VMP Interview with Jeff Tafolla, Saddle Creek Records

On June 19th 2015

Saddle Creek1

picture via Saddle Creek

VMP: What’s your title/role and what do you do at Saddle Creek Records?

JT: I don’t have a title. Nobody really does here. I’ve been here for 12 years and I handle licensing for film and TV, advertisements, video games, student films, and all that sort of stuff. I’ve done a bunch of stuff with new media. I’ve done some press coordination, hiring publicists and that sort of thing, and some general label management. I love everything.

VMP: How did you get involved with Saddle Creek in the first place?

JT: I was born and raised in Omaha, but I got involved just by being friends with everybody. When I went to college, I started putting on shows in this small town in Kearney, Nebraska because there was nothing happening there and you had to make your own fun. I brought in some of the guys from Omaha and ended up booking shows for Spoon and The Wrens and Cursive and The Faint.

VMP: Saddle Creek certainly has the identity of being “The Bright Eyes label,” but it’s obviously so much more than that. How do you think that’s perception has evolved, especially in all your time there?

JT: In the past five years, we’ve only had one Bright Eyes release, so we do a lot more than that. We’ve expanded, but we still have a lot of bands that are from Omaha. We also have bands that are from all over the country and some in Canada. We put out five to 10 records a year.

VMP: What do you guys have coming up that you’re excited about?

JT: We have a dead period between now and the holiday, which is pretty standard for most labels. But after that, we have a lot of records that we haven’t announced, yet. I can give you some generals—Icky Blossoms…The Mynabirds…Big Harp…We also have a couple signings that we’re not quite ready to announce, yet.

VMP: Tell me a little more about Saddle Creek’s system works.

JT: Well not that many labels have record stores! We have our office space here [in Omaha] and then we have a physical distributor, Alternative Distribution Alliance. They store and distribute a bunch of our stuff and then we also have a bunch of our distributors over seas. But you know, you have to press vinyl in such large quantities that it’s not like we just send it all there. So we store the excess vinyl in our warehouse, which is connected to our store and pretty much connected to the office, as well. The venue The Slowdown is kind of in between.

VMP: Oh yeah! And that also has a Saddle Creek connection, right?

JT: Rob [Nansel], the owner of Saddle Creek is part owner of Slowdown and this entire development—this half block that also includes Urban Outfitters and Blue Line Coffee and some apartments. [That development] took a really long time to happen, but we moved in to the office space in the spring of 2007.

VMP: Why do you think there’s been such a resurgence in vinyl?

JT: Record sales are declining, but vinyl sales are going up, which tells me that people who really care about having a physical product want that physical product to be relevant. Records are archival, so as long as you store them correctly and treat them nicely and clean them, they’ll pretty much last forever. So I think it’s partially that, but there are also obvious things like larger artwork, limited editions, and nicer packaging. Vinyl colors have also come a long way. Some people also like the experience of putting on a record and not having the distraction of playing it from your telephone or your computer.

VMP: Are you a collector?

JT: Yeah, I am for sure. I have a lot of records because I’ve been collecting for almost 20 years, but I don’t go for first editions or incredibly rare records. I just listen to records that I like. I don’t search the internet for records. I don’t want the eBay notification to come up and say that the record I’ve always wanted is available now!

VMP: What’s the first record you remember buying?

JT: Oh, hmm. I don’t know! I can tell you the first record I had as a kid, but it was a shared record with my older brother. My first record was Michael Jackson’s Thriller and then we got the Footloose soundtrack. Pretty common ones I think in the mid-‘80s.

VMP: What’s on your record player now? Or what was the last thing you played?

JT: The last thing I played on my record player last night was Neil Young’s Live at the Cellar Door. It’s awesome. It was right when he was becoming a big deal and it’s the first time he was playing some of those songs off After the Gold Rush live. Pretty amazing…I actually moved all my records two nights ago from one room to another, which turned out to be a bigger job that I remembered it being. I had a lot to listen to, and that was one of them!

Hilary Saunders writes things, often about music. Follow her on Twitter@Hilary_Saunders.

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