This Is American Music is taking over the South one band at a time
This Is American Music (TiAM) is a record label that is more of a family than a business. Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to music they are all business but the folks involved let their love of great tunes shine through which, in my opinion, is one reason they have become so successful. Started by Corey Flegel, and a close knit group of friends, TiAM became a reality due to an abundance of badgering by one of Corey’s friends to start a record company. Flegel was already managing a band so why not take it to the next level. Enlisting Nick Nichols, Jay Cooper, Sean Courtney, the group had their game plan in hand and set out to unleash their idea of good music on the world.
Relying on music from bands who were also their friends TiAM got started then immediately took off. With a successful 2011 in the books it was last year that saw the upstart record label take great strides in establishing itself as a major force in the music landscape. With already an impressive collection of musicians and albums under their umbrella they stepped things up a notch and unleashed some of the best albums of the year. Artists like The Pollies, the District Attorneys, The Bohannons, Browan Lollar, Some Dark Holler, Glossary and Tedo Stone delivered records that delighted music fans everywhere. The folks that run things have a knack for snatching up bands throughout the Southeast and beyond that all possess similar qualities but deliver entirely different musical sounds. Representing multiple states in the South, the bands on TiAM have built rabid followings from fans with an unquenchable thirst for their music and said fans are rewarded handsomely for their devotion.
Looking to build on their successes from last year, they have started 2013 on fire. With a series of rapid fire releases it seems like every other week a new album is birthed into the world from the fine folks at TiAM. With releases already from Great Peacock, Dorado, El Cantador,Cosmonaut On Vacation, Dana Swimmer and Teen Getaway (LOOK FOR REVIEWS ON EACH OF THESE COMING SOON) there is an evolution present showing that TiAM is not satisfied with sticking to one thing. They are embracing different sounds while keeping their roots in the Southern soul music that is the seed of their inception. With all this great music under their belt so far they show no signs of slowing down. On the horizon are new releases from Bonnie Whitmoreand, Tedo Stone, a collaboration between Chris Porter & the Pollies and with the signing of Hurray For The Riff Raff the future of TiAM as well as that of music in general looks pretty damn good.
Corey Flegel and Jay Cooper of TiAM were kind enough to answer a few questions about TiAM, their future and music in general:
CM: Did you start TiAM on your own or did you bring in a trusted team of people?
CF: The general idea came from Joey Kneiser of Glossary. Poking me endlessly about doing something, anything about all that I had seen and learned while going out with them on tour… Embracing new music business models, ideas, and concepts without a whole lot of capital…being for the most part, a Do Everything Ourselves / Modern Day Record Label. Whatever that means, evolving by the day. Eventually, after I decided to listen to Joey and do something about all of this, I turned to my good pal Nick Nichols from Chattanooga. We went to dinner one night, drank a bunch of beer, talked a bunch of nonsense and decided to go ahead and do it. Jay Cooper and Sean Courtney were always part of the brain trust from the beginning, but they pretty quickly became official parts of the TIAM team.
CM: How did you get involved with TiAM?
JC: I actually began as their lawyer. Corey is a dear friend, and while I didn’t know Nick that well yet, we had a number of common friends, including some of the artists we were trying to work with at the time, They were starting this company – it wasn’t even a label yet at that time – and needed a little legal help so, since we traveled in some of the same circles and had similar ideas about what it should look like, I helped them set up the company and drafted up some initial documents for them.
I think I was involved pretty much from the beginning in talking with them about the vision for this thing, and helping that take shape, and after the shift to becoming a label began well, they then needed a whole other set of documents and such. And my role continued to increase and include more non-lawyer aspects of the company, until I eventually became a more official part of it. With the pace of things the last 6 months or so, my involvement has increased even more – we just have so much to do. I usually talk to Corey at least a couple of times a day, to go with the 50 emails and texts.
CM: When you started TiAM were your goals just to have fun with it, world domination or somewhere in between?
CF: We’re working on the world domination thing. In the beginning the idea was to simply help our friends out. It’s obviously been quite a learning process. This help our friends out mentality is still and is always going to be at the root of what we’re doing. One thing that we have learned is to always be ready to adapt to whatever gets thrown at us. We’ve had some pretty serious hanging curveballs thrown at us lately. I think a lot folks are going to be surprised what we have cooking in the next few months.
CM: TIAM has started to branch out and sign some different sounding bands, (Dana Swimmer, Dorado, Cosmonaut on Vacation, Teen Getaway) is this a branching out phase for TiAM as to not get pigeon holed as one type of label?
CF: It wasn’t really a conscious effort. I do think this stretching out of our sound does reflect all of our tastes as a whole. I mean, we all grew up being and still are Merge Records and Matador nerds. It is pretty exciting to think that we’ve released a record that has a NEU! cover (CoVac), have a song completely sung in French (Teen Getaway), followed by a damn near AAA Country release (Bonnie Whitmore). Ya know, real American Music. All of it!
CM: When looking for new musicians to sign, what does TiAM look for in a band other than kick ass music?
CF: First rule: Our bands must love George Jones, ELO, Ronnie Lane, and Superchunk.
CM: Bands on TiAM have seen a rise in popularity over the past year, does this make your job easier because you get to support such great music or does it make your job harder because you have to live up to growing expectations and meet the success of previous bands or take it to the next level?
JC: Both. We’re wide open right now, and every time something good happens Corey’s reaction is, “we have to work harder.” There isn’t a lot of high-fiving going on yet. And this is an ever-evolving system – we’re not yet where we want to be, but we do feel like we’re constantly getting better. In the early months, our approach was pretty guerilla-style, DIY-or-die. With the changes in the business, we really did want to figure out how to do this our way. With some of the successes that are starting to come for some of our artists, it is creating a situation where some of the more traditional tools and pathways are things we need to pursue more. But that is on top of, rather than instead of, the model we’ve put together. And, yes, it does make it easier when good things happen for our bands – that was the entire reason behind TiAM. And it makes it easier that we are continuing to find ways to try to create those opportunities.
CM: What is some new music that is out there today that you like and wish you had on TiAM?
CF: I’m pretty obsessed with what Burger Records is doing out in LA right now. I think there’s definitely some overlap in the overall spirit of what they’re doing with what we’re trying to do. Very in-house and at times guerrilla style. Fast, furious, and a little all over the place. Just how we (not Coop) like it!
JC: Well, we love the bands we’re working with, and the ones we’re about to be working with… it is fun to work with some of our favorite bands. We’ve got some exciting things on the horizon. I’m particularly excited that, after a long run of records, mostly guitar rock records, by guys, we’re about to have a string of records featuring great, really great, female artists. In the next couple of months you’ll see a record from a Birmingham band fronted by Janet Simpson of Delicate Cutters and Jim Fahy (Teen Getaway) – it is like they duet on both guitars and vocals – then this really amazing record from Bonnie Whitmore, and then into the summer a truly lovely project with Hurray for the Riff Raff. We’re thrilled to be working with all those folks. But there are a lot of great bands in our little Southern circles that we know and would love to work with, especially if we had unlimited time. And some great folks, who we like to spend time with – TiAM is a group hug, a family, and there are folks in the extended family who we hope we can get the time and a chance to work with down the road.
CM: If you could sign any one band/musician, old or new, to TiAM who would that be?
CF: My stock answer for this is always Eddie Hinton. Seriously though, I could think about 30 working, semi-working, and seemingly dead Southeastern based bands and friends that I’d like to work with. Too many to name, and I don’t wouldn’t want to leave anyone out.
JC: Is this a fantasy league question? I know Corey probably said Eddie Hinton already, and that would be my fantasy answer. If we’re talking things that aren’t just out of this world, if you had asked me that question a couple of years ago, I may well have said Through The Sparks – they are this amazingly unheralded creative force of a weird pop band from Birmingham, and I truly love pretty much everything they’ve ever done – but working with some of those guys on both the Dorado and Cosmo Vacay projects has been a thrill for me and satisfies that jones a bit. I will say this – we all love Will Johnson and his various projects, Centro-matic, South San Gabriel, the solo work and the other projects, and it would be a lot of fun to be able to work on some kind of project driven by Will. Another one along those lines would be Greg Cartwright, but he’s working with Merge now – another reason for us to love Merge.
It will be interesting to see what TiAM delivers down the road. As of right now everything they touch has garnered all levels of success with fans and critics alike, but the question is can they keep it up? Who knows if they can or cannot, all I know is it is going to be one hell of an enjoyable ride.