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Nick Cosimano

PHOTO: Leif Zurmuhlen

High Hopes

A handful of young entrepreneurs jump headfirst into the record biz

By John Brodeur and Kirsten Ferguson

The old system is fin ished. The major record labels are bailing water, trying to save their Titanic industry from sinking like a stone. Too little, too late, some say; thanks to too much loss leading and a blasé, even combative, attitude toward downloading (at least until recently), things are looking bleak at the top.

Meanwhile, on a regional level, the label business is booming. Thanks to the work of a group of young, business-minded artists, there are more local record labels active now than at any point in recent memory. The trend is remi- niscent of the Erl /Blue Lunch/Paint Chip heyday of the early 1990s Albany scene, and it is good. The following are a few of the labels that are helping Capital Region musicians get their product to the people.

Indian Ledge

It’s all about prepara-tion. In fact, the seeds for Indian Ledge Records were planted all the way back in August 2005, according to label head Nick Cosimano.

“I had been friends with the Alta Mira guys [known at the time as Milo] for quite a while,” says Cosimano. A recording of the band’s first-ever live performance sealed the deal. “It was like, ‘These guys have got something,’ ” he recalls. “They should be backed by something I should do this!”

So Cosimano set about the preparations for starting his new company; two years on, late this summer, Indian Ledge rolled out their first two releases, EPs from acoustic folk-country duo Palatypus (Lazaretto) and anthemic math-rockers Alta Mira (Fables and Fabrications). What took so long?

“We’ve kind of taken the last two years to do a crash course and really learn how everything works. . . . It takes a long time to set good groundwork for this kind of thing. It really doesn’t seem like that long if you look at what we’ve accomplished so far.” There’s “a lot of internal preparation. . . . It’s a massive risk to do something like this.” But, he continues, “With all of us, it comes down to the simple fact that we have to do this. So for me, personally, there’s been a lot of adjustment in the way I think about things.”

Thankfully, the risk is shared. Indian Ledge is more of a partnership than Cosimano’s CEO label might let on, with the members of both Alta Mira and Palatypus taking on roles in the various aspects of the business. “August [Sagehorn, Alta Mira bassist] is getting into recording. . . . and Mike [Poulopoulos, of Palatypus] is helping me with the booking stuff.”

The EPs, Cosimano says, were used primarily as “a testing platform,” to “make sure we could make a record.” He spent several months with Alta Mira recording in “various basements” on his own equipment, trying to feel out how the songs would sound when recorded versus in a live setting a bit of inadvertent preproduction. The results are encouraging thus far, as the discs have been well-received, and each Indian Ledge act has garnered itself a considerable fanbase regionally. Cosimano also has plans to release a recording of his own acoustic-guitar work, under the name Turtle Writing in the near future.

Plans are in the work to expand the enterprise. Cosimano says he and his cohorts “plan on taking this beyond our projects,” and that they plan to secure investors, and turn over booking and promotions to a third party, within the next 12 months.

“All along this has been the goal with us. We’re gonna take this big.”


Matthew Loiacono

PHOTO: Matthew Loiacono

Collar City

Matthew Loiacono, perhaps best known as a member of the “upstate porch rock” outfit Kamikaze Hearts, spearheaded the start of Collar City Records last year, although he says the idea for the label was born from a “loose group of folks.” The Round Lake-based label put out last year’s excellent Hearts’ release Oneida Road, along with a solo album from Albany musician Brent Gorton and a collection of intimate demo recordings called Roadhouse Nature from local musician Mitch Elrod, whose CountrySoulHouse band includes Bob Buckley of . . . the Kamikaze Hearts.

In that way, the small label’s output tends to include artists that Loiacono and the Hearts have a sort of preexisting camaraderie with, whether musical or personal. “There’s a rotating cast of folks that we work with,” Loiacono says, explaining that the label started because there are “a lot of records that need homes. I just want to do what I can to help.” If the label has a niche, it’s an affinity for “personally recorded” material, with Gorton’s self-titled album recorded in his house, and the Hearts release immortalized in their rehearsal space. “I feel like we’re handling more of the home-recorded stuff,” he says.

True to form, the label in 2008 promises further adventures in home recording, including a “low-key” solo release from Small Axe guitarist DJ Miller, recorded primarily with acoustic, and some electric, guitar in Miller’s barn. “It sounds so good. It’s really something special. I can’t wait for people to hear it,” Loiacono enthuses. “I hope we can find an audience for him. I believe there are people out there who would love this.”

The label also has plans to put out a new release from Brent Gorton in the coming year (this time featuring his band the Tender Breasts) and one from local duo Princess Mabel, whose guitarist Frank Moscowitz is part of what Loiacono describes as a “sister-brother company” to Collar City the record label. Collar City Sound a recording studio run by Moscowitz, Kamikaze Hearts member Troy Pohl and Seamus McNulty has worked with Rocky Velvet, Ian and the Aztecs and the Sense Offenders in the past year and could provide a “proving ground” for label acts in the future.

Loiacono admits that it can be hard to tell where to start when promoting label acts, given that “the face of promotion is changing all the time now.” But Collar City has found most of its success in marketing to online retailers, including iTunes, eMusic and a brand new digital music store just launched by “One of our biggest goals is improving our digital catalog,” he says. And although Collar City does sell CDs through its Web site and at local stores, “We’re doing so much more through digital sales than CD sales probably 100 percent more. It’s pretty wild.”

The mainstream music business hasn’t adapted so easily to the new realities of digital media, and is “in disarray,” Loiacono says. Despite this or perhaps because of it—Loiacono has noticed that local record labels are cropping up at a rate he’s never seen. “In no time in the last 10 years has there been such camaraderie in trying to band together and make things happen,” he marvels.


The Rev

Harith Abdullah is an anomaly in this indie-label biz, as he himself does not identify as a musician. While he says he “dabbles” in music, he’s “nowhere near” presenting his own music to the public. Instead, his position is primarily that of a fan.

“I have a real, visceral gut reaction to music,” he says. “I just love it. I love being surrounded by it. And so many of my friends do it that there’s an element of helping your friends out.”

Abdullah’s enthusiasm for helping his musician friends, and for the music scene in general, is palpable in conversation. It’s also felt in the fundraising events and live shows put on under the guise of his label, The Rev Records. (The Rev, by the way, is a nickname for his cat, Reverend Scot Sloan.) And his slow turning from college English major to budding record-label executive was entirely born of that enthusiasm: He hosted an open-mic night at Borders in Colonie, which got him working with musicians.

At the end of 2005, his friend Krysta Dennis asked for his help producing her debut CD. “I kind of helped her through the whole process of figuring out how to get it pressed, then advertising and booking a show.”

After the CD was released in January 2006, Abdullah, who was “lightly temping” at the time, found himself spending a lot of time “home, watching Netflix.” One of his rentals, a documentary on Omaha, Neb.-based indie Saddle Creek inspired him. “When I watched that, I was like, ‘Man, we should do this.” He cites the labels gang mentality as an impetus for his own endeavor.

“Here was a bunch of kids who all knew each other and worked together, and they all got famous because each other got famous. And there’s enough of us around, doing stuff, that if we all band together we’d be stronger than if we’re all trying to do it ourselves.”

The Rev, which marks its one-year anniversary in November, has released three discs thus far: a re-release of Dennis’ Empty Pockets, Laura Boggs’ Whiskey & Springtime, and Dala, the debut disc from bluesy indie-folkstress Ashley Pond. “Ashley Pond said to me once, ‘If I’ve got a lemonade stand and you’ve got a lemonade stand, why should we have two different lemonade stands?’ ” The analogy is clouded two lemonade stands is a marker of free enterprise, right?—but the message is easy enough to read.

2008 should see the label’s profile grow exponentially. Plans are in the works for at least three new releases, all from friends and/or acquaintances of Abdullah of course, and the future remains bright: “So far,” he says, almost incredulously, “we haven’t lost a cent.”



PHOTO: Matto


The genesis of Peterwalkee Records can be traced, tangibly, to one John Royce Mathis.

I “used to play with my mothers records a lot, specifically this one red Johnny Mathis Christmas LP,” says label head Matthew “Matto” LaQue. “I was obsessed with that record. I would play it all the time. . . . I loved to look at this big slab of bright red sound.”

Not that Mathis has influenced Peterwalkee’s preferred clientele, although big slabs of bright sound are the label’s specialty. Matto, leader of pop-punk mavens Kitty Little and guitarist for several other area bands, started Peterwalkee as a teenager—“Nobody had CD burners then,” he says. “Some of my favorite local bands were releasing tapes—the Figgs, Brown Cuts Neighbors, Monster X, Affirmative Action. I wanted in on that!” So he and his friends did what the restless musical youth of the mid-’90s often did—they recorded music on four-track recorders and boom boxes, dubbed cassettes, photocopied album covers and lyric sheets, and began releasing tapes.

“It was a lot of fun and it gave us something to do besides sitting at the Brandywine Diner all day,” says Matto.

“We really took that tape format as far as we could,” he continues. “I think we reached our pinnacle when my band the Phlegm Chuckers released a triple cassette, 100 song ‘album’.”

With some inspiration from the Albany-based Flipped Out label, Peterwalkee matured into what it is today: An actual record label, vinyl-only (mostly), with a focus on releasing “my music and the music my friends make.” (Among the non-Matto-related releases was the 7-inch vinyl release of the Kamikaze Hearts’ Foxhole Prayers.)

This positively old-school approach is right in line with Matto’s punk-rock awakening (he recounts going to DIY punk shows through his teenage years), and sets his mission apart from those of other area labels. “With vinyl, the art work possibilities are endless. . . . You can make something that is an actual piece of artwork. . . . Plus it’s much cheaper to make your own covers than it is to pay for something to be printed. That’s why I screen print most of my record covers. Plus, I need to do something with that awesome Fine Arts degree I paid so much money for!”

Peterwalkee’s Web site trumpets an impressive 11 releases currently available, including a few actual CDs, although this is more out of convention than desire. (“CDs have no charm,” Matto explains, “and anyone can make them. Jewel cases are bulky . . . and most people wind up using them as coasters.”) But, he adds, he’s willing to try anything, “If it’s really something I think is great and I have the cash I will put it out. There are no contracts or money exchanged, just a handshake and some cool ideas. I put out the record, give a percentage to the band, promote and distribute the record the best I can. . . . I don’t do it for money—if I did I would be broke. I do it because I love it.”


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