It is a crisp, sunny January afternoon as Garrett Crosby slowly makes his way towards the front porch of Eclipse Coffee & Books. Crosby, tall and thin, is dressed in a dark red shirt and tight pants, not well suited for the brisk weather outside.
While extremely mild-mannered and soft-spoken, there is an air to Crosby that betrays a sharp intelligence. He uses large, textbook words comfortably and without resignation. However, it’s not an attempt at flashiness as much as a direct and honest way of proper expression.
Perhaps this personality trait best describes his music. Under the moniker “Holly Waxwing,” named after one of his favorite species of bird, he creates bright, soulful electronic music made of a delicately playful mashup of altered samples, chipmunk vocals and jazzy instrumentation.
Like its creator, Holly Waxwing’s music may seem heady on the surface, but its calm and lovely serenity blankets the listener with wistful compositions meant for sunlit basking, not heavy pondering.
Crosby later confirms this sunny environmental disposition to his music. A friend and collaborator once remarked to him that the Southern geography and climate complement the sounds of electronic music.
“The humidity and dampness … kind of lends itself to that sound,” he carefully thinks. When asked where “Goldleaf Acrobatics,” his debut cassette released last year, is best heard, he thoughtfully suggests a forest while hiking.
“A lot of people made the reference to, like, riding up to the beach on your boogie board or going to the tiki hut, and I think that works for it,” he says chuckling.
“Goldleaf” was the first release on Noumenal Loom, the label Crosby started in 2013 with his partner Isabell Barnes. The seven-song album was available on Soundcloud or in a limited physical release of one hundred cassette copies available via the label website or a few scattered record stores.
Despite its quiet release, “Goldleaf” soon caught the ears of not only local Montevallo music heads but also bloggers and tastemaking websites like Tiny Mixtapes.
“I have just spent the last several hours listening to this tape, approximately 86 times in a row, and I’ve decided that Holly Waxwing represents where we need to be heading with instrumental hip-hop,” wrote reviewer Strauss shortly after “Goldleaf” dropped.
As this tiny cassette from our small college town started to pick up even more stellar reviews from across the net, at some point, National Public Radio (NPR) rode in on the proverbial boogey board.
At the end of the year, as various music publications posted their “best of” lists for the year, NPR published a list detailing their “10 Favorite Cassettes of 2013.”
Sandwiched in the middle was “Goldleaf Acrobatics.” Crosby shared the link on Facebook, writing “Now my parents can be proud of me!”
The runaway success of his debut tape was not something Crosby expected. He explained that he did not contact NPR and only originally promoted the album to a few blogs.
All in all, Crosby sold all one hundred of the physical cassettes and about 70 to a hundred digital copies.
Holly Waxwing will have another release this year with famed tape label “Digitalis” in April and plans for his first vinyl release to come out in around a year or so.
Meanwhile, the not even six-month-old Noumenal Loom has plenty to release this year. Crosby spoke of two big upcoming collaborations with other labels. Crosby and Barnes will team up with Brooklyn imprint Orange Milk Records to co-release a vinyl by Japanese footwork artist Foodman.
Plains, the Montevallo psych rock band of Eclipse regular Travis Swinford, will also have their upcoming album released on cassette by Noumenal Loom.
Crosby also spoke of an ambitious future idea to release USB sticks containing both an electronic album and an interactive video game to play along with the music.
In terms of success, Crosby says he and Barnes are “doing better than breaking even,” but “making just enough to feed back into the label” and plan larger projects. In reality, the couple hopes their artistic endeavors will allow them to work only 20 to 30 hours a week in steady day jobs.
Eventually, the two hope to uproot from Montevallo. “We don’t feel hyper situated [here] because we network with so many people,” he begins, “but I think we want to work towards … a small Noumenal Loom festival” in town.
If they find themselves back in the Birmingham area after traveling, Crosby says he and Barnes might attempt to open a small storefront in the city as a homebase for the label, in addition to a restaurant.
In NPR’s small blurb about “Goldleaf Acrobatics,” reviewer Lars Gotrich compares Crosby’s tape to a startlingly beautiful field recording of the clang and clamor of slot machines.
While Gotrich made the comparison in terms of sound, the chancey device could also be metaphorical for the gamble Crosby seems to be methodically taking to advance his art. Watch closely as his next few releases maybe resemble the winning alarm of a jackpot.