Nathan Reusch curates his own Kansas City sound
Nathan Reusch has been wading through crowds in the dingy, beer-slopped underground for more than 15 years. He’s hard to miss at a local rock show, a friendly bear of a guy in a newsboy cap.
These days, though, Reusch is mostly supporting a very specific band niche.
Reusch is one of the founders of the Record Machine, along with Mike Russo and Richard Robinett. The trio laid the groundwork for the local label in 2003 and has been building a killer arsenal of bands inside and outside Kansas City ever since. And 2010 has been the Record Machine’s best year yet. In the past few months, it has signed local indie-rock heavyweights Cowboy Indian Bear and Soft Reeds, bedroom electronic act Motorboater, and garage newcomer Lazy to a roster already studded with local stars.
“When we started in ’03, the Golden
Republic and the Billions were bands I would have loved to sign, and they were on labels that didn’t care,” Reusch says. (Earlier in the decade, the Golden Republic was signed to Astralwerks, and the Billions to Northern Records.) “They were not priorities,” he says of the bands’ stations at their former labels.
Now, Reusch is working with them the second time around. Ben Grimes, formerly of the Golden Republic, is the creative force behind Soft Reeds, and Billions founder Sam Billen has kick-started his solo project. “To be able to help [Billen] restart his career — and help him get going again in a positive way — has been a really awesome thing for me to do personally,” Reusch says. The reason is simple: “Because I love it,” he says.
The Record Machine applies a very specific mindset in its selection of bands. “You don’t want to be defined by one style of painting or one style of art,” Reusch says. “It’s the same way with music for me. I want to be able to do what I really respect — what I want to be promoting and working on.”
Reusch hopes one day to use the Record Machine to usher a string of musicians into the national spotlight. “Any more, you can’t just do a show every weekend in your hometown and expect to have every blog writing about you,” he explains. “I miss that about the world. Can’t you just be a hardworking band and get there eventually? Is that still there? I hope so.”
Reusch says there’s more to it than hard work, though. The secret is to work smart. “We work with the bands directly. It’s really a partnership. Labels can no longer just be bank accounts.”
Instead, the Record Machine’s approach is hands-on — refining a band’s image and creative process in addition to focusing on promotion and finances. This collaboration has proved to be an easy process for local bands. In some cases, as with Soft Reeds’ Grimes, one of the Record Machine owners lives right down the street.
The label’s founders conceived their venture as a nationally focused label that happened to be based in Kansas City, rather than the imprint of local sound that the Record Machine is now. “We got away from doing the Kansas City thing until a few years ago,” Reusch says. After the Record Machine signed several local acts a few years ago, including Capybara, the idea of a KC-centered label began to fill out. “It just became this natural progression,” Reusch says. “And it’s just grown from there.”
The Record Machine may focus on supporting its own bands more than the metro’s whole music scene, but local music and the city from which it flows are undeniably related. “Giving the city a chance to have some ownership — and feel like this is something that’s coming out of it that’s organic — gives a lot more opportunity for support,” Reusch says. “That’s been one of the things that’s helped us keep on propelling in the last year.”
And plenty of raw, undiluted talent remains to be tapped, Reusch says. He draws an example: “Bands that are getting all this national attention — are they as good as Cowboy Indian Bear? Yes, I think they are.”
It’s that firm belief in his roster’s talent, along with a healthy dose of ambition, that has enabled him and his Record Machine partners to increase their profile in the local rock scene. The next step is to build the label’s reputation on a national level.
“We have a lot of eyes on us,” Reusch says. “We have a lot of people hoping that it gets a lot bigger. I think that we have a lot of room to grow. It just takes — ” He thinks a moment. “It takes some steps.”