"For my ears, the Boise sound is so hip at the moment. It's incredible," said Hamburg, Germany-based Karsten Kuestner, founder of Spark & Shine Records. "I think it could be the next Seattle sound." That is exactly what he wanted on the U.S. arm of the record label.
Though the current musical climate doesn't seem conducive to a record label start-up, this year marks the one-year anniversary of Spark & Shine. With Brian Olson running an arm of Spark & Shine in Seattle and Jason Sievers doing the same thing here in Boise, the label is writing its own chapters of a musical narrative.
Kuestner started Spark & Shine when he discovered a desire by Europeans--Germans in particular--for Japanese media. He founded Kastella Media, a media licensing company, in 2007 in order to license Japanese music and films to German and other European companies. He was in Japan talking to Sony Music when they asked if he would distribute one of their artists, the J-pop/J-rock singer and Lolita-meets-Robert Smith fashion icon Nana Kitade.
Calling via a crystal clear Skype connection at 1:30 a.m. Tokyo time (where he was), Kuestner said, "I always wanted to have a label so I decided it was time to bring [more] artists to Germany." So he started Spark & Shine with Kitade as its first artist.
Getting fellow music aficionados Olson and Sievers on board wasn't difficult. They attended high-school together in Lewiston (Kuestner was an exchange student) and had kept in touch. Olson, who also owns half interest in a recording studio, was already in the Spark & Shine loop, and when the three of them met up in New York in June of this year for a couple of Posies shows, it wasn't long before all three were partners. Sievers had taken a large selection of CDs by Boise musicians to New York with him, and Kuestner and Olson were impressed not only by the quantity of Sievers' CDs but with the quality of music as well. Kuestner said that after hearing Sievers' CDs, he was amazed at the sound coming out of Boise, describing it as "so fresh."
Spark & Shine is following in a long tradition of preserving and perpetuating non-mainstream music. This year marks the 20th anniversary of stalwart indie record label Merge Records. During an NPR interview, label founders Laura Ballance and Mac McCaughan--of Chapel Hill, N.C., band Superchunk--said they started Merge as a way to document a "scene they really liked."
On the Seattle side of things, Olson said he likes the idea that Spark & Shine may, like Merge and other indie labels of its ilk, serve that same purpose.
"I like the documentation aspect of it. I hadn't really thought of it that way, but I think that's a neat way to look at it," he said.
Olson said that while Sievers would never give himself enough credit, what he brings to the Spark & Shine table is helping to shape the direction the label will take.
"At first, Brian and I weren't really sure of what our strategy would be, so we've been looking at music from the Northwest and distributing it along our bands' tour lines," Sievers said. "Wherever the bands are willing to play, our distributor is pretty flexible. We're not sending the CDs to Tallahassee, Fla., if the bands aren't playing there. We aren't starting small necessarily, just strategically."
Along with the music they make, a band's ability and/or willingness to tour is a huge part of whether they'll be a good fit for Spark & Shine. All three partners agreed that the label's success will be based on a collaborative effort by all involved.
"Different artists have different degrees of what they're able to do as far as lives and families and touring," Olson said. "But we want to find really great music and put it out there for more people to hear." And part of getting it out there is touring.
The first Boise band signed to Spark & Shine is RevoltRevolt, a rock three-piece that has been together for about a year. This summer, RevoltRevolt went into the studio with Seattle producer Conrad Uno (Mudhoney, SuperSuckers, Young Fresh Fellows) and came out with Chordata, a weighty rock album, with songs swirling in grungy '90s guitar. Chordata is the band's debut full-length album and is scheduled to hit streets Tuesday, Nov. 17. Having it on a label is a rather impressive first step for a young band. RevoltRevolt's Chris Bock whole-heartedly agrees.
"We're really excited to work with [Spark & Shine]," Bock said. "They're really up front, really straight forward."
It's a mutual adoration, because RevoltRevolt is a band that completely fulfills their end of the bargain as far as touring is concerned. Sievers had done several of their tour posters, and once Bock and his bandmates started talking with Sievers about the label, they discovered that it would all be a good fit.
Finding those fits won't always be easy, but according to Kuestner, Olson and Sievers, the Germany-Seattle-Boise connection is a strong one and they won't make label decisions without a consensus. To date, the toddler-aged label has a well-rounded group of artists: Nina Kitade and RevoltRevolt, Seattle bands The Tripwires and Curtains for You, the recently signed Israeli band Billy and the Firm (the album is due out in early 2010) and The Disciplines, of which Posies songwriter Ken Stringfellow is a member.
It's a small but growing lineup that shows remarkable promise for Spark & Shine.
"We are a new small label right now," Kuestner said. "We aren't a billion-dollar company. Yet."
For more information, visitsparkandshine.com.