One thing I haven’t really drilled deeply into on this blog are the years we spent trying to make a living running a record label. There is no need to get into a terrible amount of detail on the pains and pleasures behind the actual business – you can do plenty of reading on your own about the steep and treacherous cliffs one needs to climb in order to build a successful indie record label. The music business, in general, is not one that lends itself to happy endings and I saw my fair share of this while working with Rounder Records, one of the largest and most successful independant record labels in the world.
However, one M.O. I try to stay close to in life is to never get old and have to ask “what if?” I certainly won’t have to do that regarding this period of my life. In retrospect, Tar Hut Records was an enormous risk which produced some of the finest memories of my life and some of the worst. As the years roll by, the finer moments stay with me and the more miserable ones fade away, so there are, perhaps, rose-colored glasses in play here. However, years after its necessary demise, I’ve finally gotten myself comfortable with one very key takeaway: I have no regrets whatsoever.
Over the next few weeks and months, I’ll post an occasional story here about Tar Hut that I find amusing, informative or interesting enough to share. I’ll also post a few MP3’s of some of the music we released, starting today with Martin’s Folly.
Martin’s Folly were a Brooklyn-based quartet whom we became aware of through Eric Ambel, a friend of ours and a former member, believe it or not, of Joan Jett’s Blackhearts. Eric has since gone on to play much more interesting music and is currently lead guitarist in Steve Earle’s band. He gave us a copy of the first Martin’s Folly album (self-titled) and it blew us away. They had a very warm and accessible sound, the same warmth that I felt when listening to something like The Band. They didn’t sound like The Band, per say, but it just had that certain warmth. They had us from track one.
We still needed to see the band, though, so we set up a show at The Lizard Lounge up here in Boston on a cold Friday night and had them come in to play for myself and Leo and whomever else showed up that night, which turned out to be a pretty nice crowd. As soon as they broke into their first song, old Wurlitzer-style organ and all, we knew we were signing them. It was a very exciting night to see that band play like they did and to see the reaction they got from a crowd who had never heard them.
One of the things I remember most about Martin’s Folly was a visit I paid to their lead singer sometime in ’97 or so. He lived in a tiny apartment in pre-yuppie gentrification-era Williamsburg/Brooklyn – I think I drove down there for a show or something and I was going to crash on his couch. I don’t know how it came up, but the topic of sheets ended up being discussed and it was this trip where I learned all about thread-counts. Seems our singer was obsessed about only sleeping on high-quality sheets to the point where he knew all there was to know about the topic. At the time, I was probably 26 or whatever and I had no idea about sheets. All I knew is that I barely made minimum wage and went to K-Mart in Allston, MA to get the cheapest ones (years later I became very aware of the luxury of high-thread counts, but that’s another story). At the time, I remember thinking to myself “man, all musicians are absolutely not from this planet.” Here’s this guy who sings for a band, makes no money, but spends crazy dollars on high-thread count sheets. There was a rumor from other guys in the band that he even brought the sheets with him when the band toured, but I was never able to confirm it. Maybe they were kidding. I kinda hope so.
Sheets aside, we were very excited to be working with the band and Man, It’s Cold, the sixth album released by Tar Hut, came out in late 1998 to some pretty nice reviews and, of course, pretty limited radio airplay. I can’t remember if it was for this album, but I think they got a brief mention in Rolling Stone magazine. I’ll get into more detail on our radio and publicity efforts at another time – those are some stories that I believe you’ll find to be most interesting, believe me.
So, enough said for now. I’m sure my label partners Dave and Leo will chip in with some comments here and there and provide some nice color. For now, take a listen to a band whose singer loves expensive sheets. This song is the title track to the album and remember, you can download this by right-clicking the link and selecting “save as.”
Listen to Man, It’s Cold. A very applicable song for the last few days here in Massachusetts.