A few years ago, two friends and avid music lovers, Charlie Greengoss and Adam Victorn, sat in a basement spinning vinyl while watching YouTube videos. What started as an average night turned into a business venture after viewing a performance of Brand New’s lead singer Jesse Lacey covering Modest Mouse’s “Trailer Trash”.
Prior to playing, Lacey spoke of his admiration for Isaac Brock and Modest Mouse; what it meant for him to cover the song and how honored he would be if given the opportunity to collaborate with the band in some fashion. In awe of the admiration for a fellow musician, Greengoss and Victorn discussed how they could bring local artists the opportunity to collaborate with other bands.
This insight was the spark that ignited Vinyl For A Cause; a record label focused on raising money for charity by releasing limited edition vinyl of bands and musicians covering each other’s music. The next day, Greengoss and Victorn started on a business plan and three years later, they’re now ready to record and release their first records.
The project has evolved faster than either man has anticipated, but the current lineup and participation seem solid. Once the logistics of Vinyl For A Cause were set, the two networked with friends and local music gurus to find hardworking musicians with a matching passion to theirs. Their journey has brought them to six bands for three confirmed releases: The Heard with IndigoSun, Jesse W. Johnson with Coed Pageant, and Railway Gamblers with The Leadfoot Band.
Covering a song as a musician is a fairly common practice. New musicians lean on covers to attract a fanbase while veteran artists use covers to pay respect to idols. For this reason, the aspect of giving back has become a focal point of Vinyl For A Cause.
“Anyone can do this,” says Greengoss, “but when you have charities involved, it’s something that is at stake.”
For their first three releases, Victorn and Greengoss will be donating a portion of proceeds to VH1 Save The Music Foundation, an organization working to build music programs in schools. Aside from the name recognition, the two choose VH1 Save The Music Foundation because of its transparency; finding comfort in knowing exactly where their contribution is going. After the first releases, the pair will be allowing bands to choose where the money is donated in hopes of creating a truly hands-on experience for musicians involved.
Kyle Liss, IndigoSun keyboardist, says what attracted him and the band to Vinyl For A Cause, aside from recording on vinyl, was the ability to make a charitable contribution through their music.
“[IndigoSun] always hoped to do something positive with our music,” says Liss. “In the nature of [touring], you don’t really make a lot in order to give too much. To actually be able to contribute to a good cause through a music project was really inspiring.”
As if building exposure for growing artists and charities wasn’t enough, Greengoss and Victorn added another level of goodwill to the label. Bands are asked to choose a visual artist whose work they admire to design the album artwork. The albums are then signed by the bands and numbered, creating the ultimate collectible for fans, which will be available for purchase via Indiegogo.
“They’re doing this for all the right reasons and have been super supportive of all the musicians involved,” says Jesse W. Johnson.
Johnson, who got involved with the project after being handed a business card found in his rehearsal space, says the decision to get involved with the project was simple. “I’ve talked about doing a split release with some bands before, but Vinyl For A Cause made it way more meaningful and fun to do,” says Johnson. “The idea of incorporating charities into the mix, promoting independent music and working with other amazing musicians made it impossible to pass up.”
While there is a lot of good karma being passed around to outside organizations, Greengoss and Victorn wanted to make sure the experience rewarded participating bands as well. Vinyl is on the rise, but logistically, recording on vinyl doesn’t always make the most sense. Since a lot of bands are recording digitally, as it is easier to produce and distribute, the project arranges for bands to record at Treehouse Records, an analog-only studio located on Chicago’s west side.
Matt Fricks of Railway Gamblers admits there was hesitation in recording in a new studio. “A new environment, a new engineer, a new style, and no computers – it does take some adjusting,” says Fricks. “I remember walking back in the mixing room before starting and thinking, ‘Yeah…there really aren’t any computers.’ No digital recording tools whatsoever.” But after spending some time in the studio and meeting with the Treehouse team, everything clicked. Plus, Fricks says “it’s pretty awesome to record on the same Trident console that Pink Floyd used for The Wall.”
As of now, the project is centralized in Chicago with five of the six bands for the first three releases based in the city (Coed Pageant is based in Arizona). But like any great entrepreneurs, they dream of growing their label to major music markets, seeing the potential to raise awareness and funds for deserving charities and artists across the country.
“We need to say ‘thank you’ and show that music truly can institute societal progress in the right direction,” says Fricks. “Giving back is important. Every single thing really does make a difference, and we do plan to continue finding ways to make a difference for these charities even after this record comes out. Vinyl For A Cause and music for charity – it can’t stop. Society needs it.”
Photo Credits: Allison Ziemba