St. Marie Records Sends Up a Prayer for Labels
Not much has come out of Malakoff, a one-light East Texas town not far from Tyler whose exports include Wes Berggren, best known as Tripping Daisy's late guitar player.
Wyatt Parkins, a Tripping Daisy fan who attended Malakoff High School a few years behind Berggren, spent much of his high school years in Malakoff fiddling with the guitar, jamming with his best friend, Nathan, and trying to learn Smashing Pumpkins songs. Parkins and Nathan eventually fell out over a girl, but that was fine with Parkins. He soon met a much better romantic fit — Kali, his wife of 12 years.
Early in their marriage, Parkins took a job at Brinks Home Security in Dallas, and he and his wife left Malakoff for Irving. His duties as a husband and later as a new father made him put down the guitar, but his passion for music remained. Parkins told his wife that his dream was to retire someday and own a record label, but until recently he thought his goal was out of reach.
"I'm a frustrated artist," says Parkins, sitting at a table in a bar near his Fort Worth home. "As much as I'd love to be able to [make music], I don't have it in me. I'm just a fan."
Well, something more than a fan. A decade after he told his wife of his dream, Parkins has signed 10 acts, including Lotte Kestner, the solo-act name used by Anna-Lynne Williams of Trespassers William, to St. Marie Records, the shoegaze label he runs in his spare time out of his house. At a time when major labels are suffering, Parkins and label partner Anthony Davis have leaped into the industry, ready to carve out a niche for shoegaze acts by promoting the genre wherever they can find a market. Davis brings the capital; Parkins brings the passion; and the music grapevine brings acts flocking to them.
Parkins has been a music fan since he was a kid. Early on, his friend Nathan introduced him to The Smashing Pumpkins, Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine and other shoegaze acts of the early to mid-'90s, but it wasn't until he saw the landmark 1998 Tripping Daisy performance at Bill's Records and Tapes that he began burning to take part in the local music scene. The band was celebrating the release of its seminal record Jesus Hits Like The Atom Bomb, and Parkins was hooked.
He offered to help out the band any way he could, leading to work on the band's website and eventually more freelance work for Good Records Recordings and The Polyphonic Spree. Those jobs let Parkins put his other passion — graphic design — to use. He designed the album artwork for Philip Karnats' Good Records Recordings solo debut album Pleasesuite, as well as art for Tripping Daisy.
"I worked on artwork for the supposed re-release of the Tripping Daisy self-titled album in 2005, and we've been sitting on it," Parkins says. The re-release was meant to come out this year, but Parkins says the project may be "dying again" because former Daisy frontman Tim DeLaughter, founder of The Polyphonic Spree and Good Records, has other commitments.
Parkins is pretty busy these days too, and finding time to keep in touch with the Good Records music scene and the store's label is tough, as he's busy working a full-time job and running his own label.
"We have 10 acts now, but here's the shocker," Parkins says. "We're planning on 25 by the end of next year."
He knows that's a lofty goal, one that wouldn't have been possible had he not enlisted the help of Davis, a young venture capitalist.
"I'm an angel investor," Davis says. "I invest in a number of companies, mostly in tech."
Davis is only vaguely familiar with the music industry, and he had never even heard the term shoegaze before he met Parkins less than a year ago. Davis understood that the record industry is moribund, but that didn't stop him from putting his money and his shrewd business mind behind St. Marie Records.
Davis was profiled in D Magazine's 2009 issue of CEO, which reported he learned key business principles selling crack cocaine for a street gang in Seattle when he was a kid. Unconventional indeed, but perhaps that explains why he wants to figure out a way to make a niche record label like St. Marie Records work. Parkins says the challenge drew Davis, but Davis disagrees.
"I like Wyatt's passion," he says. "Otherwise, I wouldn't have gotten involved."
That seems to be St. Marie Records' biggest draw. Even before Davis signed on, Parkins had made an international splash. By systematically reaching out to every act labeled shoegaze on iTunes, the name St. Marie Records became synonymous with the genre.
"My fear is that I'm OK being known as the shoegaze label, which is what Anna from Trespassers William told Anthony," says Parkins. "She said, 'Wyatt's kind of become known as the new shoegaze label.'"
That's fine with Davis, who sees the unofficial title as beneficial. "If you look at a lot of labels, successful ones focus on region or specific genres," he says. "A lot of our success has been around being the shoegaze label."
The business model they're cooking up uses the cinematic nature of the genre as one of the label's top selling points. Now that record sales alone aren't enough to sustain a band or a label, licensing music to movies, video games and television has become a vital revenue stream. St. Marie Records plans to handle all of its licensing and public relations in-house, rather than outsourcing it to other companies.
"We're looking for ways to reinvent what it means to be a record label," Parkins says. "Do we know exactly what that is yet? No."
It's a question that Parkins and Davis are intent on answering, though, because Parkins still believes, contrary to popular opinion, that record labels are necessary.
"It's very cool to say labels are dead and artists don't need 'em," he says. "But I've got people knocking on my door all the time, and anyone I reach out to is very excited about it."
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