John King is a champion of the Louisville music scene. He’s been making a recorded history of Louisville bands for 15 years now. We recently caught up with him to talk about the Louisville Is For Lovers compilations and plans for the 15th Anniversary recording due in February of 2016.
1. What do you do?
John King: I am the founder and Owner/Operator for Louisville Is For Lovers Records and Producer for the compilation records including the Valentine’s Compilation, The Summer 7″ Series (2010), Summer Cassingle Series (2014) and the Louisville Is For Covers series (including the There Is No One: A Louisville Is For Lovers Tribute to Palace Brothers (2013). I work at Zanzabar (a Supporter of the 2016 Comp) and at Guestroom Records (a supporter of the Summer Cassingle Series). I also am a contributing writer for the LEO.
Full Bio at: culturearchivist.com
2.Congratulations on the upcoming 15th anniversary of Louisville Is For Lovers compilations. It’s a great record of Louisville’s music history over the last 15 years. Tell us about the very first compilation you put together, what it took to make it, and some of the people/bands who were on it.
JK: Thank you Laura! I started working on the very first Louisville Is For Lovers compilation in 2000 (released February 2001). At the time my band, Team Totoro, was playing out quite a bit, mostly at Sparks Nite Club, with some very interesting bands including Starkiller (turned Phantom Family Halo), Monkey Boy, Music for Nintendo, and My Morning Jacket (and previously Month of Sundays). Looking back, a lot of it was very experimental, including my group, Monkey Boy, and Music for Nintendo, but at the time I couldn’t understand why all these great Louisville bands couldn’t get anyone to release their records.
So I decided I would ask my favorite bands if they would give me a track for a compilation CD. I was influenced a great deal by the 1990s DIY labels, especially Simple Machines, a mostly compilation album label run by Kristin Thomson and Jenny Toomey in Virginia, who were also mere music enthusiasts who wanted to see their favorite bands get a fighting chance. Simple Machines often had themes for their compilations; including the wonderful Working Holiday Series which had 2 bands a month record a song about a holiday for that month. I decided to do a theme as well, deciding that Halloween and Christmas may be too narrow a focus, but Love had so many layers. And over the next decade Louisville bands proved that the theme of love could go so many different ways.
So there I was, a young bright eyed boy with an idea but no money and no idea how to go about making an album. One day at Ear-X-Tacy I ran into a high school buddy, Jeremy DeVine, who was visiting from Baltimore where he now lived and had been running-quite successfully Temporary Residence Limited- a record label he began in 1995. I asked him if he could guide me into putting out a CD, and right there in the Indie section he spent the next hour telling me how to go about it. Most of it was based on luck.. “There is a guy at the Kinko’s on Hurstborne Lane who will print local album covers after-hours for FREE just to support the local music scene; look for him… There is a girl named Mary in Bloomington Indiana who can broker a good deal on getting CDs printed out of Canada, call her…” I really owe a lot to Jeremy, if he hadn’t pointed me in the right direction, there is no way I could have pulled off that first compilation. But I found the guy at Kinko’s and I found Mary; which organized the manufacture of every CD release I did for 10 years! My Morning Jacket had just been signed to Darla Records and Jim James talked them into distributing the first CD.
There are so many people who helped get Louisville Is For Lovers off the ground, it’s humbling now to think just how many people, bands, and businesses over the years put in time and effort just to make sure a tiny local compilation saw the light of day.
3. What was the vision you had for it back then and did you ever imagine you’d be talking about it 15 years later?
JK: I was about 21 when I first got started and had no idea what I was doing. I just really felt like I needed to do it. There were so many great bands back then that would be around for a few years, try to get a record label interested, and give up after it didn’t happen. this was back before a band could make an impact online; physical media was really the only way to get music out there, which was unattainable for many bands; and they would end up breaking up before they ever recorded a single song! I never thought I would be a music archivist or even a record label owner back then. My thought was that I’d collect songs from bands I liked; put it on a CD and get it out there and some real record labels would hear it and scoop up all the great bands Louisville had to offer and my job would be done! I had planned to move to France during that year. I really thought I just needed to get the outside world to hear what we were doing here in Louisville and someone who knew what they were doing would pick up the rest!
I did move to France shortly after the first comp came out; my goal was to be an artist. My girlfriend was moving there for school, and I was to follow and concentrate on making art work. Long story short, right before we were to leave I was wrongly diagnosed with cancer. This took a while to sort out, and in the meantime she took off to France. By the time I got there, too much time had lapsed, and she had met someone else. I spent the better part of 2001 depressed and wondering around Europe alone. At the end of the year I headed home to find the bands I loved still just trying to get by and get someone interested in putting out their music. One difference I found was that while the outside world didn’t take notice, Louisville did. That first comp was the highest selling album at Ear-X-tacy in February and bands in town were asking if they could be on the next one. The Next one? I hadn’t thought about that! the first comp didn’t change the world of music, the bands didn’t fly off to L.A. or someplace to sign record deals, but Louisvillians had a compilation of great local bands, and the bands had a chance to gain a wider local audience.
I never thought there would be a second one, much less a decade long run! But I am certainly glad I kept going. It became something important to me, especially during the times in my life when little else was working out. When you are young you assume you will be given the opportunities to realize your dreams, and after a few years of fighting for it you realize you will have to try and make the opportunities for yourself. It wasn’t what I thought I’d spend a third of my life doing, but I feel lucky I was afforded the chance to do so.
4. You took a five year hiatus between the last comp from 2010 and now. What made you decide to produce one more?
JK: Around the 8th installment I decided I would end the series at 10; I didn’t want the series to get stagnant, and honestly from October to March it is a full time job that doesn’t pay, it really wasn’t economically feasible for me. I decided I would end the series at nice round number, and after that I would do smaller releases that wouldn’t take up as much time and money, such as the Summer 7″ Series in 2011 and the Cassingle Series in 2014.
I also needed to try and change my personal situation. By 2010 I was in my early thirties, never had more than a minimum wage job, and my future was very uncertain. I looked for opportunities all over the world and told myself I’d take the first that presented itself, which turned out to be in the state of Kentucky at Berea College. I was given a full scholarship (which everyone who is accepted receives) and spent 2011-2015 completing a degree in Popular Culture. In that time I worked on projects when I could, including 2013’s There Is No One: A Louisville Is For Lovers Tribute To Palace Brothers with the help of Louisville MusiCulture (Sean Bailey). I also worked on other projects including an Appalachian Music history series called Celebrated Sounds. I really enjoy archiving music culture, and it turns out I need it in my life. I graduated just in time for Louisville Is For Lovers 15th Anniversary and thought it would be a good time to do some fun things including an anniversary edition of the album.
5. What plans do you have around the 15th anniversary and who will be on the new compilation?
JK: I have very ambitious plans for the 15th Anniversary. I hoped to reissue the previous 10 installments digitally so that they are available for anyone who wants them. All of them were limited editions and the physical copies are long gone; but they are a great window into the Louisville music scene over the course of a decade and I’d like to make sure a record of that time is available. I will also be releasing the new comp digitally for the first time as well as on limited edition vinyl (of 300 copies). We have a crowdfunding campaign up through Dec.20th to try and raise the funds for both the new compilation and to reissue the past editions. As an incentive for donations there are options for donors including pre-ordering the new album either digitally or on vinyl (at $15 and $30 dollars) as well as a never before released digital compilation of bands playing Louisville Is For Lovers songs live, including Jim James and Bonnie ‘prince’ Billy, for anyone who donates $5 or more.
If we reach our goal I plan to reissue all the previous comps in a 10 CD boxset by the end of 2016.
The New Compilation features more than 30 Louisville bands with exclusive -like always- love songs! the bands featured include some Louisville is For Lovers veterans like Second Story Man, The Deloreans, The Fervor, and the Gallery Singers, as well as first timers to the series including White Reaper, Twin Limb, Quiet Hollers, and many more!
6. You’ve been very steeped at times in the Louisville music scene. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen over the last 15 years in terms of our local music scene?
JK: That’s a very interesting question. Going back and listening to past Louisville Is For Lovers records, you can see changes in musical styles, I think mostly depending on what was available for bands at the time. In the early Oughts electronic gear was becoming more widely available/affordable and there was definitely more electronic music being made. Once home recording equipment became more affordable we first saw acoustic home recordings and then then full band recordings being made by bands themselves instead of at recording studios. Availability of certain equipment and outlets at different times really shaped the music that was getting put out there. But people always find a way to make music, It’s the platform that is always changing.
Back when I first started CD and 7″ records were really the only options for an independent band to get recorded music out there. Which were still difficult to pay for. Now bands can toss endless amounts of music online for virtually nothing; but the obstacle is still finding a way to catch the attention of a potential audience, especially with so much being tossed at them. We have always had a large number of great bands in Louisville, and more than ever there are so many venues for bands to play. I think the issue of pulling together an audience hasn’t changed. Especially now with virtually every band on the planet having an online presence, it’s difficult catching the attention of listeners. This is why I believe that building and nurturing a musical community is important. If Louisville Is For Lovers has taught me anything, it’s that you don’t have to look any further than Louisville to find support. Musicians need only to look within the city to find comrades to help build and support their musical cultures.
Since I’ve returned from school I’ve noticed so many new venues, many neighborhood venues, and we are seeing more musical communities build up around neighborhoods. Just last night at Zanzabar I saw two local groups, and both bands remarked on how they loved playing in Germantown. I think as the musical community as well as the city as a whole grows, we will continue to see musicians and audiences focus on specific areas and sub-genres as a way to feel connected.
Here’s some links to find out more about Louisville Is For Lovers: