If you’re looking for any more evidence of how the Internet has altered the music business, consider this: Dracula Horse, arguably Knoxville’s most prominent record label, has spent the last two years giving its music away digitally in a pay-what-you-like arrangement, and only continues to gain ground.
Dracula Horse mastermind and Coolrunnings frontman Brandon Biondo started Dracula Horse mostly as an avenue to put out Coolrunnings’ music; two years later the label has nearly 30 releases to its name, the majority of them produced outside of Knoxville, including acts from Canada and Germany.
On Saturday, Feb. 4, Coolrunnings will celebrate the release of their full-length Dracula Is Only the Beginning on LP and CD at Pilot Light; we spoke to Biondo about how the label came about, its notable releases, and where it goes from here.
After relative success with the digital model, what led you to pursue a physical release?
When we first released Dracula Is Only the Beginning we were feeling a lot of pressure to just finish a full-length. A physical release didn’t seem possible at the time because we didn’t have any money. All of the labels we were sending the album to didn’t seem too interested in dealing with us, because a lot of the songs had been circulated through the Internet here and there. Or they didn’t like our band name.
I was getting really frustrated, because I thought the album deserved a physical release. On a whim I made a Kickstarter to release it on vinyl and, to be completely honest, I didn’t really expect it was going to make its goal. But we did, then I got an e-mail from a label in Portugal called LebensStrasse Records asking if we would be interested in releasing the album with them. So we ended up being able to pay our cut of the release costs, though now we’re shipping them out-of-pocket.
How does collaboration with other labels fit in with what Dracula Horse does?
We released a 7-inch as part of Too Pure’s Singles Club in November and a digital single with [now-defunct ’net label] Beko, as well as a cassette of Dracula Is Only the Beginning with Wonder Beard Tapes. We release digitally through Dracula Horse but the physical release could be through anybody else.
How did Dracula Horse first come about? Was it just to release your own stuff, or we’re there other acts involved from the beginning?
I have to give credit to [former Coolrunnings bassist] David Thomasson for naming the label. We were taking a break from practice and were picking on Forrest [Ferguson, Coolrunnings’ co-songwriter] and David said that Forrest was “like Dracula, if he turned into a horse instead of a bat.”
We started the label itself when Coolrunnings had to move our music somewhere after Bandcamp.com made it harder for users to give music away for free anymore. In the first few months I contacted a couple friends that I knew were just putting songs up on their blogs and asked if they’d want to release something with us. Eventually people just started sending me all of this shit that was just blowing my mind.
We don’t make any money off of any of these recordings aside from our own, and any money the artists make is directly through their own sites. So to consider Dracula Horse a conventional “label” would be a stretch. It’s more like a place where all of these good things live in some weird harmony with each other, and are free if you want them to be.
The few Knoxville bands on Dracula Horse—Dumb Lunch, Yung Life, Fine Peduncle—represent a variety of sounds. What stands out to you about local music?
What really excites me about Knoxville music is that it comes in waves and completely flips when there’s a new kind of energy around town, and it’s really great to see that people are recognizing it right now. I’d compare what’s happening in Knoxville to when punk broke, but instead of just making angsty, guitar-driven, anti-authoritarian music, everybody is doing a separate thing. There’s no one “Knoxville sound”; it’s more of a movement to be different.
What opportunities does your side project WALSH give you that Coolrunnings doesn’t? Is it complicated to balance the two?
WALSH was never really intended to be a serious thing. It was just a way to release this electronic music that didn’t fit with Coolrunnings, but it ended up evolving into something that’s personally really important. It’s an outlet for me; I can do anything I want with it. People misunderstand where I’m coming from with this music. They think I want people to dance—well, maybe for a minute I do, but I’m more interested in experimenting with sounds and creating the world for them to live inside of.