Karate Body Records was founded in Louisville, Ky., in 2009 by sound engineer Joe Seidt and Mat Herron, a musician and former journalist. The two childhood friends had been working in the scene in various capacities for more than a decade, and wanted an outlet for music they felt deserved a wider audience.
The two started running the label out of a rental house in the city's Hikes Point neighborhood. For its first release, the label teamed up with their friend John King, an artist and musician, to release the ninth volume of Louisville Is For Lovers on vinyl for the first time. The compilation of original love songs by Louisville artists had been released on CD by King from 2000 until 2010. Louisville Is For Lovers Vol. 9 was released in March 2009 as a double LP pressed on red marble swirl vinyl. King designed the packaging for the record, which was limited to a run of 500 copies and is now out of print.
The label's second release would turn out to be one of its best-selling. Cheyenne Mize was hired to be the violinist and singer for Will Oldham's touring band for an upcoming Bonnie "Prince" Billy album on his longtime label Drag City. During that period, Cheyenne and Will recorded a batch of old time songs for an EP titled Among The Gold. The first run of 500 copies was pressed on cream vinyl and sold out quickly. Two more pressings of the record were made — one on black vinyl and a run of 250 copies on sky blue. All three pressings are now sold out and there are no plans at this time to repress.
Throughout its tenure, the label continued to release limited edition vinyl versions of albums by friends both within and outside of the Louisville scene: Austin, Texas noise-pop shredders Ume's EP Sunshower was released in April 2009. The vinyl debut of Kentucky cellist Ben Sollee, Learning To Bend, was released the next month, and Book of Leaves, the LP from Rachel Grimes (pianist from Touch & Go/Quarterstick artists Rachel's), followed that September. Two years later, Sheffield, England chamber folk artists The Big Eyes Family Players released their retrospective, Family Favourites, on the label, as the band sought to encapsulate and celebrate 10 years of writing and recording.
Over the last few years, Karate Body has occasionally released split 7" records pairing Louisville artists with our-of-town bands as part of its Belt Series, each split pressed on the color of a corresponding karate belt. The White Belt, the first in the series, features previously unreleased songs by Pokey LaFarge and Joe Manning (King’s Daughters & Sons). The Green Belt features Cincinnati's Wussy and The Fervor. The Yellow Belt paired two now-defunct bands: Lucky Pineapple and Joyful Noise Recording's Prizzy Prizzy Please. The series has no set release schedule and is manufactured when time and resources permit.
In fall 2011, the label found itself searching for a distributor and reached out to CTD Ltd. in Chicago. The staff there knew Louisville music well, having worked with several of Karate Body's artists on other projects. CTD Ltd. remains the label's distributor to this day.
Stylistically, Karate Body remains agnostic. The label finds artists organically, will listen to anything and if their interests align, work to see an artist's vision live out in the world. —Fall 2015