V16N07 – Sounds: Read Music, Speak Snowboarding

A conversation with Saddle Creek Records.
By Jennifer Sherowski

At the end of the day, snowboarding isn’t too different from any other scene or industry-art, movie, music, whatever. People do it for money and fame, for love, for a burning need to work out life’s mysteries. So when you see a grassroots record label like Saddle Creek struggling to hype up a group of talented friends in the sharky sea of music capitalism, you can’t help but root for them like any underdog.

Since 1993, Saddle Creek has consistently pumped out a self-conscious flow of indie gold-bands like Bright Eyes, Los Desparecidos, The Faint, and Cursive. Recently this music has received notoriety in our very own world of shred as pro riders channel-anguished Conor Oberst lyrics through iPods and production companies scramble to get Creek tunes on soundtracks. TransWorld decided to talk to owner Robb Nansel to find out exactly what’s up with one of the purveyors of snowboarding’s new rock.

So word on the street is that Saddle Creek sponsors T.J. Schneider. What’s the nature of that relationship?
T.J.’s just a big fan of our bands and has been trying to get people into the music. We help him out as much as possible. I haven’t seen him ride besides a couple video clips off the computer, but we really appreciate his efforts.

How do you feel about the recognition that the bands are receiving in the world of snowboarding?
I don’t think I’m aware of it, but all of the press that we’ve been getting is extremely important at this point. I mean, some of it is just insane-like The New York Times Magazine and TIME and such. That’s madness. As long as we don’t feel like we are shoving ourselves down people’s throats, then I think we’re all fine with it.

Were you at all reluctant to grant Robot Food the rights to The Faint song for Afterbang-or do you even deal with all that rights stuff?
I do deal with rights, but ultimately it comes down to what the bands want to do. Robot Food using the song was a decision Joel Peterson from The Faint made.

Omaha seems like an unlikely place for a happenin’ music scene-but there’re an awful lot of great bands coming out of there on your label. Do you credit Saddle Creek at all with helping to give a voice to the scene?
I think it has definitely been a result of the persistence of everyone involved with the label and the group of bands associated with it. I mean, Omaha has always had great bands-we grew up listening to Mousetrap, Sideshow, Frontier Trust, and Simon Joyner. All of them were amazing, but for one reason or another they never really got the attention they deserved-either broke up too quick, didn’t tour enough, whatever. There was also never a central force or identity to really draw it all together.
Fortunately for us, all of our bands have been on the road for years and years, and we’ve just been really persistent at trying to make something happen-all the while emphasizing each other and the camaraderie and locale that make Saddle Creek what it is. I think after a while people are forced to at least notice you-whether they like it or not.

Well, I’m sure you’ve answered this one a million times, but how’d you make the leap from being in a band trying to get a record deal to actually starting your own label?
We started releasing records mostly because we couldn’t find anybody else to do it. Back in the early days we were sending out CDs and tapes to all kinds of labels, but none of them cared a bit about the bands we were in at the time … so we just started doing it ourselves.

What’s up with the name Saddle Creek?
It’s a road in Omaha that leads to north 55th street where there were a couple houses that we practiced in as younger bands. We all traveled on Saddle Creek a lot in order to get between our homes and our practice spaces.

Do you have an all-time favorite Saddle Creek release?
I don’t think so-it’s kind of like asking a father who their favorite child is or something. But I do associate records with different eras because of the time they were created-and there have been some very defining moments for the label and myself over the years.
It was right around the release of Bright Eyes’ Letting Off The Happiness that I moved back to Omaha after college in Lincoln and really made a decision to work on the label instead of committing myself to a full-time job. So there were lots of uncertainties around then, and I will always hold that release close to my heart-it erased all of the doubt in my mind about my decision. It’s totally sentimental, but everyone’s favorite records always are.

In your mind, why don’t major record labels really benefit the bands that they are trying to promote?
I think they do work in the sense that they throw a lot of money at a ton of bands-a couple of them hit it big, most of them flop, and at the end of the day the major label makes a lot of money. But at whose expense? Typically the artist’s. That business strategy isn’t interesting to me, nor is it supportive of art or music-it’s merely a successful business model. Bands and artists kind of need a record label to facilitate the whole process of design, manufacturing, distribution, promotion-and we’re just trying to be a supportive participant in that whole realm of the music world.