Jonathan Lee (Principal of Dreams by Degrees)

Jonathan Lee (Principal of Dreams by Degrees)

by Brent

Why did you start dreams by degrees?

I started dreams by degrees in the summer of 2001 with the idea of creating an artists’ collective that brought together musicians, artists and writers to collaborate on a single project… that, and I wanted to impress a certain girl I was dating at the time.

Do you think dreams by degrees has carved out its own niche in the music world?

We are still too young to have our own niche, ask me again in a few years. However, I can tell you that the artwork (created by the talented Jennifer Ormerod) has been recognized as often as the music, which is reassuring.

Describe for us some of the benefits and hardships of running an independent music label.

The opportunity to collaborate with talented artists and musicians and share their work with others is both the reason and reward behind dreams by degrees.  The most challenging part of the label (my biggest responsibility) is making sure it reaches a wide audience – right now, we are still self-distributed so the next step is securing distribution with a large independent music outlet.

Have you ever been involved in a band or musical project of your own?

I played trumpet in my middle school jazz band… does that count?  I used to play records at an indie weekly that a friend started, but now I spend most of my time working on the label… I guess you can say that dreams by degrees is my contribution to the independent music scene.

What is your favorite release so far on your label?

I would have to say that the soon-to-be-released blue, is my favorite. probably because it was the color I picked for the series (orange and white are the others).  The bands did an amazing job of personifying different shades of blue through music and the illustrator (Autumn Whitehurst) captured a warm, contemplative feeling of the color.

How has the response to the Seasons series been?

The response has been favorable, to say the least. Although we’ve done little promotion outside of the website, we have received inquiries and orders from all over the world – just goes to prove that good music will be discovered, no matter what.

How do you find such cool bands? (dumb question, I know. But truthfully, you seem to find the coolest bands for your releases. How do you do that?)

I think it is a process of finding each other, whether through old friendships (Stratford 4), working in the office together (Loquat, Sappington), common friends (Coastal, Park Avenue Music, Film School, Timonium), demos sent to the label (Vela, Rivulets, Midstates) or trade shows (Odessa Chen).  I also contacted musicians that I admire (L’Altra, Aarktica, Sir, Bart Davenport) with favorable results.

Are there any bands that you’d love to work with, and who are they?

Musicians: Sigur Ros, Piano Magic

Illustrators / Designers: Istvan Banyai, Ashley Wood

Writers: Kelly Link, Jeffrey Eugenides

What cd’s are you listening to at the moment?

Autumns, “The Angel Pool”

Fischerspooner, “#1”

Calla, “Televise”

Lazarus, “Songs for an Unborn Sun”

Sigur Ros, “{ }”

Are there any other music labels that you keep an eye on (for releases), and would like to emulate a bit?

Dreams by Degrees is modeled after early 4AD when their music, artwork and mythology were more relevant (and Ivo Watts-Russel and Vaughan Oliver were running the show).  I also like what Warp / Designers Republic is doing with their releases.

What are the future aspirations for dreams by degrees?

I would like to finish the color series in early 2004 and move on to a new concept.  I already have a few ideas in mind, but we need to complete our current project before we move forward with something new.  I do know that I would like the next concept to fully integrate all creative mediums (music, illustration / design, writing) and release it in an Émigré-esque (book with CD) format.  Perhaps Émigré would like to do it for us.

Any other comments?

The seasons series (featuring music by Coastal, Colophon, Sappington, Park Avenue Music and Loquat) is currently available on limited edition 10″ vinyl.  blue, the first release in the color series (followed by orange and white), is due this summer on compact disc.  More information about dreams by degrees can be found at

“love’s rarer even than touching the sky reaching the end again”
Dreams by Degrees
1619 Grant Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94133 USA

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