Mid-Hudson Valley is slowly becoming a Mecca for indie record labels

Jeremy Earl of the band Woods started the Woodsist label in “a small punk house in Bushwick” in 2006 as a way to release his own records. When the label grew to include big names like Kurt Vile, Earl needed more space so he moved the operation to Warwick, his hometown. (photo by Tom Law)

Jeremy Earl of the band Woods started the Woodsist label in “a small punk house in Bushwick” in 2006 as a way to release his own records. When the label grew to include big names like Kurt Vile, Earl needed more space so he moved the operation to Warwick, his hometown. (photo by Tom Law)

“Everything we’ve done has been to help us survive.” So says Nate Krenkel, co-founder and current owner of the Team Love record label, of his choice to move the business from Manhattan to New Paltz in 2009. And Krenkel isn’t alone: In recent years, a handful of other labels have also made the move upstate, though for a variety of reasons.

Conor Oberst’s longtime manager, Krenkel co-founded Team Love with Oberst in an East Village apartment in 2003. Its first releases were from the Omaha band Tilly and the Wall and former Rilo Kiley singer Jenny Lewis, whose Rabbit Fur Coat album with the Watson Twins was an early hit for the label. In 2007 they released Adventures of the Felice Brothers, which eventually led to Krenkel visiting New Paltz and deciding to move up there. He and his wife Cornelia Calder needed more space – “the old dilemma,” as Krenkel describes it – and decided that Ulster County was the place to find it.

Adam Pierce tells something of a similar story. Pierce, of the band Mice Parade, had distributed the UK label Fat Cat’s records, including indie hits by bands like Sigur Ros and Animal Collective, for years before taking over its US operation in 2005, running its distribution, A & R and management directly. Pierce, in what he describes as an “urgent” move, moved up to Cornwall a few years later, commuting down to the label’s Gowanus office, where manager Andy French worked full-time. In 2014 they jointly decided to move the label up to its current office at 234 Warren Street in Hudson.

“For me it was a stress thing,” Pierce says, and for his part, French and his wife also wanted to get out of the city. “It’s a classic story,” he says. “Do you want to raise a kid in a one-bedroom? You have to move out north of Westchester.” “I think everyone who lives in the city who turns 35 dreams of having a place upstate,” adds Pierce, “and a certain percentage of people are just going to say f—k it and make the move.”

While moving upstate had genuine financial incentives – lower rent for more space, for instance – it was the “intangibles,” as Pierce puts it, that really sealed the deal. “We paid more for rent in Brooklyn, but it was mostly Andy being there in a room with like one window in a loft in a building that was far away from happy people.” In comparison, the Warren Street office is clear and bright and even hosts a record store, selling new albums by bands both affiliated and unaffiliated with the label. “Here, you have people stroll down the street and pop in to look at records and talk.”

More than the milieu has changed for Team Love. While initially the label had something of an Omaha focus, befitting indie star Oberst’s patrimony, once Team Love moved full-time to New Paltz in 2010 it began focusing more on local artists. While maybe best-known locally for breaking the Felice Brothers, the label has also released Die Pfalz, a compilation of Hudson Valley artists like Breakfast in Fur and Shana Falana, as well as the debut from Quarterbacks, a group of SUNY-New Paltz graduates. “It’s nice to know the people you’re working with,” Krenkel says. He also notes that they’ve put out far more records since they’ve moved upstate.

The Woodsist label, currently based in Warwick, provides a third example. Jeremy Earl of the band Woods started it in “a small punk house in Bushwick” in 2006 as a way to release his own records. He started out screenprinting jacket sleeves and collating records for a variety of Brooklyn-based garage-rock bands like the Babies and the Vivian Girls; but as the label grew, Earl decided that he needed more space. So in 2009 he returned to his hometown of Warwick. And despite releasing records by current big names like Kurt Vile and Wavves, the label remains a small affair, with Earl as the sole owner and proprietor.

While having a label upstate may make some aspects of the business easier, others become, in Pierce’s words, “a real struggle.” All three label heads have to travel to and from the city to see bands, do A & R and promote their releases. “At this point,” says Earl, “I split my time between Warwick and New York City.” All have to run labels without daily access to the same pool of artists and resources that their city-bound counterparts have. Fat Cat and Team Love have two-person staffs and Earl alone runs Woodsist, whereas the average Brooklyn indie label like Matador or Domino generally employs at least 20 people.

Pierce has made a point of setting up studios wherever he moves, which he calls a “natural progression” of his work as both a musician and a label head. First there was one in a three-car garage in Cornwall, where Frightened Rabbit recorded their breakthrough sophomore record The Midnight Organ Fight, and now Pierce has what he calls “a seriously proper studio on a big old farm” in Germantown.

Earl still plays and tours with Woods, who had an album come out in April. He also runs the annual Woodsist Festival out at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur, California, which he is trying to bring to the Hudson Valley. And recently Team Love purchased the building at 11 Church Street it once rented and moved to a new, smaller space on the building’s Academy Street side.

It all comes back to what Krenkel described as that struggle to survive – tougher than ever in a music industry without much of a sales floor. But, for these three labels, at least the scenery is a little nicer.

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