Headquartered down the I-5 in Portland, Oregon, Magic Marker is getting ready to turn ten years old. Ten years may not seem like much, but for a record label it is no small feat. Magic Marker is run by Curt and Mark, two music obsessed gentlemen who have over the last ten years built quite a fine little record label, consistently putting great record after great record. I think they may have been a bit bewildered when I asked them what it takes to run a successful label, but in the world of indiepop Magic Marker is one of the best. Yeah, they’re not raking in the bucks and taking over the world, but like their inspirations (Merge and K) they have developed a name you can trust by putting out stuff they truly like. You know when you buy something from Magic Marker that it’s going to be quality pop. Their longevity, consistency, quality packaging and general enthusiasm for music is something to truly celebrate. They started out by putting out records from Portland bands like Galactic Heroes, All Girl Summer Fun Band, Dear Nora, Kissing Book, and Boy Crazy and a few from other corners of the United States like Vehicle Flips from Pittsburgh, Walker Kong from Minneapolis. In recent years they’ve gone international with excellent records from the Manahattan Love Suicides (UK), Faintest Ideas (Sweden), Bats (NZ), Minisnap (NZ) and newest signings Hello Seahorse (Mexico). With all of the uncertainty surrounding the record labels these days, one thing is for sure Magic Marker aren’t throwing up their hands calling it a day. Last year saw records from Minisnap, Tullycraft and the Manhattan Love Suicides to name a few and this year I’m looking forward to a new record from Boat.
So in honor of the past ten years as the flagship indiepop label of the Pacific Northwest, Magic Marker is throwing a party down in Portland next Saturday at the Someday Lounge. It promises to be a hell of a lot of fun with an all-star line-up that includes Tullycraft and Boat,a reunited Dear Nora, and the Galatic Heroes. Curt and Mark have also promised a few DJ sets for this all ages show as well as a very limited edition (200 copies) set of 7 inch records of Magic Marker bands covering each other’s songs that will be for sale. I recently sat down with Curt and Mark over a keyboard and fiber optic wires for an interview about how they got started, how things have changed in Portland and what they’ve been up to. Happy Birthday guys!
What the impetus for starting Magic Marker?
Curt: For me it was just finding another reason to get to know bands that I liked. I wanted to have something to talk about after a show.
Mark: I remember always being interested in what running a record label entailed. I had a few friends at WIUS (Indiana University) who released some tapes and compilation cds. I went to a few Secretly Canadian meetings when they were first starting out, and thought, I can do this myself. Of course mm never came to until Curt came on board.
What other record labels have inspired or influenced Magic Marker?
Curt: I was very inspired by K records and Merge records. These two labels release music locally and globally and without a specific sound yet you knew you could trust their taste.
Mark: At the time, Simple Machines was my favorite label. They were the best DIY inspiration I could think of. I am currently still inspired by what Merge is doing.
It seems like a lot of independent record labels are started up by one person, Magic Marker is two people, how does that work?
Curt: Two seems the way to go. K Records: Calvin & Candace, Merge: Laura & Mac . I think you really need that other person to bounce ideas off of. I also think you need the other person to help out on a lot of the work that needs to be done or help pick up the slack.
Mark: I think it’s important to do something like this with a partner. It’s easier to get excited about releases, showcases, etc. when you can share it with somebody who is equally involved.
What would you say that are the top one or two essential things you need to run a successful label?
Curt: Well that all depends on what you mean by “Successful” . I would say a huge fan of music and a discerning ear is essential. A large trust fund would be helpful as well (anyone have one they don’t need?)
Mark: Keep releasing music you love, and I think that is a success. The longer you can do that, the more successful you become I guess.
You guys put on a lot of house shows and documented them with A House Full of Friends double CD. Are house shows in Portland a thing of the past or are you still doing them?
Curt: When we initially started putting on house shows it was to fill a need in Portland. There wasn’t an all ages club at the time and most bars either didn’t want our type of music or didn’t want to pay the bands. Portland has come a long way since then and not only supports many all age venues but most over 21 places are hosting bills of pop and wildly experimental music. I moved out the house awhile ago and we have only had one show at the new house since then which didn’t go so well with the neighbors so thats probably it for putting on house shows. I still attend them though.
How has the Portland music scene changed last 10 years with regards to indie pop?
Curt: When we started our label in Portland there seemed like a lot of like minded indie pop bands. Boy Crazy, The Crabs, Dear Nora, Kissing Book, All Girl Summer Fun Band, The Lookers, The Minders and New Bad Things to name a few. Most of these bands knew each other and would play shows together pretty regularly. Since then I don’t think we have been able to repeat that as a community.
Mark: I was in California for a few years in between and I agree, the community of what we had here in the late 90’s is now different. I don’t think it is necessarily a bad thing, but the close knit pop community we had here was pretty special. There just seems to be so much music here in Portland that in a way it has lost some identity. I am not saying more music is bad by any means mind you, it has just been hard to get used to.
With bands from the US, Sweden, UK, New Zealand and Mexico, Magic Marker has a diverse roster, without giving away any secrets how do decide what you want to put out?
Curt: Its not a secret. I devour music. I listen to music all the time. I scour blogs and myspace pages to hear new music. A big help is bands we work with recommending us bands they have played with or are fans of. There is so much music out there that if something sticks with me it must stick out in some way as different or interesting. If we get a demo I listen to it once or twice and if I find myself going back to it I think it might be a potential Magic Marker release.
Mark: The Internet has definitely helped with the ease of finding new music. It’s funny to think about not too long ago all of the packages we used to get of demos. Now it is just an email with a myspace link. Makes sense though.
I’m so glad you guys put out the last Bats album and the Minisnap record, how did you connect with those two bands?
Curt: Sadly when The Bats decided to put out their comeback record ten years later the world had kind of passed them by. I think they were having a hard time finding traditional methods of finding a label. Mark claims to have made contact with Robert via a Go-Betweens message board. I have to say working with The Bats was really a dream come true as they are one of my favorite bands even before we released that record.
Mark: Well, that is true Curt. It was very indirect though. A fellow Bats/Go-Betweens fan mentioned something about the Bats finishing a record and was looking for US distribution and a label. Through him, he gave Robert Scott our email and that was that. For me, releasing the Bats was one of those moments where I thought, “wow, this is a real record label.” Haha.
How do you view the rise of the internet? There is the prevalence of file sharing vs. making it easier and cheaper to promote your label? Has it made it easier or harder to sell records?
Curt: I like the internet. I hear a lot more music than I did before the MP3. Our band’s music is being distributed in the largest music stores in the world. While I still love a physical product and the craftsmanship that goes into it, I am happy that more people are able to find and hear music.
Mark: I think for me it is all about adjusting to the times. I know of other labels that are soon going to the all digital sales format, and it does make sense. I have been stubborn about this in the past, but I am in full acceptance now. Kids don’t really have record collections like we did when we were younger. Instead of walls of records and cds it’s how many gigs are in your lacie drive. And from all of the times I have moved, I am so jealous.
Thanks Curt and Mark, and here’s to the next 10 years. There are show details and some mp3’s after the click…