Rick Galusha's Pacific St. Blues and Americana

Since inception (1989), Pacific St. Blues & Americana strives to be a discerning voice helping roots fans sift through the mountains of music released every year. We are not for everyone; we want to engage active, critical listeners that hear beyond d'jour. Interviews include: Johnny Winter, Bill Wyman (Rolling Stones), Jerry Wexler, Tommy Shannon & Chris Layton, B.B. King, Dr. John, Robin Trower, Robben Ford, Mato Nanji, Joe Bonamassa, Harry Manx, Sue Foley, Marshall Chess, Billy Lee Riley, Charlie Louvin, Kim Richey, Radney Foster, Eric Johnson, David Clayton Thomas, Al Kooper, Phil Chen (Wired, Blow By Blow), Ian McLagan, Art Neville, Southside Johnny, Miami Steve Van Zant, Nils Lofgren, Bruce Iglauer, Charlie Musselwhite, Studebaker John, Chris Duarte, Smokin' Joe Kubeck, Hamilton Loomis, Peter Karp, Roomful of Blues, James Harman, Hadden Sayers, Malford Milligan, Melvin Taylor, Otis Taylor, Dave Alvin, Coco Montoya, Jimmy Thackery, Marsha Ball, Maria Muldaur, Shelby Lynne, Magic Dick & J. Geils, Lil' Milton, BuddyGuy, Aynsley Lister, Matt Schofield, Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks, Guy Clark, Joe Ely, James Cotton, Robin & Jesse Davey, Hugh Coltman (Hoax), Sean Kelly (Samples), John Entwistle (The Who), Mark Olson (Jayhawks), Walter Wolfman Washington, Anthony Gomes, Bob Malone, Chubby Carrier, Buckwheat Zydeco, Murali Coryell, David Jacob Strain, DeAnna Bogart, Michael Lee Firkins, Guy Davis, Jason Ricci, John Doe, Little Feat, Matt Woods, MikeZito, Peter Buffett, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Corky Siegel, Todd Park Mohr, Watermelon Slim, Magic Slim, Corey Harris,- - - - - - ------------------------Radio archives: http://www.kiwrblues.podomatic.com/. Playlists: http://www.omahablues.com/ Reviews featured in http://www.blueswax.com/. Email: KIWRblues@gmail.com Live online; Sundays 9 a.m. (-6 GMT) http://www.897theriver.com/

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Interview: Robb Nansel and JAson Kulbel, label & club owner/ operators

When the Waiting Room opened in Benson earlier this year the words “revival” were on the lips of music fans and Benson merchants. When Saddle Creek Records opens their new music venue, Slowdown, this week the City of Omaha is hoping to keep the fire of north Omaha development burning. The opening of the Slowdown Club is the first in a series of planned events in the area including Filmstream Movie Theatre, Blueline Coffee Shop, Urban Outfitters clothing store and a restaurant to be named. The backdoor plan of providing a taxpayer baseball stadium for Creighton University at the expense of historic Rosenblatt Stadium has also been floated recently.

To an outsider the success of Omaha based Saddle Creek Records could be traced to the rise of Conor Oberst and Bright Eyes. As Oberst traverses the eye of the recording industry needle his momentum affords other label acts including The Faint and Cursive to gander opportunity. At a time when recording labels are downsizing and laying off thousands of employees Saddle Creek Records owner Robb Nansel, along with Jason Kulbel, is opening a club in Omaha’s NoDo (North of Downtown) area. The club will is Slowdown (“one word.”) Nansel’s reticent nature is legendary and off set by Kulbel’s easier demeanor.

CW: How do you define the music you are recording?

JK: Rock n’ roll.

CW: Some would call it “indie rock.”

JK: Yeah.

CW: What is indie rock?

JK: It’s changed but basically non-major label music. Indie labels were forming before the ‘90’s with labels like SubPop, Matador and Merge.

RN: (The band) Pavement is what indie rock meant, you know, quirky slacker rock.

CW: So tell me about the club. How do you know if it’s a success?

RN: By keeping the door open. We put a lot of thought and time into this…

JK: Rock clubs, good rock clubs, are usually in an old space, but Slowdown is being built from the ground-up. We want the bands that play there to have a great experience. We’ve worked hard to get it right; from the people that run it, to the layout, to the load-in area. We’ve got a wall so that it can be a larger club or just a small bar.

RN: We got lots of feedback from artists and we’ve been in a lot of clubs over the years. What we wanted to do was take an artist’s point of view; what’s the backstage area look like, how’s the load-in area work, what’s the quality of the sound. To use your term we wanted to define the “culture” inside the club. Even if an artist has a crappy show we want them to feel good about playing here, you know, do their laundry and feel we took good care of them – that playing Omaha was a good experience.

JK: I think it will be things like a full bar when we don’t have a show. We’ll have other things going on besides what’s going-on on the stage.

CW: So how is the (proposed) Creighton baseball stadium going to affect you?

JK: It’s going to help a lot.

RN: There’s a bunch more stuff coming down here. That’s why we chose this neighborhood. We have The Blueline Coffee Shop, Filmstreams Movie Theatres. Right now we’re looking for a restaurant.

CW: You picked your tenants right?

JK: We recruited them, yeah.

RN: Rachael (Friedman w/ Filmstreams) was a friend. We’d heard she was looking for some space in Omaha so that kinda fell into place. We just asked her about opening her theatre down here.

CW: What about Urban Outfitters Clothing Store?

JK: Robb knew a fellow that is their music supervisor.

RN: I’ve known Drew for a few years through shows like CMJ and SXSW. He gets records into their shops and we got a few into their stores. So I approached him, he understood the culture of what we wanted to do. I asked him if he thought there would be any interest. “There should be” he said so we asked their President – Tedford Marlow. Ted came to town to check it out. At first he didn’t want to do it but I’ve been badgering him for months.

JK: Robb went to Philadelphia for a music convention and met up with Ted while he was there.

RN: We met for a beer and he agreed to do it.

JK: They start building in July and plan on a fall opening.

CW: So is this the fulfillment of an aspiration?

RN: Sure. (smiles). As a kid all we had was the Cog Factory or a Legion Hall – not an ideal place to see bands, really. We knew how it could be done: what a benefit a decent rock club could be. So we wanted to have a better place for people to play.

JK: There are going to be more show and better shows in Omaha. You know in 2, 3, 4 years things are going to be so much better in terms of the number of shows coming to town and the quality of the shows. You are going to see a lot more people coming out to see live music

CW: Did you set out to put Omaha on the map sorta speak?

JK: Not intentionally. We just wanted to be successful; put out these records. Omaha happen to be where we were but no, we had no intention to change the cultural landscape or anything. Robb?

RN: We’re proud for Omaha to be known for music. Really the label was just to document the music our friends were making and that’s really all we were trying to do, document the music. Nowadays the label is a success – it has grown beyond our documentation.

CW: Surprised?

RN: Definitely. If anyone of us suspected or said this is where we’d be today we’d have said ‘you’re crazy.’ I supposed in the back of your mind this is what you hope happens.

CW: So how do you manage all this? A label, a merchandise company and the club?

JK: It’s just a natural management. I don’t really think about it. Working as close to each other as we do we have ‘meetings’ all day long and usually just end up talking about something in the doorway…

RN: I don’t know what peoples perception is but there isn’t a strategic plan. It’s very casual – if it feels right we do it: if it doesn’t, we don’t. I mean we do have structured weekly meetings but we’re pretty small, only eight employees.

CW: What about risk?

JK: We don’t think about it. You can’t or it will overwhelm you.

CW: Did you ever see the film, ‘Shiny Happy People?’ The movie about Factory Records (in Manchester, England). They opened a club and it ended up bringing down the label and everything…

RN: I have a slight fear…

CW: But.

RN: We’ve learned from some of those labels. Things to watch out for: things to avoid. In the late 90’s SubPop and Matador had outgrown themselves with too many records getting put out. They became too eclectic. For example SubPop overcame it by downsizing their roster and creating a new identity.

CW: So the lesson is?

RN: Don’t put out too much stuff?

JK: Thankfully there have been examples. We have relationships with all those labels (SubPop, Matador, Merge) so we can ask them questions.

RN: All of those labels have been super open with us. Jonathan Pearlman came out here once for a party. Super open guy – he will tell us what we want to know.

CW: So where did the name ‘Slowdown’ come from?

JK: Do you remember the band Slowdown Virginia? It was an earlier band with Tim Kasher, Matt McGuinn, Steve and Casey.

RN: That was our inspiration.

The Slowdown Club is located at 14th & Webster Streets just west of the Qwest Arena and north of the downtown area. The club is slated to open on June 8th. Originally the club was proposed to open on Saddlecreek Road near the Homy Inn and Sgt. Pfeffers Restaurant but the neighborhood protested over concerns of noise, trash and parking concerns. It was during this process that the City of Omaha engaged Nansel and Kulbel to help find a suitable location for the “picky” entrepreneurs. The Filmstreams Theatre will open on July 27th. Tickets for Slowdown will be available at www.Etix.com and Homer’s Music Stores.

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