Thursday, June 24, 2010

Cellars and Records in Cleveland

I know I've been back in Cleveland for about a year now, but I still feel almost completely confused and overwhelmed by the music scene here. I need some sort of guide. You'd think writing for the Scene would help. Or that just going to as many shows as I do would help. But maybe I just need to be friends with more people in the local music scene. Whatever the case, I'll get there eventually.

In the meantime, in the past few weeks, I have happened upon a wonderful discovery, an inspiration, and a general "thing that makes me happy" in a locally-owned record label. I just think that people who can just follow their dreams and follow through on them are the bee's knees. So without further ado, I introduce you to an interview I did with Justin Markert, one of the founders of Cellar Door Records.

* How did you form Cellar Door Records?

In 2002, my buddy Rick Fike and I opened a coffee shop in Madison, Ohio, called Cellar Door Coffee. We wanted to serve as a catalyst for the arts. We had local artist’s paintings on our walls, an open mic night, and on the weekends we booked bands and musicians creating their own art. Not some dime-a-dozen 90's cover bands. It was a truly incredible experience. We sold out our 135 capacity space every weekend. There was so much creativity brewing around us so we decided to launch a record label to run alongside the coffee shop. Cellar Door Records was born.

Our first release was a compilation disc called Cellar Door Records Volume I. It was handmade. I still remember cutting out and assembling tray cards and jewel cases deep in to the early hours of the morning before our CD release show. We sold the Coffee Shop. In 2007, we regrouped with Adam Butcher and relaunched Cellar Door Records.

* What does it take to upstart and maintain a local label?

Energy, time and realistic expectations. We know we aren’t going to get rich. We love music. There are a ton of great bands out there and we’re just trying to get them heard by more people.

* Is the Cleveland music scene conducive to this kind of venture?

It depends on what you want to get out of it, really. Not counting the first release, we’ve put out a total of three albums. After this summer, it will be 5. That’s not bad for three years. We’ve held a number of Cellar Door Records shows at the Beachland and Grog and consistently pulled in upwards of 150 people.

There are a lot of pockets in the Cleveland scene - some truly great people doing great things for music in this city. Davenport Collective, Collectible Escalators, Cleveland Tapes, Exit Stencil, and Tom and Melanie at Music Saves are all good people that I admire.

* What kind of music is Cellar Door releasing or promoting?

The short answer is rock. Not Stone Temple Pilots/Nickeback rock. More indie-pop-rock. Cellar Door Records Vol. II was a mix bag of genres. The Slow Blade is more of a stoner rock band, and the Frozen Hellsicles sound like the Replacements with Iggy Pop as a front man. Rachel Bruening is a ridiculously captivating singer-songwriter that silences a room the moment she starts singing. Look through a friends ipod ya know.

It’s not genre specific. The National and Local Natives on the same playlist with Talib Kweli and Janelle Monae. Jay-Z is name dropping Grizzly Bear. I don’t think we need to focus too sharply on one genre.

* What are some of your favorite music memories from the past few years?

At our first CD release show in 2007 at the Beachland Ballroom, it felt great to fill that room with people and then fill it with good music for those people to hear. That was one of the first times that it felt like we were actually doing something real.

The first non-Cellar-Door-related moment I can think of: Last year David Bazan (from Pedro the Lion) played a solo house show in my apartment in Cleveland Heights. It was surreal. One of my favorite lyricists, standing right there singing without a mic in my living room to 45 people sitting on the floor.

* What is new and exciting in the world of Cellar Door?

This will be our biggest year yet. On Saturday, June 26, we will be simultaneously releasing two albums at the Grog Shop. The second solo album from Keith Vance, entitled “Go Forward,” and my EP, entitled “Anonymous Disaster.” June 26th at the Grog Shop. 9pm. $10 gets you admission and a copy of each CD. Keith Vance will be playing with a band. I’ll be playing with a band. Diamonds & Pears and The Mason Corduroy band will also perform. We’re very excited.

In the fall we plan on releasing two more. Something on vinyl from post-rock band Monolith at Tycho and something from singer-songwriter Doug Ivancic.

Take a listen...
Justin Markert - No Turning Back
Justin Markert - Open Your Eyes

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