Resiliency In Hard Times: Indie Record Label Cafe Rooster’s Take on the COVID Shutdown

Brian Wright and the Sneakups

Listen to the story here:

Cafe Rooster Records formed in September of 2016 and for the last four years they have been putting out music as an indie record label in Nashville, Tennessee. The label started as a way to cut out the “middleman” of the record industry and give opportunities to artists who may be overlooked by more established record companies.

Sally Jaye and Brian Wright, husband and wife, have been running the label and forming a small but inspiring community in East Nashville. What started off as a way to self-publish their own music has grown into an interesting artistic community that brings together like-minded artists. Their “farm to turntable” approach is a lesson in independent artistic endeavors.

I had a chance to talk to the couple recently about their label and how the recent coronavirus shutdown has impacted them. Nashville also recently experienced a tornado that tore through the heart of their community.

We talked about many things, but what stood out to me was the sense of community that has formed in spite of these two tragedies. The creativity of their artistic community is inspiring and model for how people can come together in hard times.

Brian Wright and the SneakUps have an album that came out on May 8th. I asked Brian about the album’s first single “Patrick’s Crossing.”

“Patrick’s Crossing was a place in my hometown. I’m from outside of Waco, Texas, and my family and I, we’re all kinds, the misfits and the artists and stuff. We would go out to this place and go camping as kids and just play music and hang out and do all the stuff that kids would do. It was the place where I learned a lot about who I was becoming and finding your spot in the world.

The song centers around wanting to go back to, or keeping in touch with those memories. But it’s also about your childhood, the good and the bad and things that make you what you are. But I didn’t want to make it some sort of sad thing. I wanted it to be more fun. Because a lot of that time was super fun. And so I ended up making it a nice little funky reminiscence of childhood and growing up and that sort of thing.”

Cafe Rooster has released a few of the singles off the album, but usually an album release is done in coordination with a tour in support of that album. The recent shutdown of music venues in response to the COVID-19 emergency has also shutdown the income for many touring acts across the country. This can hit an indie label especially hard.

Sally started things off, “We’re just now getting it going. And a lot of times artists take on these types of subscription platforms themselves, which can be really challenging for just an artist to be managing that all on their own. We just decided to do one as a label for everybody it involves all of our artists.

You can go to https://www.patreon.com/join/caferoosterrecords it’s a very, very simple platform. There are all these different tiers of membership as low as three bucks a month, you don’t have to commit and you can cancel at any time. You get to hear music that is exclusively for our subscribers.

Nikki Barber from the Minks made this beautiful lyric art for one of her songs that you can get. We have got exclusive videos of John Latham and №1 Knife, both performing at a rally at the Basement East in Nashville just an hour before the tornado demolished the building.

There’s some really interesting things on there that people can check out. There are some short stories written by some of our artists, there’s photographs, all kinds of cool stuff.”

Brian added, “We have such a good group of talented people, the variety of content that you get on there is really compelling. Everyone is super creative in our camp. We’re certainly a music label first.

But the reason we work with the artists that we do is because it wouldn’t matter if you took the guitars out of their hands, they’re all just adapting in really creative ways. Like Sally said, Nikki Barber from the Minks, she makes clothes and things. Matthew Paige from Blackfoot Gypsies has written a book called “Band Life” it’s very much a handbook for touring.

The Patreon site is super cool because you get content that you can’t just normally get, and it offers you a behind the scenes look at a lot of what goes into the art.

I just think it’s a great way for us to get some money to split up amongst the artists, which is what we do with the proceeds. We just split them evenly amongst the artists and the labeled and keeps the lights on and keeps everybody kind of moving and creating more stuff.”

In early March of this year a massive tornado ripped through East Nashville and other parts of Tennessee killing twenty four people and destroying many buildings. One of the buildings that was destroyed is right at the heart of Nashville’s music scene called The Basement East.

The night of the tornado there was a show at The Basement East and members of the label were performing. I asked Brian and Sally about the impact that had on their community.

Sally shared her perspective, “Yeah, well I mean you are right this city is is filled with musicians and not only that, but music venues and people who work in music venues and in the service industry, there are a lot of people that are out of work. I’m sure you saw that East Nashville the Five Points area where some of the bars and venues are and local businesses were all just flattened by this tornado.

But one thing that was really mind blowing was after the tornado hit we have seen people just rallying around each other continually, particularly in the music scene.

You know somebody gets sick and needs needs financial help there’s a benefit. But more than ever, when the tornado hit, we saw people just coming together and doing whatever they could walking from property to property and helping clean up.

We all thought that our lives had been changed completely by this tornado and then the viruses and now we’re like, oh, well, okay, here we go.”

Brian also added, “It’s so mind boggling to think we were having such a beautiful night that night. It was so much fun. And if that tornado had come an hour earlier, we would all be singing a different song.

We’re all very lucky that there weren’t more people hurt or worse, the staff of The Basement East were still there and they got downstairs 30 seconds before the roof collapsed and thankfully no one was hurt.

The Basement East and Dave Brown and Michael Grimes are just staples of our community. And they do everything in the world to provide help to everyone and that was a big, big hit for for our community and for them. But, like Sally said everyone just immediately said what do we do? How do we bring it back? And how do we help? How do we get everything going.”

The sense of community that this label is building is very evident. It’s refreshing to see stories of people going through hard times but showing resiliency and community in the midst of this. The COVID shutdown has effected so many different industries, but the music industry has been hit particularly hard. Luckily musicians are artists, and their creativity promises to help them adjust to this situation and create something of beauty on the other side.