The Alternate Roots Interviews FBR Label Chief Eric Corne
Eric Corne is a Canadian producer, engineer and singer-songwriter. In 2004, he relocated his family to Los Angeles to work for widely respected producer, engineer and bassist Dusty Wakeman (Lucinda Williams, Dwight Yoakam, Anne McCue) at Mad Dog Studios. Working at Mad Dog, Eric engineered sessions for the likes of Glen Campbell, Lucinda Williams, Nancy Wilson (Heart), John Doe (X, The Knitters), DeVotchKa, Walter Trout and Michelle Shocked. Eric Corne’s own music has always had a socio-political slant, working on the Instant Karma charity project for Darfur as well engineering and mixing a charity project for Hurricane Katrina victims called The Congo Square Project. Eric Corne is now the head of his own label, Forty Below Records. He took some time to talk about being a musician, producer and head honcho.
The Alternate Root (TAR): Any impressions on being a label chief?
You’ve gotta wear a lot of hats in the music industry today. When you are a freelance engineer and producer, things are challenging. I've always done other things like compose and perform and now the label is becoming a reality but the industry is in this continual state of flux. Now, with the proliferation of streaming sites, there is a risk that albums are becoming like ads for the tour and this is a shame. Most labels like mine don't share in revenues from touring and merchandise. We rely on sales. It is hard to give it away for free unless you are making money off merchandise and ticket sales. But, ultimately the most disappointing thing is that it creates a diminishing value for music. As much as I love to see live shows, the recording is painstakingly pored over as a work of art and requires huge investments of time, money and energy. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a way for artists to band together; the musician union does not represent most artists the way, say, the actor's union does. We need Dave Grohl, Thom Yorke, Jay Z and Taylor Swift to start a coalition for artists, haha! Anyway, the major labels seem to be short-sighted in their deals with streaming sights. And, as they merge and become fewer, we are seeing a proliferation in Indie labels….and a lot of them are doing well.
TAR: You are a young label and already finding good footing.
EC: The label is new and we are off to a good start….putting out three records last year beginning with KaiL Baxley. Six more this year. It developed from my aspiration work with talented young artists, and use a circle of musicians I befriended when I was engineering and producing out of Mad Dog Studios. KaiL asked me ‘What do you think about putting this (Heatstroke/The WInd and the War) out on Forty Below?' That was really the beginning, not counting my own album.
The KaiL Baxley record was a great stepping stone. WXPN and NPR really championed him and invited KaiL to be guest for World Café…which is almost unheard of for an unknown artist. The record was also nominated for album of the year on NPR.
EC: Working with more established artists like John Mayall seemed like a logical evolution of the label's mission. John obviously provides a great example to our newer artists. Our goal is to make artists like KaiL Baxley and Sam Morrow 'career artists'. Signing John was unexpected. I had co-produced and engineered his record, "A Special Life" which John planned to self-release. We looked at what they were planning to do, and with John being such a Blues icon, thought it was a shame to self-release. John gave us the opportunity to release it and the record immediately got off to a good start.. debuting at #3 on iTunes Blues chart and topping Amazon UK's Blues chart, as well..
He is selling well in the US, UK and all over Europe, being distributed in Japan and we are about to release in Australia. John is doing over 150 dates around the world and has done Europe, doing a 35-date tour in the UK. He went into Russia to play Moscow and St. Petersburg. John will be going into the studio this month (February-2015) to do another record. He will do a new John Mayall record and a record celebrating John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, and he will, of course, be inviting in special guests.
TAR: And new artist releases?
EC: We have Bonson Berner and KaiL Baxley both releasing sophomore efforts in March and May and I'm recording a new Sam Morrow, as we speak. Sam is also off to a good start. David Dye (NPR) does a series called World Café: Next for new and emerging artists and Sam was selected for that. Having NPR and World Café get Sam’s music out across the country helps immensely. We have Sam on some dates on the John Mayall tour on the east coast and booked a great solo tour for Sam Morrow around that.
TAR: You are passionate about your label and artists. That is a good asset as a label head.
EC: I am excited about my artists, and get a thrill in finding ways to connect them with their audience. When you see other people react positively it is very gratifying and rewarding. Anyway, I'm moving pretty cautiously. I do not have to rely on the label so much because I make my living in the studio. I don’t have much of a bottom line, and don’t have to answer to anyone. I don’t even have a staff. I hire people for each project, specific to just that record because I don’t know if a house staff will be as passionate about each record as me. When I put out a record, I try to find the right team to promote it. I do the same thing with musicians making a record.
For me casting is a big part of producing. You want to get right people for the record, show them the direction you and steer it from there. That is one good thing about being in Los Angeles. There are so many great musicians who are also great people…that and the weather are what keeps me in in the United States, though I miss Canada culturally and politically. It is hard to find a paradise, and I am lucky that what I do for a living really coalesces with my life style. I love making records and working closely with artists. The label is on a good trajectory but the path is not as clear as it used to be in the music industry.
On January 22, Forty Below Records will release Forty Below Records & Friends, Volume 1, a 10-song collection that features tracks from blues legends John Mayall and Walter Trout, Americana veterans Tim Easton and Anne McCue, adventurous Taiwanese chart-topper Joanna Wang, emerging artists KaiL Baxley, Sam Morrow and Bonson Berner, and other friends and collaborators of Forty Below and Eric Corne.
The compilation will be available for download exclusively via NoiseTrade.