When people in positions of power misuse or abuse their roles, a loss of trust within the community is inevitable. However, the loss becomes exponentially larger when followed by silence or non-acknowledgement.
Accountability is a basic principle observed from the dawn of community itself, really, since interpersonal communication sprang up from cave art and mushrooms or aliens or whatever. But today more than ever, it seems, we need a refresher.
Mylets, who we discovered all the way back in 2013 at the Portland stop of And So I Watch You from Afar‘s All Hail Bright Futures tour, isn’t just one of the 21st century’s most underrated artists – he’s also one of the most down to earth individuals you could hope to meet. Despite this, Mylets’ explosive sound was altogether somewhere between RX Bandits and Tera Melos, so it made perfect sense to see all of this unfold on the label that was home to both of those bands, Sargent House Records.
This very same show was also the first place we saw anything related to Sargent House – the Mississippi Studios front room was filled with SH friends, family, and alumni. It was a magical feeling, and keep in mind, we honestly had no idea who anyone there was. You could just tell that it was a club, and that if you were really lucky, you might rub shoulders with some of them some day.
So, on a personal level, we considered ourselves pretty lucky when so many years later, we were not only booking the occasional show with Mylets (ok, just the one) but also receiving the occasional pat on the back from Sargent House for our work here at the blog. Remember, this is the label that helped popularize artists like Chelsea Wolfe, TTNG, Hella, Tera Melos, Fang Island, Lingua Ignota, Daughters, ASIWYFA… the list goes on for miles, and most of it is pretty high quality stuff.
All of this to say, this article is exceedingly painful to write.
At the beginning of last week, Mylets made an announcement via Instagram regarding his treatment at Sargent House, particularly in regards to label head and founder Cathy Pellow. Rather than put any words in anyones mouth or embellish in any way, here is what was stated via the social media post, which you can see in the original context here, and here:
“First I’d like to say thank you to the friends, former/current SH artists and employees, and fans who have reached out to show support and share their own experiences. I would like to be transparent here and acknowledge that Cathy has reached out to me privately, expressing curiosity around my previous video. It is important to me that there is an understanding that this issue transcends any of my own personal experiences and that, even in the event that any of the following may be lost memories for Cathy, there is an undeniable culture and pattern of behavior that is ingrained in the foundation of Sargent House that needs to be addressed. I would like to speak about two occurrences that I personally went through and then touch on the bigger picture.
In September 2015 when I was 19 and still living in Sargent House I was molested by venue owner and Sargent House-regular Graeme Flegenheimer while trying to kick him out of the house. I told Cathy about this, about how he had lingered around after a party until everyone left and began asking me extremely inappropriate questions, how he groped me and made passes at me after I refused to get into a bed with him, how he had climbed the front wall of the house to get back inside and searched for me after I locked him out, how he had then proceeded to send me insulting and explicit text messages throughout that night.
I was not taken seriously, met with essentially a shrug and an awkward laugh, and a few nights later I arrived to the house to find him back over as a dinner guest. Their professional and personal relationship remained intact for long after I had told Cathy. This was the impetus for me deciding to move out of Sargent House, a move that would also lead away from my aspirations of having a life centered around music. I had heard Cathy strongly and publicly condemn perpetrators and advocate for victims using the Sargent House platform and the lack of acknowledgement or action thoroughly contributed to my suppression and denial of what had happened to me.”
The statement continued:
“In October 2013, when I was just 17, at a show in Chicago on my very first North American tour, Cathy took me aside and told me with the utmost gravity to never ever forget that the only reason anyone would ever pay attention or value my music was because of her. I truly have never forgotten this! Later this same night, she would walk all over and damage my records and shirts with muddy shoes and eventually go on to call my Mom a cunt in front of the entire tour line-up, my parents, and fans who had stuck around.
I am embarrassed to talk about either of these events and they certainly are not the extent of my experiences, but I deserve to exorcise them from my head and they are also important in understanding the culture surrounding Sargent House. I witnessed routine extreme degradation and verbal abuse of employees and artists, intentional belittling and manipulation leading to rivalries and insecurities within the artist-base, blatant and even proudly misogynistic language surrounding the ‘acquisition’ of emotionally-vulnerable female artists, purposeful withholding of financial information except when making vague allusions to how indebted the artists were to her, open disdain for the fan bases of bands, forceful and targeted breaking of artists and employee’s personal boundaries, and an all-encompassing process of ‘othering’ that instilled a constant feeling of paranoia.
Thank you all for taking the time to read or listen to this, I feel shame, embarrassment, and loneliness as I finish writing here. It is no accident that I feel these feelings now in the same way that it is no accident that it has taken me close to a decade to speak up about something that follows me every day. It feels treasonous.
Your last text to me was sent after I came out publicly as queer. You said: “Sending love to you Henry. I’m so happy you were able to share your truth today.”
I do not expect this to be an easy process for you, I hope you will see value reflected in my truth and that others will provide their truths as well.
I believe that Sargent House truly deserves this, not to be torn down, but to be held to the standard it purports to.
It’s quite a lot. It’s sunk a hole in our chest this entire week, but it finally became apparent that we need to pass it along, and we genuinely apologize if anything we didn’t say or do immediately was taken as some kind of passive support for the offenders in question. We were really hoping for a statement from the label to clarify the issue, and although we also wanted to respect Henry’s privacy, that’s kind of an “us” problem… we just really like our privacy. But when we’re already seeing the comments boil over on social media, it’s time to say something – not silence or disable them.
This brings us back to the scenario we mentioned in the beginning. A leader’s lack of accountability sadly denotes a lack of respect for the people that serve them. It’s a tragedy in itself, but seriously, think of the damage being done in this particular instance – and not to the label.
Whatever small chip this might cause in the shining armor of SH is minimal compared to the fact that up until a week ago, there were hundreds, maybe even thousands of bands that would have traded their families into servitude just for a chance to tour with and record on a label like Sargent House – us included. Now, it seems a symbol that long inspired pursuits of happiness in the alternative community may represent substantially less, with many of us already considering other options.
Much like Henry notes above, this isn’t accusation – this is the dissonance between what is practiced and what is preached, and the fallout that results from it. In the end, while we are not experts in conflict resolution, and remain unsure at this time what the ideal outcome might be look like, we do know that we wish to express our admiration and support for Mylets, and all other artists out there that have endured similar situations, yet still find the strength to speak up.
After that, what is even the point of an outro – it is clearly time for a beer, and a long think about why the industry is the way it is, and ways we can work as a community to change it. For instance, did you know there are Bandcamp workers trying to form a union right now? Check out the petition here. They’re not a label, but they are working together, and most of the time, that is how great things start. Have a great weekend, everyone, and remember to observe the ol’ platinum rule: don’t treat others as you want to be treated – treat them how THEY want to be treated. Yes, we ripped that off of Xbox. It’s still true. And as wise man in a band named after animals recently reminded us, “what kind of community are we if we don’t watch out for each other?” Thanks for reading, everyone. Good luck out there.