Indiana Daily Student

Not so Secretly Canadian

Bloomington record labels provide indie artists with a home in Indiana

In June, the soulful chamber pop group Antony and the Johnsons, winners of the 2005 U.K. Mercury Music Prize for best album of the year by a British or Irish act, will launch their summer tour across Europe. Meanwhile, Austin, Texas, folk-rock band Okkervil River is working on the follow-up to their critically lauded 2005 album, Black Sheep Boy, and preparing to play the May All Tomorrow's Parties festival in Somerset, England, alongside a host of indie rock heavyweights. And Saturday, WIUX's Culture Shock festival will feature, among its roster, Catfish Haven, Richard Swift and David Vandervelde.\nAll of these acts have something in common: They're signed with either Secretly Canadian or Jagjaguwar, two successful indie record labels that happen to share a staff and headquarters on Bloomington's West Second Street. The labels have a collective roster of 52 acts and have released more than 200 albums, singles and EPs since the late 1990s.\nFounded in 1996, Secretly Canadian was the product of discussions between IU students Chris Swanson, Jonathan Cargill and Eric Weddle. \n"We were young and no one showed us how to do it; we used our gut," Chris Swanson said. "We definitely hoped to be doing it in 11 years, but we weren't thinking so long-term. (It was) one record at a time, one band at a time."\nChris Swanson, inspired by his work at WIUS (the pre-FM WIUX) and his love for live shows, hatched the idea with Cargill as they washed dishes in the Collins Living-Learning Center cafeteria. Later, they brought in Weddle, a fellow WIUS employee, and Chris Swanson's brother, Ben. The label's name came from an inside joke between the two brothers. Growing up in North Dakota, Chris Swanson said they held a "strange fascination" with their northern neighbors and would speculate about whether media figures' qualities revealed that they were "secretly Canadian." \nWeddle soon left to form his own label, Family Vineyard, while, at the same time, Secretly Canadian forged a close relationship to Jagjaguwar -- a Charlottesville, Va., label founded by Darius Van Arman, who came up with "Jagjaguwar" using a Dungeons and Dragons name generator. After a couple of Jagjaguwar bands played Bloomington, Chris Swanson hit it off with Van Arman and became the label's co-owner in 1999. As a result, Jagjaguwar moved into Secretly Canadian's headquarters. Frustration with the challenge of getting the labels' records into stores led them to create their own distribution company, the SC Distribution Group, which now supports 15 other labels as well. And in February, a third "sister label," Dead Oceans, joined Secretly Canadian and Jagjaguwar. Founded by the Secretly Canadian and Jagjaguwar owners, along with former Misra Records label manager Phil Waldorf, Dead Oceans has already recruited four bands.\nDespite their overlapping staff, Chris Swanson said the labels recruit different sorts of bands because of the distinct tastes of their respective artist and repertoire -- called "A&R" -- teams; or more simply put, their talent scouts. For Secretly Canadian, Chris and Ben Swanson and Cargill handle A&R; for Jagjaguwar, it's Chris Swanson and Van Arman; while for Dead Oceans, Waldorf does the A&R. \n"We're looking for bands that are inspiring, who will work hard, who will endure," Chris Swanson said. "... There are certain bands on each (label) that wouldn't work on the other."\nSwanson said bands sign with the labels because of their reputation for trustworthiness, their desire to work with bands on a long-term basis and their efforts to be "artist-friendly" and "work harder than the average label." Indeed, acts that are either currently working or once worked with the labels have given them high praise. Jefferson Macklin, manager for David Vandervelde, called Secretly Canadian "the most nailed down and put-together company I've come across in my time in the music business." Nick Christus of the band Minus Story said he has also appreciated Jagjaguwar's support. \n"I always feel that they have the best interest of the success of the band in mind," he said. \nSwanson's philosophy seems to fit with his views about the future of the music industry. As bands can now distribute their albums digitally, he said that "record labels need to figure out how to think outside the box more in meeting bands' needs" and "provide more services to the artists they work with." Nevertheless, while he said he was "loathe to get too comfortable," indie music's success has made it an exciting time to be in the industry.\nBut, why run a label out of Bloomington of all places? Swanson said that by the time they were established, they realized that they could conduct business from anywhere. And they didn't have to contend with a bunch of other local labels. \n"We could create our own reality here in Bloomington," he said.

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