I just placed online, an interview with Criteria’s Stephen Pedersen (read it here). Pedersen talks about leaving nationally respected law firm Kutak Rock where he’s an attorney, to pursue his rock ‘n’ roll dream with the help from his friends at Saddle Creek Records. The word limit for The Reader article was 1,000. Here’s some out-takes from the 2-hour interview that didn’t make the cut:
There’s already those who think Criteria could rise to become the second most popular band at Saddle Creek. Pedersen pooh-poohs those comments. “Every band on that label has earned it from years of touring and focusing full-time on music for the greater part of the past decade. I kind of dilly-dallied.”
He said he had no idea what he and the former members of White Octave are going to do with their last album, Menergy, now that they’ve acquired the rights to the CD from Initial Records. “I would be surprised if there was a label that wanted to release it,” he said. Interestingly, White Octave also owns the masters to their first record, released on Deep Elm who only had a five-year licensing agreement on the recording, which has since expired.
Pedersen said Saddle Creek’s 50/50 royalties split is a rarity in the business. “It’s about as pure of a partnership as you’re going to get in the music business,” he said. “While the front-end isn’t that great, the back end is incredible. It’s the difference between an 11 to 15 percent royalty and a 50 percent royalty. If you’re successful, the payoff for record sales is fabulous, but that wasn’t the reason I wanted to be on Saddle Creek.
“These are my friends, the people that kept me going. I’ve known them half my life. And it’s also a great label with an amazing reputation that’s well deserved. I like their business model and can totally trust them.”
It was here that Pedersen referred to the famous Spoon/Ron Laffitte debacle that was immortalized in Spoon’s Saddle Creek-released single “The Agony of Laffitte” b/w “Laffitte Don’t Fail Me Now.”
“The only reason to go to a major is to raid their coffers,” Pedersen said. “If there was a $5 million non recuperable advance dangled in front of me, that may have made things difficult.”
So how does one get signed to Creek these days? Pedersen said there are two possible routes. “Either Robb, Jason and the people at the office love the record and want to put it out, or you appeal to the greater community of bands — you get Todd and Joel from the Faint and Conor and Tim and Matt behind you. The artists in effect are like an appellant court when the district court denies you. Luckily it never came to that.”
Pedersen discussed the process of writing his music. I’ve always thought that he must have consciously gone out of his way to create the stuttering, waltzy lope that’s indicative (to me, anyway) of their sound. “I don’t know why I do that,” Pedersen said. “The music wouldn’t be talked about if it was in 4/4. When I was writing En Garde, it was the first time I had the chance to make the beats, but I don’t know where I got the beats.”
Like En Garde, much of When We Break was recorded in Pedersen’s dingy basement studio. There is nothing fancy about the set up, you almost expect the guitarist to be leaning against a washer/dryer while recording a solo. Amidst all the sound equipment is a bicep/curl bar and some weights, I guess to get pumped up with before rolling tape. Though the guitars and vocals were recorded there, the drums and bass were tracked at Presto! Studios in Lincoln. AJ Mogis did the mix.
“The reason the record sounds the way it sounds is AJ,” Pedersen said. “He is the engineer and producer and the wizard behind its massiveness. It doesn’t sound like a record that was, in a large part, made in a basement and that’s entirely because of AJ. He just captures sound, and is also an incredible musician. The guy shreds. I’m, like, the worst guitar player in the band.”
When We Break wasn’t the first name chosen for the album. “We were thinking of calling it Danish Soul or Rock and Roll Miracle,” Pedersen said, clearly joking. “There were some more serious considerations, too, like From the Dead Center, and Touché — sort of a response to En Garde. But that would have been too cute. When We Break is a lyric from one of the songs. It’s referring both to when a band breaks and gets popular, and as humans when you get hurt.”
Which brings us to the album’s “meaning.”
“Lyrically, it’s not about a break-up, it’s about a lot of things,” Pedersen said. “At the end of the day, I’m singing for myself, and if other people get meaning out of it, that’s great, but I don’t try to define my words.”
Just as important, he said, are the songs’ sound and tone. “The delivery can convey as much or more meaning than the words, and I’m all about delivery,” he said. “I’m a defacto songwriter because I write a lot of songs, but I don’t see myself as a songwriter.”
He said he doesn’t write lyrics down, or anything else for that matter. Everything is composed in his head, from the beat to the guitar to the vocals.
“I don’t quite understand it,” he said. “It’s just a combination of having a Danish father and a Sicilian mother. You have a very strict, structured, disciplined side of you and a very passionate, emotional just sort of a very-lucky-to-be-alive side of you. And that’s where the music comes from.”
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