There's a new record label on the scene. A group of Charleston musicians recently formed a casual partnership, created a record label, and aimed for artistic success under the name Shrimp Records.
Songwriter and guitarist Michael Trent (of The Films, Shovels & Rope) and five of his scene colleagues — Cary Ann Hearst (also of Shovels & Rope), Owen Beverly (of Tent Revival, The InLaws), Joel Hamilton (of The Working Title, The InLaws), Sadler Vaden (of Leslie), and Bill Carson (the New Music Collective, The Opposite of a Train, Lindsay Holler's Western Polaroids, and several other projects) — already have big plans for 2010, including the release of a 10-song local compilation (see Pulse at right).
"We all have little clusters of fans, and a number of us have kind of been through the label ringer and come out of it," says Trent, who's hesitant to identify himself as the actual label head, but he is in a leadership role, nonetheless. "We decided to get organized and help each other out."
In their first big push, Shrimp Records hosts a showcase at the Pour House this Saturday celebrating the official album release of Carson's new, nine-song solo album The Great Whale/Say It; Don't Spray It. The event will feature a full band — Jenkins, Hamilton, Trent, Hearst, Vaden, Nathan Koci, and Ron Wiltrout — along with opening performances from several in the ensemble.
Carson's new collection is Shrimp's first official release. Carson started working on the basic tracks for The Great Whale/Say It; Don't Spray It a year and a half ago, engineering things himself on his own gear, with a bit of help from musician friends like drummer Jenkins and percussionist Wiltrout.
"It was recorded in patchwork. I'm involved with a lot of stuff, so I had to do it a little bit at a time — at home and at friends' houses," Carson says. "I mixed it with Josh Kaler at Hello Telescope studio. I wanted to bring in a complete recording, and get him to help make it sound good. He did an amazing job of making it sound full. I'm no engineer at all, but I've come to prefer certain ways to track things that are important to me. Like tracking drums, for example; I prefer to record a full drum kit with only one or two mics. That's how you hear drums in the room."
A longtime musician in the scene, Carson is best known for his work through the 2000s with members of Jump, Little Children and many of the original songwriters and artists on the indie side of the scene. He calls Trent "the skipper and spokesperson" for Shrimp.
"The label is a cooperative effort," Carson says. "Michael is industrious, he can focus on a goal, and he's practical. Michael's all over my record, and I'm all over his [forthcoming] record ... the lines aren't clearly defined, which is a big part of the situation. There are other clusters of bands like this in Charleston."
A recent version of Carson's backing band (he calls it his "E-Street Band attempt") — Jenkins on drums, Koci on keys, Hamilton on bass, and Sam Sfirri and Wiltrout on percussion — rocked the Pour House during a set at the Holy City Cold Heart Revival.
"Becoming more involved with other bands, this solo thing feels like a side project now. It's released as a solo album, but a lot of those people helped. Cary Ann and Michael sang harmony on a lot of it."
The songs have a natural creakiness about them. Some of the instruments, like the "neighborhood piano" (as Carson calls it), the old drum kit, and the six-strings fuzzing through the slightly-distorted toned guitar amplifiers already sound antiquated. Like most of the other homemade recordings within the Shrimp collective, Carson's batch of songs roll with an air of melancholy and mystery ... and a fine layer of dust.
The album flows nicely, gaining careful momentum along the way, from the more spare and airy songs in the first half into the more dynamic, full-band style that rocks and bounces with a louder style.
"I'm definitely a traditionalist songwriter," says Carson. "I aspire to write folk songs, really. I think the album is basically rock 'n' roll. I wrote some of the songs as quiet little folk songs, then tried them out different ways, then gave them the band treatment."
Only a small number of hand-packaged copies of The Great Whale/Say It; Don't Spray It will be made available in town this week. The entire collection will be available on iTunes as well. "I'm still attached to the physical copies, even though I realize it's archaic," Carson admits. "There'll be a short run of the deluxe edition, which is hand-printed with liner notes, and includes sheet music and some goodies."
If the well-textured, finely-executed "band treatment" of Carson's new album resembles the musical vibes of Shrimp's inner circle, great things should be expected from the label in the near future.