Interview with Jonathan Dunn, Solid State's Director of A&R

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How do you usually find bands you might want to sign?

In this day and age there are a plethora of avenues to discover new music. One great resource is having our bands on the road constantly, and a lot of times they are our “eyes and ears on the ground.” If they happen to play a show with a great local band, or come across someone on the road, they will give us a heads up, which is a way we have discovered a few of our bands. We also keep our eyes on touring schedules to see what bands are making it happen on the road without a label backing them, as well as keeping up with the magazines, press, music sites and message boards to see who has a buzz and what is getting a lot of interest. We do listen to the demos we get in the mail and check out e-mails we get from bands and managers; as well attend showcases and such.

What makes a band Solid State material?

A big factor in considering a band is what they have happening on their own. There is a common misconception with a lot of young bands that you just need to get signed to a label to get noticed on a national stage, and there are sometimes cases like that, but more often than not, we like to see a band that has the “eye of the tiger” so to speak, actively marketing themselves on an indie/unsigned level, and touring on a national level. There are unsigned bands out there playing 200+ shows a year and making it happen on their own. One of the hardest things in bringing a band to a national stage is creating that initial momentum and interest, and we tend pay special attention to bands that have already starting the ball moving, so to speak. The ultimate factor will be the music, but seeing a band being successful on their own speaks volumes.

Have you ever had a bidding war with another label over a band?

Yes, a handful of times. Usually if a band has a buzz going, labels will come out of the woodwork looking to sign the band. It’s an exciting, yet stressful time. At the end of the day, hopefully the band shares our vision as a label, and can see themselves as part of the family, and we end up working together.

I see that a fair amount of recent additions to Solid State that seem to be bands that are somewhat established such as Gwen Stacy.  Is this something that Solid State normally looks for or are you also on the lookout for undiscovered talent?

Yea, we keep our eye out for established bands, as well as undiscovered talent. Our door is always open for new music, and it doesn’t matter if you have been a band for 20 years or are just starting out. At the end of the day it all comes down the music. If we are inspired by your music, we’re going to check you out.

What advice do you give a band when they are going into the studio?

When a band is entering a studio, especially for the first time, I am often reminded of the quote from Sam Phillips in the movie “Walk the Line”, when Johnny Cash is first auditioning his material. Sam Phillips stops him in the middle of playing a common gospel tune and says: “All right, let’s bring it home. If you was hit by a truck and you was lying out there in that gutter dying, and you had time to sing one song. One song that people would remember before you’re dirt; One song that would let God know how you felt about your time here on Earth; One song that would sum you up; You tellin’ me that’s the song you’d sing? That same Jimmy Davis tune we hear on the radio all day, about your peace within, and how it’s real, and how you’re gonna shout it? Or… would you sing somethin’ different. Somethin’ real. Somethin’ you felt. Cause I’m telling you right now, that’s the kind of song people want to hear. That’s the kind of song that truly saves people.” I have put most of that quote to memory, and although I have never actually tried to pass that off to a band as if it were my own, but that is a sentiment that resonates with me, and would love for a band to take that to heart.

Does Solid State have certain producers that they work with or is it up to the band?

We have a lot of great producers we work with, and we pride ourselves on the quality of production we release. We take the creative input our bands give us, and help suggest  producer and mixing options we feel would fit with their vision to create a quality product. Ultimately, we would not force our bands to work with a producer they aren’t keen on, but hopefully they trust and consider our input so we can work together to create a record that is sonically great, along with fitting the direction of the record.

What non-Solid State/T&N bands are you listening to now?

16 Horsepower is arguably my favorite band of all time. Even though they haven’t released new material since 2002, they still seem to dominate my playlist. Working at a metal label, I listen to metal for 40+ hours a week. It is constantly pummeling. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE metal, but in my personal listening time, I tend to listen to alt-country, the “oldies” station, 1950’s blues and R&B, ect. Just about as far away from metal as you can get. Currently in my car’s disk changer I have; Fats Domino “Walking to New Orleans,” Johnny Cash “My Mothers Hymn Book,” Hank Williams “40 Greatest Hits,” The Cardigans “Long Gone Before Daylight,” Rocky Votolato “Makers,” and 16 Horsepower “Secret South.”

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