Danielle Leonard, Henry Mcgehee, Apple Xenos, and MacKenzie Mercurio are graduating from college in June. There are caps and gowns to order, finals to prepare for, résumés to beat into tip-top shape.
There are also several hundred cassette tapes to dub, handmade concert invitations to craft, and several album mixes to be listened to one last time. It’s all a part of the dedicated, tireless institution that is Bomb Shelter Records.
With the exception of Mahima Dhesi, a sophomore, Savannah’s fastest-growing DIY record label is run entirely by SCAD seniors. With their expertise in Photography, Advertising, and Sound Design, the creative management and promotion team has rapidly expanded in their less-than-a-year-long existence, currently boasting a roster of seven artists and counting.
As bookers for their DIY venue, The Bomb Shelter, starting a label was a natural step forward for Leonard and Mcgehee.
“We were doing the venue, doing shows all the time,” Leonard recounts. “We had friendships with all these bands who wanted to put out music. It just kind of made sense; Henry was recording some of them already. We wanted to help our friends.”
“I remember the day!” Dhesi chimes in. “Henry and I were in the car, and Henry started talking about wanting to start a label. Then, two days later, I go to their house, Danielle walks in and goes, ‘Well, we’re starting a record label.’”
“It’s as easy as posting it on Facebook,” Mcgehee snickers.
“Yeah, once you post it on Facebook, you have to do it,” smiles Leonard. “We just said, ‘Let’s make a Facebook page, then we’re forced to do it!’”
The tiny DIY empire’s first signee was Generation Pill; the current BSR roster consists entirely of Savannah-based bands, including Culture Vulture, KYLE, Grimsel, Valore, Nightingale News, and The Anxiety Junkies.
“I feel like things have really been picking up,” says Leonard. “We had no idea what we were doing at first.”
“We were like, ‘Okay, a record label like, releases music, right?” she laughs. “We didn’t really know much, but it quickly progressed.”
For an unsigned band, releasing an album independently is engrossing, exhausting work. Plus, putting the recording, promotion, design, and distribution responsibilities entirely on the shoulders of a few bandmates (who, of course, all have working and personal lives independent of the music) can snap the fun out of any creative endeavor, and, at worst, lead to dicey relations between overworked bandmates.
BSR artists pay for the costs of production, but the promotion, assembly, and behind-the-scenes work is all on the team.
“With us, you get manpower,” Leonard elaborates. “Every band that’s releasing an album through us gets all five of us to help them with the actual production, release, and promotion of their albums. It’s all about helping hands.”
Plus, the BSR team is a contagiously enthusiastic bunch, bubbly and ready to spitball fresh promo concepts, brainstorm music videos, and make the CD, cassette, or digital release packaging look its best. With their blend of luminous positivity, an openness to the out-of-the-ordinary, and a nose-to-the-grindstone attitude, they’ve got their bands’ backs.
“The thing that’s interesting is we all have so many resources being at SCAD and doing art school things, so I feel like what helps the band is all five of us can look and creatively think ‘We can do this, we can do that,’” says Xenos. “It’s having more creativity for the bands so they could hopefully take that and use it beyond the label.”
Though they’re not yet out of school, the BSR team brings a wealth of music industry experience to the table. Mercurio, former Music Director at SCAD Radio, took fall quarter off to work in Universal Music Group’s eight-story New York headquarters.
“I was able to sit in on some album previews, and it was just so crazy how there would be 50 people working on one artist’s album!” she recalls.
Somewhere on the other end of the vast industry spectrum, Leonard interned with label Sargent House this past summer.
“I soaked in as much as I could,” she attests. “Their staff is like, six people or something, and they manage like, 20 bands. If they can do it with that many people, we can manage and release like, six bands! It’s totally doable.”
“I got to meet Monte Lipman, founder of Republic Records [a division of Universal]. It was interesting talking to him...he started as a bartender, and within like, five years, was the president of Universal. If he can do that, we got this!”
If there’s anything that unites the wide variety of artists on Bomb Shelter Records, it’s the freshness and a kind of unquenchable edge. You’ve got the lush acoustic narratives of Nightingale News that evoke leather-bound books and winding backroads cast in moonlight; you’ve got the unpredictable, mathy-rock of Mcgehee’s band KYLE. There’s Valore’s diary-style spoken word cozied up right next to the splintering punk of newest signees The Anxiety Junkies.
“I always thought it was completely random who we were deciding to go with,” Mcgehee says. “Then we did the [YouTube-released Bomb Shelter Records Winter 2015-2016] Compilation, and listening to it, I feel like the common theme is that everything is a little bit different. They all have their respective genres, but it’s all a different take.”
“They’re hardworking, care about their band and their music, promoting themselves...they’re dedicated and trying to make stuff happen,” Leonard says of their artists.
February is a big month for the label. Currently, BSR prog band Culture Vulture is on a tour booked by the team in promotion of Girl’s Night, their latest EP. Nightingale News is set to release a music video for “Wheat Penny” this week, and on Valentine’s Day, Valore has a huge pink-laden, heart-covered bash planned to celebrate the release of Lizard Girl, complete with a lineup of badass female wordsmiths to open the evening. Sound engineer Mcgehee is putting the finishing touches on KYLE’s album (“weird sound effects and synthesizers over everything,” he hints), and the team’s getting to work on a new release from Generation Pill.
Plus, they have a super-cute Valentine’s Day card to send out to BSR family and friends.
“We’ve been working to get more physical objects out to people,” explains Leonard. “We’re making personal invitations to release events, we gave out Christmas cards, we’re doing this one for Valentine’s Day. We keep it cheesy, but keep it personal. People like cheesy stuff, right? I like cheesy stuff!”
So what happens when 4/5 of the crew turn their tassels in June?
“We want to have more people hop on board,” Xenos said.
“And if not, I’ll still be trying to do it,” says Leonard, noting that most of the action happens via the Internet and is totally manageable long-distance.
What’s a little physical separation for folks who are already juggling homework, work, post-collegiate job applications, booking, attending shows, and managing a record label and artist management firm? With a dedicated team of friends like these, success is like a ticking bomb.