Spin Cycle

spinART proves that little labels aren't necessarily doomed

"After that," Price continues, "we were, like, 'No more majors.' We had to come up with a structure that would make money if we weren't going to have our sugar daddy. We decided we'd have developed artists like Vic Chesnutt and Jason Falkner, and then we can work on developing bands like Mazarin and the Orange Peels. We do band-friendly contracts: We don't own masters; we do 50-50 net-profit splits and pay out 100 percent on mechanical royalties. Bands make more money selling records through us than they would selling three times as many through a major." To what purpose all these minutiae of a minute record label? To give qualified hope, perhaps, or maybe just bemused despair. The 10-year story of spinART is the story of Zen luck, which is the hardest lesson for scrambling bands and bedroom labels to learn. Success, if you can call a plywood office on a free-ferry stop a success, can't be made, bought or borrowed, though good taste -- and Price and Morowitz have never lacked that -- can lay the preconditions for survival, and -- who can say? -- the Apples in Stereo may have a hit record yet.

But as good as new releases from Chesnutt, Clem Snide and Sexsmith are, the bell cow of the spinART herd is probably Bill Janovitz. Best known as frontman for Boston's Buffalo Tom, Janovitz's latest work, 1997's Lonesome Billy and now Up Here, has a subdued, effortlessly emotional quality toward which his rock records only gestured. On the acoustic songs of Up Here, Janovitz -- who still lives just outside Boston -- sounds like an old soul refreshed in a fierce autumnal light.

"There's that temptation to get out to where the weather doesn't depress you for six months," Janovitz says, "the lure of the sun and perpetual happiness. But as an artist, I can feel the change of seasons; I'm afraid if I left it, it would take away who I am. The record was made over autumn; I can't imagine making a record like this in July. The dimming autumn light of New England is all over the record."

spinArt recording artist Bill Janovitz
spinArt recording artist Bill Janovitz

Within the lean arrangements of Up Here -- Janovitz plays everything, with incidental help from keyboardist Phil Aiken and singer Chris Toppin -- lies a composite emotional core, a cycle of moods that words such as "yearning," "nostalgia" and "wonder" barely describe. "Light in December" finds him writing a temperate lullaby for his 2-year-old daughter -- a subject generally given to noisome sentimentality. Instead, the light in his daughter's eyes leads Janovitz where his music has no choice but to go. "It is a cliché," he admits. "People say having a child will change your life, that you have no idea until it happens. Having a kid hasn't changed my music conceptually; it's more the reality. Everything changed in the industry: Being a 35-year-old white guy playing rootsy rock music, that changed vis-a-vis the industry, and then I had a kid, and the market forces became such that I either had to scramble and keep working from a place of desperation or I could stay home for two years and make music in my basement, which I've done. It's not that I've had a kid and I can't be in a rock band. But I welcome the change, taking all the pressure off of doing music and doing it for the sheer love of it."

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