Sub-Bombin Records operates on principles of community, friendship and love of making music. The label is a loosely organized group of similarly minded musicians who work together to share resources, connections and ideas to nurture its artists and promote the local scene. Call it a musicians’ incubator.
Now, one of Sub-Bombin’s bands is leaving the nest. Saratoga Springs-based Charlie Everywhere is spreading its wings and taking its ambition to the big time, negotiat
ing with labels that have global reach. They hope to release their already-recorded debut album and tour internationally by summer.
And the members of Sub-Bombin, like any mama bird would be, are gleaming with pride.
Charlie Everywhere makes dreamlike, danceable soundscapes of lush, synthetic texture and melancholy lyrics. It’s catchy and easily accessible, so it’s little wonder the band was able to quickly make its way onto the radar of major labels.
“We wanted to incorporate all our own influences and created our own sound that’s a combination of Serge Gainsbourg, sampling and Detroit hip-hop,” said Sarah Barthel, 25, who sings and plays keyboards. “Or how I explain it to the customers who come into the restaurant where I work is that we sound like a combination of Kanye West and Radiohead.”
The band might not be an overnight sensation, but they are about as close as it gets. While most bands toil for years in the studio and on the road, the duo of Barthel and Josh Carter got on the radar of a couple of labels barely a year after they formed. While some bands have played thousands of shows to indifferent crowds, Charlie Everywhere have played about two dozen times since forming in summer 2007. In the meantime, they’ve pushed their songs on the Internet, through both Sub-Bombin’s Web site and on MySpace.
“It boggles my mind every time I think about it,” said Barthel. “Josh and I had a goal and are very determined people. I can’t tell if we are lucky or if we met the right people, but I do feel that our sound is unique and we stick out from the crowd a little more than the average indie rock band.”
Charlie Everywhere is opening for indie-label stars Ra Ra Riot on a couple of dates this winter and dreams of one day supporting bigger bands such as Animal Collective or TV on the Radio.
Barthel and Carter said they prefer not to reveal which labels they’ve been in negotiations with until the dotted line is signed. Barthel said Charlie Everywhere is grateful for all Sub-Bombin has done.
Since 2004, Sub-Bombin has had a handful of identities. Collin Badger, whose DJ name is Midas, and Mike Okon (Rawhead) first had a radio show called Sub-Bombin on Skidmore College’s 91.1 WSPN. After about a year, they decided to form a collective of musicians. The goal was to share booking connections and practice and recording space, and to promote their artists through the shared marketing of a Web site. Eventually, they started releasing records, too.
“We all bring small pieces to the whole,” said Badger. “I’m a graphic artist and a DJ and a producer. Mike has mixing and engineering capabilities. We all offer each other help as a group rather than everyone having to tackle it on their own.”
Badger figured that by creating a critical mass of artists ranging from rock to experimental to hip-hop, they could bolster an anemic Glens Falls/Saratoga music scene.
“We are trying to change the mentality of the people in our cities and get them to think more locally and appreciate what they’ve got around them,” said Badger. “We’ve got so many great bands around here.”
Sub-Bombin has a roster of 13 artists and about a dozen others that are currently inactive. Badger is the executive producer of all releases, two of which have been physically packaged and about 10 that are available on the Web site via free download. The label has also released a couple of compilations.
Their roster includes local acts such as A Fetish For Ethics, Panda Piranha and Ghoul Poon.
While the musical styles might differ, one characteristic remains constant with the artists.
“We do not promote violence or negative lifestyles,” said Okon. “Positive mental attitude is essential.”
Badger knows that once an artist wants to go beyond the local scene, it will have to move on from Sub-Bombin. And he’s OK with that.
“It’s great that Sub-Bombin was able to be a springboard and help them get to the next level,” said Badger. “And hopefully it will help attract more attention back to the label.”
While they are working on negotiations, Charlie Everywhere plans to self-release an EP.
“We want to build up buzz first so that when we release our LP, we will get more sales and more press,” said Barthel.
Bands must consider a number of factors when choosing a label to sign with, said Paul Rapp, local music media expert and Charlie Everywhere’s attorney. They have to figure out if they have the skills to handle the business end themselves or if they want the label to do it for them. In choosing between a major label and an indie label, they have to weigh the benefits of powerhouse promotional resources versus a nurturing relationship that will allow a band to grow over several years.
“Major labels have not nurtured bands the way they used to,” said Rapp. “Now, you get one shot and if you don’t sell records, you are dropped and forever known as the band who didn’t make it.”