There are layers to every music scene, and deep beneath the topsoil is where these two dudes dwell.
Bobby Franks and Brett Vee sit side by side on the former’s moss-green couch, two longtime running buddies who are now running something else: Their own DIY record labels, both of which have launched in the past year.
Franks’ Running in Place Records and Vee’s No Sky Cassettes are different endeavors with the same aim: to document, showcase and preserve the largely off-the-grid fringes of the grass-roots indie community they’ve been immersed in since they were teenagers.
It’s among the most vibrant and exciting of Vegas’ many musical substrata — it lives at house shows and warehouse gigs, not bars and music clubs. Here, there’s little to no division between artist and audience: It’s a small, tight-knit assemblage of true believers who do what they do for the sake of doing it — and little else.
The bands — who are often punk-derived in some form, though this can manifest in everything from post-rock to ska — fit in here by not concerning themselves with fitting in anywhere. Same goes for the largely young audience that comes to see them.
Ear to the underground
For Franks and Vee, who came up in these circles, their labels are a means of helping to keep things moving forward.
“My musical tastes and interests have been shaped by this town,” explains Franks, a bartender by trade clad in a Same Sex Mary T-shirt. “I just want to document that and help out these bands too, give them something to sell at shows.”
Franks’ first release: Vee’s garage-pop “Derivative Nation 7” EP.
While Franks is focusing on vinyl releases at this point, Vee is taking advantage of the low cost and quick turnaround of cassettes, which are experiencing a resurgence in the underground for those very reasons.
“It’s a little bit of a novel idea, but it’s also something we can really do,” explains Vee. “The concept that ‘Oh, this is a tape label’ is primarily because it’s realistic to be able to pull off and not lose my shirt.”
While Vee is open to releasing tapes from artists anywhere, as long as he digs them, Franks is focusing on area acts for now, with upcoming releases scheduled for promising indie rockers Dark Black, coed feminist firebrands Moon Blood and hardcore punks Oversight.
“My inspiration was Dischord Records, Revelation Records, Lookout!, where they started regionally, like, ‘Hey, this is what’s happening in my neck of the woods,’ ” he says. “Every band that I’m putting out, they have roots here, this is their home, they’re not trying to make it big, being rock stars. They’re playing music with their friends, getting people to come out to see them, maybe they have something to say. It’s their creative outlet. And I know other people outside of Las Vegas would enjoy it too.”
For both of them, having a physical copy of the music they dig in the era of digital downloads and streaming remains important — you see it in all the records lined up behind where Franks sits.
“I want something to look back on,” he says. “I want artwork to go with the music. It could be the coolest record ever, it could sound amazing, but if it’s just on my phone, it’s not like when I’m putting on a record or putting in a tape, sitting down and taking it all in.”
It’s about music, not business
Both Franks and Vee run their labels in generally the same way: The band covers the cost of the recording, the label pays to have the records and cassettes pressed, then they give an allotment of them to the artist free of charge while keeping the rest to sell on their own.
It’s not a lucrative endeavor.
“You’ve got to be prepared to take a loss, otherwise you’re operating pretty unrealistically,” Vee says.
But this is the point: to take the ‘business’ out of the music business, so that only the former remains.
“I’m definitely not running this with a business mindset,” Franks says. “It’s never been, ‘Well, I need to make this much money or I can’t do it.’ I’m having fun with it. It’s kind of like my Jet Ski that sits in the garage until summer comes.”
Contact Jason Bracelin at email@example.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.