Editor’s Note: The lovely Melissa Ann Sweat (Lady Lazarus) interviewed Simon Joyner via email for this article.
Veteran of the Omaha music scene, Simon Joyner, has just launched a subscription-based record label called Grapefruit Records that will release four select albums a year exclusively on vinyl. Joyner’s idea had roots back in the early to mid-90s when he ran a small, indie label, Sing, Eunuch!, which put out mostly Omaha music and vinyls of Joyner’s own albums. The label also released some of Conor Oberst’s (Bright Eyes) early cassettes.
Joyner recalled the experience of running a small label as a catch-22. “The distributors, with very few exceptions, refused to pay us for the albums they sold until we had a new release they were interested in carrying,” he said. “We never had enough money coming in to pay for the manufacturing on the releases we needed to put out in order to get the distributors to pay us for the previous releases.” Eventually Joyner stopped the label out of frustration, but kept some ideas about a better way of doing things: “I told myself that if there were away to run a label without involving distributors, returns, unsold product, I’d do it again, but only under those conditions.”
The idea came bubbling up again, last summer, when Joyner was on an east coast tour staying in Brooklyn with his friend Ben Goldberg, who runs Ba-Da-Bing Records. The two started working on the new label soon after.
Joyner also credits the Sub Pop Singles Club as an inspiration for Grapefruit Records. “You join the Sub Pop Singles club for a flat fee and get a record every month, which was kind of rare and exclusive and collectible. It was a great idea,” Joyner said. “I wanted to expand on that idea and make it into full albums, one every three months, and have bands who are established give us something unusual that would be exciting for their fans, while championing lesser known bands whose album would get into many more homes by virtue of being part of an annual subscription with better known artists.”
The year one roster is exactly that. Starting off the 2011 releases is the Nashville-based Lambchop, Kurt Wagner’s consistently excellent, long-running and ever-evolving alt-country project. A new album by experimental prog-folk-rock artist Richard Youngs will be up next, followed by a release from L. Eugene Methe, an “unsung hero of the Omaha music scene.” 200 Years will be the last release for Grapefruit’s inaugural year, a duo consisting of Ben Chasny (Six Organs of Admittance) and Elisa Ambrogio (Magik Markers), who are, according to Grapefruit, “a meeting of raw talents so flammable that it’s hard to even guess at what will result from their work together.”
From the Grapefruit site:
Grapefruit Records is a subscription-only record club founded by Simon Joyner and Ben Goldberg to release exclusive and limited, vinyl-only LPs by dedicated artists, both known and yet-to-be-known. The only qualification required for artist participation is that both Ben and Simon love the music. Annual subscriptions include four quarterly released full-length LPs and a deluxe, hard-shell box to house the series of records that make up that year’s roster of artists. The artists on Grapefruit are on loan and ever-changing so no subscription cycle will ever be the same.