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  • 20 July 2024

Saddle Creek’s Robb Nansel

Knee deep in emails and office clutter, Robb Nansel took a moment from running Saddle Creek Records to answer some questions for Tweed.

TWEED: The birth of Saddle Creek and its business practices are both unique. What exactly is your role at Saddle Creek? What do you do in regards to the day-to-day operations?

ROBB: The birth of Saddle Creek doesn’t seem all that unique to me. It seems like as in many other cities, Omaha has a pretty specific group of people that sort of bonded together through mutual interests in music and started playing together in bands. I think the thing that possibly makes Omaha’s bands—or at least the bands that we deal with—unique is the persistence and dedication that the musicians have shown. Everyone continued to produce music for years and years and eventually people outside of our circle started to take notice. It seems that in a lot of scenes, the bands break up before they really get started, no matter how great they are.

My role at Saddle Creek is pretty varied. I am basically responsible for all aspects of the company that are not specifically delegated out to someone else. I am probably not the best person to delegate duties, because it basically means one less thing that I will be doing. And while that is potentially a plus, I tend to like to have my hands in everything. My day to day activities revolve heavily around the computer and email. It seems like I handle the gamut of activities through the computer, whether that be approving artwork from across the office to discussing tour budgets across the atlantic. Email has taken over my life.

TWEED: How did you make the switch from graphic design to running Saddle Creek?

ROBB: Well, I basically learned how to do graphic design from working on Saddle Creek stuff. When we started the label we didn’t have any money to hire out for layout/design, so we just got bootleg Photoshop and Quark XPress software from buddies and taught ourselves how to work them well enough to get some 7" and CD/LP artwork out to printers. Once I graduated from college I felt like I had a decent amount of skill with those applications so I applied for a full-time graphic arts position at a local design house. I got hired and I learned a lot of the next couple years there. When I left I was in a much better position, knowledge wise, to do design stuff. As the label started to get busier, I started to have less and less time to devote to graphics and that is when we hired Jadon to come in and do website/design work full-time in house.

TWEED: Tell us the story of your childhood friends-turned Saddle Creek partners. How has your collective friendship matured since childhood? How big a role does friendship play in the business?

ROBB: Yeah, I basically grew up going to school with most of the guys in the bands. Tim Kasher (Cursive, The Good Life), Matt Maginn (Cursive, Saddle Creek), Ted Stevens (Mayday, Cursive, Lullaby For The Working Class), Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes, Desaparecidos), Matt Oberst (Sorry About Dresden) and others... We all went to the same grade school and high school. So, many of us grew up together since early on. We met The Faint and Now It’s Overhead guys in high school and fortunately continued to develop and foster relationships with them and others along the way. Having everyone on the same page, in terms of goals/desires/upbringing, has allowed us to remain extremely focused and understanding of each other’s wants and needs. I don’t think we could have gotten where we are today without the friendships, it really has been important in keeping everyone together.

TWEED: Are the varying degrees of fame between the various acts ever a cause for argument or jealousy?

ROBB: No. Everyone has sort of remained true to the collective idea. We sort of started with a communistic approach to growing the label and the group of bands, so any success that one person/group gets is always viewed as beneficial to the whole. It has been key to the success of the label for sure.

TWEED: How do you feel about losing Rilo Kiley? What exactly prompted their abrupt departure? Was it a relief when The Faint decided to stay with Saddle Creek after being courted by virtually every major record label?

ROBB: It would have been great to work on the Rilo Kiley record, but there was just some things that we didn’t see eye to eye on. Some things that they were interested in were not of interest to us, and rather than making compromises that inevitably would make one party feel uncomfortable or the other party feel shorted, the decision was made for them to do the record without us. The Faint’s decision was quite a bit different. We took a lot of meetings with those guys. They really wanted to explore all their options and were intent on having Saddle Creek involved in whatever route they took. At the end of the day, neither us nor them were comfortable with the options that we saw in front of us, and we decided to stay on the path we had been heading down, and here we are.

TWEED: What were Conor’s motivations for starting Team Love? How does the rest of Saddle Creek feel about his separation, both in a business sense as well as personally? How do you feel about it?

ROBB: Conor hears a lot of music, and he would bring us a bunch of bands over the years that he wanted to help out. Most of them are great, and if we had an unlimited amount of time and staff, we would have put out a lot more records than we have. But, due to the amount of effort we put into releasing a record, we have to limit the number of releases we have in a year. We joked quite a bit that he should start his own label if he wanted to put out all these records, and eventually he took it to heart and presented the idea. I think it is great, because it gives him the outlet to release records and doesn’t put us in an uncomfortable position regarding the other artists on Saddle Creek. There are significant ties between Saddle Creek and Team Love. We handle all of the manufacturing and distribution for Team Love, however they are responsible for their own marketing. It really doesn’t feel like a separation at all. We are glad to be a part of it, and will continue to release Bright Eyes records under the Saddle Creek moniker.

TWEED: What’s your reaction to the dealings of Clear Channel, the FCC, and mainstream media in general?

ROBB: We all have fundamental concerns with the actions of many of those organizations. A lot of our bands have made clear strides against Clear Channel, by only playing rooms that have no affiliation. The FCC and mainstream media’s strides towards limiting free speech are always a concern and we should all be doing more to voice our opposition towards their goals.

TWEED: What are the social/political ethics of Saddle Creek? Do you affiliate with any mainstream or alternative ideology or political thought?

ROBB: If there are strides to be made that we see as beneficial to society as a whole that we can help facilitate, then yeah we like to do what we can. But ultimately, that is not our role as a record label. We just want to get the music that our friends are making out to people who are going to enjoy it.

TWEED: How has the Bush administration affected life in Omaha? Do terrorist warnings have any effect, either in practice or psychologically, on landlocked Nebraska?

ROBB: Omaha, and Nebraska as a whole, is an extremely Republican state. Most of the population around here are supporters of the current cabinet. It is quite odd though, because 99% of the people that I deal with on a daily basis are anti-Bush, so it is pretty easy to lose sight of popular opinion when you exist in your own little capsule. It is very easy to recognize the unity in the non-Republicans to really end the reign of the current party. I have not felt any real effects of the terrorist threats, besides the overwhelming sense of despair surrounding the whole idea. But my daily existence has not differed much.

TWEED: Do you or other Saddle Creek members plan on voting this November? Do you publicly endorse any of the candidates or parties?

ROBB: I think we will all be voting, yes. I can’t publicly endorse any of the candidates any more than saying I would like to see a change come November.

TWEED: How do you feel about Ralph Nader’s candidacy?

ROBB: I like the idea of having a third party. I wish we had more political parties. But, I am not sure why he is still running at this point. I mean, he has to realize that he won’t win, and at best he will only add to the likelihood of Bush remaining in office. I have not really heard what he has to say about these types of criticisms, but I am sure he has some sort of reaction.

TWEED: What is your reaction to someone like Michael Moore and his recent film Fahrenheit 9/11?

ROBB: It is an entertaining movie. It’s propaganda for sure, and I take everything that comes out of Michael Moore’s mouth with a grain of salt. None the less, I think everyone should see it and hopefully it can at least start some sort of thought process or dialogue amongst people. I think Michael Moore is a very intelligent person, and I am a huge supporter of his films. Anyone who can get people that worked up has to be something right.

TWEED: Have you encountered bands that remind you of your former Commander Venus selves? Would you take such a group under your wing? Sign them to Saddle Creek?

ROBB: Fortunately, no I have not encountered any bands that remind me of Commander Venus. We don’t really need another one of them.

TWEED: What advice do you have for groups of childhood friends who want to start a movement, whether it be musical, political or, you know, world domination?

ROBB: Continue to do things that you enjoy and believe in. If you want to start a label or political movement, then you should. But you have to love it. You have to be willing to give up lots of freedoms and you have to realize that you are not going to get any acknowledgment for quite a long time. Things will be tough and you will wonder if it is worth it, but if you really believe and want to do something then it can be the most rewarding thing in the world. We need more passionate people.

Stewart Smith
Monday, 06 September 2004

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Tweed Magazine content report:
2024-07-20 02:20:26
Said Sew Recordings, Polyvinyl Records, Robb Nansel, politics, Polyvinyl Records, music, Denali, Iran, music, Saddle Creek Records, End report.