Ten years ago, The Recording Industry Association of America, a music industry lobbying group, announced that their CEO Hilary Rosen was quitting after her prolific-but-failed efforts to halt the spread of illegal downloading of copyrighted music.
At the time, it was depressing news for most professional musicians and their record labels, since it meant going back to the drawing board in finding new ways to carve out a living in the digital age where it was becoming much too easy to collect their recordings free of charge.
Around that time, Lesa Bezo was holding onto a handful of songs just aching to be recorded. "Some were break-up songs, others were about finding new love," she recalled. "I remember asking Henning Ohlenbusch, who may have inspired a couple of these songs, if he would be in a band with me. Lucky for me he said yes."
At that point, The Fawns were born, and so was Rub Wrongways Records.
The arrival of the friendly little indie label, which has basically grown into a talent-rich collective of Pioneer Valley based musicians (led by Ohlenbusch), was timely for drummer/songwriter Brian Marchese.
"The onset of Rub Wrongways came at a pretty important time: not only was the country in a dark mood, but it was becoming clear to everyone that the music business as we’d known it was never going to be the same. ... This could have been when most of us decided to pack it in, grow up, move, etc., and many folks did -- but some of us had no choice but to keep creating because there was still an endless stream of musical ideas flowing in our heads."
That stream has led to 200 original songs, released 13 full-length albums, five EPs and three singles, one anthology and one double tribute album.
The tribute, titled "Friends -- A Celebration of the Songs of Lesa Bezo," includes 29 contributions of covers from some of the region’s best including the likes of Philip Price (Winterpills), Ray Mason and Mark Mulcahy. It turns out that he collection came about without the knowledge of the Fawns’ frontwoman.
"It was unveiled at a birthday party and was a complete surprise. The song ‘Would You Stop?’ as recorded by Spouse was played over the sound system and it gradually came to me that this was not the Fawns’ version. Then I found out there was a whole album! It was just too much. ... Having so many unbelievably talented artists cover my songs last year was mind-blowing! I am still in shock."
Rub Wrongways has become a conglomeration of artists who truly dig each others songs, and who gladly perform on each other’s records.
Journalist/musicologist Ken Maiuri plays 10 different instruments on a total of 74 songs, while Label President Ohlenbusch contributes nine instruments to 184 recordings in the catalog. Marchese, who drums on a total of 140 tracks and sings his own songs with his band Sitting Next To Brian, is thrilled to collaborate with his labelmate pals.
"I listen objectively to things I’ve played on and see that folks like Henning (School for the Dead), Thane Thomsen (Goldwater), Lord Russ (Aloha Steamtrain) etc. have written songs that are every bit as great as the best of any songwriter I can think of. That I’m usually given free rein to make up drum parts to them, or even help arrange them is another reminder of how lucky I am. That we all still love and respect each other is also great. That some of these guys play in my band is mind boggling."
This Saturday at 10 p.m., Rub Wrongways and The Fawns will be celebrating their 10th anniversary at The Iron Horse in Northampton, with seven different acts performing in a spirit of collaboration and mutual admiration that has been the earmark of the label from the get-go.
"You will hear a good sampling of well written songs by several people who are doing it for no other reason than that they have to write songs," said Marchese "You will also see me playing drums for, I think, everyone. And Henning playing bass or guitar for everyone."
Dave Madeloni writes a weekly music column for the Arts & Entertainment section. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Rub Wrongways Records and The Fawns Tenth Anniversary Special January 12, 2013 The Iron Horse Music Hall, 20 Center St. Northampton, 10:00 PM - $8.00 in advance, $10 at the door. www.rubwrongways.blogspot.com