Jules and Blake of Fellow Creature Recordings are brave souls. They decide to start a record label over dinner, release one of Denver’s most prolific and respected songwriters and still confess they’re learning how to do it as they go along. After a two-hour conversation with them, it’s clear that they’re naturals at running a record label and Fellow Creature Recordings has heart, soul and a whole lot of potential.
AudioVore: So you two, what made you want to start a record label when the economy is still, well, kind of shitty?
Jules: We were looking for a non-profit. No, no.
Blake: I was over here for dinner one night and Jules looked at me and said “Hey, you wanna start a record label?”
J: No, no, no, you asked me!
J: Really? I’ve been telling everyone that you asked me. (laughs)
AV: Guess this will be the definitive interview!
J: Well he has a much better memory than I do, we should always go with whatever Blake says.
B: Yeah, really what happened was that the opportunity came up with Joe’s album.
J: It wasn’t as if we decided to start a record label and look for someone. The idea was already being tossed around, kind of as a joke. But Nathaniel (Rateliff) and I had talked about putting Joe’s songs of Nathaniel’s website and letting them buy them there and setting up a Paypal account for Joe and not telling him.
B: And we were actually even working on Nathaniel’s web store, which is still not up, but we were exploring that by having maybe a Joe Sampson section of the store that’s kind of hidden.
J: So we were trying to think of ways to get Joe money basically.
AV: So are you planning to work with any artists outside of Denver in the future?
J: Well, we’re open to it. I’ve done lots of things in this industry but I haven’t run a label. Blake hasn’t run a label either, so we want to learn to do it right first. (laughs)
AV: What are your backgrounds then?
J: Well I’ve booked venues and been an event planner. I’ve managed a gazillion restaurants which has been what I’ve spent most of my time doing.
B: Web designer, general ne’er do-well. (laughs) What would you call my wine world?
J: He has a small vineyard.
B: Yeah, out in Paonia. And I work at Divino Wine and Spirits. Web and wine, we’ll say that. (laughs)
AV: What mistakes have you made so far? Or is it too early to tell?
B: This week, I noticed Joe at number 4 on OpenAir’s top 30. So for me, I feel like OpenAir is pushing and at the same time we don’t have quite the search engine optimization down. We didn’t start far enough in advance. So if someone just Google’s him they’re going to hit the Westword article.
J: Or there is a football player named Joe Sampson.
B: So, they will hit some music stuff maybe but it takes a little bit to find the album because it’s not up on CDBaby or iTunes yet, as that’s happening next week.
J: I think that’s the point, to capitalize on radio or something, you have to have everything else ready to go so you can make the most of it.
AV: Since you two almost self-released Joe’s album for him and it’s so easy to do such a thing these days, what benefits do labels actually offer?
J: Well, that’s certainly a topic of conversation around here but after spending how much time we actually spend on this, I can’t imagine doing it for myself.
B: Exactly, and still remember how to still play your songs.
J: And I think there are examples of people who can do it all which makes sense for them. But I can’t imagine it for a lot of people. I mean Joe is super helpful around here. We call him the intern, you know? He’s like “Who can I email, how can I help?” and I’m just like, go home and practice. (laughs)
AV: What kind of formats do you guys do?
J: Right now we only printed a CD for this; well that and a digital download. Since we couldn’t afford vinyl we came up with this other idea because people who don’t buy CDs anymore, don’t want a CD. But then people aren’t necessarily comfortable with just buying a digital download say, at a merch table. So, what if we had an artifact, some thing of interest. So, Blake’s fiancé Jamie made this really cool etching and it’s like a cross stitch of “Kill our friends, bury them out of sight” and then we had Aly over at Ironwood put them in a package together with some bullet casings and dropped a download card in there.
AV: How much creative control does Fellow Creature have in the final product? Do the label and artist work together in that aspect?
B: Well it was great with Joe. Because what Roger (Green) handed over was great but Joe really saw this as the chance to get a lot of himself out there. So we went from 11 songs or something to 17. But that was between Joe, Jules and me. Drinking a lot of wine, and doing a lot of listening.
J: We dropped one song from the original album and then we changed the order and had it re-mastered.
B: We also convinced him to add a title because Joe didn’t want a title and Roger had a different title.
J: But it was hard to take an album that Roger had spent over a year working on as an artistic piece, in a sonic style that Roger liked and although we left it alone at first, Joe was finally like “I don’t want to do it this way.” But yeah, it was touchy. I can’t even imagine what it’d be like if we’d been in conflict about it. We don’t want to be that label. We don’t want to be the label that gets ranted about in someone’s house.
AV: So you plan on being a more hands-off label?
B: And our philosophy reinforces that, we believe in this music.
AV: It seems like you’re saying that the expectation of artists coming to a label is that there might be conflict but you’re going to be heard.
J: I think a lot of big labels won’t be like that. You’re talent with potential and they’re going to turn you into a product because they know so much about the industry.
B: But that philosophy squeezes out all of the quirkiness and the beauty of it. Homogenizes everything.
AV: What kind of concessions do a band or label have to make initially?
B: Well we have the indie blueprint of basically 50/50.
J: But 50/50 can mean anything because a lot of people will say that and not mean it. Joe doesn’t have to recoup with us regarding money we’ve spent thus far. It helps that Blake is the web guy and I’m the amateur publicist. We’re not paying other people to do this for us; it’s all just sweat equity. But I think the most important thing for us is to be honest about it all upfront.
AV: Do you think that the Denver, or even the world needs more small out-of-your-home labels?
J: I think right now it makes sense for there to be a lot of people trying to figure out different ways to do it. I’ve had moments of insecurity about this where I’m just like “What the fuck am I doi…this is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done, I don’t know what I’m doing” but it’s the perfect time to do this right now because nobody knows what a label is.
B: The large guys are dying, they’re the dinosaurs. And they deserve to die because they’re not innovating anything. I’d just say that whenever I have moments of doubt like Jules said, I just put on the record and listen to it and I’m completely inspired again. I just think, this is great, how lucky we are to be doing this with Joe.