said I would have to consider the first Moonstone Continuum release to be one of our crowning achievements as it has the most elaborate packaging we've ever done. Hand-made letterpress booklets in a gatefold jacket with gold foil stamped covers, all done in a living room.”

The momentum does not appear to be slowing. “Not every record we put out gets much attention, but overall people seem to be impressed with our depth and diversity as a label,” Christopherson said. “We're hosting a SXSW showcase in March for the first time and hoping to get some people outside the Midwest turned on to these great Minneapolis acts. We'd like to expand on our annual Totally Gross National Parties and hopefully host more large scale live events. Basically, we will continue to do what we've always done, but shifting the focus to more national and international platforms rather than just trying to sell out the 7th Street Entry with record release shows.”

Fans of TGNP bands can look forward to new material from Marijuana Deathsquads, and an April 15 release from the newest TGNP roster addition, Twin Cities veterans Alpha Consumer. For fans in Austin, TGNP's SXSW showcase will take place on March 13. To dive deeper into the TGNP story, listen to Dave Campbell's 2013 interview with the label's proprietors, as remixed by Olson.


Luke Muyskens attends St. John’s University. He previously wrote for aboveGround Magazine and UGSMAG.

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This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.