UPDATE: On Friday, Jan. 24, Misra announced it has teamed up with Sub Pop to license its catalog to “TV, films, ads and more.” Check out the site for Sub Pop licensing site with its list of Misra artists, which they’ll be adding to in the coming days, and look for Misra to be “celebrating with SPL at SXSW.”
Members of the Denver indie supergroup Somerset Catalog, including John Kuker and Bryce Merrill, have become the new co-owners of Misra Records — a national indie label with releases from such critically-acclaimed acts as Destroyer, Phosphorescent, Jenny Toomey, Evangelicals, Shearwater and Centro-matic.
“It happened due to what can only be described as cosmic happenstance,” Kuker said today. “The stars all aligned very weirdly through a combination of relationships that have formed over a 20-year period. It’s a super small-world deal.”
The deal was set in motion when Merrill, who works at the Denver-based regional arts nonprofit WESTAF, met Misra co-founder Michael Bracy, an arts lobbyist in Washington, D.C. and founder of the Future of Music Coalition. The day-to-day rigors of running a record label were taking a toll on Bracy, so Kuker, Merrill and others offered their services to keep the label going.
“It’s not so much about capital but new energy and new blood,” Kuker said. “Misra had some great years and some bad years, and it ultimately got to the point where Michael just physically couldn’t do it anymore. But he didn’t want to retire or sell it to strangers.”
The agreement splits Misra’s ownership into thirds, with one group led by Kuker and Merrill, one from “legacy owners” Bracy and his brother Timothy (also of Misra act the Mendoza Line), and one from Dayton-based Misra manager Leo DeLuca, who created the Misra/Absolutely Kosher imprint Moon Jaw Records.
Misra, which was founded in Athens, Ga., in 1999, and run in D.C. over the years, moved to Dayton, Ohio in 2011. The label has gone through a couple major leadership changes, including Phil Waldorf (1999-2006), who now manages the Dead Oceans label, and Cory Brown of Absolutely Kosher Records (2007-2010).
But this new setup is unlike anything Misra has seen in the past.
“When the smoke all clears, there’ll probably be about a dozen or so folks who will be in our third of the ownership,” said Kuker, a Wyoming-based lawyer and nonprofit arts advocate. “Some of it will be here, some of it will be in Texas. Some of it will be people putting in sweat equity instead of money, like IT support or publicity. We’d like to follow the Merge model and hopefully be competitive with them too, in terms of artist payback on the tail end and letting artists keep all their money. We’re in this to put out great art and build a sustainable company.”
The label will continue to maintain offices in Dayton and D.C. while adding a new one in Denver, which Kuker said opens up the possibility of signing Mile High City indie acts that fit Misra’s mission and sound.
“We’re excited about it because there’s a lot of cool stuff in Denver that’s not getting the exposure it deserves,” Kuker said. “And Misra has this great legacy of integrity. They don’t put out shit records just to make money. So looking at Denver stuff is absolutely going to be on the agenda.”
Many of Misra’s bands have jumped to larger labels like Sub Pop and Merge over the years. Misra also has a recent track record of supporting acts from (or with roots in) its current hometown of Dayton, including Dayton’s Motel Beds and R. Ring (featuring Kelley Deal of the Breeders), as well as L.A.’s Crooks on Tape, led by guitarist/singer John Schmersal of Brainiac and, later, noise-pop tricksters Enon. (Crooks on Tape will play the Hi-Dive on Feb. 5; look for an interview here).
Merrill and Kuker’s band Somerset Catalog has roots that stretch in all directions of the Denver indie scene. It features current members of Poet’s Row (Matt Grizzell) and the Big Get Even (Georgina Guidotti), as well as past members of Bela Karoli (McAuliffe), Everything Absent or Distorted (Kuker, Trumble, Merrill), Instant Empire (Grizzell) and Rabbit Is a Sphere (Guidotti).
“None of us are in it to make a dime,” Kuker said. “In fact, the odds of doing that are probably nil. We’re just doing it because this music has been and continues to be such an important part of our lives.”