Sofaburn Records: A chat with Mike Montgomery

Sofaburn Records was set up in 2006 by Christopher Mueller to release his band’s, Alone at 3am, music. It was also an opportunity to help out his fellow musician friends and fellow local artists’ music as well, focusing on small releases. Operating from that point initially out of a basement office, it was in 2015 that Sofaburn moved out into an office in Dayton, KY expanding and rolling out national releases, having grown and built a wider audience and artist network. The building where Sofaburn now resides is also home to Candyland Recording Studio, where Mike Montgomery, one of “the three sofaburners” also works having designed and built the studio as the owner and engineer.  As Mike describes this is, fortunately for him, “not a long commute” between workplaces.

In March I was able to catch up with Mike on Skype, who kindly took the time out to talk to me from the Sofaburn office to discuss Sofaburn Records in more depth, the ethos behind the label, as well the exciting plans coming up for the label, and associated artists.

We spoke for some time about the background to the label and what they are hoping to achieve going forward. Mike described to me that there is no one size fits all contract when an artist signs to the label; “it depends on the needs of the artist. Some artists may need a van, or a place to practice”.  These basic needs for a band, alongside the more traditional functions of a label in supporting with the recording, artwork, publicity and distribution,  can all be supported by Sofaburn whose priority is to “nurture and support artists” over turning a profit. The three sofaburners trust each other’s judgement in bringing new artists to the label. Mike described how they had a list of people they would like to work with and connected with these artists. They are also approached by artists submitting their work to the label directly (details of how to do this are on their website below).

In keeping with the community values inherent in the label’s make-up, I asked Mike about Sofagive, the charity element to the label. Currently the label have a monthly charity which receives $1 for every physical release order that is made through the website. Charities which have benefited from this include the local animal shelter, and for March 2017 it was Galaxie Skateshop for their community DIY Skate park. Mike mentioned how “ideally in time the artists could decide which charity they would like the money to go to” , from their own releases, so that many charities could benefit at once. Community and support is a big thing at Sofaburn Records who detail local community projects on their webpages as well as in and near area independent record stores. We discussed that of course the label do have a financial interest and of course want to sell records but the ethos is not for profit and is centered around building an artistic community where people share ideas, talents, resources and support each other. It is about relationships.

Following on from this idea of different types of artists coming together, I was curious to know how the video collaborations with the animation artists for the label signings R.Ring tracks “Cutter” and “100 Dollar Heat” had come about. These tracks feature on R.Ring’s forthcoming debut LP “Ignite the Rest”, now available for pre-order on Sofaburn. I had noticed that the artist for “Cutter”, Clyde Petersen, was having his work shown at the BFI (British Film Institute) in London, as part of the “Flare” festival which celebrates LGBTQ cinema. Mike Montgomery and Kelley Deal from R.Ring met Clyde when in Seattle, through the artistic community there, which includes cellist Lori Goldston (who features on the upcoming R.Ring record). Alex Leonard, of the band Protomartyr, created the “100 Dollar Heat” video. In short “creative people tend to find each other”.

R.Ring at The Lexington, London. 8th March 2013

Over time Sofaburn has grown which brings it’s own rewards and challenges. An exciting shift has been they have been able to partner with Alternative Distribution Alliance, an independent sales, marketing and distribution network, owned by the Warner Music group, and already working with many independent labels including Sub Pop and Merge. The move will mean Sofaburn’s releases will be rolled out on a much larger scale across the US, and subsequently internationally. This will have a huge impact for both label and artist. I reminded Mike of when we last met in London at the Aces and Eights bar, when I had come to see the Sofaburn curated London leg, in 2015, of the European OH/KY tour with Jeremy Pinnell, Max Fender and Ags Connolly. Both working for labels we discussed at the time the continued public desire for the physical product and how to make this viable in an ever changing market of downloading and streaming. There are a lot of physical releases available on the webpage with clearly marked store sections of “physical” and “digital”. I asked Mike how this translated into sales and demand.We went over how one format can favour the other depending on the artist and even the genre, however both sell well at Sofaburn. Given the scale of the new distribution deal with A.D.A and this being rolled out over the months ahead, the closing comment regarding the popularity of the physical product was “ask me in a month or so!”

jpinnell

Jeremy Pinnell at Aces and Eights, London. 20th October 2015

Sofaburn’s signings are diverse. Daniel Martin Moore, who has recently been touring Portugal and Spain, has a truly beautiful voice to get happily lost for a few hours in his vocal soundscapes.  M. Ross Perkins, currently touring in the US, is a multi-instrumentalist one man band, recording at home for many years at a prolific rate. Soft vocals and echoes of 60’s Beach Boys’ era, he couldn’t be more different to a signing generating significant media interest, Benchmarks, a trio from Nashville, an alternative rock band who have released their debut lp this month. Future releases are also due from Ampline, R.Ring, and a new album from M.Ross Perkins. Jeremy Pinnell, an early and critically acclaimed signing, and R.Ring are both hopeful they will be returning to the UK this year to tour.

Ampline at The Windmill, London as part of Bad Friday. 18th April 2014

Mike and I discussed the path from recording to release and the timescales for this. Timing is key for both artist and label, and this can create challenges for all of having to be patient at times; “Artists are keen to get their release out”, Mike commented, “to release it like a dove” soon after the recording wraps. This isn’t always realistic. It also isn’t always the best thing for both artist and label as bad timing, despite promotion and excitement from the artists and labels, can mean good music doesn’t get the platform it deserves.

Bridged from this discussion was the fact, simply, that across the music industry there is some exceptional music that doesn’t alway sell well, and arguably some music which will sell well but is not as well crafted or executed. This is of course subjective to the listener. We discussed because of this it is important to go and see local bands and support each other. You never know what special music is waiting for you at your local open mic night, or what your music or art may mean to someone else, even if you aren’t selling a million records. I mentioned to Mike I recently had seen the Jim Jarmusch film “Patterson”, starting Adam Driver as a bus driver who writes poetry on his lunch break. He is content in his life and not seeking fame for his work. The pleasure for him is simply creating his poetry and chance encounters connecting with like-minded individuals. For some it is that simple. Whatever the outcome, this seems to me a good basis for all to begin creative endeavours, reminiscent of the start of Sofaburn and other like minded independent labels.

To find out more about Sofaburn, to hear more about their artists and to purchase any releases please visit Sofaburn

Clyde Petersen’s most recent work was screened at the BFI Flare festival in March with a live band  Clyde Petersen

The video for R.Ring’s “Cutter” can also be found here  R.Ring

Sofaburn Records is the third in our irregular series celebrating Independent Record labels!

(April 2017)

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