Every indie label has its niche, but Parks & Records also has a mission. They’ve combined a commitment to great music with the broader purpose of making the world a better (and greener) place. Having just made their first release, the self-titled Carcrashlander album, earlier this year, Parks & Records is now poised for the release of the debut of Shuteye Unison, featuring label-owner Jon Fee and other alumni of the great but often overlooked Rum Diary. In addition to his time in Rum Diary, Jon also released one of the great compilations series of all time: Translation Music. He has now formed Parks & Records with his wife Mimi and they recently welcomed the latest member of the Parks & Records family, their son Charlie River. In addition to using cardboard sleeves rather than plastic jewel cases, Parks & Records also made donations to the National Arbor Day Foundation, National Forest Foundation and Friends of the Urban Forest. Theirs will hopefully become a model of a successful and ethical business strategy for other like-minded labels. Glide recently had the chance to get some insight into Parks & Records from Jon and Mimi:
Parks and Records seems to be unique in its focus. There have been plenty of labels where community took precedence over profit, but your particular focus on the environment seems like a new angle. How did you come up with the idea?
Jon: Our focus didn’t come to play until we started to model our business plan. I was actually in business school at the time pursuing my MBA. From previous experience and interaction with labels while playing in The Rum Diary, I knew two things were certain about indie labels; 1.) they don’t last and, 2.) the cash outflow always leads to the demise. With that in mind, Mimi and I set hard defined budget constraints and then backed in our business model. The following steps involved a lot of "what if" scenarios and questioning what it really means to be a label and how we could add the most value to our bands. Anyway, when all was said and done we had developed a model that worked within our budget constraints and the output was a very eco-friendly product. We like to think we found the balance between planet and profit.
Interestingly enough, I recently read a quote from Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon) that said something like, the lack of resources breeds innovation. Although Parks and Records would never claim to be an innovative label, we would agree that the lack of cash flow forced us to think out of the box. Just think about how much great music came from the lack of resources – instruments, recording equipment, etc.
Last but not least, we always wanted to give back and it just made sense to work with non-profit organizations like the National Forest Foundation or Friends of the Urban Forest. Both Mimi and I love to be outside, hike, and explore national parks. Fortunately this is something we also have in common with a lot of musicians – probably because touring is a lot like camping.
Are there any labels that have inspired you in your vision for Parks and Records?
Mimi: Lots of labels have been inspirational. Especially those that consistently release great albums while staying true to their bands and fans. If you want specifics, I would say our greatest inspiration comes from the courage of K, the brains of Dischord, and the heart of Merge.
What effect do you think your environmental goals have on the music you release?
From a business perspective, our environmental goals set interesting boundaries for the label – especially when it comes to packaging. The whole existence of Parks and Records relies on the quality of each releases – quality in terms of song writing, musicianship, recording. At the end of the day we are selling music and if we compromise the quality, we compromise the label. Because of our size and commitment to eco-friendly packaging, every release must be solid.
From a community perspective, any artist we work with is going to be passionate about the great outdoors and their carbon footprint. Working with bands is much more enjoyable when you get along on multiple levels, not just music. So, anything we release will come from like minded artists who share our environmental perspective.
Along the way we have noticed that a lot of bands are quite resourceful and eco-friendly. My favorite example is when Cory from Carcrashlander has to recycle all of his beer cans so he can gas up his van to head out on tour. It’s no wonder Carcrashlander was our first release!
What do you look for in a band when you consider releasing their music?
Mimi: Well, we are an eco-friendly label with an emphasis on friendly. The band must share the ethos of the label, be good friendly people, passionate, and great song writers. It is very important to us to build a community amongst our roster so we like to make sure the current roster approves the new addition – kinda like an indie Board of Directors. Unlike other labels, we could careless about how much you tour, who you know, and how cool you look.
Jon: It’s much more important for us to work with artists who are capable of writing and recording great songs versus doing whatever is hot at the moment. People love good music and love their alone time with good music. As a label, we are really targeting the headphone brigade first and show goers second. I really want us to release those songs that people really hold on to for their own reasons.
If you could have five bands, past or present, on your dream roster, who would they be?
Jon: (Mimi’s list would be all classic rock: Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Led Zeppelin, Beatles, Stones, etc.)
American Analog Set – It’s hard to believe that such a gentle and brilliant Farfisa driven indie pop band was spawned from the same state as W. I guess it’s big enough to have both heaven and hell.
Drive Like Jehu – Yank Crime! Need I say more?
Fugazi – Own all their releases and have only seen them once. The show was unbelievable. Ironically, Anthony Keidis was watching from the side of the stage and the next Chili Peppers album started sounding like Fugazi! At least to me.
Superchunk – I recently met their drummer. He was a very nice guy. I should have asked when the Chunk is going to return with a new album and tour, but I didn’t. Superchunk has always been a staple in our music collection.
The Wrens – Love these guys. Just a bunch of old indie rockers playing every note like their life depended on it.
Who is the greenest candidate running for president in 2008?
Jon: Who knows? There’s a lot of motion on various green topics, but it’s just hot air if it doesn’t turn to action. I think all candidates right now are telling Joe Public exactly what he wants to hear and since "green" is red hot, a lot of promissory statements are being made.
What are five easy ways that the average person can be more eco-friendly?
Mimi: Without regurgitating the most common tips like recycle and don’t use plastic bags, the following five are still just as easy.
1. Get involved with a non-profit like Friends of the Urban Forest and donate your time. It’s not going to cost you a cent, you’re going to meet some really great people, you’re going to learn something, and you’re going to make a difference.
2. Plan your days to ensure you drive less and still manage to get everywhere you need to go.
3. Consume less. Think about stuff before you buy it. Do you really need it? Can you make do with the old one in the back of the closet? Can you borrow one from a friend? Can you just go without?
4. Shop at thrift stores. Goodwill not Landfill!
5. Support Parks and Records. All of our releases are eco-friendly, affordable, and of the highest quality!
Congratulations on the recent birth of your son. Does becoming a parent change anything about the way you view the label as well the label’s broader goals?
Jon: Thank you. A parent? (lol!) That one can still catch us both off guard. Believe it or not, the birth of Charlie River has really encouraged us to work harder at growing Parks and Records into a viable business. It’s something we are both really proud of and would like to see our son participate in.
Bob: Right now, you have the Carcrashlander out and Shuteye Unison is coming soon. What else is on the horizon for the label?
Mimi: A Christmas/Holiday Compilation is on the horizon! We are currently accepting songs for consideration. Thus far we have a healthy handful of great artist committing songs from the US and the UK. Compilations are a little tricky because they are like herding cats so we both have our fingers crossed on a successful 2008 release. Other than the compilation, we are always looking for bands and if time permits we may make our way into the studio and record a Mijuanito album.
How do you measure success for Parks and Records?
Mimi: Hopefully we always measure success based on how much fun we are having. Of course Jon monitors the metrics of the business, but that is all secondary to having fun. Our current goal is to make sure every new release either raises the bar of the previous release or at least meets the bar. We are also looking to build a core fan base of 100 like minded individuals. Maybe you would like to be one?