We all engage in bar talk, but what happens in the bar usually stays in the bar...that is, until Lifestyle Editor Tommy Allen meets dizzybird records. Find out what happens when two music-loving Grand Rapidians meet over a drink and create something new.
We all engage in bar talk. It's a natural by-product in a city best known for having a craft brewery on nearly every corner. Well, not exactly every corner. But you get the picture. Another, lesser-known conversational tic found nearly everywhere in the city is also a by-product of our beer culture: the bar promise.
Unlike the "stoner epiphany," which thankfully evaporates into thin air shortly after it's proclaimed, the bar promise lingers much longer, causing anxiety and a bit of embarrassment to those who make them.
Often these proclamations resurface via your friends – or, worse, your favorite bartender, who shouts across the room after taking your Founders' Mosaic Promise order, "Speaking of promise, how did your (fill in the blank) project turn out?"
You can see quite quickly how a bar promise can haunt you much later if not dealt with in a timely manner.
But what of the one that comes true? What of bar promises kept?
This is the story of two local music fans who happened to meet at a Grand Rapid Soul Club event one evening and then went on to create a bit of magic for our local music scene.
Brian Hoekstra, the music content manager for the last ten years at our locally founded and now very modern digital jukebox company, AMI Entertainment Network (formerly National Automatic Music Co.), was enjoying the sounds of a DJ-driven night when suddenly he noticed Nicole LaRae in the crowd – someone he had been following on Facebook.
Finally finding the courage, he walked up to her and blurted out the first thing that came to his mind: "We are going to be really good friends someday."
Nicole LaRae is a well-established veteran on the indie music scene due to her work as the talent buying and venue manager at Grand Rapids' Pyramid Scheme. She is also the Community Relations Coordinator at the independent community radio station, WYCE 88.1 FM, a position she has held for the last six years.
Hoekstra admits LaRae's cautious reaction was pretty understandable, since she really did not know him -- and probably because they are both in relationships and each has children.
So LaRae did what anyone would do after such an encounter: she returned to the digital social spaces where Brian had first become acquainted with her work to research him.
The next time Brian was out, LaRae walked right up and, instead of calling him out for not delivering on his bar promise, she upped the stakes, saying, "We are going to start a label together."
And thus a new partnership in music was created, with Hoekstra's understanding of the changing landscape of the music delivery system and LaRae's ability to make connections with management and talent as well as her knack for knowing how to book the right acts at the right time. It was, as they say, a most natural pairing of talent.
On October 17, the public will be invited to participate in the debut celebration of their first two acts with a concert, release party, and the label debut of dizzybird records
at the Pyramid Scheme.
dizzybird's name really has two meanings, with the sophisticated one being that both words mashed together form a tribute to jazz artists Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, who was so often referred to simply as Bird.
"The other story about the origin is that Nicole once looked at me and said, 'You know what, Brian, you look like a bird,'" says Hoekstra, who later shared that LaRae's "dizzy" nickname is not because she is flighty but because she does move around and around ... and quite fast.
Armed with their collective work experience, they went immediately to work on scouting talent. One day at a basement concert a year ago they discovered the now quite hot (locally and beyond) psych music genre act Heaters.
Heaters is like any Cinderella story in the music business. They had been playing lit-by-Christmas-light shows in basements around the city for some time and releasing recording demos that would end up later getting the attention of the often-snarky (but respected) music website, Pitchfork.
With Heaters signed and recording, LaRae and Hoekstra went about looking for dizzybird's next act. And this is where it gets fascinating. Most local labels would seek to maximize a style or capture a distinct sound solely from our local crop of artists, but dizzybird is taking a different approach that is beginning to pay off.
"Gringo Starr is our other act that we signed to our label to produce a 7-inch release," says Hoekstra. "They, like so many bands, had tried the label route for some time and just like so many, had not enjoyed the experience. They were in this space after self-publishing their last album that made perfect timing for us to ask if we could produce a 7-inch release with the launch of dizzybird records."
This unique timing, combined with both LaRae and Hoekstra's knowledge of the industry and the needs of the indie acts in our world, led Gringo Star to agree to be a part of their launch.
When asking about dizzybird's mission, I received a series of stories that really did not point to an actual printable statement. But as a music lover, this is quite frankly very refreshing, since artists and those who like art often reply in examples that paint a much grander picture of the place they are heading. Artists have to enlist the imagination often and this is exactly what dizzybird does when they talk about the future.
There is still so much mystery attached to the process of what will happen next; like all art, we won't know until we are in it and see what it is. That day for many of us will be the October 17 launch party/concert.
"At our core, we want to showcase the local music we create here and in doing so begin to build a bridge over the gap," says Hoekstra, addressing the distance between our local music scene and that of the larger world of music. "We view our bridge-building as something that will enable others to easily access as they venture to our market in new, exciting ways."
This passing back and forth is something that Nicole and Brian know very well from their day jobs and is something they can apply even more meaningfully as the owners of a new music label based in Grand Rapids.
The label is already being received favorably as Heaters begins to gain attention in places as far away as the UK and France, where a repressing for this market is underway as well as talks to include a track on a compilation. And compilations are a big deal, as they are a form of curation that open the path to greater exchange via discovery. Next week Hoekstra will venture to Polyvinyl – a label known for their compilations and acts – taking with him the two new releases to be considered for inclusion in a new project coming soon from this respected label.
In the end, wherever these acts' new releases end up (or if they are chosen for other compilations), it means more copies and thus more exposure for dizzybird artists and for our region.
"If you really think about it, pysch is one of the hottest sounds, and one of the best rising acts of this indie sound can be experienced just five minutes away for any of us in the city," says Hoekstra.
LaRae has also expanded the reach for these acts, signing Heaters to a Brooklyn firm handling many of the hottest acts on the indie scene.
When asked why they'd take on all this extra work, the two are quick to reply.
"We are doing this, quite honestly, because we are very passionate about our work in music, but really the core driving us is because we love music," says LaRae.
"It's not about building a new addition on the house, either," says Hoekstra, as he reminds me of how the modern music industry has changed drastically over the last ten years.
"If it is a money maker for our artists and us, then that is a bonus," says LaRae. "I mean, why we do what we all do in this industry should first and foremost be about making the music."
As I wrap up I ask about the passion needed, and both agree that, in pursuing anything in this life, you must have a drive to make it happen and not, as I stated earlier, make bar promises. You have to deliver.
LaRae knows there are many local acts wondering when it will happen, and if it happens all at once. It is clear, if you read any art history, some acts are never celebrated or lauded until after they have passed.
"I always share the history of another local act that just signed with a national label, Alexis," says LaRae. "Here is a band starting to tour more and more but began their rise by walking up to the microphone at a Founders Taproom open mic night and debuting their first song to the Grand Rapids audience. It takes time."
And they agree that you have to be willing to put in the time.
As to Heaters potential success, if Hoekstra's mom is an indicator then maybe, just maybe, we have our next big hit.
"Oh my mom has become, like, the Heaters' biggest groupie," says Hoekstra. He says his mom loves the sound as well as the release art that features members of the band: "'That guy in the middle with the long hair and with his shirt opened is very hot,' she said."
Bar promises can come true: very soon, a new label will deliver to the stage something truly unique and thoughtfully birthed right here. When it has its debut, you can be sure it'll be bearing a new sticky label -- "Brian's mother approved."
The Future Needs All of Us.