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A local record label remakes the music biz

With its DIY roots and unique sensibilities, local record label Twin Lakes Records seems perfectly at home in Branford, Connecticut. Yet its reach extends far beyond the Nutmeg State. From Brooklyn to San Francisco to Melbourne, Australia, the feisty independent label represents artists who defy corporate rock – by making good music.

It’s a diverse roster: there’s Source of Yellow, an electro-acoustic outfit who are heavy on improv, synth tones, and feedback; or Electric Jellyfish, who have been described as a swaggery psych-punk band; and Debby Schwartz, an acoustic troubadour who has taken more than a handful of cues from British folk legend Bert Jansch. It’s a true multiplicity.

“If we’re moved by the music, we’re behind it 100%,” says Mike Kiefer, owner and overseer of Twin Lakes. “We like avant-garde, mainstream and artsy, acoustic and electric. We do not discriminate. If it’s unique and finely crafted, we’re listening.”

Kiefer, whose day job is teaching, began Twin Lakes when his band, Myty Konkeror, found they had enough material for an album. Rather than exert themselves on the fruitless search for a record deal, they decided to start their own label.

An accomplished drummer who also comprises one-half of the band Rivener, Kiefer views the venture as an extension of his own artistry. Like The Beatles starting Apple Records back in 1968, the genesis for Twin Lakes was to provide an outlet for independent artists in search of empathetic ears.

The precarious state of the music industry also played a role in the decision to go indie. With traditional record labels becoming more hands-off (and even obsolete), indie labels – so often operated by fellow musicians – have been sprouting up for decades. Mad Decent. Sub Pop. Fool’s Gold. The list is vast and impressive.

“Like most small labels, we’re not attempting to compete with the big ones,” Kiefer says. “That’s not our design. What we offer is a very different approach, one that’s hands-on and multifaceted. Getting the right sound, the right cover art, production, distribution – all of that.”

With fewer than 10 artists on Twin Lakes’ roster, the label can cultivate relationships with each of them. Dealing in vinyl, CDs, digital downloads and even cassettes, they assiduously promote their musicians, mostly through grassroots efforts. Massaging media outlets ranging from radio to local newspapers to online music forums like Pitchfork, The Wire, and Terminal Boredom – they’re very dialed in.

It’s all part of the advertising, distribution, promotion and wherewithal required to get their artists seen and heard. With offices in Brooklyn, New York, and North Branford, the label covers more territory than seems possible for their size. Their secret weapon is no secret: it’s the Internet – an indie label’s most prized marketing tool.

While radio and TV have always been the dominant means of exposing new artists, the Internet rules the roost these days. It has leveled the playing field, allowing independent labels to scale. In fact, small labels account for roughly 30% of overall record sales, a stat that continues to rise. So, not only can an obscure band out of Andale, Kansas, have the same exposure as an L.A. band, but the label formed in Andale can operate much like their West Coast competitor. Take that, music establishment.

Connecticut is hardly on the same level as NYC – home of Atlantic Records, Bad Boy, and Sony Music. But here, the unique acts stand out a bit more. The A&R team may be located in modest bungalows in North Branford instead of gleaming midtown skyscrapers, but they offer what every artist craves: support.

No Line North, an ascending shoreline band, will attest to this. On the heels of their critically acclaimed new album, Farther Out Beyond Today (available at www.twinlakesrecords.com), NLN has found a home with Twin Lakes. Drummer John Gage is pleased: “Our experience with Twin Lakes has been nothing but positive,” he says. “We get absolute autonomy and support, which is what every musician needs to thrive and create. They have been tireless in promoting our record and live shows.”

Dwight Smith, another coastal native, considers Twin Lakes a kind of partner in his 10-year career. Smith’s album Lateral Drifts owes as much to singer Gregory Alan Isakov as it does to the intricate acoustic guitar playing of British folkie Nick Drake. Visit YouTube to check out Smith’s tune “Blue Ghost.”

Like any good record company, product comes out reliably. This fall, Twin Lakes is collaborating with another local imprint, Dead Language Records, releasing Songs in the Traditional Rock and Roll Style, a new album by Mercy Choir. It’s the brainchild of prolific Guilford musician Paul Belbusti. Also a member of Kiefer’s band Rivener, Belbusti has concocted something in Mercy Choir reminiscent of the band Cracker at its height.

Twin Lakes’ tenacity is paying off, culminating with the singular coup that is most beloved by musicians, label execs, and music fans: the live performance. No stranger to curating shows, Kiefer has teamed up to assist promoter Margaret Milano for the Elm City Noise Festival, slated for September 17-19 in New Haven. Venues including Three Sheets and Cafe Nine will showcase acts like Rivener, Oneida, Dan Greene of the Mountain Movers, Black Fluff, and Watermelon. They expect it to be epic.

Though he’s not quite ready to give up his teaching career, Kiefer is optimistic about Twin Lakes’ future. With upcoming album releases and slotted shows around the region, Twin Lakes has the autonomy to create its own agenda. They are always on the lookout for new talent, and making musical dreams a reality. Visit www.twinlakesrecords.com.

Image Credits: Photo courtesy Twin Lakes Records

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