The Story of XRA Records, 2006-2016
On January 29, 2016, we will officially issue our 50th and final release in our 10th year of operation. After that, XRA Records will sit silent and dormant, out-of-business, until there’s a thick layer of dust and cobwebs covering all the memories and overstock and one of the bigwigs from Light In The Attic or Numero Group stubs their toe on an unopened box of “We Are All Dogs” and the adventure begins all over again for a new generation.
It’s bittersweet to see the label go. Over the last ten years, this label and everyone its connected to have been a huge part of my identity and the lens through which I have seen the world (literally and figuratively). A lot of my favorite memories, and definitely the best stories I have to tell, are because of this group of people. In terms of why the label is closing up shop, it’s fairly straight forward. Most of the bands and artists that made up the core of XRA Records have grown up and moved on to other (certainly more important) endeavors, and personally – what with my full-time day job, burgeoning music stardom/podcast career, parenting duties, and tv show hosting – I’m just out of extra time to devote to keeping the label alive. I’ve loved and enjoyed this record label very much. I’m very proud of the things we accomplished, and even more proud of the lifelong friends and extended intimate relationships I’ve had with everyone involved. Which, by the way, will continue until I’m dead, label or not.
So, with all of that sap out of the way, here is a very brief history of the excitement, ignorant business practices, and artistic vision that was XRA Records…
in late 2005/early 2006 husband&wife was beginning to put the final touches on their 2nd full-length album, Operation:Surgery. Feeling the occasion and the pressure to prove that we were a legitimate act, we wanted to make a concerted effort to attract some record reviews and turn a few heads, while also remaining independent (we had previously declined a fine label’s advances by asking, “what are you offering to do for us that we can’t do for ourselves?”). So, we figured the most effective way to endorse the new record without seeming too much like self-important, arrogant salesmen was to invent our own record label and fool the professionals into giving us the time of day. We thought it would be in our best interest to have a few releases under our belt before we gave the hard push to Operation:Surgery (again, to appear more legitimate), so after a few serious meetings, we got to work right away.
Two important things that stand out to me in this nebulous beginning stage of the label are these. I remember vividly being at a show with our friends Away With Vega when we decided to go with, “Crossroads of America”, as the label name. We had been tossing name ideas around like a hot potato, trying to come up with a way to express our pride and deep connection to Indiana, while not limiting ourselves as a novelty, “Indiana-only”, vanity project (which, at the time, we very much were…but we were trying to think “big picture”). The second thing, is that I remember Will (Rose, “husband&wife”, “La Santa Muerta”), in more than one meeting, stressing the importance of building a real scene out of our label, and not just creating another vanity project. He was right, and truly, I think that’s the reason that XRA has existed as long as it has, and why it has been so important to myself and many others.
XRA-001 – Mike Adams & His Dust Collectors – [hmm]+[hmm] – 3″ CDEP :
Our very first “official” release was this limited edition of 100, hand-packaged, 3″ CD-Rs. I recorded this relatively improvised, experimental music at my parents’ house over a Thanksgiving weekend using a broken pair of headphones as a microphone. I had been sitting on it for a few months (hence, “Dust Collectors”) when we decided to crete the label. We needed a first release, one of little consequence, to cut our teeth on and get a feel for this label thing. This EP was in the right place at the right time.
XRA-002 – Rodeo Ruby Love – Your Love Has Made Everything Beautiful – CD-R :
While we were working on Operation:Surgery, forming the label, and husband&wife was playing a lot of shows with our friends from up north, Away With Vega, Zack from AWV was toying with the idea of a side project. I have distinct memories of sitting in Zack’s dorm room while he played the first ever Rodeo Ruby Love songs for me. I loved them, and I offered to record an album for him, for free, if he’d let us release it on the label. We recorded all 11 songs in two days, and it shows (sounds real bad…it’s mostly a hi-hat record). But, we all knew right away that these songs were special. Rodeo Ruby Love would go on to be one of the most accomplished and best selling acts we ever worked with.
XRA-003 – husband&wife – Operation:Surgery – CD :
Operation:Surgery is a special album for XRA. It was our catalyst for existing at all. It marked the first time we got to work with some of our musical heroes (Dan Burton from Early Day Miners, Silver Sonya dudes), and was the label’s first attempt at real artwork and professionally manufactured CDs. I have a lot of fond memories from making this record; recording drums with Dan, traveling to St. Louis with Tim for the album art photo shoot, getting notes back from Silver Sonya that said, “This record is really good, but the mixing is BAD” (I mixed it…), and renting and decorating the Bloomington Playwrite’s Project for the release show. We got a few good reviews for this album, and sold a lot of them on tour. It really felt like the label experiment was working, and also legitimized the idea to ourselves.
XRA-004 – Alexander The Great – Circumnavigation – CDEP :
After we finished Operation:Surgery, Bryant stayed behind to finish school in Bloomington while husband&wife did some pretty heavy touring. While he was home, he continued work with his previous band, Alexander The Great. Circumnavigation is the first XRA release to have been recorded in a real, professional recording studio (Russian Recording, the Nashville A-frame!). This EP was also an undeniable bellwether for Bryant’s songwriting ability and put his root down as a major player in the XRA universe. “NYC” and “Confidence” turned a lot of heads when this record came out. I have vivid memories of sitting around a table in the Indiana University library basement pitching all five band members on the flimsy, xeroxed, handmade packaging for this release.
XRA-005 – orangeyellowred – Make An Ugly Friend – CD-R :
Also while traveling with Away With Vega, their own Frank Schweikhardt had released a very compelling cassette tape as orangeyellowred. It was the polar opposite of Away With Vega’s loud, aggressive post-punk-emo. I offered Frank the same deal I’d offered Zack, and we started recording the album in my basement right away. Once again, it was done quickly and some questionable production decisions were made, but the spirit of the songs was wholly in tact and focussing in on this album with Frank was a lot of fun. My favorite recollection from these sessions- keep in mind, he was trying hard to make a very low-key, quiet, subdued record – was coming over the talkback at one point and reminding Frank that, “you still have to touch the guitar strings if you want them to make sound”.
XRA-006 – Various Artists – The Fly Over State Compilation, Vol. 1 – CD-R :
I don’t remember who had this idea initially, but I liked it. We wanted to make an exclusive compilation in order to branch out a little bit. Both in order to work with some bands we liked but didn’t have the resources to commit to a full record with, and to reach out to the fans of some bands were were tangentially connected to but didn’t necessarily get to play with often. A few bands on this comp ultimately did end up releasing albums on XRA. I think we made 250 of these, and then never repressed them. It’s life was a short flash and it was over, so it’s easily the most “forgotten” XRA release, by me anyway.
XRA-007 – Rode Ruby Love – What Loneliness Can Do To You – CDEP :
By this time, Rodeo Ruby Love had graduated from basement dwelling pick-up band to real live live act with dedicated musicians and a relatively steady line-up (Zack had “fired” the original lineup in one big sweep). Zack, having grown up in religious rural Indiana, attended Christian college, and being a critical, thoughtful guy wanted to musically explore both his secular and religious ideas, but not on the same record. So, he proposed divvying them up into this double EP to be released within a few months of each other. We could only afford to “properly” manufacture one CD at the time, so he chose this – the worldlier of the two. This was the first recording session done in my new house, and was really the beginnings of the studio setup that I’m still using to this day. There is plenty of room for improvement in these recordings, but it was a step-up for all of us, sonically, and gave us a big confidence boost in our ability to handle our own recordings and creative ideas. My favorite memory from these recording sessions was driving around town collecting empty bottles, then breaking them all on a tarp in my garage during the freakout section of “Your Friends”.
XRA-008 – Rodeo Ruby Love – Honest To God – CDEP :
Then this was the more religiously rooted of the double EP. It was recorded in Kokomo, IN by CJ Sutton. I felt like this EP opened a weird door toward some serious religious questioning among the folks in our circle at the time. Not that it wasn’t happening already, but I think Zack lead the way here in being very public and open about it, something he excels at anyway. I was a little disappointed that this had to be released the way it was – paper sleeve + stamp on a CD-R – but it ended up adding to this one’s mystique in an interesting way. For a time (before digital streaming of everything all over the internet), it was one of our more elusive/sought after releases. I think that’s because after we made the initial batch, it was kind of a drag to keep up with all the stamping and cd burning…
XRA-009 – husband&wife – 2007 Tour EP – CDEP :
Around this time, husband&wife was preparing for a big tour, and we didn’t want the release schedule to suffer too much while we were preparing and were subsequently MIA for a few weeks. We also hadn’t released any music since Operation:Surgery and didn’t want to let too much time pass, but we weren’t ready at all to make a new LP. So, we decided to update some songs from our pre-XRA debut album that we still regularly played live. I think the new recordings were a vast improvement. This was in an addition of 200, hand-packed CD-Rs…three Eps in a row, I don’t know what we were thinking. Here’s a piece of trivia, I borrowed Jason Molina’s (Songs:Ohia, Magnolia Electric Co) electric guitar to use on this EP.
XRA-010 – Canterbury Effect – We Are All Dogs – CD :
We’d been big fans of Canterbury Effect for a long time leading up to this. The scene that they were a part of in Terre Haute around 2001/2002 was a big influence on us and informed a lot of the ways that we thought about this label. They’d recently, fully reformed and we were excited at the challenge of offering to release their (rumored) new album. I remember Tim, Will, and I sitting down with Alan and Levi outside of a show at the Indiana University Memorial Union to discuss this release. They were very cool and excited about working on this thing with us and we couldn’t believe it! This felt like a big deal for us; a band that we loved, with a following, with a great record, outside our immediate scene, not only willing but excited to work with us. It was thrilling. After these CDs were pressed, and before the release date – it’d been proofread by Alan, who designed it, the band who approved it, and myself who submitted and received the order – my buddy Matt picked up one of the CDs one night and within ten seconds asks, “The Water’s Warm and It’s Getting Wamer?”. I was mortified.
XRA-011 – Alexander The Great – Circumnavigation (Reissue) – CD :
After the initial pressing of Circumnavigation sold out and it became increasingly clear That Alexander The Great was going to stick around for a while, AND we were so tired of hand-packing CD-Rs, we decided to embark on our first ever re-release project. I went with the AtG guys down to the basement of The Statehouse (a short lived Bloomington house venue run by Bryant that easily deserves 10,000 words of it’s own) and we set up a makeshift recording studio to record some bonus material; a few reworked songs from the EP, plus a new one. This was also the first time I’d worked in such close proximity to David Woodruff, whom the fellas hired to do the reissue artwork, still some of my favorite XRA packaging. We never released these bonus tracks digitally, so this CD was the only place to hear them.
XRA-012 – Chemic – Fever On The Forest Floor – Digital :
Chemic had already self-released a short run of CD-R copies of Fever On The Forest Floor by the time we came sniffing around. We had become friends with Scott after he booked husband&wife for a few shows in Louisville (and bought us the biggest pizza I think I’ve ever seen). I remember being so impressed by not only the songs, but also the sound of this record. It sounded so finished and right (and pro). It felt like we’d struck gold. I couldn’t believe these guys hadn’t already been snatched up by some real record label, or that they were enthusiastic to be working with us. We released this album digitally and sold their CD copies through our mailorder as a distro item. This was our first full release with a band from outside Indiana.
XRA-013 – Rodeo Ruby Love – vs The Great American Cities – CD :
Meanwhile, Rodeo Ruby Love continued to be one of our most consistent and hardest working bands. They’d been touring regularly, Zack never stopped writing songs, and we began to get more and more confident investing more of our money in their releases. This felt like it would be a big one for all of us. We returned to my home studio to record this album. I remember these sessions being a lot of fun, and while the studio had it’s drawbacks, this felt like the first session where we were able to use the space’s limitations to our creative advantage. Or anyway, to turn them into strengths. In particular, I remember recording Zack’s acoustic guitar with him standing in the center of an empty room, about six feet from a matched stereo pair of microphones, and how that solved a problem for us regarding fitting the choppy, rhythmic, acoustic guitars in the mix AND keeping their energy high. Minutiae, I guess, but it felt like a revelation at the time. This was also the first time we’d ever recorded more material than we needed for a record and left some songs on “the cutting room floor”, as the saying goes.
XRA-014 – husband&wife – Quick Nudes: Demos – CD-R :
We had poured a lot of money into the last three releases, and husband&wife was doing very well on tour but struggling to finish a new record. So, we decided to return to the economy of hand-packaging for Quick Nudes and released this collection of demos and rough ideas as a teaser and a fund raiser for a new husband&wife record and further XRA releases. It also bought us a little bit of time to keep working on writing the new album. I’m especially glad that Tim’s song, “If Only To See”, made it on this release. We probably recorded 4 or 5 different versions of this song but could never quite get it to feel right. It ultimately was left in the dust, but I was always fond of that tune.
XRA-015 – Maps – The Wick And The Fire – CD :
Much like the story of Fever…, Maps had already recorded and recently self-released The Wick And The Fire on their own and been selling it around Nashville, their home. husband&wife had been doing a fair amount of touring in the south with these guys (though I really don’t remember how we first met…), and we all hit it off right away. In fact, Pete played a guitar solo on “(More) Dissonant Children” from husband&wife’s 2007 Tour EP. Will was especially a big fan of the music these guys were making and it was a fun departure from our routine to release an instrumental album that was heavier than most of our previous releases. Fun fact, Chris recorded all of these drum tracks from memory, alone, before the rest of the band even entered the studio. That’s madness.
XRA-016 – Away With Vega – A Year At Home – CDEP :
This release seemed simultaneously impossible and inevitable. We had been running around with Away With Vega since long before XRA was even a spark in our minds. They’d self-released their first two albums almost in tandem with the first two husband&wife records. By this time, having been so involved with their side projects, and touring together so frequently, it almost felt like only a matter of when this partnership was going to be official. The problem was, by this time, Away With Vega was beginning to unwind a bit. The reports we were getting from the band was – while everyone was happy with the recordings – it was becoming harder and harder to keep the group together and find the inspiration for new tunes. This somewhat explains the suspiciously Rodeo Ruby Love-ish song at the end of this EP. Away With Vega didn’t last too much longer after this swan song, but I’m really happy we got to be an official part of their history.
XRA-017 – Alexander The Great – Faces Change – CD :
Following the success and the tease of releasing two different versions of Circumnavigation, and seeing the band develop an ever-sharper live show, we were all very excited about the first Alexander The Great full-length. This was another record that, even leading up to it, felt like it was going to be an important one for us. Releasing this album sort of felt like cementing another pillar in the foundation of XRA. AtG were (relatively) young, and injected a broader sense of excitement, all around, into the label community. For me, “Tree of Knowledge” still stands as one of the most moving and impactful songs I think we ever put out. Due to an either boneheaded or unavoidable scheduling conflict, AtG was recording this album during a week when husband&wife was going on tour (Frank Schweikhardt filled in on bass for Bryant). We stopped by the recording studio on our way out of town for the first show. It was a lot of fun hearing the early mixes of these songs, witnessing these guys at work, and seeing how excited they were about it.
XRA-018 – husband&wife – Dark Dark Woods – CD :
After some long, intense demo sessions in Bryant’s secluded loft apartment, husband&wife were finally ready to make a new record. We decided it was time to head into a real, professional, recording studio. We low-balled Jake at Farm Fresh with our best, meager offer and he had mercy on us. These songs were well rehearsed from the loft and being on tour (an intentional, money-saving plan), so the sessions were fun and went smoothly. My favorite moments were; fine tuning the sound of the playing cards in the bike tire, Bryant conducting horn arrangements with Aaron and Pat in the basement while we tracked overdubs, and generally recording everything as “live” as possible in that big, beautiful room. We felt like a real band! Also, the photo sessions for this album art were amazing and exciting. Tim and I trespassed on a field the night before the shoot and staked the ground with the “Dark Dark Woods” lettering, made from rebar that Will had picked up at the salvage yard earlier in the week. Will’s co-worker was the balloon pilot and he gave us a great deal on the flight, and two real-deal photographer friends of ours were on hand to shoot the pictures. We started at 5am and everything was cleaned up and we were gone without a trace by 1 or 2pm. Oh, and the album release show for this record! It was our first time selling out The Bishop (or was it the Cinemat then?), and we dropped hundreds of balloons from the ceiling just as the show started. It was magical.
XRA-019 – Starflyer 59 – Starflyer 59 (Silver) – LP :
I had been trying to convince the other fellas that we should be releasing vinyl LPs for a while when we had the idea to do this reissue. They were not completely sold on the idea, so we stuck to CDs for the most part. But, thanks to an investment from Jimi Mann (Either/Or), we were able to experiment with our first official vinyl release with this reissue of Starflyer 59’s debut album. Sf59 has been my favorite band since I was in high school, and the same goes for Jimi. We talked to the folks at Tooth & Nail Records and secured the license to press this LP (another first for us). Ultimately, the record came out looking and sounding really great, but behind the curtain we made a lot of mistakes cutting our teeth on this LP. For one, the first batch of 75-100 or so preorders went out before we really had the post office figured out…media mail, who knew? We also made the dumb error of letting the LP go completely out-of-print, without hanging on to a short stack of copies as an insurance policy. They’re now going for around $100 a copy on ebay.
XRA-020 – Frank Schweikhardt – Life But No More – LP :
A while after Make An Ugly Friend came out, Frank had grown a little tired of the orangeyellowred moniker and wanted to make a stylistic shift as well. I remember him asking me about a band name in my living room one evening. I told him “Frank Schweikardt” was unique, interesting and google-able enough that he didn’t need a ‘band name’. I don’t think he loved the idea at first, and he never told me why, but I guess he decided that his given name was good enough. Life But No More was the artistic moment where I felt like Frank evolved into Frank. He went from being good at sounding like his influences to being good at sounding like himself. His new sound was uniquely expressive and feels very much like Frank to me. He also took his own photos for this release, which might be my top favorite XRA album cover.
XRA-021 – Metavari – Be One Of Us And Hear No Noise – CD :
We had peripherally known Metavari for a few years by the time they were ready to release Be One Of Us And Hear No Noise. Will had gone to college with Ty’s wife at the time, I knew Ty from years of being involved in the same northern Indiana hardcore scene, and I’d seen Nate’s punk band open for the Huntingtons many years before. I don’t really remember how we initially became chummy with these dudes, but it was a fast friendship. Of course, Nate is well known for his visual art, but especially at the time, his chops as a musician and bandleader were severely underrated. Working on this release was another moment where I felt like we’d hit the jackpot. This was a truly high-quality release, all around. To this day it remains one of our best sellers and most critically praised.
XRA-022 – Either/Or – Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 – Digital :
Jimi Mann has been one of my best friends since sometime around 1997. We’ve played in several bands together, lived together (a lot), worked and traveled together. He was in my wedding. Our friendship has remained mostly very steady over the years, but we did have a bit of band-related tension that put some strain on our relationship for a while. I only bring that up because I’m very proud to say that even through the tension and hurt feelings we found a way to continue playing music together, which at times (for me) felt very therapeutic, and at other times felt like hard work. It’s also basically the story of this release. Our falling out had occurred just prior to the formation of XRA, and so it always felt a bit awkward to approach the subject of us releasing Jimi’s music, though I continued to love and record and play on his albums. At some point though, that tension melted away enough that it didn’t seem to matter anymore, and Jimi had three records that had never been released or distributed digitally. It felt very good to compile this massive, ridiculous, hilarious, and artistically wild and weird collection. It also felt good to officially have Either/Or join the XRA crew. I don’t think people ever really knew what to make of this release, but it’s by far the best deal we ever made with our fans/customers. Also, an Either/Or show is a baffling, confusing experience that I love to witness.
XRA-023 – Various Artists – Laminar Excursion Monthly – Subscription Series :
Laminar Excursion Monthly was by far the most ambitious ongoing undertaking we ever made. This was our first of many partnerships with Jared Cheek’s Flannelgraph Records. We were looking for a relatively light excuse to work with some of our favorite established artists without requiring too much of a commitment from them (as to not scare them off). Jared and I concocted the scheme of a limited edition monthly music subscription service. We crunched A LOT of numbers trying to figure out what format would be fun, interesting, and affordable. We settled on 3″ CD-Rs and made a huge master list of folks we wanted to ask to participate. A lot of people said “no, thanks”, or weren’t able to do it, or didn’t have material for us, but I’m really proud of the list of folks we did get to contribute to this series. Damien Jurado, Richard Swift, Bexar Bexar, Danny Paul Grody, Blaster The Rocketman (a virtual reunion record), and many more – in addition to the artists we were already in cahoots with. We ended up with 26, ~20 minute CDs in all. Each month, Jared and I would burn 200 Cd-Rs, one at a time, stamp the artist info on the disc face, then hand cut and assemble the artwork (plus, Jared collaged all 100 storage boxes by hand). We did this every single month for an entire year. It was nuts. Then, once that was done, we had to package and mail the CDs to the subscribers. I remember one particular instance when the postal workers at the Clear Creek Post Office opened an additional window to accommodate our massive haul and very pointedly asked us to “call ahead next time”.
XRA-024 – husband&wife – Don’t Stop b/w I Got Fat (Matt Coleman Remix) – Digital :
This release sort of fell into our laps and was meant to begin another kind of series, but it got lost in the shuffle. Out of the blue one day, our pal Matt Coleman contacted us with a cover of husband&wife’s “I Got Fat” that he’d recorded for the fun of it. Meanwhile, husband&wife had recently recorded a cover of Chemic’s “Don’t Stop” just for the fun of it. We thought it’d be a good idea for husband&wife to start a series of “Zero-Inch Singles” – digital only single releases comprised mostly of covers and guest appearances – but this ended up being the only one. husband&wife actually recorded two additional songs for another 0″ release, but this idea was never prioritized and didn’t get off the ground (those two songs eventually did appear on XRA-044). Incidentally, this 0″ single was the only release for which we ever received a “cease and desist” letter! Apparently, there a European label out there somehwere with a stake claimed in the “Zero Inch” name (and it’s variations). They were very cool to us, but kindly let us know that it was their domain. I think our compromise was using the – 0″ – signification, but I forget exactly how it was settled.
XRA-025 – Rodeo Ruby Love – This Is Why We Don’t Have Nice Things – CD :
Rodeo Ruby Love only continued to solidify their aesthetic more and more. They were developing from a basement folk collective into more of a fully realized rock band with every release. At this point, they’d had a strong, steady lineup for a few years, had really sharpened their live show over the course of months and months of touring, and had a dedicated and growing cult following. They were also beginning to attract the attention of other labels and music industry folks. To date, this certainly felt like our heftiest release. We had a lot invested in RRL, and really believed in what they were doing. Not long after the record came out, Rodeo Ruby Love were offered a spot on a massive tour opening for Streetlight Manifesto and Reel Big Fish. Crazy, I know. husband&wife were on tour when Kurt called to let me know that one of the conditions of the RRL tour was to let Streetlight Manifesto’s new label (Pentimento) re-release This Is Why We Don’t Have Nice Things. This was the first time we – as a label – were having to deal with hard “business” questions. Of course, we couldn’t stand in the way of Rodeo’s opportunities, but we also didn’t want to lose this record we loved. Rodeo, going to bat for us, asked if Streetlight would settle for a commitment from RRL to Pentimento for the next record, but it wasn’t meant to be. In the end, Rodeo Ruby Love ended up licensing the record to Pentimento in exchange for the spot on the tour, and an undisclosed amount of money to XRA to purchase our investment back from us. We also had to cease selling the record or listing it in our catalog. It was painful, but fair. We all (on both sides) tried hard not to let the easy, misguided feelings of jealousy, resentment, or bitterness overtake us too much. It was hard sometimes for everyone to remain understanding and supportive, but I’m happy to say that I’m still in regular contact with everyone from Rodeo Ruby Love, and we’ve even worked on a handful of music projects together since then.
XRA-026 – Metavari – Studies Vol. 1 : Loosen The Bands – One-Sided 12″ EP :
After the success of the Starflyer LP and Frank’s debut, we were feeling confident in our ability to produce quality vinyl releases, and our fans’ interest in buying them. Metavari came to us with this EP they’d made based on field recordings from their days on tour. We didn’t know it at the time, but this was a real transitional record for Metavari, and looking back, I love the way it stylistically bridges the gap between Be One Of Us And Hear No Noise and their latest, Moonless. We’d worked with a number of truly “ambient” artists on the LEM series, but this was the first time an ambient – pure atmosphere – record had come out of our own camp. I love everything about this record. It’s gorgeous, both sonically and visually, it’s was a risk and a leap to produce, and they sold out pretty much immediately. Once, a friend of ours organized a record label installation at our
local history museum. This was the very first thing I gave her. It’s a real artifact.
XRA-027 – Bro. Stephen – Patrons Of The Arts – 7″ :
We had a few full-album releases and promotional campaigns under our belt by the time that Scott had fully transitioned from Chemic into Bro. Stephen. He was also not in a big hurry to get his record out in time for a particular show, or tour, or other pressing arrangement. So, for the first time, it felt like we were finally able to devote the proper amount of energy and time to promoting one particular release. This was the beginning of that. The songs on this 7″ were all recorded in the same sessions as the Baptist Girls LP, but we wanted to release them early in order to introduce folks to Bro. Stephen, and to hopefully generate a bit of interest in the forthcoming LP. I have no idea if it worked or not, but I’m happy we did it (it’s a little hard to gauge things like that)! If you listen closely, on “Previous Things”, you can hear the rain hitting the metal roof of the barn we were recording in.
XRA-028 – Starflyer 59 – Old – LP:
Like I said before, XRA-019 was a real success for us. Both in terms of being a hot selling item, but also in getting to work with my musical heroes, Starflyer 59. We knew that there were more great Starflyer records that hadn’t been issued on vinyl, and Old was one of them. So, we decided to return to the well one more time. It was a novelty item as it is (Starflyer fans already owned the CD version, no doubt), so we decided to do this release as a picture disc, sacrificing the back cover for the incredible photos from the original CD packaging. I love the way this thing came out, and it sounds fantastic. And you’d better believe that we did hang on to a few of these…
XRA-029 – Doug Burr – O Ye Devastator – LP :
In working with Starflyer on a couple releases now, we’d attracted a bit of attention from and struck up an online friendship with their former bass player and Velvet Blue Music label dude, Jeff Cloud. Cloud knew we’d been wading into the waters of vinyl releases lately, so he approached me about jointly releasing this Doug Burr LP. I was familiar with Doug’s previous album, and also with the fellas from Monahans (who helped Doug produce this new LP). So, we jumped at the chance to work not only with Doug, but also with Velvet Blue. During the production of this LP, the record jackets came in and I noticed only after assembling about half of them that there was a typo on the jacket. Thanksfully, this one was not my fault or due to my negligence, so the printing company printed new ones for us asap with no additional cost. (See if you can spot the typo by flipping your Sheepy Love EP jacket inside out…reduce, reuse, recycle)
XRA-030 – husband&wife – Proud Flesh – CD/LP :
Those long sessions that husband&wife spent in Bryant’s loft not only helped to finally get Dark Dark Woods off the ground, but they actually yielded a lot more material than we were ready to use. So, we made the decision early on to focus on making two distinct records. One, DDW, would be the subdued, low-key, toe-in-the-slow-core-water sort of record we were known for, and the other would be more of the midwest-live-show-rock-record we had been slowly evolving into. Much like DDW, we recorded this album in a real studio (this time Russian Recording), and as “live” as possible. For most of the record we were all in the same room together. We were very sharp when the time came to make this album. We cut 15 songs in 5 days. Madness. This record opened a lot of doors for husband&wife, and redefined us in a few ways. It feels immediate and well thought out, I’m very proud of this record.
XRA-031 – Sleeping Bag – Adams Demos – Cassette :
We’d known and loved Dave Segedy for a long time. First, as the drummer for northern Indiana bands like Arrah And The Ferns and This Story, more recently in one of our local favorites, The Native Young, and of course his solo output as Whoa Bro Awesome. Dave had recently picked up an interest in playing bass guitar when he contacted me about recording some demos for him one afternoon. Even as we were tracking this stuff, I wasn’t entirely sure what Dave was up to. But, once we were finished and everything had taken shape, it was obvious that Dave had a real knack for catchy songwriting. Of course, after these sessions Dave formed Sleeping Bag into a real force to be reckoned with, making fans out of just about everyone. I’m glad Dave eventually asked us to release this cassette. It’s a very cool look into the formation of such a great band and Dave’s ability as a songwriter.
XRA-032 – Alexander The Great – Native Tongues – 7″ :
Between tours with husband&wife, Alexander The Great, and finishing college, Bryant had spent a few summers working at a camp in Maine and falling in love. I’ll try not to spill too many details of his personal life (the song speaks for itself), but when he came back to Bloomington he quickly reassembled the AtG dudes and put this song together. “Native Tongues” truly is a beautiful song, and although I – like everyone – would have liked to see Alexander The Great put together one last full-length record, I’m actually happy that this song was released as a stand-alone single. It’s very powerful and stacks up neatly right next to some of Bryant’s best work – namely “NYC” and “Tree of Knowledge”. As usual with these guys, I have a very fond recollection of stopping by the recording studio while they were working on this 7″ and having a really good time. I remember Pat taking the reigns a little more than usual during the B-side sessions and it was really fun to watch him get so excited about these new tunes.
XRA-033 – Bro. Stephen – Baptist Girls – CD/LP :
After taking our time and happily agonizing over the details, Bro. Stephen’s debut full-length, Baptist Girls, was finally ready to see the light of day. It was the first time anyone had ever given me full creative license over the production of their album. We tracked all of the acoustic guitars and Scott’s vocals live in 4 days in one my granddad’s empty barns where we set up a makeshift studio. Some drumming and guitar overdubs happened in the barn as well, but the rest came back to Bloomington with us where we slowly finished it on-and-off over a period of about 2 years. I really love this record. Not only am I proud of the way it sounds and how it came out sonically, but it really is a record like none other I’ve heard, and that’s due to Scott’s amazing talent as a songwriter. He’s got a real gift and a unique voice. The general consensus at XRA headquarters was that this was going to be another big one for us. Cheyenne Mize guested on the record, critics were responding well to it, even Jim James had gotten behind it a bit. We poured a lot of resources into this record, giving it our full in-house press push, and pressing it on CDs and LPs (a first for us). Unfortunately though, when you spend two-plus years making a record, your circumstances can change a lot in that time. Soon after the record came out, Scott had some opportunities to chase a dream he’d had for a long time…he was becoming a bonafide certified California wine maker. Obviously, this dramatic life-shift tended to (rightfully) take priority over Bro. Stephen, and the touring on this album was limited. Though I’m certain Scott made a lot of fans with this LP, I never felt like it really got the attention it deserved.
XRA-034 – Candy Claws + Mike Adams At His Honest Weight – Sing Starflyer 59 – 10″
XRA-035 – New Terrors – Mother – CD
XRA-036 – She Does Is Magic – My Height In Heels – CD/LP
XRA-045 – Via Vegrandis – Via Vegrandis – CDEP :
At this time, we had just entered into a relationship with a brand new national distributor, which meant our releases would be much more readily available to record shops all over the country. At the same time, Jared at Flannelgraph was beginning to do a few more high profile releases. In an effort to help Flannelgraph (and by extension, ourselves since everything Flannelgraph does is super cool), we offered to “co-release” any of Jared’s releases so he could piggy back off of our distro situation. This essentially meant that Jared was doing the legwork and we were reaping the benefits by slapping our logo on the final product and doing a bit of paperwork. I can’t believe he fell for this arrangement. What a rube.
XRA-037 – Prayer Breakfast – Family Business – Cassette :
This one, on the other hand – much like Laminar Excursion – was a full-on collaboration. Jared and I had been playing in Prayer Breakfast for a long while by the time this record was ready to be released. Because this band was so casual in general, we’d taken many many months (years?) to complete this album. Mike D. was moving away soon, so we wanted to get the record released while the band was still relatively known about. We decided since there wasn’t much hope of playing shows and recouping costs, we should do the album on affordable cassette tapes rather than costly LPs. I really love this album a lot, mostly because I associate it with pure good memories, including the following; recording it on Halloween night, Justin using an upside-down (he’s left handed) acoustic bass to track the whole record just because it was in the studio when we arrived, and taking the album art photos at the Bloomington Fun Frolic. This band was simultaneously some of the most pure fun I’ve ever had playing music, and also forced me to become a better musician myself. You don’t just fumble your way through a song with Mike Dixon, Dave Segedy, Justin Vollmar, AND Jared Cheek. You have to figure out what the heck you’re doing.
XRA-038 – Wet Blankets – Sheepy Love – One-Sided 12″ EP :
I had gotten to know Aaron Denton a little bit while he was a member of Osteoferocious with my old pal Erik Fox (Rodeo Ruby Love). After Osteo called it quits, Aaron started putting some songs together for an as-yet-unnamed new band he wanted to form. At some point he had enough songs to begin making an album and he hired Burke Sullivan (New Terrors, husband&wife) to record the thing. They used my home studio, so I was getting a nice preview of all of the tunes every night for about a week, and I loved them. Aaron’s stuff has a real effortless dreamy quality that was different from anything else we’d done on XRA. I proposed the idea of releasing the 5 songs on a one-sided 12″, and Aaron went for it. We screen printed the covers on the inside-out, misprinted, Doug Burr jackets with Janelle Beasley one night at the Bloomington Print Collective. This is another one of our releases that I felt was somewhat overlooked, at least compared to how great it is. But truthfully, XRA never had a ton of luck selling EPs in general.
XRA-039 – Mike Adams & His Dust Collectors – I’ll Be Somewhere Listening For My Name – CD-R :
Another in the “Dust Collectors” series. I made this record soon after my son was born. I’d been getting interested in cassette tape-loops and manipulation, distortion as ambience, and drone as therapy. My son spent some time in the hospital after he was born, and they often used a machine called a transcutaneous doppler to aurally check his blood pressure. It sounded amazing, so after we left the hospital, I contacted the company in Ohio who made them to ask if they had any scratch-n-dent versions I could buy for cheap. They didn’t have any (they repair the old ones and donate them to Doctors Without Borders), but they were very helpful and let me know that they’re often available on ebay. They even offered to send me the necessary attachments for free if I were to find a machine online. I found one on ebay for $12. When it arrived, I assembled this tape loop, created a distorted synth drone with three keyboards, and sang improvised melodies through the doppler machine for 45 minutes. I made 30 copies of this record with recycled CD wallets, spray paint, elmer’s glue, and drywall patch tape. I also did one live performance of this material while a nearby bartender mocked and made fun of me throughout the set. A friend of mine took some video of the set and named the file, “Mike Adams In Hell”, before he sent it to me. Overall, I’m really proud of this release and happy with how it came out. But, 30 copies was probably about what it deserved.
XRA-040 – husband&wife – I’ll Wait b/w Don’t Rush – 7″
XRA-040X – husband&wife – Acoustic Recordings – Digital :
As I’ve mentioned here a few times, though this label began as a vehicle for husband&wife, husband&wife was never especially efficient at making records. Will left the band after Proud Flesh, and while we continued to tour, coming up with new drummers and new material was getting harder and harder. After we rented a secret recording location exclusively to write a new record, with a new, more collaborative approach, we realized that things were not going how we’d hoped. It became clear that we were all individually moving on from the band and that it was probably time to hang it up as gracefully as possible. We decided to take our two favorite (or most complete?) songs from the secret studio sessions and release them on a 7″ as a final farewell. We paid for the 7″ single with a kickstarter campaign. One of the rewards for kickstarter backers was an option of an acoustic recording of any husband&wife song of your choosing. We assumed there would be 5 or 6 favorites that A LOT of people would choose, so we’d have to – at most – record ten new versions of our old songs. Easy. Much to our surprise, not only was the campaign a huge success, but 35 different songs were chosen for acoustic renderings. A while after the campaign, we released the acoustic collection (all recorded live by Tim and Myself at my house) digitally as a companion piece to the 7″. These sessions were a lot of fun, and were an unexpectedly therapeutic way to bring husband&wife to an end.
XRA-041 – Frank Schweikhardt – Kitchen Table – LP : Speaking of inefficient record making process…Frank Schweikhardt had been cooking up a new one all this time. Unlike Life But No More – where Frank and drummer, Zac Canale, made the whole record and then turned it over to Tim and I for additional production – Frank invited Tim and myself into the studio for the writing and recording process. In a funny way, I think turning over that bit of control really gave Frank’s vision room to develop and he made his best record yet. Musically, Kitchen Table, is one of my favorite XRA releases, just because it further pushed Frank’s ideas into uniquely Frank territory. It was also exciting to release this album because Frank delivered it to us at a time when the core of XRA seemed to be dissolving a bit. Alexander the Great and husband&wife had called it quits, Rodeo Ruby Love left, Metavari was M.I.A., and even Frank wrote a majority of this record outside the country. I remember it feeling very good, though, to release Frank’s new album at a time when it sort of seemed unlikely. Especially when it was as good as this record is.
XRA-042 – Living Well – With The One That I Love – Euchre Deck :
While it was strange to feel the old-guard dissipating a little, newer stuff like Wet Blankets and Bro. Stephen were certainly keeping us excited and interested in putting out records. After Alexander the Great broke up, Bryant and Ben decided they wanted to keep writing songs together, but to inject it with with some new energy and a new lineup. They formed Living Well. After recording a handful of demos at my place, they put a proper band together and began tracking a new full-length at Sleepwalk Recording with Eric Day. CD sales were waning for us in general, and since we knew Living Well weren’t going to be able to do much touring, we wanted to come up with a fun way to release the record without the huge investment that vinyl requires. Being the Indiana enthusiasts that they are (Bryant has both an Indiana state flag tattoo, and a City of Bloomington tattoo…), we decided to release the album as a limited edition Euchre Deck (Indiana’s favorite card game) + mp3 download. The idea being that hanging around drinking and playing cards with your pals is the perfect way to listen to this album. That not being enough, we also decided to use the ‘album cover’, a photo shot in Bryant’s apartment, as a puzzle that could be assembled using the cards as the puzzle pieces. These sold out quickly, and I don’t know how many Euchre games they’ve been used in, but I think they’re one of the slickest looking artifacts we ever made.
XRA-043 – Mount Eerie – Live In Bloomington, September 30, 2011 – LP :
I would describe my relationship with Phil Elverum as “very limited”, but I get the impression that “very limited” is a lot more than most people get. Several years ago, a mutual friend let me know that Mount Eerie was looking for a show in Bloomington and that he was unable to book it himself. He asked if I was interested, which of course, I was. That began a years long point of contact between Mount Eerie and myself where Phil would casually contact me whenever he wanted to play in town, and I would do everything I could to make it happen. One of these shows happened to take place at Russian Recording, a real, professional, recording studio where every show is recorded very well. After the show, I timidly asked Phil if he might be interested in releasing the recording in some way with XRA. He was open to the idea, but wanted to spend some time with the recording to be sure he was happy with it. A few months later I asked him about it, and while he was still interested, the timing wasn’t quite right as he’d recently released a couple of new LPs of his own. About a year after that, I went back to Russian to properly mix a portion of the record with Mike B. I sent the mix to Phil and asked him one more time about releasing a live LP. He was into it, and very happy with the way the mix came out. Every time I’ve ever booked Mount Eerie, the band lineup and performance have been completely different and exciting. I’m really happy that XRA got to be a part of preserving this short-lived version of the band, and got to make XRA history a very small part of Mount Eerie history.
XRA-044 – husband&wife – I Know You Know What I Know – Cassette :
Even though husband&wife had officially called it quits, we still had a whole lot of unreleased material that we wanted to turn loose in order to cap the whole thing off. We had the starts and scraps from the Secret Studio Sessions, the lost 0″ single, B-sides from Proud Flesh, demos and loft sessions from every album before it, unclassifiable extant recordings…In all, it ended up being over an hour and a half of “lost” material. For me, however, the fun part of this release was compiling the liner notes which consisted of a lot of very old photos and tour stories and memories. It was cool to look back at the early days of husband&wife – the naiveté, the excitement, the endless possibilities, the choices made – and then to see how far we’d come before we pulled the plug on the thing. It left me feeling very proud.
XRA-046 – Serhal – Golden/Whiten – 2 x Cassette :
While my wife and I were away for a time in 2011, Chad Serhal asked if he could move into my studio for a week and make a new record (his 39th). Having been a fan and friend of his for a long time, I happily obliged him. Soon after, when Chad sent me a rough mix of “Golden Heart”, I literally asked my wife to drop what she was doing and come into the room with me to listen because I knew I was hearing one of my new favorite songs. Not long after that, Chad enlisted me to help him finishing tracking his 40th album, and we had a ton of fun collaborating for the first time. That left Chad with two unreleased albums. So, once again, we teamed up with Flannelgraph to release Golden and Whiten as a double cassette tape. These were also Chad’s first recordings under his own real name, Serhal. Of course, I’m very biased, but these are some of Chad’s best songs and tightest recordings and I think this release proved (to me, at the very least) that this label and the group of people surrounding it still had plenty of great and exciting music to offer. And, if nothing else, I still highly recommend you hear “Golden Heart”.
XRA-047 – Annabel;Lee – I Saw It All Unfold: The Complete Recordings of Annabel;Lee – LP+7″+DVD :
Annabel;Lee were one of my very favorite bands when I was a teenager, and I’ve consistently listened to their recordings over the years for nostalgia’s sake, but also because they are truly expressive and great. I’d wanted to put some kind of release together gathering up all of their loose mp3s and demo tapes, unreleased EP, and proper full length since the very early days of the label and it was something that would always pop back into my mind during slower, less active periods at XRA. There were three things that finally pushed this release out of my brain and into reality; Chad Serhal showing up to my house with a VHS cassette of Annabel;Lee live shows, Tim Bushong discovering that he still had the original unmastered recording sessions, and the amazing Auris Apothecary‘s mutual excitement and involvement in the project (Bruce at Auris Apothecary and I had gone to High School together, and he loved this band just as much as I did). We divided the labor and the cost between the labels, and I’m extremely happy with the end result. This release feels like a real, appropriate, celebration of something that inspired us a great deal.
XRA-048 – Snack Mountain & The Boys Who Live – The Magic In Me – Cassette :
I knew Zack Melton and Burke Sullivan had been working on some new recordings simply because of conversations we’d had and because of things I’d heard through the grapevine. It had been years since these two guys had made any music together, but it made perfect sense that the tie that bound them together still would be their mutual love for Harry Potter. Ever since I’ve known these idiots, they’ve been obsessed with those children’s books (full disclosure; I’ve never read the books or seen the movies. I’m sure they’re wonderful). When Zack approached me about releasing this EP, I was cautious at first simply because I didn’t know how joke-y the music was going to be. Then, he sent me some recordings, and they were absolutely no joke. It’s the perfect marriage of Zack’s tried-and-true melodicism and Burke’s sharp and exploratory production sense. I remember being especially excited when I heard “Under” for the first time. Of course, one of the main reasons these guys love the Potter story so much is because of the meaning and application that can be drawn from it, and I think they nailed that sentiment here. I was also very happy to release this record as a public expression of the effort Zack and I were putting into repairing our somewhat damaged relationship. That may not have been noticed (or cared about) by anyone else at all, but it was very important to me.
XRA-049 – Bro. Stephen – The Shape – Digital :
Things were beginning to slow rapidly for XRA. In 2014, we only put out two releases, barely. One was the husband&wife rarities cassette – decidedly not “new” material (and it was officially released on 1/1/14), the other was, The Shape. Though he’d moved all the way to California to make wine by this time, Scott wasn’t quite finished with Bro. Stephen. As was becoming the trend, he hired our old pal Burke Sullivan to record these two brand new tracks. They split the sessions between visits to Louisville and Bloomington and quickly made these recordings before Scott had to head back to California. Being only two songs, and knowing that touring was not an option for Scott, we decided to release these as a digital-only single – much like XRA-024. I admit that two new songs in the span of a few years is a sadistic tease, especially when they’re as good as these and hinting at new directions, but I prefer to think of these tunes as a reminder of what Scott is still capable of, even in his new life out west. And another thing, I saw Scott recently when he was briefly in town for a wedding. He played a few new songs for me while we were chatting in my living room…
XRA-050 – husband&wife – Live At The Bishop – 2xLP+Concert Film :
And that brings us to number fifty. At some point – and I’m really not sure when – it became clear to me that unless I was prepared to expend a lot more energy on XRA (a scarce resource in my life these days), then the label was likely going to peter out and fade away. I didn’t like the idea of this thing shriveling and being forgotten, and I personally tend to like clear beginnings and endings, so I decided to use the last of our money (and our releasable material) for one final hurrah. It dawned on me that 2016 would be our 10th year, and that whatever came next would be our 50th release, so everything was lining up for a real satisfying finale. The one thing we still had hanging around that hadn’t been released yet was the live recording – audio and video – of husband&wife’s last show. There are a few reasons why this seems like a very appropriate final release to me. For one, husband&wife was the catalyst for XRA Records. If not for husband&wife trying to fool the music industry, this whole ten year, life affirming thing may not have existed. It seemed good to celebrate the label by celebrating the band. The other, more important reason, is that – especially the video – feels very much like XRA distilled. It reminds me of every XRAfest, the excitement before every release, and the constant involvement of SO MANY important people. Seeing the size and enthusiasm of that crowd is also an excellent reminder for me that, even though I spent the entire existence of this label with my nose buried deep in it’s inner workings, XRA grew out to be something very special to quite a few people. It began as a well-meaning and selfish attempt at gaining attention by an unknown band in a basement and evolved into a meaningful, impactful scene with a life and mind of it’s own. Not everybody gets a chance to be a part of something so special while they’re kicking around this old world, but I’m extremely proud and very happy to say that I got to be a part of this one. It’s a funny thing when the words, “Thank you”, feel trite, but it seems like I’ve spent the last ten years saying them over and over again. So, once again in the name of XRA, I’d like to personally say, THANK YOU. Thank you to everyone who ever bought, or shared, or illegally downloaded an XRA release or came out to a show. Thank you to every band that ever released a song on XRA. And thank you to my friends who invited me into their ideas and the intimate parts of their lives and let me live out my selfish dream. As our edges dissolve and we stir ourselves into the Universe, gratitude remains.