Silent Night | Music | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Silent Night 

SLC indie label Eden’s Watchtower celebrates Christmas with Dead Trees and a Conspiracy.

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These days, the world is teeming with locally run, independent record labels. But how many regional imprints release a Christmas CD, with an annual music showcase to back it up? Locally, there’s only Eden’s Watchtower.

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Lanky sound engineer and musician extraordinaire Hyrum Summerhays started Eden’s Watchtower Records in 1996 so that he could distribute his now-defunct band Elsewhere’s debut reverb-heavy cassette. In recent years, graphic designers James Holmes and Oliver Valenzuela'both employees of EWR’s sister company Cue Media'have also help run the label and create its trademark artsy album covers.

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Summerhays’ passion for downtempo, thoughtful, finely crafted music eventually led him to sign other bands. His current catalog (online at EdensWatchtower.com) includes an impressive and diverse array of in-state acts, including ethereal darkwave folk-rockers Q Stands for Q and basement maniacs The Child Who Was a Keyhole (imagine a cooler Osmonds cranking out sunny indie pop on Mars, and you’re halfway towards a feasible description of that over-the-top band).

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Summerhays believes that marketing is the most difficult part of running a record label. “It’s almost like we do the opposite of promoting ourselves: We bury our work,” he says with a slight grimace. Not an entirely surprising statement from a musician who has fronted a series of bands best classified as “shoegazer.”

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EWR has had great success using MySpace, independent Net shop CDBaby.com and iTunes to promote and sell music online. “We’re not pissed off at the Internet, we love it! If somebody pays $1 to buy a song, we get 60 cents,” Summerhays says with great enthusiasm.

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Although the physical distribution of CDs is expensive, Summerhays says Eden’s Watchtower will never stop selling them. “CDs are like candy,” he says, with a wide grin. Artful packaging, for people like Summerhays, makes purchasing music a more satisfying, holistic experience.

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The legendary British label 4AD'which, in its heyday, boasted bands such as Bauhaus, The Pixies and The Cocteau Twins'has had an enormous artistic impact on Summerhays and other EWR bands. “In the ’90s, you knew you could pick up a CD by a 4AD band that you’d never heard before, and it would be great. All of the music they produced was so high quality. We really strive for that at Eden’s Watchtower.”

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Summerhays speculates that 4AD artists have always been particularly popular in Utah because the beautiful, moody music that they produce allows Mormon kids to indulge their creativity and be a little weird without foraying into territory that would make most bishops cringe. In many respects, the bulk of 4AD’s artists produce music that’s the opposite of the traditional rock movement'slow, quiet and not at all in-your-face.

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Three years ago, Summerhays'in his characteristic slow, quiet and not at all in-your-face way'decided that it was time to make the holiday season a little less lame. “There’s a lot of really terrible holiday music out there,” he says, “I just thought that maybe our artists could do something that wasn’t so awful.”

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Dead Trees: Music for Christmas (Vol. 1) is Eden’s Watchtower’s successful attempt to create a decent compilation of holiday music. The cover features a drawing of a rotund, slightly sinister Santa Claus (by local artist and former Elsewhere member Matt Armstrong) who appears just as likely to burglarize a house as to send presents down the chimney. The tracks range from modern, minimalistic renditions of old classics, such as Mona’s version of “Silent Night,” to new, unconventional offerings like Summerhays’ “In the Bleak Midwinter.”

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Although many of EWR’s artists either grew up LDS or are practicing Mormons, Summerhays insists that Dead Trees certainly isn’t a CD of religious songs. The primary objective is to be festive for the sake of being festive.

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Dead Trees’s slogan is ‘Christmas music for people who like Halloween,’” Summerhays explains, “So, we’re definitely not out to impress a traditional Christian audience.” Although it’s highly unlikely that any of the CD’s lovely, albeit unconventional tracks, will alienate anyone.

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EWR’s Christmas shows are generally low-key acoustic affairs. This year’s performance'titled The Xmas Tree Conspiracy and taking place at Nobrow Coffee & Tea Company'includes a handful of artists who have been signed since the 2003 release of Dead Trees. The lineup includes The Happies, Patsy Ohio, Calico, Eliza Wren The Jewel Thieves, and sweet-voiced veteran EWR artist Jan Reed (aka Iberis) who contributed two songs to Dead Trees. Although Eden’s Watchtower didn’t release a new Christmas album this year, most of the CDs in the label’s catalog are available online for the bargin basement price of $5 a disc for the duration of December.

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Eden’s Watchtower’s Christmas concerts are so well-loved that Summerhays and former EWR artists Theta Naught'who contributed multiple tracks to Dead Trees'decided to organize a second show the following Monday. Theta Naught will also perform an instrumental set at Nobrow, along with Calico (who are getting extra-festive this year by playing both holiday shows), Joel Taylor, poet Alex Caldiero and Repo.

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“It’s cold outside,” Summerhays says. “Come to the EWR Christmas shows and warm up!”

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THE XMAS TREE CONSPIRACY
nNobrow Coffee & Tea Company
n315 E. 300 South
nFriday, Dec. 15 & Monday, Dec. 18
n6 p.m.

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About The Author

Jenny Poplar

Bio:
Jenny Poplar is both a dancer and a frequent City Weekly contributor.

More by Jenny Poplar

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