American Laundromat founder Joe Spadaro discusses ALR, music & film, and his new Wes Anderson tribute album. Plus, we're giving away 6 copies of the new CD. (Details below.)
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Marking my own one year anniversary writing for "The Real Deel," I've reflected on my digital experiences, and it's led me to speculate on the experiences of others in creative fields. This is the first in a series of conversations with individuals working in the arts, media, and entertainment industries.
Before our chat, some background on Wes, The Grand Budapest, and ALR...
Wes Anderson? He's that guy from WKRP, right?
If you consider yourself even the slightest fan of independent film, you surely know Wes Anderson. Nominated for an Oscar 3 times, his oeuvre includes: Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, animated film Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Darjeeling Limited, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and Moonrise Kingdom.
With characteristically large casts of eccentric characters, winding narratives, and proportionately clever banter, the lowest rating any of his films has received on IMDB is a respectable 7.2. And, while undoubtably an auteur, with films grossing as much as $52 million, domestic, he can muster some box office muscle as well.
Welcome to The Grand Budapest!
The Grand Budapest Hotel tells the story of hotel concierge Gustav H, played by Ralph Fiennes (you know, Voldemort), who inherits a painting from one of his regular hotel guests. The guest's family objects, so Gustav steals the painting before probate concludes. Having money and influence, the family is able to manipulate the police into investigating Gustav, and regardless of the outcome, the family will ensure his goose is cooked. Gustav flees, as the family, their henchmen, and the police trail close behind.
Among his base, the interest in Wes' new film has reached a fever pitch. And after the mainstream success of 2012's Moonrise Kingdom - his second most profitable film ever, at $45 million, domestic - The Grand Budapest Hotel has proven to be his most hotly anticipated film ever. Rolling out nationwide via Fox Searchlight, an expert in independent film distribution, GBH opens locally this weekend, starting at 8:10pm, Thursday, at the Spectrum.
Be sure to checkout my Grand Budapest preview w/ cast interviews!
An American Laundromat, 'cuz we like to get dirty...
In April of 2004, in Huntington Village, on Long Island, New York, Joe Spadaro founded American Laundromat Records, and introduced it to the world with two albums: the indie sampler 'Transistor,' and 80's coming-of-age films tribute 'High School Reunion.' Joe's ability to land big names to contribute to his albums has proven legendary from the start:
Matthew Sweet ("Girlfriend"), folk singer Lori McKenna, Kristin Hersh (from Throwing Muses and 50 Foot Wave), The Dresden Dolls ("Coin Operated Boy"), and The Pixies' lead singer Frank Black - all appear on High School Reunion.
In 2007, notables Joy Zipper, OK Go, Mogwai, Julie Peel, and They Might Be Giants stand out among many talented contributors to Dig For Fire, ALR's Pixies tribute.
Other ALR love letters include tributes to: lullabies, with the Sing Me To Sleep album; Kim Deal; The Smiths; Neil Young (featuring all women artists); and the cult-classic film Repo Man. These albums add Tanya Donelly, Sixpence None The Richer, Veruca Salt, and many others to the existing eclectic parade of artists on ALR's ever expanding setlist.
ALR also manages acts, currently including Tele Novella, featured in Paste Magazine just last week, and longtime ALR compadres, The Caulfield Sisters.
ALR has come a long way since that first album cooked up by a guy working in his basement. Their music has been used in movies and TV, and been featured in numerous industry publications, including: Plugin, Pitchfork, Rock and Roll Report, Nashville Music News, Nylon, Spin, and Indie Wire. Just last week, Tele Novella's new album was featured in Paste Magazine, and Joy Zipper's cover of The Cure's "Just Like Heaven" was featured the last episode of Grey's Anatomy.
What is going to happen?... Something Wonderful.
With names like Frank Black, The Smiths, and Repo Man percolating in any ALR conversation, it's no surprise to see independent film darling Wes Anderson as the subject of this latest project - and it might be ALR's most ambitious yet.
You can tell Joe's a true fan, well versed in Anderson's work, just by the delightful title of this new, 2 CD set: I Saved Latin! Featuring new acts and some regulars, ALR also offers their most extensive, and awesome, collection of coordinating swag to date. Team Zissou decals, a Moonrise merit badge, t-shirts, and even a Max Fischer business card are some of the items that can be bundled with a new album purchase. Currently available for pre-order, details on I Saved Latin! and all of ALR's albums are available at alr-music.com.
Listen In: A Conversation with Joe.
Full Disclosure: I'm an avid independent music fan, and an original ALR customer. Joe's work suggests a personal appreciation for quirky, cult, and independent film, but I've never met him personally. Let's see if I'm right...
Q: Joe Spadaro, Founder & President at ALR. Who were you before ALR?
I'm basically a music enthusiast. I was in various bands and loved the alternative/indie music scene.
Q: A lot of people imagine being their own boss, or exploring their creative side. That could mean starting a restaurant, or maybe a summer job landscaping. Tell me about the inspiration to start a record company.
Well, the label is a hobby. I have a full time career so it was never about making money. Originally, I wanted a home for my band and several local bands where I grew up. I figured if we had a banner to hang our hat on, press/radio may take notice. My original concept was a collective. However, no one beside me was interested in working on the day-to-day operations or marketing of the label so it was always on me to guide the direction the label would take.
Q: When you began, were you aware of the difficulty of starting any business, and especially a record company?
I asked several labels I admire for guidance. I hoped they would help me avoid making costly mistakes. Not one of them offered any. They didn't reply to emails or return phone calls so I realized I'd have to plug along. I worked hard and made plenty of mistakes but it's been a fantastic learning experience. The funny thing is... now those same labels that wouldn't even return a phone call or email, are now asking if their bands can contribute to my compilations. Many have, I don't hold grudges... but I always remember.
Q: Any worries about failure?
Because the label was a hobby and didn't need to sustain my family it was never a source of stress for me. I've only chosen projects I've wanted to do. All are personal for me. I never went into any project thinking this will be a financial success. High School Reunion enjoyed success in the sense that all the original costs were recouped over time and it put American Laundromat Records on the map.
Q: So, with your first 2 albums, we already see ALR's focus on a fairly specific, pretty cool niche in the music industry: indie music, and tributes to indie films. Are you a film buff in general?
I'm a huge film buff. My buddy and I used to have an old-school fanzine (one of those black & white Xeroxed zines). We'd review films and music, draw cartoons, etc. We did it for about 18 months. This was before I started the label. In one of the issues I had devoted all the movie reviews to John Hughes teen films. That was how High School Reunion was conceived. I was rereading the reviews and realized that there were so many great songs on those soundtracks. After doing further research I decided to expand the concept to other 80's teen films. Valley Girl was always a favorite and had some great songs by the Plimsouls and Modern English. Josie Cotton too (who would later cover "Cowgirl In The Sand" for my Neil Young tribute). I also chose songs from Fast Times, Say Anything, and others. I was lucky to get some great contributions from Black Francis, Kristin Hersh, Matthew Sweet and John P. Strohm (Blake Babies). I hadn't really thought of this as the new direction the label would take. It was just fun! A ton of work though. Clearing mechanicals and negotiating with artist management was entirely new for me.
* clearing mechanicals: obtaining a license to cover a song.
Q: From the beginning, you've had a number of big names record for you. The list is pretty stunning. How do you get these guys?
I just asked. I always put together a list of artists I think might be right for the project and then dive in writing emails and making phone calls. I've been very happy with the artists that have contributed to my projects.
Q: Pick an big name. Who were you most stoked to have record for you? Anyone you're still dying to get?
Well, each project has it's own bigger name that I'm stoked to have record for me. For I Saved Latin! it would be Juliana Hatfield. I always wanted to work with her so I was psyched when she immediately replied asking to cover Elliott Smith's Needle in the Hay. She did an amazing job too.
Ryan Adams, Yo La Tengo, Dinosaur Jr., and Wilco are bands that come to mind that I wish will cover something for me some day.
Q: Among your indie acts, is there one you're a passionate believer in?
I was and always will be a huge fan of The Caulfield Sisters.
Q: Some bands like to be faithful to the original. What's the craziest reinterpretation you've loved?
AM's version of "Don't You (Forget About Me)" comes to mind. They totally deconstructed the song and put it back together their way. AM's version was used in the film Easy A. The director cleverly married the Simple Minds version from the 80's with AM's modern take on the song. That was a very rewarding moment for me sitting in the theater.
Q: Has any project been especially meaningful for you? Which and why?
Cinnamon Girl is my most meaningful. My mom passed after a six-year battle with Breast Cancer. I wanted to honor her and her favorite charity (Casting for Recovery) so I conceived the Neil Young tribute with women covering all the songs.
Q: Repo Man.
Love that film!
Q: Any chance you'll re-release the T-Shirt? - I missed out. :(
Yes, but it will be a two-color screenprinting this time. No glow-in-the-dark ink.
Q: I love the swag! You seem really big on it too.
I love to create and the swag is just another opportunity to give my customers something cool.
Q: You're albums are available on CD, vinyl, and digital downloads (iTunes). Are you a vinyl-phile for sound quality? Nostalgia?
I have the crappiest record player in the world. I do listen to vinyl but 99% of the music I buy is digital. It's just easy and immediate.
Q: Has the business changed direction over the years?
I've sort of gotten into this groove of releasing one tribute a year...I wouldn't be surprised if I end up releasing Tele Novella's debut CD. I think they're a really cool band.
Q: Has there been any project you were prevented from completing, or song you couldn't get rights to perform?
I had wanted to do a Replacements tribute but couldn't get any artists I was excited about to bite. I decided to backburner the idea for the time being.
Q: Brass tacks: What brought on the Wes Anderson 2 CD set? This looks hugely ambitious.
It's ambitious in the sense that I'm offering lots of Wes Anderson-inspired bonus items but essentially it's not much different from High School Reunion. I always appreciated the music Wes chose for his films. I was watching the Criterion release of Bottle Rocket last May and the idea just came to me. I knew immediately that it would be my next project. The response from artists was overwhelmingly positive, so I got very excited and I've been working really hard to make this the best tribute I've done to date.
(Enter to win one of 6 copies of the new CD. Details below.)
Q: You're just hitting your 10 year anniversary. Where is ALR now, compared to the first year, and what's next?
10 years ago I didn't really know what direction the label would take and whether or not it would be around in 3 years... today is not much different. I never know what I'm going to do next or if I'll be doing anything else again to be honest. I enjoy that.
Q: Any future project your dreaming of? Any hints you can give us?
At this point, I'm completely focused on the Wes Anderson tribute. I have nothing on the horizon. This could change tomorrow, of course. One little spark is all it takes.
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The Grand Budapest Hotel opens Thursday, at the Spectrum 8, and I Saved Latin! is available for pre-order now, at alr-music.com. ALR albums are also available on iTunes.
Did you know Penn and Teller produced the documentary Tim's Vermeer, also showing at the Spectrum? Checkout my review here!
Enter to win one of SIX copies of the new Wes Anderson tribute album, I Saved Latin! expected to drop May 13th. It's easy! Just Share and Comment:
1) Share. - You can use one of the little Share buttons at the top of this article for the service you want to share on. Or, visit ALR on Facebook and share their post about this article.
2) Comment. - Click the "comment" link at the top or bottom of this page, and add a comment so we know you're participating. *Be sure to include your valid email address, so we can contact you if you win! (Don't worry, email addresses remain private. Comments post overnight.)
About a week before the album drops, I'll select winners from all the comments entered, and email you for your details. ALR will mail your CD when the album's released. (US addresses only.)