Bringing It All Back Home

The story of the River Jones Music Label

A recent conversation about Courtney Marie Andrews, reminded me to resurrect the following interview I did back in 2010 with label owner River Jones, back then I had less miles on the clock and a music blog on Wordpress on the go at that time.

We have seen contrasting fortunes for record labels in an ever-changing music landscape. Navigating the digital music climate as a small label is no small feat but far removed from the world of Pop Idol, X-factor a small independent record label in Phoenix, Arizona is doing just that.

Carrying the torch passed down from the likes of Chess Records, Elektra who both celebrated their 60th anniversary this year, the River Jones Music record label has quietly started to grow in stature in the indie community and beyond. After making the decision to move from Los Angeles back to his hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, River Jones established the small outfit back in 2008. The unassuming 33-year-old is already a veteran of the music industry

“I did an Internship with Elektra Records when I was 19–22 years old. It’s hard to pin point what experience I have from which time period of life. I literally have been doing and working with music since I was seven years old. So, I’ve been doing music for 26 years now. Collectively, I have found myself in every position in music through the years. It’s hard to separate the experiences to where I had them. Though, I’m happy that Elektra Records, Maverick Records, Grand Royal, and V2 Music all gave me a chance to learn different positions when I was growing up. It’s an honor to be a part of that tradition.”

Growing up, you have always been interested and passionate about music. Who initially grabbed your attention musically ?

“Growing up, I was always passionate about music. I decided that I was going to be a musician when I was around seven years old. Soon after was the birth of MTV, Cable TV, and personal computers. I enjoyed renting video games and beating the games within a night or two. It was the 80’s… I played video games, I loved rock music, and I also got to see the birth of rap music first hand. There was a lot going on for music and culture. It was a lot like how it is now, with the Internet, new age, and such. Rolled together, it really makes sense of what everyone is doing do now-a-days with music and media. In short, what I’m doing with my record label feels natural for me.”

Jones tends to his stable of young singer/songwriters with the gentle hand of a champion race horse trainer. His talented foals, learning to find their feet including Courtney Marie Andrews,You Me and Apollo, Boys and Frogs, Owl & Penny, Underground Cities. He mentions that

“Coming from Arizona, I came across a group of amazing songwriters that all had no representation, means to record, or a label to be on. At the same time, I was looking for an artist to produce. I ended up with 12 of them… So, it was all perfect timing and a really rare thing to happen. They’re all 19–23 and the art/work balance was perfect. Label’s have many era’s through the years. I was proud to find out that Elektra Records was founded on a folk era as well. It really made sense of what was happening to me at the time.”

Those same artists are very young but seem very mature, you must get great fulfilment in nurturing that talent. Can you discuss?

“Yes. All of the songwriters on the Arizona roster are 19–23. It is very fulfilling to see these artists get to where they’ve been going since we’ve worked together. Most great songwriters are bright people. So, it wasn’t surprising to find that they are on my level in conversation. These Arizona songwriters are some of the brightest songwriters that I hear speaking for their generation right now, they know their generation well, and I definitely feel proud to see them do well. ”

Also, he has precocious talent such as Courtney Marie Andrews who is beginning to canter with her third album, released at the tender age of 20!

She has already toured with fellow Phoenix Artists Jimmy Eat World and recently appeared Conan O’Brien singing back-up vocals for them. Andrews possesses a stunning voice that is translated so well to record under Jones’s delicate production and arrangements. Her latest record “ For One I Knew “ contains stand-out tracks including “ The Days We Met Halfway “ and the beautiful “Broken Feet”

How have you found the transition to the other side of the music desk ?

“I really don’t think about that stuff much. I think that me and my friends are really doing what feels comfortable for us. We’re all artists, and it feels like a road that we all know that we’re on, but it’s not an easy road, it’s actually a hard path. But, this hard path brings us joy. It almost feels out of our control, like there’s a bigger thing that we’re figuring what it is as we travel it. We just can turn to each other, half nervous smile, and know that we’re all happy with what it is that we’re doing. Though, we all don’t have a single clue to what it is that we’re doing. I’m pretty sure that we’re all living through intuition.”

How would you describe your musical production style?

“I don’t really think about a production style. I just fill in the gaps if people need the help in that area. If people don’t need the help in an area, I focus on an area that they need the helping hand. I do anything from playing instruments, to running marketing campaigns for them, to producing albums, and so, and so on. Every project that I work with has a completely different work dynamic”

In today’s music world, it’s seems the digital world offers both huge opportunities and challenges?

“Yeah, I hear of all of the news stories of the challenges. But, we are a small label that makes art and then sells it. We are working class people making albums. So, everything we do is a success for us. Our goal is to always at least break even. So far, we are at a 100% success rate. ”

Twitter, is personally my favourite way of discovering new music and I believe it is a very much under-rated and misunderstood application but Jones also is very much aware that there is still nothing quiet like the social exchange/interaction with educated music fans. On Social Media, what do you find as the most useful tool?

“On social media, I just take any platform and find a way to use it to help musicians. This takes me back to the video games that I played as a kid. Just like Zelda, wander around the wilderness and find the path.In the physical world, I would have to say that my favorite social media place is an independent record store. Having a physical product in stores is a great feeling. There’s nothing better than having your music in an Indie record store. ”

Has Social Media, the web possibly levelled the playing pitch for the smaller label, in reaching new fans?

“Yes. I watch label documentaries a lot, and after two years as a label, we’re around where other labels were after ten years of building. I’m grateful, and I love the future for giving us this opportunity to do what we do using the Internet.”

How do you feel about making music streams available for first listens?(as opposed to downloadable )

“I’ve been doing free streaming all along. I also had been giving away free albums in hopes to build a grassroots fan base for our artists. There’s always next year, or five years later to be paid back for the work that we do today. I’m not really worried about that sort of stuff, I’m just trying to help new bands be heard. But, what does worry me is that there are a lot of factors that arise from discounting music. Like, if you sell something on the Internet for $4.99. How do you expect the local record store to stay open? What happens to those families? They’ve supported music for 20+ years… That’s a harsh reality that has been happening. I’m excited to be a part something new, but the last thing that I would ever want is for a local record store to close because of it. So, I’ve been experimenting in ways to help my local record stores while finding realistic price points that people will pay online. It’s a tug of war that has really kept me up some nights. I hope that it will all balance out in a natural circle of happiness for all.”

Would you describe yourself as an entrepreneur or a music producer or both ?

“My title changes with every project. It just depends on what the artist needs. If they need local shows, I’m a promoter. If they need an album, I’m a producer. But, after working as these things, I’ve met others who actually are those things. So now, if someone needs local shows… I tell them to call a promoter. If someone needs an album, I give them a list of local studios to use.Something I’ve learned as a young company that deals in intellectual art is that there are other companies that depend on that as a means to keep their families fed. So, again just like the local record stores… It’s important to support recording studios. It is another tug of war similar to the indie record stores. There are so many great studios closing because of home studios. To do my part, I produce one or two albums a year for free in my home studio for bands that have no financial possibilities to do otherwise. Then, the rest of the albums come from various studios across the globe. In the Internet age, I think it’s important to make sure that people are aware of how their actions can affect others. Even if it means that I need a part time job on the side to pay my bills, at least I’m not putting others out of work. ”

Being a thirty something, I often feel this demographic is ignored for music consumption. Would you agree ?

“I really don’t know much about music consumption with people in their thirties. I think a lot of people’s priorities change as they get older. Rock n’ Roll has always been focused on the next generation’s views. For many, music isn’t as important as they get older. So, I personally found myself wanting to step aside as an artist when I realized that there are young people trying to speak to their peers about their generation. I personally would rather help someone document their generation than worry about my own art. I’ve learned a lot from the next generation. I also get great respect from them because I listen to what they say. A lot of people forget that young people shape the future and have great things to say. I’ve actually seen more age discrimination to people who are 19–23 than I’ve seen hardship for my friends in their thirties. It reminds me of one of my favorite David Bowie lyrics from ‘Changes’,

And these children that you spit on,
As they try to change their worlds,
Are immune to your consultations,
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through

The label has grown about 100% since April, 2010 and continues to grow as bright as the Phoenix midday sun. It is looking at doing more national and international signing of bands of all different genres. It is beginning to stretch it’s wings but when asked which genres in particular is he most interested in, he gave a great old-record man like response ….

“Well, I definitely listen to the song as a whole. Genres aren’t as important to me as the actual song itself. I had been looking for bands worldwide when I found the entire Arizona songwriting roster. So, it looks like we’re just one thing. But, in actuality, we’re not just one thing. Just like many successful labels in the past, we’ll have eras of groups, and that’s where the genres will be assumed.”

In the near future, who can we look forward to new releases from?

“We’re currently working on new releases from everyone on the label. Yes, every single band is constantly writing, and we’re always trying to keep up with their creativity. New albums are posted on www.riverjonesmusic.org and all of our albums are free streaming through our friends at Think Indie

Are you excited or apprehensive about the future?

“I’m completely excited for the future. Every day, the world feels more comfortable for me. I’ve always been a futurist, and now my peers are changing the world for us. It’s going to be exciting until the next generation trumps us. I’m excited for today.”

The River Jones Music label and a character like Jones himself, is helping to restore confidence and credibility in the music industry for future generations. Some recommended listening includes Owl & Penny, Boys and Frogs, Underground Cities and of course, the already mentioned Courtney Marie Andrews. On these cold winter days, I would advise to take a fire side seat and throw another log on. Listening to some of these artists, their music will bring warmth to the body and soul.

Boys and Frogs –“Good Sons”

Underground Cities “Daliance.”