The Pacific Northwest isn’t a likely home for a Christian record label. Historically and statistically, the region is one of the most irreligious parts of the country. It may seem like a Christian label would be out of place, or perhaps even unwelcome. However, Monopath Records — an independent record label based in Anacortes, Washington — sees this lack of representation as a void that needs to be filled. The founders’ and artists’ Christian faith is a critical element of the label’s identity and a driving force of its work.
“Especially being in the Pacific Northwest, ‘Christian’ is kind of a dirty word – and especially in the local music scene,” says Monopath co-founder John Van Deusen. “We didn’t want to hide who we were, and we felt like it was important to offer a different voice.”
Van Deusen’s assessment of tension between regional culture and the Christian faith is well-founded. According to a study published by the Barna Group in 2017, Seattle/Tacoma is the third most “dechurched” city in the USA. That is, approximately 45% of the surveyed population identified as previously being churchgoers, but hadn’t attended a normal church service in over six months. Historically, Washington state has also had some of the lowest rates of religious adherence.
But that doesn’t stop Monopath Records. “I know of Christians who make art, and it seems like they hide their Christian faith out of fear,” Van Deusen says. “I didn’t want to be that person.”
Johnathan Keane, Nick Thompson and Van Deusen co-founded Monopath as a way to keep each other accountable and official with their music projects. However, it soon became their desire to branch out and work with even more artists, assisting them in their recordings and physical releases.
For musician Ricky Turner, these efforts opened doors to putting out new music. Having recently moved to Anacortes, Turner found himself with songs written, but without the means to capture them. “I don’t think I would have been able to record at all if it hadn’t been for them,” Turner says. Though he has now left the label to work independently, Turner recorded and released an album on Monopath Records in 2017, simply titled R. Turner.
Another motivator for Turner’s departure from Monopath was the consistently abstract definition of the label. “It’s an idea that’s always on the middle of being realized,” he says.
Co-founder John Van Deusen would agree. He admits to jokingly calling Monopath a “fake record label” due to its size, lack of budget and less formal structure. Furthermore, Monopath currently stands at a crossroads, as its other two co-founders – Keane and Thompson – are moving out of state.
Nevertheless, Monopath Records plans to grow and develop in the following years. On January 31 of this year, the label quietly released A Night’s End – the debut record from co-founder Jonathan Keane’s musical project, Valeyard. It is currently seeking to partner with other Christians fearlessly making faith-driven art who could also benefit from the label’s involvement in their work. Even farther down the line they want to organize a week-long collaborative songwriting summit to create a collective compilation record.
Still at the focus of all these objectives is the Christian faith of Van Deusen and the other artists involved with Monopath Records.
This openness has been recognized by artists outside the label as one of its key strengths. John Ringhofer, a Finland-based musician who records as Half-handed Cloud, calls the label’s candidness “pretty terrific” – high praise, coming from one of Van Deusen’s major artistic inspirations. “I’m excited to see what happens with Monopath,” Ringhofer says. “Keeping it personal seems to be the key.”
Looking to the far future, Van Duesen hopes for the label’s very legacy to be marked by a “personal” nature. He wishes for Monopath Records and its artists to be remembered as “gentle, kind and generous” in all of their interactions.
In these critical early days of the label’s development, Van Deusen is already laying this foundation. As I interviewed him in a coffee shop in downtown Anacortes, a young, barefoot child wanders up to the table and interrupts the conversation by waving around a toy sword. Not a hint of frustration came across Van Deusen’s face, and he seems even more at ease than during the rest of the interview. As he interacts with the child, it seems as if the roots of Monopath’s legacy have already begun to sprout.
Monopath Records can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Watch John Van Deusen perform “Fly Away to Hell,” a track from his forthcoming record, live at KEXP. More information and links can be found at their official website. John Van Deusen embarks on a tour of the western US with Tyson Motsenbocker on April 19. Tour dates below.