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Newly formed Makeshift Records delivers its 'First Broadcast.'

By Chris Herrington

JULY 31, 2000: 

"We would like to put Memphis on the map for having good music." -- from a letter accompanying The First Broadcast on Makeshift Records

When I first read that statement aloud to my girlfriend, we both guffawed. Put Memphis on the music map? The map starts here, right? But after the immediate, incredulous reaction subsided, I began to realize what a healthy, even sort of realistic attitude that is. Memphis' storied music history has been recounted and lauded ad infinitum, in these pages and elsewhere, and with good reason. But the heyday that the city perpetually enshrines, that the local media constantly references, is 25 years in the rear-view mirror. And I wonder whether such a heavy concentration on the past nurtures or stifles new developments.

After all, when Spin recounted the nine essential music scenes of the last 15 years in an issue earlier this year, the likes of Seattle, Minneapolis, Manchester, and Berkeley were there, but no Memphis. And, in a profile of local band the Satyrs in the current issue of Billboard, the magazine's columnist writes that the band is "a dramatic anomaly in a town best known for its raucous rockabilly." Rockabilly? Since when? 1956? But that's what outsiders understandably associate the city with.

As Bob Dylan once sang, "He not busy being born is busy dying." Rock-and-roll is, at its best, an art of becoming -- a perpetually emerging culture. At the risk of sounding flip, I'd suggest that the clearest path to making history (music history, anyway) is ignoring it; that, instead of waiting for the cultural conditions of the past to reconstitute a similarly earth-shaking burst of sound, the best way for young musicians to build a vibrant scene is through a termite-like focus on going about their own work.

Though I may be embellishing it beyond anything the parties themselves would claim, this seems to be a (perhaps inchoate) part of the philosophy behind the newly formed Makeshift Records, an all-local, nonprofit label that is debuting with a compilation, The First Broadcast. The compilation features 17 solo, mostly self-recorded tracks from members of local bands such as Lucero, the Ultra Cats, Snowglobe, Johnny Romania, Shetland, Palindrome, Russ T. Nailz, and Lift-off. Makeshift is the brainchild of local musicians Josh Hicks, 20, and Brad Postlethwaite, 21.

"We were in a band together and were just sitting around talking about the music scene in Memphis, and the lack of unity," says Hicks. "Because there are so many musicians here and such good music, we decided to put the label together to try and pull the scene together a little bit, to give people a chance to play with other musicians. And there's so much good music in Memphis that doesn't get publicized, if it gets released at all, because a lot of bands don't have enough money [to put their stuff out]. So we decided to form a nonprofit record label to release some good local music."

The First Broadcast is the first in a series of planned compilations. Hicks and Postlethwaite plan to release a compilation of band tracks next, and then another solo disc. They would also like to put together a compilation of unreleased tracks from local bands that have since broken up. "The point of the compilations," says Hicks, "is that these songs are donated to us, we put them on the CD and try to promote the CD, and any money we make will go into doing the next project. Hopefully, we'll finally get enough money together to put out records by individual bands. Every penny we get goes straight back into the label. That's how we hope it's going to work in the long-term. We'll see if it succeeds."

As you might expect, The First Broadcast is a mixed bag, but much of it is quite good. Though the record features a few electronic soundscapes, the emphasis is mostly on lo-fi song, the kind of individualistic, home-recording aesthetic made (somewhat) popular a decade ago by indie labels like Chicago's Drag City (Smog, Palace Brothers) and Olympia's K (Beat Happening).

Postlethwaite's "Mudslide," an infectious mix of clattering drums, acoustic guitar, and keyboard, and Brad Carruth's "Forcefield" are probably the most representative of this style. But the disc's highlights are Alicja Trout's "Waste of Breath" and J.D. Reager's "Where He Goes."

Trout, of the Ultra Cats and formerly of the Clears, delivers a riveting blast of organ-drenched, anti-social garage rock. Confronted by (I'm guessing here) a bar full of dull guys, the singer wearily pronounces, "I see too many zombies," then sets the record straight with a monotone rush: "Talking is a waste of breath. I'd rather sit and stare. I'd rather drink more beer. You're boring me to death. Talking is a waste of breath." Reager, also a veteran of several local bands, including Pezz, the Henrys, and, currently, Johnny Romania, opens "Where He Goes" with keyboard and drum pas de deux before launching into a plaintively emotional lo-fi anti-love song that conjures Lou Barlow's stuff from early Sebadoh records.

Other notable contributions include one of ex-Memphian Muller's priceless Dylan goofs, "Let Down Your Guard," which seems to borrow strongly from the Bard of Hibbing's "One Too Many Mornings," and Melissa Dunn's "Long Lost Love," which was recorded with the Compulsive Gamblers' Greg Oblivian and Lucero's Roy Berry. Affectingly off-key, a la Moe Tucker, Dunn's vocals are all wrong in all the right ways.

The First Broadcast should be available at independent record stores as well as at shows by bands that include members featured on the compilation. For more information on Makeshift, check out the label's Web site at www.geocities.com/makeshift_us/.

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