Taking time out from setting up a recording rig in the Foxxden, down the hall from Radio Boise, Noise & Color got to catch up with the entrepreneurs and indie music enthusiasts behind Middle of Nowhere Sessions.
Reggie Mace, Beth Rahn, and Cody Onthank have been tirelessly working in SE Washington to bring national acts into a virtual flyover zone in the band tour itinerary. Since setting up shop last year, they’ve brought a staggering number of bands to play in an intimate setting. Changing gears now from a small venue to a hybrid promotion/booking/recording concern, Middle of Nowhere Sessions is poised to make waves in the way independent musicians reach fans outside of the larger cities.
N&C: Tell us a little about what Middle of Nowhere Sessions is. What have you been doing this last year?
Reggie Mace: Maybe to tell you what Middle of Nowhere Sessions is I should preface with what it was. It started off as a way to get people to come out to our little winery tasting room in Dayton, WA. We thought, ‘Hey let’s merge our love of live indie music with live shows at our place that is literally in the middle of nowhere. It’s a tiny town of a couple thousand people. It’s a thirty minute drive from really any major population center. And how do we get people to come out and hang out here?’
So we started booking shows and it kind of took on a life of its own. Last year at Mace Meadworks in Dayton we had probably 45 shows. Plus we hosted around a dozen shows at other venues. Plus we did some unofficial shows at Treefort last year at House 409.
Beth Rahn: And the reason why so many bands said yes is because we are on the way to lots of different cities.
RM: That’s kind of where the name Middle of Nowhere came from too, because we were between a bunch of somewheres.
BR: For the bands driving through, they’d always have an extra night, and we’d say, ‘Hey! We know what to do with your extra night! Spend it with us!’
RM: So that brings us up to the end of 2014. For a variety of reason we won’t go into today, we’ve basically closed down our location in Dayton. We had a lot of fun there, but it was time to call that one quits. We’ve since moved into essentially a roaming production concern. We’ve put on shows at a few different venues in Walla Walla on a regular basis. And we have a series of house shows we do there called Pop Secret shows. We don’t tell you who is playing or where it’s going to be until you committed to going. A combination of pop-up and secret shows…nothing to do with popcorn, I swear. [Laughs]
Cody Onthank: There has never been popcorn at one of those shows.
RM: The long term goal of Middle of Nowhere Sessions is basically to be a catalyst to grow a music scene in SE Washington. Because we don’t have any major cities in SE Washington with any big venues or a big population…there’s just never been a market there, so we don’t have a lot of big touring bands coming through. We’ve been left off the map for the last 20 years of the music scene developing in the Northwest…and we’re tired of that and decided to do something about it.
CO: Before a year and a half ago, there was no music scene in Walla Walla, so you pretty much had to go to Spokane, Seattle, Portland, Boise. Even in the Tri-Cities there’s not really much going on besides huge Nickelback shows in the stadium. We’re just trying to build up the community from the inside out. It would be awesome to have a thriving local scene because there are only a handful of viable bands in Walla Walla and the surrounding area. So the more you’re bringing things in, the more you’re inspiring the kids, the more the local scene is built up, and the more reason you have for people to actually show up.
BR: [It’s about] getting people used to going to shows regularly and really getting them to start appreciate it so they say, ‘This is awesome! I can’t believe we didn’t have this before!’
RM: A really great thing I heard was a friend of ours, Jonas Myers, he’s a musician in Walla Walla, and he said, ‘The reason I’m pursuing my music endeavors right now is because you guys are bringing music here and it’s giving me the inspiration and motivation to make my own.’ That was probably the best compliment I’ve received all year!
N&C: Maybe tell us a little bit about what you’ve been doing in Walla Walla. What’s in store for your recording endeavors?
RM: Part of what MONS did last year was a Kickstarter project so that we could buy some equipment to produce live shows and record them. It’s always been kind of a work in progress to find out what we were going to do with that content. We’d love to turn it into like a Daytrotter Sessions streaming service, but that’s really expensive and takes a lot of development. It’s still on the horizon though. We’ve got about 40 really great sets recorded already. […] We’re moving all of our recording studio gear into another studio in Walla Walla and merging with Vicarious Rex, which is a recording studio. Their engineer is the fourth guy who should be sitting with us here. The four of us all have the same motivation, the same kind of kamikaze drive to do it regardless of what kind of…
CO: …personal expense we might incur. [Laughs]
RM: I wish I could have figured out some way to make this a tax deductible thing last year. [Laughs]
N&C: And what about the financial aspect? Are you working on other projects?
RM: We need to find a way to get people in our corner of the Northwest to become familiar with the music before the bands come out, and that’s really difficult because we don’t really have any radio stations that push indie music. And because this needs to at least be breaking even, Cody, Beth and I have been scheming up a monthly vinyl club.
N&C: That was actually one of my questions. Tell us a little about this vinyl of the month club.
RM: We decided the name is…
CO: …Indie Wax Monthly.
RM: Indie Wax Monthly. I guess when you publish this that will make it official! Let’s sign up that domain name now. [Laughs] Our idea is basically to create a monthly record subscription. And we’re going to give you at least three options to choose from […] and then there will be a la carte bonuses and 7-inches and rarities that we’ll throw in here and there.
CO: And probably a catalog of all the past months so you can add those on a la carte too.
RM: But basically it creates this way where we can get people who are completely out of the loop on indie music but they like what they hear and they don’t really know how to get into it…it’s a way to get great NW indie bands on their turntables. Our intention is to buy all of the records from the bands at a little bit better than they’re getting from a record store and wholesale. And these are all records you’re not going to find in your local record store. They’re pretty much all independently produced and reasonably priced.
CO: And I think a really big facet of what we’re trying to do is working directly with the artists for new releases and getting them out a couple weeks to a month before so there’s some exclusivity. And then also taking artists who don’t have the cash to put down for the vinyl and providing that ahead of time.
RM: We can kind of control which record people are going to prioritize through their subscription and create a more constant revenue stream [for bands]. Say a new record is coming out in the Fall and it’s not going to come out on vinyl, but we think our subscribers would really like it. Three months in advance we will buy 300 copies from the band at wholesale so they have the money to put the order in and make the vinyl happen. Then we get exclusive early release rights and make that the priority release that month.
BR: It’s a great way for members to directly support artists and see it happening.
RM: Totally. It’s kind of a way of bypassing all of the urgency and desperation of funding a record with a Kickstarter project. Having run one ourselves, we totally understand how stressful they are. It’s an amazing tool for bands these days, but if we can help relieve some of that stress, I think that would be a good thing.
CO: And I think that all of us involved are so excited about the independent scene that’s going and the amazing bands, we want to give them the ability to make another album. We want them to be on the road selling vinyl and getting just a little bit more in their pocket so they can keep doing it.
RM: We’re not independently wealthy people. We can’t just go up to these bands and be like, here’s a couple grand, go make an album. But if we can create an ongoing economy, and bands can count on selling a couple hundred copies right off the bat, then that finances the whole thing. I don’t know how many awesome bands I’ve seen that haven’t been able to afford vinyl. And however archaic of a technology it is, it sets your bar at a certain accomplishment level if you’re a band that has vinyl. The difference between an opening band’s merch table and a headliner’s at a show typically is that the headliner’s is a lot shinier because there’s someone with money behind it or they have enough fans that they can afford vinyl. And hopefully [Indie Wax Monthly] will be able to democratize that a little.
N&C: And what have you got going here at Treefort this year?
RM: We’re calling it Middle of Treefort Bootleg Sessions. This time we’re at the Foxxden between the Bouquet and the Crux. We’re at the heart of Treefort. We’re calling it Bootleg Sessions because we’re recording the shows. And if you’re one of those lucky people that got through the door and signed up, we’ll send you a bootleg of the show. We’ve got four bands lined up: OK Sweetheart, Aaron Mark Brown, And And And, and Sama Dams. Those are all bands we’ve produced shows with in the past, and they’re all friends and some of our favorites…and scheduling worked out. [Laughs] Which is a big feat during Treefort!