The Boston Globe recently talked with Ben Levin and I about the new label/collective/community we're launching on Sunday, February 15th. You can read the full article here. More information on Secret Dog Brigade can be found at secretdogbrigade.com
In 2015, record labels are a rather quaint idea. The antiquated notion of a defined career path — getting discovered while playing local gigs, riding off into the nurturing arms of a deep-pocketed and well-staffed imprint that will take care of the rest — has been replaced by an Internet-based DIY ethos, in which bands are left on their own to fight for whatever they can get, whether that’s as significant as booking a show or as fleeting as collecting a few coveted Facebook “likes.”
For musician-composer Ben Levin, try multiplying those responsibilities by five — the number of projects the Berklee grad divides his time among. There’s his own Ben Levin Group, which uses the same personnel as his other band, experimental outfit Bent Knee, plus playing guitar in That One Eyed Kid, the pop-based brainchild of Josh Friedman, who also works in both aforementioned bands. Levin and his collaborators might not have needed a conventional label to make sense of their tangled web, but they needed something.
“We call it a label because we can’t think of another amazing name for it,” says Levin, on the phone, about Secret Dog Brigade, the imprint-cum-artistic community he and the members of the five affiliated bands — Bent Knee, Ben Levin Group, That One Eyed Kid, Justice Cow, and Mr. Gavin’s Meat Farm — are launching together. “We are so interconnected with who’s in what band in the first place. It’s kind of an uncommon situation in today’s music economy, where it’s a lot of people coming out on their own, putting singles out on their own, or being in just one band. But to be so closely knitted in all these bands and have to obey the laws of physics, the only way for it to make it work is to be seen as one thing, even though we are many things.”
Think of it as the Wu-Tang Clan of the local indie scene: a collection of unique artists with individual pursuits made stronger by assembling under a single banner that ties them all together. Since meeting at Berklee, the eight musicians spread across the five groups — Levin, Friedman, Chris Baum, Courtney Swain, Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth, Jessica Kion, Kyle Harris, and Vince Welch — have regularly collaborated. Levin hopes that creating Secret Dog Brigade will clarify the presentation of all their various musical identities.
“Everyone has been stubbornly doing what they set out to do musically, but I think by banding together we help people realize we aren’t all one-trick ponies necessarily,” he explains. His group’s new record, “Freak Machine,” will be the inaugural Secret Dog Brigade release. “If you describe it as a creative community with no stylistic rules, it’s not confusing; it’s just people making different music. People don’t have to explain why we do what we do in terms of styles, they explain in terms of our friendship, like we are a team.”
But Secret Dog Brigade’s greater impact could come outside of their music. Levin and Chris Baum, violinist for Bent Knee and consequently Ben Levin Group, both see SDB as more than a home for themselves, but as a organization that can connect like-minded Boston creatives to share information, pool resources, or simply get together in the same room.
“The idea of the collective was partially to share information, partially to get this organizing unit behind what all of us were doing, and kind of to create this centralized point for all of our various projects,” says Baum. “We are all good at creating, but tying the rest together is often very challenging and vague. The industry is changing so quickly, and the outlets you need to reach are changing so rapidly, that just having this community where you can bounce ideas off each other and kind of figure out what has or hasn’t worked, it can help everyone in their business of making a living as a creative.”
Baum describes SBD’s potential programs as ranging from producing educational videos on music-business topics to helping out-of-town bands find local opening acts, and to events such as their ongoing “Improv Pot Luck” parties, in which musicians are drawn together at random to play together for five minutes with no preparation. Considering the participants have their own careers to worry about, it’s an unusually altruistic approach.
“I just always think if you want good things to happen, then you go and share,” says Levin. “Anything I have to brag about at all is because I didn’t think too much about reserving my assets.
“We don’t want this collective to be very insular, where we are deciding what should happen with SDB and what information we should be presenting to people,” Baum explains. “I’d like everyone to come at us with questions, and get more and more people into answering and asking questions and creating conversations, rather than us just presuming our knowledge.”
Ultimately, the launch of Secret Dog Brigade isn’t meant to reaffirm the importance of record labels in a traditional sense. If anything, it proves that something better could replace them.
“The more of a community that you can build, and more people you have connections to and help out, especially in the creative world, the more it’s going to come back and help you,” says Baum. “The more we can do for the Boston music scene, the more the scene can do for us.”
-Martín Caballero, Globe Correspondent | Feb 12, 2015