As we've discussed many times here before, local music is thriving in ways we haven't seen in the past, as we're quickly accommodating that growth. --- From venues to recording studios to record shops, from recording studios to music promoters. If only someone would get off their ass and make an all-local music station... but I digress. One of the areas seeing the most growth is record labels, particularly being started up by musicians to promote their own work and the music of people they love to see.
One of the newer names to make a mark on 2014 is Swoody Records, a completely digital label working to push the work of artists here in Utah, as well as select names out of California who can't strike a major label. Today we chat with musician and founder Davin Abegg about his music, founding the label and helping fellow musicians get their work to the masses. (All pictures courtesy of Swoody Records.)
Gavin: Hey Davin! First off, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Davin: Growing up I was the odd kid that would rather play with bugs and rocks than sports. I would listen to Weird Al and hold praying mantises and make them eat grasshopper. Now I’m 33 and I still get a kick out of the simpler/odder things in life. I’ve always enjoyed unordinary things, especially when it’s music and art.
Gavin: What first got you interested in music and who were some of your favorite acts growing up?
Davin: My uncle gave me Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet when I was five. I guess that was the very first time I really found interest in music. I wore that cassette out. Then of course I really got into Weird Al and Michael Jackson and everything kind of branched out from there. Though I didn’t really start writing my own music until a friend introduced me to Daniel Johnston in the late 90’s. I thought, this guy doesn’t need a fancy studio or cool style to write great music. I guess I can do that too. Around that time I was also introduced to K Records and have been a bit of an obsessed fan since.
Gavin: What was it like for you starting out in bands prior to Secret Abilities?
Davin: My first real band was formed in the early 2000’s. It was called X- Boyfriend. I mostly just wrote and sang songs about ex-girlfriends or girls I liked, it was kind of a goofy pre-emo thing. After that band kind of fell apart I joined a band called Canadians Among Us. It was a band full of extremely talented musicians and I kind of fell into being lead guitar, I’m not that great at lead guitar, but it was cool playing a different role in a band, following someone else’s writing style and just putting in my two cents every once in a while. Plus it was way more successful than my previous band and it was fun riding the wave.
Gavin: While we're on the topic, how has the band been going recently?
Davin: Secret Abilities is doing very well. We’ve been a band almost seven years now and we’re finally obtaining some really exciting heights. We’ve been invited to record our next album with Calvin Johnson at K Records' Dub Narcotic Studio in May and we’ll be doing a short tour the same time. The album will also be released on vinyl and we’ll be doing a small Indiegogo soon to help raise a little money for that. Before that we’ll also be releasing a split with my brother's awesome band Danger Button on April 12 with a release party at Kilby Court that same day.
Gavin: How did the idea come about to start up your own record label?
Davin: Like I’ve said before, I’ve been fascinated with K Records for quite sometime now. I really like the idea of a small tight knit record label that’s not really concerned in becoming huge. I’ve also enjoyed reaching out to unique artists through friends or by just browsing Soundcloud and doing collaborations with them or inviting them to participate on my yearly Christmas compilations and such throughout the years.
Gavin: What was it like for you setting it up and where did the name come from?
Davin: I kind of fell into it. I came up with a compilation idea called The Song Poem Project where I would invite various artists from around the world to submit a poem and I then gave them a random poem from another artist that they then had to record a song with. It turned out to be an outstanding album and I released it on Bandcamp. Unfortunately there wasn’t as much interest as I had hoped so I decided instead of having the song poem project stand alone, I would build a record label around it. I then started asking artists from the project and other artists I’ve discovered if I could put out albums on Bandcamp to help promote their music. The name just came from a bizarre character I created called Swoody J. I really liked the name and thought that the weird name would represent a weird company well.
Gavin: What made you decide to go strictly online releases and do everything through Bandcamp?
Davin: Honestly, doing only digital releases is the most economic way for me to get started. I do in fact intend on releasing a few of them on very limited cassettes or 7” records as soon as I can, after I start noticing what albums get the most attention.
Gavin: How did you go about finding talent to help support, and what do you look for in a musician?
Davin: I’ve been doing a lot of deep digging into sites like Soundcloud, where anyone can record and publish their songs no matter how terrible they are. I look for the artists that fit kind of the “outsider” genre, those that create their own world around them, that go against the norm. They’re just writing and playing what they honestly love and aren’t worried if anyone else ever hears it.
Gavin: What made you decide to branch out beyond Utah artists and push albums from people around the world?
Davin: This month I’ll be releasing an album from a man from the UK that calls himself Mr. Snowman (at least for the time being, he seems to enjoy changing his name every year or two). He just gave me a ton of his tape recordings from the '80s of him and a Casio keyboard playing these brilliant folk and pop songs that at the time he just recorded for himself. He said “I always had trouble remembering the lyrics to others songs so I started to write my own so no one would know if I sang them wrong.” That’s exactly the kind of people I want on my label.
Gavin: You've got five albums out so far, what's the reception been like from fans and the artists?
Davin: Good, but slim. I’m still learning how to successfully promote. The artists just love having someone interested enough in their music to do something with it. I’m just trying to make their music more accessible and I wrap it up in an album format by choosing what songs to use, what order to have them, mastering and equalizing any levels that need it, and designing an album cover or asking other local artists/designers if they’d be interested in the opportunity.
Gavin: For people who might like to join the label, what can they do to approach you about it?
Davin: I’m always open to hearing what people might think I’ll like. I mostly seek out the artists myself but it never hurts to submit, though I’d like to keep everything on the label in the same spirit.
Gavin: What can we expect from you and the label over the rest of the year?
Davin: Swoody Records will be releasing at least one album every month this year including stuff from local musicians Daniel Fischer (Fisch Loops) and the late Mari-Ti The Avant-Garde Grandpa to UK’s Mr. Snowman, possibly another from Tompson Owen from California and a ton more. There’s even been talk with The Lost Media Archive in joining together to put out an unreleased album from the late, great Wild Man Fischer.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Davin: I’ve received a lot of help and inspiration from my friend B.C. Sterrett of The Lost Media Archive, he plays a big part in introducing me to and helping me seek out outsider musicians and the like.
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