Meet Jennie Zakrzewski who starts by saying, “I won’t be pissed if you don’t even attempt to pronounce my last name” a sentiment I understand. Jennie wears a lot of hats as it relates to music and vinyl and someone to definitely keep an eye on. She runs Specific Recordings, a small vinyl-only label since 2011 dedicated to indie and Japanese contemporary music along with her husband Flo; while also working as communications officer for La Face Cachée an indie record store which has housed the label for the past few years.
Within Specific, Jennie is in charge of artistic direction, graphics, press and social media management, while working part-time at La Face Cachée. Between the two jobs, this means marketing and promotion of six different vinyl labels to include Specific, all their production and artist management. Meanwhile on the side she is still taking graphic design commission work mostly for record jackets, but also for smaller freelance contracts like reviewing TV shows for a Japanese broadcasting company, or writing an article from time to time.
Jennie lives with her husband in Metz, in the North-East of France close to Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg. She is a former journalist, editor and chief-editor. She quit her corporate, day job in 2014 originally to work for a cross-media company in Tokyo. When asked what she does in her free time, she says: “Once upon a time, I loved to travel the world whenever I could. Nowadays, I have old lady hobbies growing plants and vegetables, going to the swimming-pool, hiking, reading about quantum physics, watching B-horror movies, learning astrology and playing video games. I also write and publish a thematic illustrated fanzine called “Papier“ (French for paper) for more than a year now. Writing feels like home to me, it has always been my favorite thing and I hope I’ll be able to devote more time to it in the future.” Oh yeah, she works on a fanzine too!
How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?
When I was seven or eight years old, I fell in love with record covers designed by Hipgnosis. I spent hours looking at them while listening to my father’s records but I never thought I would one day be able to produce anything related to arts, my drawing skills having always been very close to zero. Although music has always been a passion of mine, but not being able to play any instrument (neither!), the major part of my friends were musicians and I’ve been going to shows whenever I could since I was fourteen. I’ve always been kind of frustrated around that; I wanted to be a part of that world so bad and for years, I couldn’t find a suitable and active place for me so I watched from afar.
When I met Flo, almost 15 years ago, he was already setting up DIY shows for local and international (mostly American) touring bands and I first joined him in doing that. It has been 3 very intense (but also very joyful) years because of all the work load, we used to book at least two bands a week, added to our actual working hours, but it was also so easy… Did I tell you that we are truly blessed with an insanely talented local scene? Because yes, we are truly blessed with an insanely talented local scene. So when we felt the need to step down a bit from that crazy rhythm, creating a label seemed the natural thing to do.
The first one we had together was named Wonder Noise; we mostly released cheap DIY CDs and it died pretty quickly anyway. Specific Recordings was the next step. We clearly wanted to raise our game. We paid our first vinyl release upfront from our pockets and that release more or less covered the cost of our next release, and so on.
What is a day in the life like?
My typical day hasn’t been much changed by the pandemic outbreak because I have, at least from my point of view, the ultimate privilege to work from the comfort of my home for almost six years now, most of the time by myself, in a quiet and cozy office I’ve just rearranged for the fourth time in seven years. I think this is the good set-up this time, and this is very important because basically, I spend most of my day here, at my desk, in front of my computer. Practically speaking, half of my working hours are dedicated to Specific, La Face Cachée and its other labels, and the other half to my freelance activities. I also used to go see a lot of shows and to fly to Japan once or twice a year but that’s obviously suspended for now.
What has been your favorite / the coolest thing you’ve worked on?
I simply can’t pick a single project. Every record is a journey on its own and brings its fair share of cool and sometimes less cool stuff. Regarding Specific, broadly speaking, the coolest things I did were certainly being able to work with friends, being able to work with Japanese artists and labels in Japan, being able to make a living from any artistic skill.
I am still amazed by all the wonderful people we met and all the crazy adventures we had thanks to the little DIY label we started just because we wanted to be able to listen to indie bands we liked, and bands from our town on vinyl. Today, we don’t earn any money from our sales, everything is going to the record store, but in exchange, we both have steady jobs we love (my husband is associate manager) and running our label has never been easier, at least logistics-wise. We have always been passionate about our label and never shied away from hard work, but it was never meant to become more than a weekend hustle. This is still a bit unbelievable to me.
What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?
Promoting albums and/or artists is a really thankless job! Digital technologies have made promotion easier, sure, but more difficult too. Nowadays, it’s not a question of means or connections anymore, everybody can do it and it’s therefore harder to get the public or the media attention. It’s also hard to watch Flo regularly getting all the credits for our work. There’s never been any ambiguity about who is doing what within Specific (basically, each of us handles 50% of the work load), but he’s the one interacting with the public at the record shop, so I get it. But even after almost ten years, this still saddens me.
I don’t particularly want to be in the spotlight, part of my job is to be sure that artists are there instead, especially women (Specific is definitely a feminist and inclusive label, that’s part of our DNA), but I do want to get credit for what I do, specifically as a woman!
The music industry at large is a male-dominated and sexist one, there’s no doubt about that. I don’t want to say that people are voluntarily ill-intentioned but, you know, “that’s the way it is” in everybody’s head, music is a “guy thing” Fortunately, that’s about to change no doubt about that neither.
If you aren’t a vinyl collector yourself, what drew you to the industry?
Yes, I am. Vinyl records have always been in my life, some have been moving with me from place to place since my childhood. They are like books to me; they’re a bit like sacred objects and thou shall not throw them away. Give them or sell them instead. That being said, I’m not a big vinyl collector, I don’t buy an awful lot of records… And I kinda hate digging for hours! So my husband, who likes doing that, is digging for me. He knows what I’m currently looking for and I have to admit this is a great luxury! He’s also the one who bought 90% of our record collection. He’s the sick one. Am I just kidding? Yes, of course! But only partly.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?
Keep your job! Pressing vinyl is expensive and finding distribution deals is hard. Plus, there’s no way to know in advance how a record is going to be received by the public; I’ve had so many surprises throughout the years. I believe equally in all the records we put out, but some favorite albums of mine never met my expectations; while others I was afraid to put out, because I thought there were too “extreme“ for the major part of us humans, were sold-out in a few days! Therefore, begin small. Don’t be afraid to go DIY at first: make your own record sleeves, screen-print them, find creative ways to save money or set-up pre-orders. Be bold, release only what makes your heart skip a beat, even if that’s not what’s hype right now. Bond with your local and/or favorite record store. And this can be applied to any peculiar interest in life.
If you’re brave enough, focused enough, persistent enough, and if you do what you do from a good place, without being too concerned about the outcome; one day in some way, and quite often in most surprising ways, it will pay off.
What types of things are happening in your industry / with vinyl that you’re excited or worried about? i.e. innovation, or trends you’re seeing.
Vinyl is definitely in fashion. Which means it’s going to be less fashionable again one day. The pressing plant we work with already announced extended processing times for 2021, which clearly means that a large number of majors are planning to continue flooding the market next year, leaving less and less space for indie or small labels, and drawing more and more people to vinyl. Nonetheless, that market will dry, and the bigger they are, the harder they fall. So yes, I’m a bit worried about some kind of backlash, mainly regarding the record store, but I try not to think too much about the future or too far in the future. However, if that market continues to grow (after all, who really knows!), this industry should seriously begin to search an alternative to polyvinyl and/or a way to effectively recycle it.
During this time we’re currently in, what message do you have for music and vinyl fans? How can we support you, the industry?
Broadly speaking, I strongly believe that one should not wait for this pandemic to be over to “get back to life again”. Instead, I think it is crucial to find ways to cope with the situation. We’re all connected through the Internet and that’s definitely a force and a space where one can be creative in spite of all the restrictions we are facing right now. As I write these lines, France is undergoing its second national lock-down. As a consequence, all the small (seated and masked) shows have been cancelled again. Therefore, I’m very concerned by the live music industry situation. Small artists are facing a real challenge right now and so are roadies, venues, promoters, bookers, etc.
I understand that it’s very hard to keep a positive mind set right now, but nothing is forever and that too shall pass. It’s obviously a lot much easier for the vinyl industry, people can still buy records from the safety of their home. Today, the major part of the record store and its labels incomes are made online through mail order, it wasn’t the case before this pandemic. So I don’t wan’t to say abruptly “keep buying records”, but at the same time yeah, that’s the only way to support us! Oh and of course for records but also for everything else, whenever it’s possible, buy from your local dealer. Money is a powerful tool, use it wisely.
Tell me what you’re listening to right now.
It’s hard for me to deal with new sounds all the time, so when it comes to my very personal choices, I always listen to the same old stuff. Like my friend Michael from Culture Reject once said: “If you can eat the same breakfast every morning because that’s what you like, why can’t you always listen to the same bands?” So, my favorite breakfast is eggs, bread and cheese and my favorite artists right now are Sleater-Kinney, The Voidz, The Strokes, Ebow and Juju (two dope German female rappers), Maximo Park, Interpol, Kate Bush and forever Wayne Shorter.
Specific Recordings: @specific_recordings
La Face Cachée: @lafacecacheerecordstore
Specific Recordings: @specificrecordings
La Face Cachée: @lesdisquesdeLFC
Specific Recordings: @spcfcrecordings
Specific Recordings: www.specific.bandcamp.com
La Face Cachée: