Four Portland Record Labels to Watch in 2019

Vortex Music Magazine

Some of the strongest curatorial forces in the Rose City are not bound by the city’s limits. Far-reaching ambitions from the likes of Mama Bird Recording Co., Beacon Sound, Fresh Selects and It’s Future Time have brought outsiders into the fold with up-and-coming locals, all in an effort to get more ears hearing music that matters.

Rising singer-songwriter Haley Heynderickx of Mama Bird Recording Co.: Photo by Alessandra LeimerRising singer-songwriter Haley Heynderickx of Mama Bird Recording Co.: Photo by Alessandra Leimer

Mama Bird Recording Co.

ROSTER: Haley Heynderickx, Vikesh Kapoor, Courtney Marie Andrews, Barna Howard, Quiet Life, Taylor Kingman
NEW RELEASES: Faustina Masigat’s self-titled debut, Matt Dorrien’s In the Key of Grey, Izaak Opatz’s Mariachi Static, Nick Delffs’ Redesign on vinyl (2/1)

Portland is known for its thriving music community, but it often gets flack for not having a “music industry;” however, Mama Bird Recording Co. is debunking that negativity with a friendly reminder it’s indeed here. In only a handful of years, Mama Bird has gained national notoriety and momentum, stemming largely from its two leading ladies Courtney Marie Andrews and Haley Heynderickx. Founder Vincent Bancheri has had his eyes on the prize from the start. “I don’t want to be a boutique label, I don’t want to be a boutique anything,” he says.

Bancheri moved from Boston to Portland in the late aughts with his pals Vikesh Kapoor and Barna Howard. Shortly after, Mama Bird was born, with Kapoor and Howard as two of the first on the roster. Most might know Mama Bird foremost through its reputation as an Americana label. And true, a bulk of its artists have fallen under that umbrella, but the label is slowly growing out of that mold with artists like Heynderickx, Ryan Oxford and Matt Dorrien.

“I never wanted to be an Americana label,” Bancheri says. “I do love a lot of Americana, but I’m only interested in the stuff that transcends it, things that cross genres.”

Though it might not be “boutique,” it shares the hands-on mentality. Mama Bird goes the extra distance to help its artists—building websites, designing album art, helping book tours. The label and artists do regular check-ins with each other, actively working to grow as a group. “With all of our artists, we communicate as a team,” Bancheri says.

There are rumblings of some big names that could land on the roster, but either way we’re bound to watch Mama Bird keep spreading her wings. “We’re not going to be successful by trying to be a bigger label,” Bancheri says, “we have to show why we’re different. I really want Mama Bird to be family based. I want people to see that we have a community, and it’s different than a label where all their artists don’t know each other.” —Robin Bacior

Dolphin Midwives’ new LP 'Liminal Garden' is out early next year on Beacon Sound and Sounds et al—listen to an album sampler below: Photo by Hannah ClarkDolphin Midwives’ new LP 'Liminal Garden' is out early next year on Beacon Sound and Sounds et al—listen to an album sampler below: Photo by Hannah Clark

Beacon Sound

ROSTER: Peter Broderick, Lau Nau, Benoît Pioulard, Derek Hunter Wilson
NEW RELEASES: Spill Gold’s self-titled cassette, Hans Otte’s The Book of Sounds, Dolphin Midwives’ Liminal Garden (1/18)

Andrew Neerman, the owner of the record shop and label Beacon Sound, has one guiding principle when it comes to deciding what artists and projects he wants to work on. “If the name wasn’t already taken,” he says, “I would rename the label I Release Whatever The Fuck I Want. That’s really all it is.”

That motto has served him and his label in good stead ever since he released the first cassette by his brother’s electronic project Apartment Fox in 2013. And it has allowed him to wander down some fascinating pathways, from working with award-winning Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson on a cassette release of his album And In The Endless Pause There Came The Sound of Bees to collaborating with indie label Ruptured to bring the music of Lebanese artists Fadi Tabbal and Munma to America.

As with all the best labels, the other factor in Beacon Sound’s success has been the personal relationships Neerman has cultivated with the people behind each project. When he stumbled upon Ruptured’s website and fell in love with the artists it was supporting, he sent a fan email that turned into an invite to visit Beirut to experience the music scene firsthand. A good friend, the multi-instrumentalist Peter Broderick, also helped nudge a lot of doors open for Neerman, connecting him to Jóhannsson, avant-pop artist Colleen, and ambient folk musician Gareth Dickson. And he’s even collaborating with another local label, Sounds et al, on the impending Dolphin Midwives LP—out January 18 but you can get it a day early at the release show at Mississippi Studios on Thursday, January 17.

Lately, Beacon Sound has been dabbling in reissues of important and out-of-print albums from the past, starting with the 2016 re-release of two vital documents by modern classical legend Terry Riley and a forthcoming reprint of German pianist Hans Otte’s 1984 record The Book of Sounds. It’s a smart business move as reissues tend to sell better than new releases, but it’s also, according to Neerman, his way of providing context for the contemporary sounds he usually trucks in. “I try to sprinkle them in like a kind of seasoning,” he says. “A way of connecting the dots.” —Robert Ham

Fresh Selects' Umii is Reva DeVito and B. Bravo: Photo by Sean RobinsonFresh Selects' Umii is Reva DeVito and B. Bravo: Photo by Sean Robinson

Fresh Selects

ROSTER: Umii, Hosannas, Braxton Cook, Mirror Gazer
NEW RELEASES: Hosannas’ Picture Him Protecting You, Reginald Chapman’s Prototype, Umii’s This Time (Remixed), Low Leaf’s PRiMiTiVA

Five years ago this November, Kenny Fresh decided to take his tastemaking music blog from the web to the wiles of an official record label. The Fresh Selects brand has been around in one form or another since 2008, and during that time, Fresh has expanded upon the traditional indie label paradigm in ways that ought to be striking to even casual music fans.

“I get bored of routine pretty easily, so I like to keep Fresh Selects constantly evolving and redefining itself,” explains Fresh of his burgeoning imprint.

Boasting a catalog of releases that range stylistically from jazz to indie rock to R&B and lots in between, Fresh’s ear for quality and diversity can’t be overstated. To wit, prior to getting involved with Top Dawg Entertainment to join the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q, Inglewood singer SiR dropped his 2015 debut Seven Sundays via Fresh Selects.

Artists with material as wide-ranging as the arty pop rock of Portlanders Hosannas, the spacey jazz of Brooklyn’s Reginald Chapman, and the groovy chill of Umii (Portland’s Reva DeVito and California producer B. Bravo) are represented, too, along with a steady stream of beat tape and remix releases. It’s the kind of roster of material that mirrors most music lovers’ playlists, defiant of genre affiliation.

Fresh Selects’ fifth year continues to see the release of debut projects from international artists such as Arµ-2 from Japan, Emmavie from London, the Tiago Frúgoli Ensemble from Brazil, as well as more of the label’s remix series.

That extensive release net is at the core of Fresh Selects’ roster, with the majority of their artists based all over the planet. “I think it’s more accurate to frame Fresh Selects as a region-less record label that just happens to be rooted and based here in [Portland],” Fresh says. “‘Worldwide’ or ‘global’ sounds pretty pretentious, like calling myself a ‘CEO.’” —Ryan J. Prado

Daren Todd released his debut record on It’s Future Time this summer: Photo by Corrinne TheodoruDaren Todd released his debut record on It’s Future Time this summer: Photo by Corrinne Theodoru

It’s Future Time

ROSTER: Daren Todd, Curtis Gatewood, LesMoss, Ghostride
NEW RELEASES: Daren Todd’s RE​:​NA, Sunday Grip’s Space Hawks, Curtis Gatewood’s “Burgundy” single (listen below), iNDIGO’s WVVY (winter)

Added up, It’s Future Time’s three leaders have more than 50 years of music making under their belts, but until two years ago, they kept it all close to their chests. That all changed with releases from LesMoss (the project of two-thirds of IFT’s producers, AED and iNDIGO) and Ghostride (AED’s partnership with IFT’s last third, Sunday Grip).

Over the years, the three longtime friends, hip-hop heads and beat producers—with all sorts of musical proclivities—have also amassed a variety of instruments and gear in their various spaces. Today, IFT is overflowing with home studios to facilitate the creative process for themselves and new artists they fold into their collective—notably songwriter and emcee Daren Todd who intended to briefly visit Portland and work on some music but ending up moving in with AED, where the pair crafted his debut record as well as formed a special connection that can only come from sharing a kitchen, going to shows together, and late-night brainstorming sessions.

The trio’s “shared skill set” has a “well-roundedness” that allows them to “cover our bases,” AED tells. That includes the basics of what’s needed to record and release music but also create a solid visual identity and social content that feels candid and organic to market and network IFT.

Less label, more artist incubator and community, IFT’s “egoless mentality,” as iNDIGO puts it, is about lifting each other up, one where “all each individual really cares about is what can I do to make the other one the best they are” and “help each other grow as musicians,” Sunday Grip adds.

The music is tight, the visuals are solid, and the live experiences are being dialed in, which means that the business aspect becomes more and more real every day. Something they all think about is: “How can we work on music for 40 hours a week?” iNDIGO proposes.

As they move into 2019, they’re still defining what it means to be a true artist collective—what would it look like to work with more visual artists, graphic designers and writers? “Everyone that’s a part of the group does more than one discipline,” Todd tells. “Here you’re able to use all of you and then the collective fills in the gaps—they got you.” —Chris Young

Discover more Portland Artists to Watch in our latest Maker Issue, and celebrate the release of Dolphin Midwives' new LP on Beacon Sound and Sounds et al at Mississippi Studios on Thursday, January 17.

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