Kindercore's garden

Athens 2000 Expo showcases local label

While checking out bands one night in Athens, musicians Ryan Lewis and Dan Gellar of the band Kincaid had an idea. "We should start putting out records by bands we like," said Lewis. It was hardly an original idea, but unlike many late night plans, this one was actually followed through. Gellar agreed and soon the first Kindercore release, Treble Revolution, was on the shelves around town during the summer of '96. "It really was that easy," Gellar recalls of the initial release from the modest label. The budding businessmen were surprised when the compilation quickly sold out. Taking a cue from Walt Disney Video's marketing strategy, the album was advertised as a limited release. They announced there would only be 300 available and in a week the compilation sold out.

As the Olympic year continued, Lewis and Gellar began putting out more and more local projects. The first release was cassette-only, then the duo released the Kincaid single on vinyl, and numerous CD releases followed. As the formats improved and modernized, so grew the reputation of Kindercore, Gellar says. Friends and co-workers filled the label's roster: The Supervixens, Joe Christmas, the Mendoza Line and other unrecorded acts were given a vehicle for their music. "When we realized we could actually sell something, it just snowballed from there," says Lewis. "We started out to be just a local label; we had no idea people would even care about anything we put out anywhere but in Athens."

Surprisingly, as word leaked about the impressively packaged, '60s-inspired products of the growing label, calls began coming in from literally around the world. "It was quite a shock, to say the least," says Lewis.

Sitting with Lewis, Gellar and label co-founder Amy Hairston in the crowded office space the label recently acquired, the Kindercore corps of engineers are busy planning the Athens 2000 Expo, a festival and celebration of all things Kindercore featuring 40 bands and DJs to be held August 8 through 12 at the 40 Watt Club in downtown Athens.

The three-person operation has achieved all of its original goals and seems surprised to continue to grow. "We could stop right now and be happy with all that we've managed to accomplish," says Lewis.

But there's certainly more to come. KC 50, the label's 50th release, will debut at the Expo. The three-disc set features selections from most of Kindercore's acts past and present. One disc features new songs by the stable of regulars including Marshmallow Coast, the Essex Green and the Four Corners. Disc two is archival material from out-of-print releases. A bonus remix disc rounds out the set, including revamped Olivia Tremor Control and Japancakes tracks. The deluxe release is no small feat considering the label still operates on a tight budget. "It forces us to be creative," Gellar says.

Despite limited resources, the Kindercore mod squad has attempted to expand their base of operations from the creative college town to New York to overseas. "We moved everything to New York for a while, to try and make it in the big city," explains Lewis. "I was tired of the heat and having no money and I think we just needed a change for the label."

The change of venue proved healthy — for a while. "I think it broadened our horizons a lot," says Gellar. "People in Athens had started to think of us as just a pop label, which is what we still are to a degree. Now, though, the term pop applies to so much so we don't feel limited to release only guitar rock."

The new environment also led Gellar and Hairston to form the electronica duo I am the World Trade Center, which will make a rare live performance at the Expo. "Again, like most things we do here, we started our band just for fun," says Gellar of the group's origins. "I was trying some musical stuff on my laptop and it grew from there." Garnering critical acclaim for their limited body of work, the duo recently played SXSW and toured the country to promote their two 12-inch singles. Like many Kindercore artists, IATWTC will soon begin recording at the studio currently under construction at label's expanding headquarters back in Athens.

While keeping the air of a just-for-fun exercise, Kindercore has grown into a profitable enterprise. Local, national and even international bands have certainly benefited from the care and nurturing that Lewis and company invest into each artist.

"When we first started," says Athens-based Masters of the Hemisphere guitarist Sean Rawls, "we didn't even have a drummer. I met Ryan in a record store and just gave him a tape of some stuff we had worked up. He liked it so much that not only did he want to release our material, he even offered to play drums with us so we could play out."

Today Kindercore has grown into a worldwide operation, with Gellar estimating that half of the label's income derives from Japanese distribution. Hairston produces a Kindercore-logo yo-yo now being manufactured in Japan with colorful "Hello Kitty"-style designs printed on it. Featuring the trademark retro designs of the label and website, the Japanese market has gone for the company's offerings in a big way. Many Kindercore acts tour Japan to near-heroic welcomes.

"It's weird," says Bill Doss of the band Sunshine Fix, "I was in Japan in Tower Records, and there was a huge end-cap display of Kindercore product." Doss, also of the Elephant 6 collective band Olivia Tremor Control, will debut Sunshine Fix at the Expo. Fittingly, Kindercore already has an EP from the band ready to sell at the show as well. "This is just for fun," says Doss. "But, with the label behind this, who knows where it will lead?" Could be overseas, to Beatles-esque fanfare.

But, having returned to Athens, the label seems happy to be back. "The Kindercore label and studio, I hope, will be a great place for all kinds of artists to come and create and still feel at home," says Lewis.

"It will be like a YMCA," says Gellar, "for the cool kids who hated gym."

Expo 2000 runs August 8-12 at the 40 Watt Club in Athens. A $30 wristband allows admission to all events. For more information, visit www.kindercore.com.

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