An independent record label, releasing damn good music since 2010
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Saturday, November 20, 2010


Thursday, November 18, 2010, will always been known to us as the day Tucson showed the greatest amount of media support we could have ever wished for:  both local weekly publications, The Caliente and the Tucson Weekly, featured stories on Fort Lowell Records.  We have included all of the articles below on our blog for your reading enjoyment!

Tucson puts a new spin on vinyl 
by Dan Sorenson

James Tritten is not a typical record company executive. For one thing, when his Tucson label "drops" a new record, it's actually a 7-inch vinyl record, not a CD or a digital download.

Tritten is the owner (and just about everything else) of Fort Lowell Records, a tiny label he runs out of the Midtown home he shares with his wife, Tracy Shedd.

There's no promise of a gold record coming out on Fort Lowell Records, either. Not unless it just happens to be colored gold. Tritten says Fort Lowell will press only 500 discs for each of its artists' releases.

And with the exception of a single by Shedd, an established artist, none of the label's artists has released a recording before this. The breathy-voiced Shedd has released several albums and EPs, but she's the exception.

Being previously unrecorded, at least unreleased, is virtually a requirement for a release on Fort Lowell Records, Tritten says. He wants to bring new music to the public, on vinyl.

So far, the Fort Lowell stable has been made up strictly of indie pop groups - Young Mothers, Dead Western Plains and ...Music Video? - but Tritten says he's open to other genres, though "it's got to be good music."

What he offers isn't a traditional record deal. Tritten doesn't sign the bands whose music he has released on vinyl so far. He takes recordings they make and releases them at his expense.

Tritten isn't looking to Fort Lowell to make it rich and quit his day gig as a banquet manager at Marriott.

In fact, he isn't trying to make any money at all from Fort Lowell Records. It's a nonprofit by design, Tritten says.

"I love my career with Marriott," Tritten says. "I don't own a TV. This is what I do when I go home. I run it as somebody might be buying a piece of art, just the same way I collect paintings at my house. It's a living, breathing piece of art," Tritten says of the colored vinyl discs. It's a different color for every release - red, green, white, clear - that he's done so far.

The bands are responsible for their recording costs. Fort Lowell picks up the cost of the art and design - most of it done by Tritten - and has the colored vinyl discs pressed at a plant in California. Then they are distributed for sale at a few local retailers and at Fort Lowell's website,
Tritten says he and Shedd put about $4,500 total into the first three Fort Lowell releases, pressing 500 copies of each - selling 400 and using roughly 100 for promotion.

"It takes 400 records to pay off what it cost to press," Tritten says of self-sustaining system.
They've used the income from those sales to fund each successive release.
Tritten says he won't do a second pressing, regardless of sales.

"I like the idea of a limited release. We talk about it with the bands" beforehand, says Tritten, who'd love to see a Fort Lowell disc so popular and in demand that it would sell on eBay for $500.

And it's not like the pressing limit restricts the bands' release of their music. He says most of the bands also offer digital downloads or sell CDs of the music on their vinyl releases. Tritten says he has even helped the label's bands with digital releases.

Shedd says continuing to put money into Fort Lowell's releases for new bands is OK with her.
"It's all right. We had friends that did it for us. This is just giving back," Shedd says of backing the releases by new bands.

She and Tritten met in high school in Jacksonville, Fla., playing in bands together long before getting romantically involved. While living in Boston, she met Mark Robinson of indie label TeenBeat Records, who recorded and released some of Shedd's songs. She went on to have songs placed on popular TV shows: "One Tree Hill" and "Dawson's Creek."

Tritten said music hasn't been a complete bed of roses. There was a year when he swore off music and even sold his guitars. "In 2004, I came home after the U.S. tour we did for Tracy's album. It was a six-week tour," and Tritten said they weren't getting radio play and nothing seemed to be going right. "I was devastated. I swore it off."

But Tritten said he soon realized music was an important part of his life, whether he was playing in his own group, supporting Shedd's career, working as a booking agent or putting out new music on vinyl. He says it all enriches his life, and he doesn't regret spending money on this latest phase.

"People ask me: 'Are you crazy?' But I didn't have a concern," Tritten insists. "Our first release, Young Mothers (a Tucson band), we're down to 100 copies in less than a year. Young Mothers are kids, people nobody knew."

Zach Toporek, Young Mothers' guitarist and singer, said most of the sales of that April release were through local retailers and online, not through the band's efforts at gigs. He said the band didn't have to do anything other than give Tritten the tapes, and they've even made a little money off the sales.

"It's interactive; you have to do something to make music. And it holds a kind of magic. On top of that, you're always looking for ways to stand out. And I don't know many Tucson groups outside of the Fort Lowell group" releasing vinyl records, Toporek said.

"The seven-inch (vinyl record) paired with a download is the running plan from here on out," Toporek said.

Keyboard player and singer Johnnie Munger of Dead Western Plains said vinyl is more than a gimmick.

"Our band's got a really unique sound, and I think it's a fit for analog type of releases," Munger said. "I think even the size of the release, the 7-inch (one song on each side), is perfect for our band. We like to write in little spurts. Release it and move on.

"I definitely wouldn't be as excited about a CD. They're collectors' items as well."

Dead Western Plains is doing a release show for its new Fort Lowell release, "Alta," on Friday at Plush with Sleep Driver and Holy Rolling Empire.

Tritten says he has always considered the label, the record company issuing a recording, when buying new albums. He said record companies are sometimes "filters," signing only a certain type and quality of act. He says if he buys something from a certain label, he knows he stands a good chance of liking it.

"I wanted to be that for the world with what's happening in Tucson. To say to the world, 'This is music that you ought to be listening to.' 'There are more, a lot more - great bands like Calexico and Howe Gelb in Tucson - worth taking to the world."

Asked what his vinyl obsession is about, James Tritten says he's not part of some retro movement worshipping old things, though he says there is a coolness about vinyl, new or vintage. And it's not strictly an audiophile thing, although, like many audiophiles, he thinks that vinyl does sound "warmer" than digital media versions of the same recording.

"For me, it's more about putting out music," says the 35-year-old, who is also a musician, a guitarist and a former booking agent.

Tritten says it's worthwhile to put music on vinyl because listeners will value the music more if they have to make an effort to hear it.

"There is much more engagement with the music," Tritten says of vinyl, as opposed to the digital format. "The idea of the digital version of music somewhat depressing. I shouldn't say 'depressing'; I have an iPod at work. It's convenient."

If vinyl records motivate people to listen to Fort Lowell artists because they like the color of the disc, love the sound or are into the retro nature of old-technology discs, that's OK with Tritten. They're making an effort, and the music is getting out. Besides, he says, there's something more tangible about a vinyl record than a download, or even a jewel boxed CD.

"We're both obsessed with vinyl," says Shedd, who had her first vinyl record with a 7-inch Christmas release in 1998, a "split" with Tritten's old band, Audio Explorations.

"I love the way music sounds on vinyl. It's warmer," Shedd says. She said what cinched it for her was hearing some tracks she had cut for a EP.

"I was testing out my last EP," listening to the MP3 files of the recording session. But, she says, "as soon as it came out on vinyl," it was love.

Artists big and tiny are going back to black 
by Dan Sorenson

Howe Gelb is doing it. Elvis Presley did it. Elvis Costello and Fred Eaglesmith are still doing it.
Black (or colored) vinyl is in.

Releasing records on vinyl, in some cases only on vinyl (though usually with a free download of a digital version), is increasingly popular.

English singer-songwriter Costello released his 2006 album, "Momofuku," only on vinyl, with an access code that allowed buyers to download a digital version.

Fred Eaglesmith, a Canadian singer-songwriter who has been burning up the pavement in a Ford van for 20 years, released a limited pressing of his 2008 double vinyl LP (that's "long playing" for you novices) "Tinderbox."

And almost everyone between Costello and Eaglesmith is giving vinyl at least an occasional try.
Tucson rocker Gelb's new release, "Howe Gelb and a Band of Gypsies," with a group Spanish musicians, is coming out on vinyl.

In April, Tucson vinyl-only label Fort Lowell Records issued its first release, a green 7-inch disc by the local Young Mothers. Next came another Tucson indie band - ...Music Video? - on a clear disc.

Its third release (on red vinyl) is the only shared release (known as a "split") and the only one with an artist with a previous release - Tracy Shedd with a Los Angeles-based act, Wet & Reckless, on one side. Tritten said a key figure in Wet & Reckless, Jessica Gelt, is now a Los Angeles Times reporter. Gelt used to live in Tucson and still has connections here.

Fort Lowell's latest release, a two-song disc by Tucson's Dead Western Plains, is set for Tuesday

All photos above by Ron Medvescek for Arizona Daily Star

by Stephen Seigel

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more enthusiastic cheerleader for local music than James Tritten. The guitarist for (and husband to) local artist Tracy Shedd, Tritten decided last year to put his money where his mouth is and start a (mostly) locals-only, 7-inch-vinyl-singles-only record label, with the goal of releasing four singles in 2010. It's been a trial by fire, and this week, Tritten meets his goal. After putting out singles by Young Mothers, ... music video? and a split with Los Angeles' Wet and Reckless and Tracy Shedd, his Fort Lowell Records is releasing a white-vinyl 7-inch by Dead Western Plains.

The A-side, "Alta," is a shape-shifting 5 1/2 minutes that begins with an Animal Collective-like tangle of harmonies and whistling (or is that a theremin?) before it all recedes to the background in favor of a jaunty vocal melody that carries the song throughout a series of pleasant interruptions—a complimentary countermelody here, a well-placed breakdown there, before concluding: "Sometimes we fail / If the heavens won't hold you tight / the ground surely will." Cue the lovely, nearly two-minute outro.

The B-side, "Gift Horse in the Mouth," is darker and slightly less complicated, relying on a skittery drumbeat, some nifty interaction between keyboard and guitar, and a sung/spoken-word break. It's only slightly less enjoyable than the much-different "Alta."

As usual, each record comes with a code to download the songs onto your computer or portable device. And when you get to the download page, follow the gray dotted line, and scroll down. Click on the box that cryptically reads "treats are for the curious." It'll give you access to three remixes of "Alta" by Jacob Safari, ... music video? and Kurt Snell.

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