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Garrison Starr  (photo by Jeremy Cowart)

A Conversation with Garrison Starr (continued)

GS: And that's the way I feel right now. It's really hard for me to get excited about music when I have a record label that is making it impossible for me to have records at my shows. Because I'm in debt to them, they put my account on hold to where I can't get CDs at my shows. So I can't even sell my record at my shows.

PM: Wow.

GS: And I hate to say that, because I know that I'm supposed to be this supportive cheerleader, like, "Ooh, everything is great."

PM: Yeah.

GS: And I guess what my point is, it's just more and more of a struggle for artists to be able to get exposed. It just makes me think about Ani DeFranco, and how she had the right idea from the very beginning. She worked her ass off and just sold her shit out of the trunk of her car. And now she's in control, though. She's made a lot of money doing that, and nobody else owns her shit.

PM: She's a visionary.

GS: I know. And that's the thing. When I was twenty-one, twenty-two, first of all, the business was way different than it is now. The business was different. And when I was that age I knew a little about her because a couple friends had turned me onto her, but I didn't get it. I didn't have that business mind. I didn't know what any of that meant. But she knew. I just feel like she really had this drive and she's got this great business sense. And I mean, more than anything, she just wanted to do it her way.

PM: Right.

GS: And I just wish that I'd had the self-confidence at that age to want the same things, and also to have management and business people around me who could have encouraged me in that way. But we were all stuck in that model of "throw it against the wall and see if it sticks."

PM: Right.

GS: And to have a lasting career, that model just does not work, not anymore.

PM: That model is so broke now.

GS: It is so broken now. I mean, just even in terms of being on a record label and having distribution, none of that stuff really matters that much anymore because of the internet. And also just because of how much money it actually costs to manufacture a CD. You can manufacture your own CDs and sell them at your own shows and make a lot more money than you make when you go through a record label. And let's face it, unless you're Gwen Stefani, your records aren't stocked in stores like that, anyway.

PM: Right.

GS: There might be two or three copies stocked in the store, and then once they sell out it takes a couple weeks to reorder, so people are going to go on to the next thing that they heard on the radio. I don't mean to sound like a bitter old hag. It's just interesting to me where I am in my life right now, and where I've come from, and how much I've experienced in this business. I've seen a lot of people come and go, and I've seen artists like me fall through the cracks. And it's frustrating. It's frustrating to kind of be caught in the middle of that sort of dichotomy about the business: how it used to be, how it's changed, and what it's morphing into now. Some of us are kind of in no man's land.

PM: And to have that feeling going on, and to have your account on hold, et cetera, when this last record you made is so good--

GS: Thank you.

PM: --that's a cryin shame.

GS: It is a cryin shame! And what I've decided is that I don't care. I'm going to talk about it now, because I think people ought to know the way it is. People ask me all the time, "Man, I looked for your record in the store, and I couldn't find it." Well, it's because my label is not supportive of this project, that's why you can't find the record in the stores. So if enough people get upset about it, if enough people feel like they want to hear my music and they're not hearing it, then maybe enough people will take it upon themselves to go investigate, or write the label, or email the label. You know what I'm saying? I don't have anything invested to cover their ass. It's like, "Hey, you know, you're not going to support me, hell with you! I'm out here working as hard as I can."

And if I don't feel supported, then what do I have to gain by saying that everything is great, and everybody at Vanguard is so great and we're all great friends. They're just like every other record label, they want to make money. And it sucks, because I've talked to so many people that were making records in the '70s, and it was just a different time, man. People just loved music. People loved music. And don't get me wrong, there are some really good people at Vanguard. I think they're nice people, I do. And there are some good people there. But in the end, it's a record label. It's a record label and the bottom line is the dollars. It's the dollar sign.

PM: More and more I talk to really, really great and singular artists who just came out of a major into a smaller label and spun into "Damn it, I have to do it myself. I'm still with my manager. I spent X a month on radio promo, and I hired a publicist, and I got an angel investor, and I'm off and running, and hell with the rest of them."

GS: Exactly.

PM: The David Mead approach, for instance.

GS: The what approach?

PM: The David Mead--that's what he did. [See the interview with David in our previous issue.]

GS: Absolutely. You know who else is doing that is Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers.

PM: Really?

GS: Yeah. They used to be that band The Refreshments?

PM: Yeah.

GS: They're doing it themselves. They're absolutely doing it themselves. You can do it. And that's the way the business is going.

PM: Usually when it's done best, there's somebody back there with X-amount of dough to make sure that--

GS: Exactly.

PM: --"Okay, we got a budget. We only got a budget for this year, or we got it for this year and next year, okay, great. Now let's put all these building blocks in place."

GS: Right.

PM: And for a person like you who has put out a whole mess of great albums already, and has a lot of people out there who think she's really great, there is such a person out there for you, as you know.

GS: Yeah, totally.

PM: So I challenge them to step the hell up.

GS: I do, too. And I appreciate you saying that. It's just tough because on tours like this, where you're opening, and you're getting $250 a night, I mean, that's not much money when you're talking about gas and hotels and taking somebody out with you, and I mean, doing everything yourself, when you're not getting tour support, like me. It's hard to make that work. You don't make money, you just break even. And on this record, just because I've gotten so little financial support from Vanguard, I've gotten myself into a hole--because I took the full band out for a month and a week around the release of the record. It's just tough.

And it takes a while. That's why I'm touring so much. I really want to build my base up like I never have. That's the missing piece in my career. I'm just really getting out there and beating the pavement, and building a base. Dave Matthews did that, those guys went out and toured their ass off and built up a sizable fan base and then got signed, and then just grew from there. That's a wonderful model. Talk about visionaries. I don't know if they knew what they were doing, but they did it in a really great, stable way. And that's the piece that's never happened for me. When I was on Geffen I was getting great radio airplay on Superhero, and if the label hadn't imploded, that might have been a really successful album.

PM: Right.

GS: But if I had been touring like crazy on that record and connecting the dots--because we had great opportunities with the radio thing. That was a great thing for me, and it really helped, and had I really gotten out there and connected the dots touring-wise, I'd be in a different place today. I would be making more money, and my touring schedule wouldn't be so crazy. But thankfully I have a booking agent who's doing a great job, and a manager who's doing a great job, yeah, they're keeping me business-busy so that I can, you know, get out of this hole and really get to a better place.

PM: Who books you?

GS: A girl named Laurel Deppen at Silverleaf Booking. She's great. She books Michelle Malone and the Moaners, and she books a band called Limbeck. She's awesome, and she's twenty-seven. She's on fire. She's got her own company, and she just does a great job. People like working with her. And so that's been great.

And I have a manager who thinks I'm an undervalued artist, and he really wants to see me get to a better place and have a lot more shows. His name is Matt Cornell. His partner is Dave Bartlett. They manage Mavis Staples, and they just took on Anders Osborne.

PM: Wow. Where are they out of?

GS: They're out of Boston. They have a company called 525 Worldwide. And they have a couple other smaller singer/songwriters out of Boston as well. They're just really passionate, proactive guys. It was a Godsend that they came along. They have a lot of ideas and that's what I needed. I needed a manager who would step up and help me build my company, which is something that I never knew how to do before.     continue

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