Albuquerque may be dirt-ass poor, but at least we're filthy rich in a few other respects. (Hint: It's not dirt.) I'm talking about our passion. And if there's one thing that Burqueños are passionate about, it's our music. Whether we're at a show, getting all worked up over the all-ages debacle or pressing "repeat" on our newest CD-obsession, we're hopelessly devoted to the music that moves through our city. Hell, we can't even drive down the street without getting an earful of "what's hot" at decibels that would shatter the skull of a canary. Hey, that's passion!
Yes, we've come a long way from the Podunk music sensibilities of our forebearers, no doubt precisely because we've let our passions be our guide. And in the long and lustful evolution of music, each generation has made its own contribution to the ways that we experience it. In that spirit, I truly believe that the charge of our generation—those from the past quarter century or so—has been to make music human again. Our work has been (and continues to be) to dethrone the arena rockers, the radio moguls and all the other powers-that-be that place money over music time and time again—all in the name of making music accessible to those who truly live by it.
To that end, our most powerful tool to date has to be the D.I.Y. record label. It makes sense on so many levels! Who better to represent local musicians than labels based out of the very same place? What better way to stick it to The Man than to give working musicians the lion's share of the power? And one thing's for damn sure—nobody is doing this for the money. In fact, of all the record labels that we talked to in making this issue, no one cited money as a motivator. No, instead, every last person insisted on something else: passion. And there you have it. Independent record labels operate on sheer love, guts and determination, just like we do. It's a "Lust for Life," like Iggy Pop says. Amen, brother.
When Detach Records spokesperson and Of God and Science bassist Jeremy Fine says his label offers bands a "unique community," he isn't rattling off a buzz phrase with little meaning or truth behind it.
Detach is actually owned and operated by the members of four bands: Albuquerque's Love Overdose, The Mindy Set, the aforementioned Of God and Science and Austin, Texas', The Onlys. There are no presidents or CEOs; just four bands committed to spreading their music across state lines. Fine believes his company's unique structure creates a cooperative environment where each member supports and is supported by the other owners. "When one of our bands wants help," Fine explains, "The other three bands chip in and help out."
Fine believes Detach is not set up in a way that would allow the label to expand indefinitely. The close-knit nature of the company would be hard to sustain with a large number of bands under one roof. "We are open to working with more bands," Fine says. "But they have to have some potential, be up for touring and be willing to help us out as much as we're willing to help them."
It's clear that running a label like Detach is a high-cost/high-reward operation. Fine estimates that, in addition to maintaining day jobs to pay the bills, Detach members spend between 10-20 hours a week practicing, answering phones and meeting to discuss business. But Fine and his other label mates have reaped the rewards of starting their own company with self-raised cash. In addition to having a vast amount of artistic control and being able to work with artists who share similar musical ambitions, Fine says everyone at Detach is "having a kick-ass time doing this. When you boil it all down--we're having a hell of a lot of fun."
Detach Records: Formed on October 23 2004.
Releases: Two so far, with two more forthcoming.
If you're interested: Fine says bands who think they have what it takes to be on Detach should: "Check out our website (detachrecords.com) to see if they like what we're doing and then send one of us an e-mail and invite us to a show."
It may be the youngest label of the bunch, but Vinyl Countdown is already shaping up as quite a diamond in the rough. A glittery diamond. The focus of Zac Webb's ambitious and unabashedly devoted project is singular: to preserve extraordinary sounds in shiny black wax. And if his hardware seems a bit old-fashioned, it's only because that's where his passion for sound has taken him. "Where everyone else is looking to the future of music, I'm digging deep into the past," says Webb, "to reissue lost musical gems and to promote bands that are carrying on wonderful traditions of music." More specifically, Vinyl Countdown has scooped up the flags of glam, psychedelic and early punk rock, waving them aloft with all the eagerness of a teenage boy at his first Ziggy Stardust concert. It's truly a sound for sore ears.
Still, Vinyl Countdown's inception was more utilitarian than anything else. "My record label essentially started when The Foxx decided to do a recording," says Webb, who plays bass in the Albuquerque glam/rock band. "We had a demo for a while and tried shopping it around but had no luck." So he did what countless other bands have done before him—he raided his savings account and put the record out himself.
Something clicked. Webb was emboldened by this first undertaking and it wasn't long before he felt compelled to take on even bigger projects. "I realized I had the power to really put out whatever I wanted to and to form the label I've always imagined in my head."
Two releases later (plus two more in the oven), Webb finds himself manning the only independent record label in the state that caters to both obscure rereleases and new acts in a vinyl medium. And for the record, "It's not a business," says Webb. "It's something I'm passionate about ... something I want to share with musicians whose music has moved me in some way or other." Next on the VC radar is a rare 45 by Caspar Giles McCloud, due for reissue sometime this fall. In the meantime, keep your eye out for updates on the Vinyl Countdown website, vinylcountdownrecords.com.
Vinyl Countdown: In operation since May 2004.
Releases: Two, with two more on the way.
If you're interested: Webb says, "Typically, what I'm interested in is '70s glam, psychedelic (both modern and old), the early punk sound and garage."
If your sound is somewhere in there, e-mail Zac at email@example.com and invite him to one of your shows.
To talk about Fraction Records is to talk about Jonathan Liber—not surprisingly, both favorite subjects of the entrepreneur himself. Liber is what you might call a self-made man, and he's not afraid to call you on it. "I've worked nonstop to get where I am. It's all I've ever known," he says. Today, Liber is the proud and patient owner of three businesses, one of which is Albuquerque-based record label Fraction Records. And although Liber divides almost all of his time between each of his three enterprises (among them is a website design firm), it's clear which one is his baby.
"I've always been around music in Albuquerque ... in fact, I started out by sleeping behind the El Rey Theatre," he says, only half-joking in his slightly southern drawl. After high school, Liber left Albuquerque to begin work in the music industry, working his way through the ranks as a supporting musician and technical hand at venues throughout the country. After several years on the road and in the studios with acts like Dwight Yoakam, NIN and Pearl Jam, Liber decided it was time to go home. He returned to Albuquerque with his hard-won funds and musical know-how.
Since its official launch in 2001, Fraction Records has acquired just six acts to its name—and that's the way Liber likes it. It's all a part of what he calls his "one percent" philosophy: to work exclusively with a minute number of artists who are completely committed in what they do. "We look for the people that are so passionate about their art and their goals that [it's] all they see," he says. "We just simply help manage them and get them in the right position." To that end, Fraction's roster includes Vestige, .rib and Twerp from Southern California, and our own Hit by a Bus and Coalition from Edgewood. For more information on these artists and more, log on to fractionrecords.com.
Fraction Records: In operation since 2001.
Releases: Five, officially.
If you're interested: Liber says, "If you are a ’one percenter' you will know and we will eventually meet and get along great—things will happen." Check their website (fractionrecords.com) for more details.
The conception of Socyermom emerged during a drinking session at none other than the fine tits-and-ass establishment of Hooters back in 1998. Originally a project managed by three friends, the remaining founder, Leonard Apodaca, says money was raised through playing shows and putting on huge "Socyermom Nights" at the dearly departed UNM rock staple dive, Sprockets (now where Brickyard Pizza is located). Apodaca handled booking there and on those nights would schedule as many as 12 bands to play, packing the bar as a result. Socyermom's first release was a 45-band double-CD entitled Ouch!, a compilation of local music, released the same year and unmatched in comprehensiveness and quality to this day.
Since '98, Socyermom Records has primarily released rock recordings by locals, including Romeo Goes To Hell, The Rip Torn, Unit 7 Drain, Scenester, The Mindy Set, Left Unsaid, Kimo, Icky and the Yuks, GoMotorCar and Oh, Ranger!, and has put out a total of 30 albums, which is probably more than any other local label. Apodaca says he receives a volume of e-mails and demos from both local and national bands, and decisions to sign are made based simply on his taste. While he assists bands with recording costs, booking and promotion, he says the label hasn't been a money-making operation (though he'd like it to be), but has served as a unifying force and sort of support system between the label's bands.
So, while it has probably assisted in conceiving a lot of things, who knew that Hooter's could help create such a fine addition and important institution within Albuquerque's music scene?
Socyermom Records: In operation since May 1998.
Releases: Thirty so far.
If you're interested: Check out socyermom.com, then shoot Apodaca an e-mail and a maybe a demo.
MeteorCity started as an online store entirely devoted to selling Kyuss albums. (Kyuss' guitarist is now the lead singer, guitarist and songwriter for Queens of the Stone Age.)
A little over eight years later, MeteorCity Records releases are distributed in 26 countries, including all of North America, Japan, Russia and parts of Europe. Their artists have been featured on video games like "Tony Hawk's Underground" and the upcoming "Tony Hawk's American Wasteland," as well as on MTV's "Real World Austin." Through it all, Owner/CEO Jadd Shickler has continued to work his self-made ass off to get his bands known.
"If there's a band that I respect both as musicians and as people," Shickler says, "that motivates me to do as much as I possibly can to help them." The MeteorCity mogul has added being a pseudo-manager/publicist to his list of normal record label duties. "I have relationships with journalists and editors of magazines across the country that will listen to records I send them over someone else's," Shickler says. "That translates into more coverage for the band, which translates into more sales."
In addition to being of the metal genre "stoner rock," Shickler prefers that the bands he works with have a certain level of humility. "Bands that are more starry-eyed and think they're worthy of attention are going to tend to make me go ’well you guys should find a bigger label,'" Shickler says.
At this point in MeteorCity's history, Shickler wants to make sure his bands (which include New Jersey's Atomic Bitchwax, California's Hermano, Baltimore's Meatjack, Sweden's Blind Dog and Shickler's own local group Spiritu) have his full attention. "If I can do everything I can to put out three releases a year and help a band that's working their ass off," Shickler says, "I would rather do that than put out eight releases a year and hope that one of them hits."
MeteorCity Records: Formed in May 1998.
If you're interested: Shickler says, "Heavy-sounding bands should put together an eye-catching package with a short list of who the band is, where they're based and whether they've toured, what they've done on their own and what they sound like." Send all materials to: P.O. Box 40322, Albuquerque, NM, 87196. Previous touring experience is extremely important to MeteorCity, as is a professional-quality demo.
Back in the day (actually just a few years ago), before the Downtown revitalization went into full effect, there existed a magical place Downtown known as the Red Door; an upstairs, multi-roomed practice space and recording studio on Central between Fifth and Sixth Streets (above where Paco's is now). Anyone who went to the Red Door can acknowledge that it tended to maintain a certain level of filth, but there was something special about the fact that the place housed a host of some of the city's best bands.
Though it's gone now, and so are many of the bands, out of the Red Door came Little Kiss Records, which formed around 2000, has its own recording studio and has since released 12 recordings. The label is currently home to five bands, including Foma, The Darlington Horns, Shine Cherries, Nels Andrews and the El Paso Eye Patch, and Jasper Brown (who resides in Hobbs), but has also released, among others, recordings from Testy Kool, 1,000 Angry Clocks and the label's first love (er, release), The Tattersaints. James de Champlon, who primarily runs the show (though Heath Dauberman of Foma also plays a part), says Little Kiss functions as a cooperative with all of its bands helping where they can, the ultimate goal being to enable artists to pursue a serious music career. Champlon says the studio is the backbone of Little Kiss, which has produced music that's "competitive in the international market." The general feeling here is that Little Kiss has done (well, it's more than just a feeling) and continues to do great things. And with the foundation, or "spirit," of the Red Door on their side, how could they not?
Little Kiss Records: In operation since 2000.
If you're interested: Little Kiss says they're all full up on artists at the moment, but keep checking their website: littlekissrecords.com.