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Rilo Kiley: Wayward Children

 
story by tim mcmahan


 

 

Lazy-i: Sept. 22, 2004

Rilo Kiley
w/ Now It's Overhead & Tilly and the Wall
Sept. 29, 9 p.m.
Sokol Underground
13th & Martha
$10




More Rilo? Read the Oct. 15, 2002, Lazy-i interview with Jenny Lewis.





Finally, with Rilo Kiley slated to return to Omaha for a show Sept. 29, we have a chance to ask the burning question: Why did the band leave Saddle Creek Records, arguably one of the most important indie rock labels in the country?

But first, their new album: Recorded last winter at Lincoln's Presto! Studios by Creek mastermind Mike Mogis with help from Dntel/Postal Service producer Jimmy Tamberello, Beachwood Sparks' Dave Sher and Jimmy Eat World producer Mark Trombino, More Adventurous has been called Rilo Kiley's "big change" record that shifted their direction from the indie to the commercial world. But one listen to the 11-song opus and you'll notice that the band hasn't moved very far from the sound heard on their Saddle Creek debut The Execution of All Things. Both records highlight Jenny Lewis' clear, matter-of-fact vocals that have earned her the title (by SPIN magazine) of "the indie-rock Loretta Lynn."

Growth came in the form of more thought-out song writing and better structured arrangements. More Adventurous is arguably catchier than its predecessor and more "radio friendly," though a number of tracks on Execution… easily could have fit into the targeted adult alternative radio format that has embraced acts like Liz Phair, Sheryl Crow and Aimee Mann.

So it came as a surprise when last April it was announced that Rilo Kiley would be releasing the CD on its own label, Brute/Beaute Records, distributed by major label Warner Bros. The move was a body blow for Saddle Creek, who counted Rilo Kiley among their best sellers. Regardless, label head Robb Nansel put on a brave face at the time, merely stating, "It is their decision. We wish them the best of luck. It's just too bad we won't be involved -- it is a really good record."


 

 

Rilo Kiley drummer Jason Boesel said the move was a difficult decision. "We made this record with Saddle Creek and made it for Saddle Creek and figured it would come out on Saddle Creek," he said from his home in Los Angeles where the band is rehearsing for the upcoming tour. "Shortly after completing the record, we had some ideas and talked about them with Saddle Creek and discovered that we differed on a couple issues. Ultimately, we created our own record label to have total freedom over the record and the music."

That, despite the fact that the CD was already in the can. Seems the disagreements between the band and Creek stemmed not from creative issues, but from what Boesel characterized as limitations inherent to indie record labels. Saddle Creek label manager Jason Kulbel said in last month's issue of Alternative Press that one of the main differences was in how the two parties approached commercial radio. "Even if we had it, we are just not down with throwing hundreds of thousands of dollars at commercial radio so they will play our stuff," Kulbel said in the AP article.

But Boesel said it was more than just the cost of doing business with commercial radio. "I don't know if we're throwing thousands down for commercial radio. That might be an exaggeration," he said. "We didn't want to put a ceiling on what we did."

Boesel said commercial radio is changing, at least in Los Angeles. He pointed to national taste-maker super-station KROQ, which recently added The Postal Service, Death Cab for Cutie and The Faint to its play list. "There's a radio station in LA called Indie 103 that plays more underground stuff and has been really successful right off the bat," Boesel said. "That scared KROQ and they seem, to some degree, to have copied their format." It could spark a change in how radio approaches indie music on a national level.

Although Brute/Beaute is Rilo Kiley's label, there's no denying its close alignment with Warner Bros. Boesel said Warners "just kind of distributes our record," but added that they also distribute Saddle Creek product under the same distribution umbrella. "The distribution is the same," he said. In fact, Saddle Creek records are distributed by the Alternative Distribution Alliance -- or ADA -- a subsidiary of Warner Bros. that operates independently of the conglomerate, said Saddle Creek's Robb Nansel.

"At some point, the hope is that this record would move to Warner Bros. proper," Boesel said. "We wanted that to be a possibility. Even if it had been released by Saddle Creek that was a possibility, but it wasn't something they (Saddle Creek) were comfortable with. They're definitely crusaders with high morals and ethics, trying to do this thing for the greater good. For some, that's the right approach. For us, it wasn't. We're trying to do something similar, but in a different way. We're trying to enter into that world with full knowledge of the traps. We came in with a finished record and have not compromised it in the least."

 

 

 

 

 

 



"Ultimately, we created our own record label to have total freedom over the record and the music."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
"It would be wrong to say we're not taking a gamble choosing to go into this world. We're taking a risk."

 

 

Nansel said there were a number of reasons why Saddle Creek frowned upon a deal where Warner Bros. or any other major would simply take over the record. "They wanted us to sell 'x' number of records and then they would take it from us," Nansel said. "The first few weeks are the most difficult time for any release."

Boesel said More Adventurous will actually be released world-wide in the coming months on Warner Bros., and though they've only just started dealing with the conglomerate, he hasn't noticed any unwanted influence. "It's strange in that we've talked to a few people there and they have ideas just like anyone would, but it's not all that different yet," he said. "I don't know what it will be like in the end."

The band is well aware of the major labels' reputation for tinkering with a band's sound and image. "It would be hard not to go into this thinking about those things," he said, "especially considering the scene we came from and knowing bands that have had horrible experiences. We've done things on our side as well as we can to make sure it doesn't happen.

"It would be wrong to say we're not taking a gamble choosing to go into this world. We're taking a risk. These companies are set up to make money, while indies like Saddle Creek started out as a way to put out good music, which is a completely different thing."

Despite the label wars, Boesel, who also plays on the upcoming Bright Eyes records, said there are no hard feelings between Rilo Kiley and Saddle Creek. "We're totally friends with all those people," he said. "We've been on tour with Tilly and the Wall and Now It's Overhead. In the end, this has been difficult because we felt like they had embraced us and taken us into their family. I wouldn't say we were the black sheep, but we were slightly different than the other bands (on the label) because we're not from Nebraska, so we're physically not there as much to just drop by the office. Still, they were very good to us."

Nansel said that the move hasn't hurt Saddle Creek at all. "We would have been putting out their record right now, which would have been insane seeing as we're currently putting out The Faint record," he said, adding, "We would have made it work, though."


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Published in The Omaha Reader Sept. 22, 2004. Copyright 2004 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.