After I first heard LOTT perform in early 2014, one of my initial coherent thoughts was, “if I were a record label, I’d sign her.” Everything Leah Ottman and her music embodies is pure magic, and as someone in the music industry, it would be an honor to represent someone so talented and genuine. But alas, I do not run a record label at the moment. However, in a stroke of luck for all involved, there exists a local entity known as The Homestead Records, who had the same idea. You might have heard of them.
A boutique record label based here in Minneapolis, The Homestead Records (THR) is owned and operated by Travis Collins, Peter Michael Miller, and Jeremiah Satterthwaite. They’re more recognizable as members of We Are The Willows, of which Ottman is also a part. They began this endeavor just one year ago, in August 2014, and have since released two full length albums, an EP, three singles, several video sessions, an online zine and hosted close to a dozen showcases.
THR currently represents four acts: We Are The Willows, A.M. Stryker, LOTT, and The Awful Truth – and I’ve fallen for each of them over the past year. Because of THR, what begins with quality musical composition continues with earnest relationships and a desire to craft an intimate and friendly community, ripe with collaboration and creative ideas that spin out constantly into new projects and experiences. You may not directly interact with THR, but if you’ve been out and about to shows in the Twin Cities this past year, you have them to thank for building something small yet sincere, understated but growing.
I dug a bit deeper, and asked The Homestead Records about the process of the past year, and what they’re excited about next. Like the music they make and represent, Travis Collins, Peter Michael Miller, and Jeremiah Satterthwaite are additionally elegant with their words, so I’ll let them take it from here.
KS: So, it’s The Homestead Record’s one year anniversary – congrats! A lot has happened in the last year, but I’m curious also about what was going on in the period before THR was founded. What led to making the label and what was it like putting that into action?
TC: As We Are The Willows finished up the production and recording of Picture (Portrait) it became clear that the three of us had a certain vision for how we wanted the release to look. As the planning came together we realized how much of our ideas and vision we could do ourselves. THR became the platform for all of that work. At the same time we knew that other band members and friends were also making music that we loved and we saw a chance to bring something to that community of musicians. We saw a chance to solidify that musical community in a new way.
KS: THR represents a small, but very talented, group of musicians in the Twin Cities. Besides the fact many of the artists collaborate together, what is it that you all share in terms of vision or artistic goals, that you all want to accomplish as musicians together?
PMM: Among other things, I think we all share an ethos of hard work. Haha! It sounds kinda folksy or something but really, every artist on the label, in one way or another, has had to peer behind the Wizard-of-Oz-curtain of the music industry and see that behind every great record is a huge team of people doing tons of work. I think we all realize how much goes into every album, release, tour, show, etc and we still want to do it! The label as an entity offers a platform, tools and networking but, without bands being self-driven and hard working, it wouldn’t work. Our hope is that our bands can benefit from that work as much as possible and that as our community grows, so will each band.
KS: THR hosts several projects, including ‘At Home’ and ‘Five Watt Sessions’, which add a nice personal and local touch to the support and promotion you offer your artists. What led you to hosting these and what’s your favorite thing that has come from them? Also – I’m dying to know when you’re doing something next at Five Watt! I love when musicians and labels partner with local businesses, and that’s such a fun space.
JS: When we first started The Homestead Records, the ideas about what it would, should and could be flowed freely, and have remained fairly fluid. That has created a really exciting space for us to work in. Over the past year we have done a lot of stuff outside of releasing music, but of all those things, it’s the videos that came the most naturally. We had been doing live videos for a while before that, and it’s something we have always gotten a lot of enjoyment out of. Since we are able to record and edit audio and video all in-house it’s an affordable way to produce quality content. In a world-wide-web of waveforms and promotional photos, videos are a welcome and easily shareable form of content for musical artists. It’s something cool that we can easily offer to our artists, but it also gives us a chance to touch the hem of some artists and projects that we admire and are excited about, but are not working with in a label/artist sense.
The three sessions were all either something we had been doing, or an idea that popped up that felt like it needed its own platform. “The Homestead Recordings” is a pretty traditional in-studio series, but it’s rooted in our attachment to “The Homestead,” which is the colloquial name for Peter’s house. Several members of THR bands have lived there over the years, we rehearse there and do a lot of recording there. THR ultimately formed in that space. A lot of bands have a place like that, and we wanted to invite bands into ours.
The “At-Home” was a series of videos started in the early days of We Are The Willows when Peter was literally “at-home” from being on tour. He would record a cover of a song that’s important to him and talk about why. The idea really lent itself to being applied to any artist. It’s exciting and refreshing to see an artist say “step into my personal space, let me tell you about this song that I love and why it’s important to me as a person.” A.M. Stryker’s “At-Home” is really special to me, and I think is a great example of what we love about these intimate sessions.
The “Five Watt Sessions” is our most recent series, and that has been a really exciting for us! Five Watt is just a couple neighborhoods over and we love that joint! We know the guys who opened it and on top of serving the greatest drinks on planet earth, they are musicians, locally-minded, and just all around nice folks. When I found out they had an organ, a video series immediately came to mind and Five Watt was on board. Limitation is an interesting tool in creating art, and it’s exciting to see someone take their original music and have to translate it to a specific instrument that they aren’t used to performing it on, especially when that instrument is a church organ in a coffee shop. We don’t announce when we are going to film them, so the customers at Five Watt get treated to a surprise and it’s fun to see the tweets and photos go out. After S. Carey did our first session, Five Watt had customers coming in and saying things like “I didn’t know you did that!” and “When will you do it again?” We got similar reactions when we brought our good friends in PHOX over to do the second session (which we recently released!). It’s fun to build some buzz in our neighborhoods. It feels good to be doing something that produces wide-spread content for the internet, but also local murmurs of “hey, something cool is going on around here”.
KS: What has been the most challenging part of this past year? From We Are The Willows’ (sold-out show and) album release and multiple tours, to LOTT and The Awful Truth playing many (many) shows, and A.M. Stryker’s release, all of the bands have had busy years, and good ones at that – I can imagine it’s been a lot to manage, even if for great reasons.
PMM: It has been a lot to manage! I think that’s the main challenge. As we’ve said, the bands do a lot of work themselves and do it really well. It’s been interesting to navigate how involved we’ll be in any given project. For the projects that we’ve had our hands in, it’s been a challenge to regulate expectations and to be aware of our abilities and limitations. There are so many moving parts to every project and keeping them all together can be very difficult. It’s demanded that we all communicate more clearly, be more flexible, and consider all variables in any given project. It has also demanded that we keep in mind the fact that we love making music, we love the music our artists make and above all, those things matter most.
KS: With one year under your belt, what’s year two look like for THR? Are there any more musicians you’ve been courting to bring into the fold, or new projects under way?
TC: The best part of THR, for me, is that we have a lot of fun doing all of this. That said, we have plans for more video sessions and new ways of getting content out for our bands and getting the word out about what we are doing. With many of those platforms we plan to work with different artists outside of our roster to expand our reach in the community.
I know that our artists are always writing and have lots of creative ideas kicking around in their brain buckets so I expect we’ll see new releases soon. As far as planned releases, part 2 of Picture (Portrait) for WATW is slated for release in early 2016. Part 2 is an additional 10 songs that were written as a response to the songs that were based on Peter Miller’s grandparents letters written during WWII. They are Miller’s way of forming his own musical response to all the powerful letters written by his grandfather. There will be a limited edition double vinyl release of Part 1&2 released on The Homestead Records and Amble Down Records.
Presented by Radio K, Indeed Brewing Company, and Big Watt Cold Beverage Company
Featuring: We Are The Willows, The Awful Truth, LOTT, and A.M. Stryker
Turf Club, Saturday, August 29th
Doors 8 PM / Music 9 PM
$8 ADV/ $10 DOS tickets