those who start up local labels, there seems to be a common crossroad
for all, grow beyond the state or focus squarely on home. Most
choose the later as the entire point to their initial start was to
promote and grow the talent within. But for a select few the will to
expand beyond the mountain region and into a national spotlight is a
goal they'd like to achieve and become the first to achieve any
success with the indie scene.
Sound Vs. Silence Records started off here in Salt Lake City as a label for a few friends and talent they believe deserved a better chance at success, promoting a small lineup of rock acts while keeping a presence of a company on the rise. A few years ago the label relocated their main offices to Seattle, but kept a satellite office in SLC, even branching off with one across the pond in London, making a name for themselves around the country in the process. I got chance to chat with two of the men behind the label, Aaron Bellessa and Tyler Lusk, about starting up the label and the success they've seen, plus the move up north and thoughts on local music.
Aaron Bellessa & Tyler “Lucky” Lusk
Gavin: Hey guys, first off, tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Aaron: I'm a High School English teacher that likes to play city league basketball.
Tyler: My name is Tyler Lusk, I'm from Rexburg, Idaho but have lived in SLC for ten years now. I have always been into music. I’ve played in a lot of bands, and promoted and booked many shows. I’m co-owner of SVSS, I also do live sound every now and again. I have a band called The Hotness, I also have a weekly DJ gig with Ryan Jones. I have a day job in a Food Science lab, I live with my girlfriend Justine and share a dog named Tegan with an ex-girlfriend. I’ m also an active volunteer for the Humane Society of Utah, and the Big Brothers & Big Sisters program.
Gavin: What got each of you interested in music, and who were some of your favorite acts and musical influences growing up?
Tyler: I have always loved music. As cheesy as it sounds music has always given me a great feeling, it is my one true addiction. The whole punk and hardcore movement was a huge influence along with bands like, Faith No More, Ice-T, NIN, A Tribe Called Quest, and Rage Against The Machine.
Aaron: Growing up in Seattle, all I would listen to was Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Mother Love Bone, etc. at an early age. I still haven't got out of that stage and I'm 31-years-old.
Gavin: Prior to the label you both started out playing music in bands throughout the scene. What was it like coming up as musicians?
Aaron: I had to laugh at this question. I am a horrible musician. I took piano lessons between the ages of probably 8-11 and I hated practicing. I can still remember some of the chords and notes, but basically I can just play the "Titantic" theme song and "Axel F" off of Beverly Hills Cop. Lucky had been in a bunch of bands, but just picked up a drum machine and a fifteen dollar Casio Keyboard from the DI and started messing around with them. I would go over just to hang out at his place and screw around on the keyboard while we watched “Dawson's Creek” together. Long story short: Lucky booked a show, taught me the songs and The Hotness has been making people feel uncomfortable for a few years now.
Tyler: It was hard playing music in a small town, you couldn’t buy good gear anywhere close, and good musicians were few and far between. We would have to rent out buildings and bring the PA in ourselves. We put a lot of work in for each show that’s for sure, but it taught me how to book, promote, and how to work with touring artists.
Gavin: According to the website the label was started up by four friends. When did you first meet each other and become friends?
Tyler: Aaron and myself meet in 2001 and became best friends soon after, I had met Derik Hendrickson through his old record label in 2001, and Cory Jensen on my mission in 1998. We all bonded through our love of music, but just like a band, sometimes it doesn’t work. Derik and Cory are no longer with the label but are both great guys who I respect a lot.
Aaron: Lucky and I met through my older brother about nine years ago. I ended up moving to Utah to go to school and Lucky let me move in with him. Lucky had been helping out at Channel 105.7 with the show “Homegrown” and invited me to help out, and that's where we met Derik. Lucky was friends with Cory. Now the label is ran and operated by myself, Lucky, Abe and Mike.
Gavin: How did the idea come about to start up your own record label? And where did the name come from?
Tyler: Derik, Aaron, and I did a local radio show called, “Homegrown” and while doing the show we would hear a lot of great SLC talent so we just started talking about doing a record label. Cory also wanted to be doing something in the music industry so we invited him to join us. As far as the name goes, we all just brought in a bunch of ideas we liked and picked the best one, I believe Sound Vs. Silence was Cory’s idea and it’s the one we all liked the most.
Aaron: My brother and I always wanted to own our own label. In all seriousness it was because I loved Shawn Smith. All I ever wanted to do was put out Shawn Smith solo records, and by some dumb stroke of luck, we are doing it. We all just really love music and since I can't play music I might as well put out music I like. The name has no specific meaning. Sound Vs. Silence was just a name we could all agree on.
Gavin: What was it like getting everything in order, and who was the first band you signed on?
Tyler: Getting everything in order wasn’t too difficult, it all just kind of fell into place. Her Candane was the first band. We all loved that band. Everything started around them and trying to promote them.
Aaron: They were young kids and wanted to tour and make records and we were all into the three-song demo they brought down to the radio station. Once we saw them live we were blown away. We really learned how to run a label on the fly. There are a few resources that are helpful, but you just learn on the job. We had some help from a couple of friends that had ran a label years before and we'd pick their brains for information.
Gavin: The label officially launched in 2003. What was it like during the first few years getting your name out and establishing yourselves on a local level?
Aaron: Tough... it's still tough. I remember stopping by Graywhale with my boxes of discs and trying to see if they sell our stuff. They'd call and I'd pick up my $75 a month later. We'd send out mass amounts of emails, make calls, try to network, so we could get our bands. About eight years later, we've come a long way, but it would be nice to get the boxes of discs and merch out of my car and into an office space.
Tyler: The first few years were great we had a ton of local support and then it kind of died down a bit. I think over the last few years Aaron and I have really helped pick the name back up again in SLC and also in Seattle.
Gavin: What's the process like for you to pick and choose who to add to the label?
Tyler: We generally try to work with friends or bands we like. We never look at bands as dollar signs we look at our bands or artists as family and friends.
Aaron: For awhile it was just Lucky and I running the label and we'd either see a band we liked, listen to a record that caught our attention or were contacted and then just make a decision. With four guys it makes it a bit more difficult, but not that big a deal.
Gavin: Over the years you've helped many Utah acts. Hi-Fi Massacre, The Hotness, Discourse, The Lionelle. What has it been like for you to help out those that you've played with and watched come up?
Aaron: Not only do we love the music that we put out, but we love the guys in the bands as well. Most of them our close friends and we just love hanging out. Our friends are amazing musicians and we want nothing more than for them to be successful.
Tyler: To me its all about helping people live there dreams even if it’s on a small scale. I have always wanted to play music and work with artists, so if I can help someone else out even if it’s on a small scale it’s a win win.
Gavin: Around 2008 you decided to move the label's main offices to Seattle. Why Seattle, and how did everyone react to the change?
Tyler: Aaron moved back to Seattle with his wife for work, that’s where he is originally from. He got Abe Fox involved so we decided to keep working from SLC and Seattle. Around the same time we kind of added London to the mix with the help of London Mike.
Aaron: There are two of us in Seattle, Lucky is in Utah and Mike is in the UK. It just made more sense to put our main office in the middle of the three...
Gavin: Was it difficult adjusting to the area, and what was it like for all of you now being a musical outfit in a city with that kind of history behind it?
Aaron: I am from here, so it was a seamless transition. We had already known a bunch of people that were in the music industry, so we kind of had a head start. With some many labels based here in Seattle it's tough to not get lost in the shuffle. If you have hard-working bands and good music, you don't have to do much.
Tyler: Seattle has so many great bands and it has such a rich history in the art and music industry. Aaron and Abe did a great job getting the label going in Seattle, we all just went about it normally. Business as usual.
Gavin: What persuaded you to keep a satellite office in SLC, and also to start one up in London?
Tyler: SLC is still a main office like Seattle, there are just two guys in Seattle and only myself here in Salt Lake. SLC will always be a huge part of our label. I love Salt Lake and have no plans of moving anytime soon, SVSS will always be alive here. London happened because Mike became a guy we couldn’t live without. He has helped us so much, not just in the UK but in so many ways. Aaron and I would be lost without him.
Aaron: We think some of the best bands in the world are from SLC: Form of Rocket, The Kill, Clear, The New Transit Direction. We didn't want to distance ourselves from that kind of talent. The London thing started because we have a distributor based there and things were starting to pick up, so we made it happen. We were doing a lot of business there so the office was necessary. Mike deals with all of our distribution out of the US, is an amazing graphic designer, fantastic musician, and is by far the coolest guy at SVSS.
Gavin: How did you end up doing a partnership with Gator Records and how has that partnership worked out so far?
Aaron: Gator is a subsidiary of SVSS. We are both labels. Before we added Shawn Smith to the label we had mostly put out heavier bands. We didn't want SVSS to only be associated with one type of music, so we'd thought we'd kind of start fresh again and Shawn would essentially have his own imprint.
Tyler: It was started when we brought Shawn Smith on and that’s also when we got Abe on board. Before Shawn we did a lot of heavy music so we just thought Gator Records could be our lighter side.
Gavin: Are there any plans down the road to expand the label or add more locations, or are you mainly sticking to the plan you've got going for now?
Tyler: As of now I think things will stay the way they are.
Aaron: We are sticking to what we have now unless you know of anyone that wants to give us a bunch of money so we can expand even more. Seriously, if you have rich friends that love putting out records, call me. I'll pay for lunch.
Gavin: Moving onto local material, what are your thoughts on the Utah music scene, both good and bad?
Aaron: Love it. When I lived in SLC there were tons of venues that were all ages, and we just don't have that in Seattle. So obviously, Utah gets the edge there.
Tyler: I could not say enough great things about the Utah music scene. Coming from a small town in Idaho, Salt Lake City was my savior as far as music goes. Since moving here I have met so many talented people, and people who actually care about music. This is a great city to live in as far as local talent is concerned. One of my favorite bands of all time is Form Of Rocket. The bad thing I would say is that it’s so far, distance wise, from other bigger cities it makes touring for Utah bands a little rough at times.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?
Tyler: I think SLC has a great support system. Bands just need to try to get out of town as much as possible.
Aaron: Bands need to tour. No one is going to hear your band unless you bring it to them. I know it can be tough, but start booking your own shows and get out there.
Gavin: Not including those on the label, who are your favorite acts in the scene right now?
Aaron: Some Seattle acts are Macklemore, The Maldives, and The Head & The Heart.
Tyler: In SLC, lets see, I Am The Ocean, Loom, Reviver, Spooky Moon, The Landlords, DJ/DC, DJ Ryan Moody, Muscle Hawk, GAZA and Eagle Twin.
Gavin: What do you think of file sharing these days, both as musicians and as a label?
Tyler: I think file sharing is great, but I think people who file share should still buy music either physically or digitally. Support the bands whose music you have gotten for free. If you get one of their albums for free buy the next one, or a t shirt. I file share but I try to buy as much as I can, something about my CD and vinyl collection helps me sleep better at night.
Aaron: Fine with me. It can never be a bad thing when someone wants to hear the music you put out; even if they are ripping it off. There are always people out there that are going to go to record stores and buy vinyl and albums. The people who are ripping it off were never going to go it in the first place, so no big deal.
Gavin: What can we expect from you all of you and SVSS over the rest of this year?
Aaron: We have a couple of albums we hope to get out before the fall. If you know of any good musicians or bands looking for a label and would be a good fit for us, let me know. We'll get you an A&R credit.
Tyler: Hopefully do another Shawn Smith project. We are doing a drop card sampler for SXSW and the new Hotness EP. Besides that we will just see what the year has in store for us. I feel like 2011 will be a great year for the label and me, like Bad Brains say, Positive Mental Attitude.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Tyler: Be sure to check out all the bands on our label also come check out our Rock Night at The Metro (200 South 540 West) every Tuesday. We play a lot of local artists every week. Twitter us via @SVSSRecords or @LuckySVSS. Also thanks to those who help make SLC a great place!
Aaron: I have a City League Basketball game this Wednesday if anyone would like to come cheer me on.
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