Bladen County is located on the North Carolina seaboard. It has a population of less than 40,000 and a rapidly declining industrial sector, and were it not for Matt Brown and his fledgling Bladen County Records, the region would almost certainly have remained an obscurity west of the Mississippi.
Bladen County is located on the North Carolina seaboard.
It has a population of less than 40,000 and a rapidly declining industrial sector, and were it not for Matt Brown and his fledgling Bladen County Records, the region would almost certainly have remained an obscurity west of the Mississippi.
“It’s the county I’m from in North Carolina,” Brown said. “It’s basically on the coast. I grew up there in a town of about 150 people, and the name is really just a way to give props to an area that is just never going to get props.”
Brown’s plan to net some recognition for his place of origin may be realized in a far greater sense than he expected. Scarcely two years into its existence, his label, Bladen County Records, is putting out albums from some of Portland’s hottest bands, and building a reputation as a company whose staff is smart and resourceful enough to make an honest go at success in the tumultuous music industry.
At the heart of this burgeoning success story lies Brown and partner/fellow audiophile Joe Bowden. Between the two of them, Brown and Bowden bring decades’ worth of passion and experience to their latest musical venture.
“I played in indie-rock bands in North Carolina starting in the late ’80s,” Brown said. “I was in a band for about 10 years called Ashley Stove, and we actually wound up being on Merge Records, and before that we were on about four different record labels. I put out some seven inches in the early ’90s on a label I had called Carve, and then pretty much just let that go after we started getting some label interest in our band. So, [the record business] was something I just wanted to get back into-honestly, to see how things had changed. It’s something I’d learned quite a bit about in the little bit of time that I’d done it.”
The experience Brown cites has become the basis for Bladen County’s business model. His and Bowden’s initial efforts to simply expose their friends’ music to a wider audience wound up developing a momentum that neither had anticipated, as their hobby slowly became a commercial venture.
“We weren’t even planning on having a record label when we started Bladen County,” Brown said. “We just kind of gave it a name and put a release number on it. It turned out that we had a bunch of friends who had no idea how to put out a record, so we thought we’d do it for them. And then all of a sudden it looked like something we could actually do.”
Two years and more than a dozen releases down the line, Bladen County is dangerously close to becoming a “capitol B” business. With an expanding stable of artists unified by their indie-country sensibility, Brown and Bowden are in the process of solidifying their business and artistic identity.
“The only thing I think about the label’s roster is that it’s pop music,” Brown said. “I think all the bands [on Bladen County] are definitely pop. I don’t think there’s anything that you’d call weird or experimental…. At times I get the feeling that we’ve signed a lot of singer-songwriter-y or alt-country-y things, but at the end of the day it’s all indie rock, and that means just about anything.”
In this case, the “indie rock” catchall has been expanded to include local artists such as Oh Captain, My Captain, Loch Lomond, Invisible Rockets, Autopilot and the explosively popular The Builders and the Butchers. Due to the quality of the aforementioned acts, Bladen County has been creeping closer to fiscal solvency-and looking to its future in the Portland music community.
Though its preeminent group, The Builders and the Butchers, will be moving to a larger label for their sophomore release, Bladen County has no intention of cooling its heels in their absence. In addition to planned releases from Autopilot, Oh Captain, My Captain, Invisible Rockets and The Mommyheads, Bladen County is also taking its maiden voyages into the seas of book publishing and concert promotion.
On May 25, Bladen County acts The Skinnyz and Oh Captain, My Captain will ignite Rontoms in the inaugural Bladen County Records showcase. This event will be followed by more ventures from the label’s booking department and a featured stage at the upcoming Music Fest Northwest. From some angles, it may appear that this young label is on the verge of biting off more than it can chew, but Brown’s and Bowden’s enthusiasm for the music they’re promoting has thus far buoyed their efforts, as they have quickly become essential to the Portland music scene.
With expansion planned on all fronts, Bladen County Records is establishing itself as a premier jumping-off point for Portland’s next generation of breakout musicians. Brown’s and Bowden’s efforts look to be paying off for all involved, and if things keep going smoothly, Bladen County Records looks poised to outshine its geographic namesake.
Bladen County ShowcaseThe Skinnyz and Oh Captain, My CaptainRontoms (600 E. Burnside St.)8 p.m., May 25FREE, 21-plus