Born of the arid desert lands of New Mexico, the electronic music showcased by Mesa Recordings is more likely to play on radio stations in Berlin, London, and Sydney than the American Southwest.
The three members of D Numbers (a successful, long-running instrumental/ electronic group and one of the rare Santa Fe bands to outgrow its home market) founded the new label partly as a means to promote various individual side projects — guitarist Ben Wright is one half of Public Address (with Andrew Bowen) and also makes music as Mi; bassist and keyboard player Brian Mayhall produces solo material under his own name; and drummer Paul Groetzinger performs and records as DJ Feathericci. All these acts are represented on Mesa Recordings’ forthcoming compilation, We Live in The Desert. To help spread the word, the Mesa team is hosting the first of a series of monthly label showcases at Molly’s Kitchen on Saturday, Aug. 10.
The music on the new release (and earlier ones) falls into a genre best described as experimental dance music, which they say is characterized by softer production and rounder mixes than traditional house and techno music. “It totally has a local flavor,” Wright told Pasatiempo during an afternoon break taken by the three members, in between label business and writing new material for the next D Numbers album. “It’s not Berlin techno. It’s house-inflected, but it’s got some color you wouldn’t find elsewhere.”
Groetzinger agreed: “Yeah, there’s maybe more space and an acoustic nature to our stuff.” Though proud of their homegrown sound, the musicians have been so busy running the label that they haven’t had many recent opportunities to actually perform locally. “Not a lot of people have had the chance to see Brian do his original stuff or Public Address do their original stuff. Something we really want to bring to the dance floor [at Molly’s] is our original dance music, not just DJ music.”
Wright added, “Our distributor is based in the Netherlands, so a lot of the feedback we get is from the Netherlands, Germany, the U.K. It can feel a little far afield from what’s going on here.” Distribution was actually the main impetus behind the founding of Mesa Recordings. Their soon-to-be Dutch distributor initially contacted them with an interest in the D Numbers catalog. “They took a shine to us for potential sync licensing,” Groetzinger explained, referring to licensing music for use in films, television, and commercials. “They don’t just work with bands, so they said, you have to become a label in order for us to distribute you. They weren’t really expecting us to throw a release at them every two months!”
In Mayhall’s opinion, the new situation is ideal: “Previously when we were touring, we were always hoping some label would pick us up. We were out there in the world thinking, hey guys, we’re making this great music and working really hard on it. At that time, labels were sort of dying and on the decline. Now it’s cooler than that could’ve ever been, because we have our own label. To me it’s a total dream come true — we have these people helping us in Europe, and yet we have all this creative control.”
Although based in the Netherlands, the distribution company works internationally and releases Mesa’s music on countless digital platforms. They also handle European promotions for the label, sending out press materials and working to secure radio and internet airplay. After a decade or so of doing that legwork themselves, the members of D Numbers were happy to pass along a big chunk of the responsibility.
“Before we’d just send things out into the ether and get back nothing,” Wright said. Now, they receive regular promo reports with encouraging statistics regarding worldwide plays and the occasional surprise highlight, like Mesa spins on BBC radio. For the most part, however, the music spreads through online means. “Pandora was the first thing that really gave us hope,” Groetzinger said. “You can see who has a D Numbers Pandora station. There are like tens of thousands of people with D Numbers as either a seed band in their station or as the main seed. How would we be getting these hundreds of thousands of downloads and streams a month without that?”
The increase in worldwide exposure came with the potential for new collaboration. According to Mayhall, unsolicited submissions from similarly inspired electronic artists have already begun to trickle in. “We got a really cool submission from someone in Italy. They heard Public Address, on the radio or something, and said, I really like this, I want to reach out. And it was great hearing her music.”
Conversely, the label owners pursue outreach efforts of their own. Mayhall contacted a Ukrainian artist he admired named Kulakostas and asked him to remix one of his own songs. “He did it in a couple weeks, and it’s beautiful. So now we have a connection with this guy, and we’re getting plays on SoundCloud in Ukraine.” Similarly, they are looking forward to releasing a full-length album by Denver-based producer David Last in 2014 as one of the six releases planned for the upcoming year (and the first one that does not feature a member of D Numbers).
The label’s approach to making low-overhead digital recordings and spreading them far and wide fits the emerging paradigm for independent labels. All three founders record their own music in home studios rather than expensive and elaborate professional ones. They encourage other musicians to do the same, both to lower costs and maintain creative freedom.
“Decent speakers, good plugins, audio interface, microphone, and you’ve got an awesome home studio,” Groetzinger summarized. For the founders of Mesa, who have discovered how to grow internationally without sacrificing their Santa Fe headquarters, the main benefit of the home studio is just that — it’s home.
See Mesa artists at Molly’s Kitchen and Lounge (1611 Calle Lorca, 983-7577), featuring Public Address, Brian Mayhall, and Feathericci, on Saturday, Aug. 10, at 9 p.m. Cover is $5 at the door for the 21-and-over show. ◀