Updated: Mar 26, 2020
If you've been paying attention to the ebbs and flows of modern psych rock, chances are Greenway Records has come up on your radar within these past few years. With bands like Levitation Room, Triptides, and Acid Dad on their roster, Greenway has become a cherished source for the new wave of psychedelic sounds.
About six years ago, Greenway founder, Harry Portnof developed the initial idea for the label.
At the time, he was working in finances and often found himself drifting off into Discogs during those shifts. A family-fostered love for vinyl and passion for business eventually led Portnof to starting up his own label in 2014.
With roots in the Long Island punk scene, Portnof constantly went to shows to find new artists and potential partners. The oversight paid off after Greenway released a short run of 7-in for L.A. Witch. From here on out, people started reaching out to Harry, commence the snowball effect.
As the years flowed forward, Greenway has consistently released hand poured, colored vinyl. Every Greenway release embraces its own aesthetic. The intricate color variants are aimed to quickly grab the attention of any vinyl junkie surfing the web, looking for their next fix. It's important to Portnof that the visual presentation of every release is as aesthetically pleasing as the music on the album.
Well, it's succeeding. One of Greenway's hottest releases of 2019 has gained recognition from a global audience. Andrew Macgranahan's cover art for ZAM, Frankie & the Witch Fingers most recent album, won the annual Communication Arts Typography Competition last fall. Already a cult classic among many, ZAM stands as a prime example of the quality content that Greenway puts out. Heady tunes and eye candy that you can hold, what else does a record revivalist need?
More records is a start, maybe some live music down the line once Covid-19 starts to become less of threat to society. Good thing Greenway has our backs. Their newest release, a 7-in from Gym Shorts, is sure to please your ears. If that's not enough, a newly established playlist called The Weekly Jam can be found on their Spotify.
Curious to learn more?
We had the opportunity to connect with Harry right after Frankie & the Witch Fingers slayed the Block Stage at Desert Daze 2019.
Don't believe us?
Hear it is, straight from the source:
Q: How did you first get into records or being curious about making your own? A: Funny enough, I started as a vinyl collector. Early on, I found my Dad’s record collection in my Grandmother’s attic and an old turntable that was definitely broken. I set it up and was playing stuff without knowing it was broken. A year later, I realized I was only hearing like one side of stereo, basically. Even though, I just was just like, this sounds weird, ya know. I know these recordings from digital format but vinyl’s weird. I didn’t realize the needle was fucked up or something wasn’t right about it. I was obsessed with the records, holding them, and the fact that there was music on it more or less, still blows my mind. It’s technology from the past that seems more futuristic than most of the shit we have now. Clicking on a computer and pressing play is way easier for me and more comprehensible to the younger people than how there’s grooves on a disk with music that you’re holding in your hand. From there, I was always hunting obscure shit off of Discogs. For me, it was all about finding a B-side on a 7-inch where the A-side was something I loved. I’d be like, damn these B-sides usually never came out on albums and now some of these B-sides are like my favorite recordings from bands. Then the obsession of hunting down those recordings that only existed that way became kind of a crazy thing. From there, my love for vinyl only continued to grow. I actually worked in Manhattan for finances, I was an accountant. There were a lot of hours where I was supposed to be doing work for a company, when really I was just sitting on Discogs secretly not doing my job. Simultaneously, the two ideas came together.
I was like, my love for music and the business end of things that I understand have to come together, like where’s the meeting ground? Then I was like, oh well, a label is those two things together so how do I release people’s music and how do I get people to look into a band that they’ve never heard of?
That’s pretty much the beginnings of Greenway and the idea of creating visually stimulating products. Having the records as artistically forward as the music I was lucky enough to put on them was one way to get people interested in something they’ve never heard of. They see it and they’re like, wow I need that. I don’t even know what the fuck this is but I want it. When they get it and the music’s incredible, not only is it one of the coolest records they’ve bought, now it’s like their favorite album they own. Then local bands started hitting me up. Very early on, Long Island punk stuff led to getting in front of bands I really loved, convincing them of my vision. Things ended up working out and it’s just kept on snowballing. Q: How’d you venture out of the Long Island punk scene to find other bands or artists? A: Luckily enough, being in Brooklyn, we get the best acts around since it’s such a hub for talent. If you’re touring and doing your shit seriously, you’re gonna come to New York at some point. I was lucky enough to be there hanging out and meeting people, mostly going to as many shows as possible and if there was something that struck me, my goal was to try and find out how to work with these people. LA Witch was a big one. I didn’t really have much before them. When I met them, they actually needed a record really fast. I didn’t even know if I could do it, but I was like, yeah I’ll do it. All of a sudden, I had like a month and a half to figure out how to make a 7-inch and I pulled it off, so they had records for their tour. That was the first band I worked with who had a name of sorts in a “psychey” world. Other bands knew of LA Witch and would be like, damn that’s a good record, we know of you. From there, it wasn’t as foreign when I’d approach them and I didn’t have to explain as much about what Greenway was overall. Q: Where’d the name Greenway come from? A: It’s way more simple than most people think. I grew up on Greenway Road in Lido Beach, NY. When I was first trying to think of a name it was like one of the hardest things. I had other names, but my Mom was just like, call it Greenway and I was like, nah that’s just too obvious. Then it settled with me for a while and I was like, damn she has a point. That’s way better than anything I was thinking of. I sort of thought about the other connotations of the meaning of Greenway since most people wouldn’t know I grew up on a road with that name. It could be environmental, the color green, it could be weed. All of them were good connotations, so I didn’t really care what people thought in that direction. Q: Do you have any future endeavors with Greenway besides signing new artists? A: I’m always looking for new artists. I’ve put out over 60 records in three years. In the beginning, it was a lot of 7-inches and that was a way to grow the family. At the moment, I’ve pulled back with a smaller number of biggest artists that I’m putting a lot more time and effort into as opposed to having a large number of acts and spreading out my time. Really, it’s just honing in the vision and working with a smaller number of tighter, incredible bands like Frankie & the Witch Fingers, Acid Dad, Triptides, and Levitation Room. With these acts, I want to put in a lot more time and effort for a smaller number of releases that are way more significant. I’m still always looking for new stuff. I’m out there at shows looking at what makes sense and seeing what I can bring to the table. Right now, I’m lucky enough to be honing in and focusing my energy on more significant projects.
Q: In terms of the creativity behind Greenway releases, what’s the significance of the “cosmic swirl” vinyl for Levitation Room’s “Headspace” LP?
A: It honestly came together when we had the album art. Andrew McGranahan is an incredible artist who actually does a lot of work with Desert Daze. By coincidence, he’s actually done a lot of the artwork for my recent releases. The bands themselves have all been going to Andrew lately and I don’t blame them. So Andrew was hired to do the “Headspace” artwork and a lot of that came from the record itself and interpreting the meaning of the tracks. The cosmic swirl idea sort of came from the moment I saw the cover and one of the headspaces has a cosmos that’s blue and yellow. It’s all about making the package aesthetically cohesive and pleasing. When making vinyl, you always have these ideas and how it actually plays out when you press the wax could always change, but that one came together so perfectly. With the labels and blue and yellow swirls, it was really a beautiful product at the end of the day and I think it was really received that way because we sold a lot of them to where they sold out, I’m stoked on that. Q: Does Greenway plan on having a physical location to sell vinyl? A: That’s always been a dream of mine to have a location. Especially in New York and Brooklyn, real estate is super expensive, but I do definitely at some point want to have a physical location for the label. Like a homebase where you can actually go buy records and be Greenway. Right now, it mostly exists on my website online and then the worldwide distribution I’m lucky enough to have where records can just go into stores all over the world. I’m thankful for that, but having a homebase or store has been a dream since day one. Ya know, it’s a big whirlwind and when I find the time to figure that part of it out, I’m hoping sooner than later, I can open a shop. Q: Do you have any advice for other creatives who share a similar DIY spirit? A: Don’t take no for an answer. If you have a dream and passion, figure out any way you could possibly do it. If you have to do it at night, after work, just do it. If you have a sort of passion for anything, don’t let anyone tell you it’s not worth it because that’s bullshit. If you fucking push yourself and it’s already what you love, the that’s your free time, it’s what you do. For me, doing all of this stuff isn’t work, it’s what I’d be doing anyway. Instead of buying a lot of records on Discogs, now I’m buying 1000 copies of one record. You’ll figure it out, there’s an answer for every question, solution to every problem, it’s a matter of not accepting “no” and doing exactly what you want to do.