Column 173: A Faint imprint; Madder tribute tomorrow…

Category: Blog — @ 5:41 pm May 14, 2008

Monday’s announcement that The Faint are leaving Saddle Creek ends a two-year saga that, for me, began with this column. I never heard from my trusty “deep throat” source again after that story ran, maybe because things got a little hot (a number of people were asking (nay demanding) to know who s/he was. I, of course, never gave up my source). Today, that old column seems rather harmless, though its aftermath has had a long-term negative impact on my ability to write about a certain band…

Column 173 — Fasciinatiion Street
The Faint finally leave Saddle Creek.

Yesterday afternoon (which as I write this, was Monday) Billboard.com posted a story on its website announcing that The Faint — the band that taught Omaha how to dance — was splitting with its long-time label, Omaha’s own Saddle Creek Records.

The news, which arrived by way of my Google news search tool, caused me to audibly gasp. We all knew it was coming. We had known it for years. Yet, here it was, right in front of my eyes, finally.

The Faint (the article said) is launching its own imprint called “blank.wav,” and its first release will be the band’s fifth album, Fasciinatiion (and no, that isn’t a typo), due out Aug. 5. The story went on to quote sales stats from the band’s past two albums – 2004’s Wet From Birth, 117,000 copies; and 2001’s Danse Macabre, 143,000 units, perhaps implying that the downturn in sales had something to do with the band’s decision to go out on its own.

The Faint’s defection comes only a few weeks after Saddle Creek’s first-born son, Conor Oberst, announced that he was releasing a non-Bright Eyes solo album, but that it also would not be on Saddle Creek. Instead, the record is coming out on leading indie label Merge Records, the home to such acts as The Arcade Fire, Spoon and Oberst’s buddy M. Ward. That news seemed like a body blow to Creek, even though Bright Eyes still seems to be comfortably held in the label’s nurturing arms.

Oberst’s news was a surprise. The Faint’s, well, not so much. It was two years ago last March when the idea of The Faint leaving Saddle Creek was first openly discussed by label chief Robb Nansel in this very column. Back then, the rumor was that The Faint was headed to American Recordings to work with über producer Rick Rubin. Nansel confirmed that Rubin had indeed expressed interest in working with The Faint, but said that no deal had been made with anyone.

“The possibility of a band leaving has always been there,” Nansel said back then. “The bands will ultimately make a well-informed decision about what is in their best interest. We will support their decision regardless of what it is, and hope that all parties are satisfied at the end of the day. Certainly (we) would not be pissed.”

Fellow label executive Jason Kulbel said those comments still apply two years later, as the rumored split becomes a reality. “This announcement does not come as a surprise, and we wish the band continued success,” Kulbel said, confirming that Saddle Creek will have no involvement in the release of Fasciinatiion. “They are still friends and we support their decision to do what they, as a band, feel is best for them.”

Kulbel said the label has been aware of The Faint’s intentions since the release of Wet From Birth. Asked what kind of an impact The Faint leaving would have on Saddle Creek, Kulbel said they “don’t see any immediate impact since we have been aware of the likelihood for years.”

Despite the loss of The Faint and Oberst sniffing around other labels, the future of Saddle Creek as a business entity seems less in question than it did two years ago when the Faint rumor first surfaced. Since then, Saddle Creek has signed a number of acts including Georgie James, Eric Bachmann, Neva Dinova, Art in Manila and most impressive of all, Tokyo Police Club, whose new album, Elephant Shell, has the potential of being the label’s all-time biggest seller.

Two years ago construction hadn’t even begun on Saddle Creek’s Slowdown complex. Now after being open for nearly a year, Slowdown is recognized as Omaha’s premier music venue, recently honored by Esquire Magazine as the “club of the year” (though I’m not sure how that translates to revenue). And in the past few months, the last remaining empty commercial stall in the Slowdown properties — originally earmarked for a restaurant — has been taken by edgy underwear store American Apparel.

The fact is that it’s been four years since The Faint released an album. If Saddle Creek hasn’t become used to not having them around by now, then they never will.

A more interesting question is how the move will impact The Faint. The band never did record an album with Rubin, instead spending the last few years creating their own Enamel studios, where they recorded the 10 tracks that will make up Fasciinatiion. And they’ve never really quit touring, thanks to the strength of their rather limited catalog of music. The Faint could probably continue selling-out large venues for the next few years without releasing anything new, thanks to their reputation for putting on events rather than mere concerts.

And then there’s blank.wav. Time will tell what exactly this “imprint” will be. What’s its distribution model? Will it be an Internet-only venture. And will The Faint be the only band on the blank.wav roster? Maybe it’ll follow the same model as Oberst’s Team Love label, providing an outlet for local artists such as McCarthy Trenching, Flowers Forever, Tilly and the Wall and Simon Joyner to get their music heard by a larger audience. If so, Saddle Creek’s loss will be the Omaha music scene’s gain.

Someone asked what was meant by the word “imprint” rather than “label.” The word “imprint” has been used to identify boutique labels that are connected to major labels. For example, Rilo Kiley’s Brute/Beaute was an imprint under the Warner Bros. umbrella. In the publishing industry, an imprint is a brand name under which a work is published. One single publishing company may have multiple imprints; the different imprints are used by the publisher to market the work to different demographic consumer segments. The Faint’s use of the term “imprint” would imply that blank.wav is part of something larger, maybe the organization that will house The Faint, Enamel studio, blank.wav and other Faint-related business endeavors. Who knows? Maybe the band’s publicist simply is misusing the term.

I was told yesterday that blank.wav will, in fact, be its own independent label and not a so-called “imprint” or subsidiary of a larger label. We’ll see as August rolls around…

* * *

This is an early heads-up about the Joe “Madder” Kenny memorial rock show being held tomorrow night at Sokol Underground. This tribute to one of Omaha’s biggest rock fans and local music supporters showcases the city’s finest punk acts including The Deformities, The Upsets, The Shanks, Filthy Few, The Filter Kings and Brimstone Howl.

Cost is $7, with all money going to the Kenny family. Doors open at 7, bands at 8. See you there.

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