PropertyOfZack Label Talk : : Triple Crown Records
PropertyOfZack’s Label Talk series has been pushing on the last few months with interviews with Jesse Cannon (Producer/Manager), Chris Hansen (No Sleep Records),Jeff Casazza (Run For Cover Records), and Craig Ericson (Rise Records). Now we are beyond thrilled to be releasing our new Label Talk chat with Fred Feldman, the founder of Triple Crown Records. Fred and I discussed the label taking chances with different music in 2010, his views on the music industry, possible reissues, the label’s plans for 2011, and more.
2010 featured releases from Brian Bonz, Fireworks, and The Secret Handshake, among others. Now that we’re in the early stages of 2011, how would you describe the recent year?
I think it was okay. Honestly, I think that I tried things that were not in our sweet-spot of our most successful artists, but instead bands that I really liked. It was a good hear. I can’t say it was a great year, just to be honest. I’m really excited and looking forward to 2011. We’ve got some great releases. You just have to be realistic. The marketplace is in a tough place. It’s not easy out there.
Hit The Lights signed a deal with Universal Republic after their contract with Triple Crown was up. Obviously you must be happy for the band because they grew so much under your label, but is it always a bittersweet moment when you have to say goodbye to bands that are somewhat your largest pull?
No. They fulfilled the contract, and I’m really happy for them. I’m really friendly with those guys. There are certain limitations independent labels have at times. They chose to go a certain route and I’m excited and anxious to see where it goes for them. I think it’s different when there’s a buyout or people leave on bad terms before they have fulfilled the obligation. I’ve had that over the years. It goes back to Hot Rod Circuit; they did a couple records for us and then went on to Vagrant. Obviously with Brand New. We’ve seen it over the years. I think as long as everyone talks through these things there are no hard feelings. You’re always anxious to see where people are going to go in their careers and what choices they’re going to make. Hit The Lights is a great example where we had a good relationship and that Coast To Coast EP was not something that was part of the contract, but it was like, “Hey, do you want to do this?” We did it and basically it was a good thing because they went so long in between releases that it was nice for them to put something out for their fans.
The Secret Handshake released Night & Day in 2010, and while it was met with great reviews, it turned away many fans and resulted in the cancellation of Luis’s last tour. Since then, Luis has gone on record saying that he is dropping the moniker and at this point is focusing on his metal band. Will Triple Crown be continuing to work with Luis in the future under a different moniker, or is his contract up?
His contract was up. Luis and I talked a lot during this, when he was making Night & Day. He wanted to take this creative direction and really do something completely different. If artists want to have the freedom to do these things, even if I don’t agree to it and will have that conversation and talk about what can be the problems, if they believe in it and they’re willing to throw themselves on the sword for them, I’ll stand with them. That was something Luis felt really passionately about. I was, and still am, a fan of those first two records, just that kind of sugary-pop stuff with the techno dance vibe to it. Luis wanted to try to make this soul record and I think he ended up doing a great job. It is often very difficult when you have success in one area to kind of try it in another area. I give him a ton of credit for trying. It just didn’t connect with the audience at all. I actually think that this Of Legends thing, which is something that Luis started on the last record cycle, he had come to me and said he wanted to do this and see if I was cool with it. It didn’t interfere with The Secret Handshake stuff so I was like, “Yeah, give it a shot.” More power to him now. He’s got the Norma Jean tour and some real serious touring out there. I’m actually looking forward to seeing him on stage and how it’s going to work live. I think it’s going to be awesome.
Is Night & Day an example of a record that the label took a chance on that didn’t necessarily pan out?
Yes and no. On a creative level I certainly think it reached its goal. Fight Fair tried to do something completely different. This whole surf-punk rock thing, again, didn’t connect with the audience at all. We were coming off of a strong EP and we came out with this record with the imaging and packaging and it just didn’t get over the hump. I think the same thing happened for Luis. The artist tried to do something a little bit different. We stand with them.
The label did a big rerelease of Kevin Devine’s Make The Clocks Move not too long ago. Could there be any more reissues in the near future?
We’re going to do the other Kevin Devine record as well. We did the reissue of The Receiving End Of Sirens and the band went back into the studio. We’re definitely looking at the catalogue and everyone wants Your Favorite Weapon or Deja to be reissued. We are coming up on ten years for Your Favorite Weapon, which is mind-blowing to me. We’ve had some discussions. We’ll see. We’ve had discussions with the band themselves. I would love to do it. They march to their own drum, and I love them for it. We shall see what the year will hold for us.
What’s your regular day like at the label? It is it more managing how your roster is doing as a whole and prepping releases, or is there a lot more to it that most people wouldn’t think of?
I think everyday is different. It’s partially listening to mixes one day, talking to new bands, talking to overseas partners. Everyday is different. Dealing with all of the mail order stuff and just kind of make sure that that’s running smoothly with our partners over there. I think that that’s what I really enjoy about it: Every day is completely different.
Can you explain how being under the East/West family of record labels under Warner affects the label and the decisions you do or do make? Does it give you a certain edge a lot of other indie labels don’t have?
The unique thing was that I went in there to run the operation to start the whole thing. I actually left in December. I’m still distributed by them, but when I went into the East/West system, they wanted a more independent view of it as opposed to a major label view. There were certainly some hesitations with some artists as I look at it over the years who didn’t want to be part of that and we weren’t able to close deals because of that, but I’m never really, when I’m looking for a band, am thinking that “this is the band that could have a hit so this will upstream.” To me its who I want to sign and who I like or think kids might like and is something I can get behind. That was always my motivation
Giants like Universal can, essentially, manage lower sales for their bands and artists because those names are more likely to sell out larger arenas like MSG or Staples Center in LA. How do you, as a smaller label, handle the same issue of decreased music sales?
Everyone talks about 360 deals or all rights deals. We’re trying to get more involved in rights where we can offer value for an artist, whether that’s merch rights or any other rights. You want to continue to invest in artists. It has to make fiscal sense. There has to be other income streams. We’re doing a lot for young bands, so sometimes their managers aren’t great or they just have a friend doing it and they’re just not up to the next level of managers of business people around them. A lot independent labels end up acting as managers. You want to be able to participate in those things and continue to invest. We’re just trying to grow our business accordingly with these things and offer fair and transparent deals. To me that’s the most important thing. I think when an artist signs to a label it needs to be a partnership. I think it used to be where managers tended to make it adversarial, where they had to be in it together and they had to be able to talk through the good times and the bad times. It’s almost like record companies are becoming music right’s companies and you’re just managing all this stuff and music is a jumping off point.
We’re obviously in a new age of media for music in terms of downloading and the lack of physical purchasing, and the label has somewhat recognized this by only digitally releasing music from Fireworks while Run For Cover Records releases the vinyl. Is this something the label could do more of in the future with bands?
I definitely think we’ll do that. The reason we did that one that way is because I originally signed Fireworks from Run For Cover and I think Jeff does a great job. I ultimately thought that he would do a better job of the 7”s, and the band approached me with the idea and I liked it. I’m always open for those things. Just like we did the Kevin Devine reissue with Academy Fight Song. They did the vinyl. If it’s a newer release or something that’s bigger, we’ll do it ourselves. I ultimately think that down the road the releases will be about digital releases and limited edition packaging, whether it’s vinyl or deluxe CDs. Packaging becomes really important. It almost becomes a souvenir. You’ve got to make it look and feel cool. I think packaging is really important.
Triple Crown Records is really known for a lot of its past artists like Brand New, Kevin Devine, and Hot Rod Circuit, among others. How would you describe the label’s present stance and reputation in the music industry, and where do you see it going in the future?
I think for all intents and purposes that we’ve always been an eclectic label. As Tall As Lions are way different from Fireworks, or The Gay Blades are different than Moving Mountains and The Receiving End Of Sirens. In one hand, I’ve really enjoyed that. On the other hand, it’s made it kind of difficult because our sound has not been identifiable and it’s hard for us to kind of go and put that tour together because a lot of times our bands just don’t make sense together. I started the label because I wanted to be in control of what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do things. My taste is eclectic and that’s somewhat of a reflection of what the label is. We don’t have an identifiable sound. We just try to put out records where I think that we can market them successfully and find an audience for them. I think this year is really exciting with Moving Mountains coming up and the new Fireworks record. The new Dear Hunter record is amazing. It’s a grand piece for what Casey has planned. All those artists are just slightly different from each other. We’re just going to continue on with that.
What adjustments has the label made since the recent swing of the music industry has occurred? Have adjustments been made to make sure that you guys can move forward?
Yeah, I think I run a smart business. We’re never going to be competitive with the Warner Brothers or the Sonys as far as if the money gets to be too much for an advance, then I can’t be in that. It’s too much of a risk. If I go and pay an artist a huge advance for one record, that doesn’t let me do things that I want to do with other bands. We just have to make fiscally smart decisions. Ultimately, when I’m trying to sign an artist, I’d rather them make a smart deal so that they can actually make get royalties down the road and realize, “Okay, I can make money selling records.” Maybe it’s not enough to retire, but the goal is to be out there touring and working and making the connection with your fans. It’s about having enough fans on the road so when you come back home you have enough money to pay your bills and live off of so you can continue to be creative. That’s always the first goal that we have. It’s just about running a smart business. I was lucky enough that I worked for another independent label for years before I started Triple Crown, so I learned a lot. I made mistakes on someone else’s dime and I brought that to the table when I started Triple Crown.
Moving Mountains were announced as the label’s latest signee near the end of 2010. How long had you had your eyes on them, and what do you see for the future of this band?
I’ve always known about them, and then I saw them at Bamboozle last year.
POZ: They were great.
Fred: Yeah, they were great. They had a nice crowd there and people were singing along. I think that I kind of clicked with what the band’s goals were as far as what we could bring to the table. What they had, which is what I always look for in a lot of bands, is work ethic. They were doing it themselves and I think that that’s the most important thing with bands in general. When you sign to a label, that’s just the first part of the equation. You still have to get out there and work. You think that’s it and that they’re going to get you the tours and everything, but then you’d not get anything. Things are falling in place for Moving Mountains. The Biffy Clyro tour is great for them. I think that’s the audience they need to breach with a forward mainstream rock record. I think this record is a mix of where these past records were and a little bit of forward thinking stuff. I actually heard the mixes today and it’s just fantastic. I’m excited. They’re going to pretty much be on tour throughout the fall starting at the end of this month.
With the industry struggling the way that it is, how do you make decisions about who to bring into your family and how to market them?
I think our strengths are working with niches. I can’t go be competitive with a pure pop thing, or maybe an active rock record. I’ve got to look for bands that I think hope open up doors on the touring front and look at the internet. The internet is a level playing field for bands that are savvy online marketers. How can we add value to what they do, or give them a little more support? I think that’s really where we look at things. A lot of times it comes back to the songs. Do the bands have the songs, whether it’s something hard or if they’re singer/songwriter. It’s just really, “Do you have songs?”
That being said, does Triple Crown have any more announcements regarding signings in the near future?
We will. I don’t have anything right now that I can say, but we’re certainly looking at some more stuff. When I went into East/West I was probably putting out ten or eleven records a year and I realized that when I went in there that I couldn’t put enough records out because I had a job essentially. So we were putting out about four or five releases a year. Now I think we’ll go back up. We have four or five records ready for this year that we’ll put out. Hopefully another four or five more that we’re going to put out.
Was there any particular reason behind you leaving East/West?
I went in there realizing that I had never worked for a major label and as long as my company could come in and be a part of the system and that the day when it was over I could walk out of my company and still have something to fall back on was my plan. It just was time to move on. Still on good terms, still currently distributed by them. It just was time to move on.
To close things up, most fans are excited for Fireworks’ upcoming release in the spring, but what else can we be on the lookout for in terms of releases?
Like I said, The Dear Hunter record is great. The Colors EP, there are nine parts to it with four songs each, and Casey has been recording with various different people that I think will surprise some people. I don’t want to say who yet. I think he’s immensely talented and I think the way we roll this whole project out is going to really excite people. Plug In Stereo is another one at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. It’s very much like a NeverShoutNever!/Dashboard Confessional 17 year old from Portland. That one is just showing all these signs that are kind of connection. He’s going out with The Scene Aesthetic/He Is We. Then he’ll be doing part of the Glamour Kills tour. I’m just excited. I think each one of these artists is completely different than the next. We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing.