NC man's double life creates beautiful experimental music with Three Lobed Recordings
There's a North Carolina man who is living a double life. Professionally, that is.
By day, Cory Rayborn is an attorney in High Point. By night, he runs one of the premier record labels in the country for experimental music.
Three Lobed Recordings has released records by such celebrated underground artists as Jack Rose and Bardo Pond, alongside more well-known indie rock bands like Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo.
Three Lobed’s latest release is Reticence/Resistance by the psychedelic folk group Pelt. It comes out Friday. Rayborn started the label in 2000. And for the past year he’s been marking its 20th anniversary. He spoke to WFAE’s "Morning Edition" host Marshall Terry.
Marshall Terry: Welcome.
Cory Rayborn: Hi, how are you?
Terry: I described the music on Three Lobed as "underground and experimental." Is that accurate?
Rayborn: I think that's fair. Those are terms that I use a lot. I also use the word "out" to describe what I do and when people ask me sometimes and don't really have a lot of familiarity with what I do with the label, I also describe it as "psychedelic."
I have things ranging from solo acoustic guitar played in a pretty virtuosic fashion by someone like Jack Rose or Daniel Bachman, ranging all the way to a 60-minute long, sweet electric guitar, drums and bagpipes by the band Glacial. It can cover a pretty, pretty wide territory. It's things that I find exciting and that can take a wide spectrum.
Terry: What prompted you to go from just being a fan to putting out the record yourself?
Rayborn: You know, starting in high school onward, I was just really, really, really hungry for music in a lot of capacities. So that led to it not being satisfied merely with formally released records and going down the rabbit hole of live recordings and cassettes. That then led me to buying my own recording equipment and making my own live recordings and putting out a zine and doing booking and all kinds of other stuff. I'm not really a musician myself per se, so I was tinkering around the edges with everything else that felt like things I could do.
And having done everything else, the next obvious step was to put something out at some point. And it was an easy proposition for me at the time, I was and am still good friends with this band out of Philadelphia called Bardo Pond. And it was just a question of, Hey guys, can I put something out for you? And they said, yes.
Terry: So what does it take to run a record label?
Rayborn: It's a lot of, as boring as it sounds, project management. The label is run by only myself. And to that end, I wear a lot of hats. And that means artist relationship development, figuring out the logistics for any particular project, getting the audio in hand, getting it mastered, getting it plated so that it can be turned into records, getting all the artwork aspects of the record together, getting promotional materials together, getting the record into the hands of the distributor and/or direct mail order.
And all of these things, you know, start to finish on a record can sometimes easily take in excess of a year. It used to be quicker before everything got wacky in the world of vinyl manufacturing, partially due to the pandemic, but partially just due to general demand on the industry and increased demand just kind of choking off supply.
So, I mean, projects that used to take about two or three months to get all through various stages of the manufacturing process now take about eight or nine. And that's been an adjustment. But it's just a lot of different stuff. It's logistics and just staying on top of all kinds of nagging details.
"We're a state that has a variety of terrains and a variety of experiences that goes with those terrains. So it only makes sense that you've got people who want to explore their physical space, but also explore their musical space, as well."
Terry: So how do you balance running this label with your day job as an attorney?
Rayborn: Sometimes poorly. It's hard to say. I try to manage the number of titles I put out at any given time so that I don't overwork myself. But given the nature of my day job, there are unpredictable elements where things simply don't happen on timelines I expect. And so just finding time, a lot of it involves stealing a minute here, or two, to email something or call somebody. And as far as the actual fulfillment side of mailing things to people, a lot of packages get taped up and shipping labels printed when my daughter is asleep late at night.
It's my poorly paying after hours second job.
Terry: What changes have you seen in the record industry?
Rayborn: Clearly, the rise of digital as a actual medium, more than anything else. I mean, mp3s existed whenever the label started, but they were more of a niche item that people who understood computers messed with rather than any kind of general consumer base.
Certainly, streaming didn't exist. Vinyl was a very niche thing. If you walked into a record store, the record stores were probably 90% CD or 95% CD and 5-10% vinyl. Now it's probably inverse of that. It's almost exclusively vinyls. That resurgence has been very interesting to watch happen over time.
And just there's so much music coming out all the time, and that competition is just so hard to keep people's ears and attention.
Terry: We have a podcast here at WFAE called Amplifier, where we focus on the Charlotte music scene and the Charlotte sound. What would you say is the North Carolina sound?
Rayborn: It's a real mixing pot of various things, from rock to traditional music to more straightforward. It's I don't know, it's a little bit something for everybody, as much as that sounds like a cliché.
Terry: A number of artists on Three Lobed are from North Carolina, or at least they have North Carolina ties. Is there something in the air in North Carolina as far as more adventurous, experimental music?
Rayborn: Well, we're a state that has a variety of terrains and a variety of experiences that goes with those terrains. So it only makes sense that you've got people who want to explore their physical space, but also explore their musical space, as well.
Terry: Of all the records you've put out through Three Lobed, do you have a favorite?
Rayborn: It's hard to pick amongst one's children, but yes. The album Ocean Parkway by the Gunn-Truscinski Duo. The music that Steve Gunn and John Truscinski put together as a duo just really connects with me. And the title track, which is also the opening track on that record, just really does a lot for me.
It's one of those things where my old college roommate and I had a test long ago about music that would constantly, no matter if it's the first time you've heard it or the 200th time you've heard it, being a song or an album or whatever, they just make the hair on your arms stand up, no matter when you hear them. Those are the really special ones. And that album and that song to me, always provides.
Terry: Thanks for taking the time.
Rayborn: Thank you.
Terry: That's Cory Rayborn, who runs the North Carolina based record label Three Lobed Recordings.