By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Writing about band names is one of the great clichés in rock journalism. Every group with an off-kilter appellation has an allegedly amusing or revealing (and often lengthy) story about how its stage alias was invented, but the majority of these tales are about as fascinating as a day spent cleaning heavily mildewed bathroom tile with a worn-out toothbrush.
Geller--who's also the co-founder of the excellent indie label Kindercore, not to mention a biological engineer working for the University of Georgia--understands why he and Center cohort/significant other Amy Dykes became the focus of items in Newsweek and other national publications after the New York landmark that inspired their handle collapsed last year. Likewise, he sees the news value in detailing the threatening messages and hate-filled e-mails sent to the twosome by ignorant Web surfers, who likely stumbled upon references to the outfit while searching the Internet for information about the attacks. (For some reason, he says, the worst of them came from Germany, not the United States.) And he feels some obligation to explain why he and Dykes let their designation be shortened to I Am the World when their fine debut album, Out of the Loop, was issued overseas in late September, two months after its domestic release, but chose to stick the original tag on The Tight Connection, their thoroughly enjoyable second disc.
"The company that was putting Loop out in England decided to be conservative," Geller notes. "But even in the beginning, there were people who were supportive of us and who didn't see the name as a bad thing. And one of them said to us that the world has a three-month memory and that we should wait three months to see what happened before we made a decision. And sure enough, after three months the responses were all really positive."
By staying with it, Geller and Dykes guaranteed that name questions would keep coming despite the apolitical nature of their music. ("We have points of view about politics and things like that," Geller says, "but it's never been our intention to express them in the band.") In the beginning--or, to be more specific, in 1996--Geller didn't have to carry this kind of baggage. He was simply a biochemistry student at the University of Georgia in Athens who spent his off-hours performing with a group called Kincaid. He and his mates, including future Kindercore colleague Ryan Lewis, realized that they needed someone to press and distribute the songs they'd recorded, and when no outside party volunteered, they chose to do it themselves.
"We started the label because it seemed like the thing to do," Geller says, laughing. "There was this record that needed to come out, so we made up the Kindercore name, because it gave it some legitimacy, and put it out. And I guess we were kind of good at it, because we sold all 500 of them we made. And then we made a compilation tape that did really well, and then an album, and it just kind of mushroomed from there."
Along the way, he says, "we created an infrastructure--and it didn't take a genius to figure out that if you have an infrastructure, you can put out more records than just yours. And since we had all these friends who were in good bands and they were in similar situations to us, we thought, 'This could really be a scene, so let's see what we can do with it.' And we kind of rode that to where we are now."
Today, Kindercore is home to around a dozen mostly pop-oriented acts, and there's not a stiff in the bunch. The firm has maintained an impressively high level of quality throughout its existence, thanks to releases from Call and Response, the Essex Green, the Real Tuesday Weld, Ashley Park and Dressy Bessy. Of course, Kindercore's standard of success is far different from that of major labels. Geller says he's happy if a CD cracks the 5,000-unit barrier and is over the moon when a disc sells 20,000 copies or more.
As a result, returns are modest--but Geller makes sure they're distributed evenhandedly. Like most indies, "we do a profit split instead of royalties," he points out. "That means the label spends X amount of money on the band, and once that money comes back in, everything else gets split between the label and the band. So they don't make money unless we do, and vice versa. To me, that's the only way to do it if you think about it, because you need the band to work as hard as you do. We try to make the contracts as fair as we can, too. Everybody signs the same contract--even World Trade. However we treat the other bands, we get treated the same way. That's what keeps us honest, keeps us connected to the bands."
Though the couple is back in Athens now, appropriately, I Am the World Trade Center's first record got its start in New York City, where Geller and Dykes moved in 1999 in an attempt to coordinate Kindercore's activities with those of another indie, Emperor Norton, with which it had formed a partnership. (This deal ended amicably a couple of years later.) Around then, Geller became intrigued by the possibilities of making music entirely on computer and spent months pouring all of his ideas into a Gateway laptop that's presently being used by the Kindercore accounting department.