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"What do you do when you are 55 years old, being in the music business most your life, and sort of outgrowing it? How do you find your place?"
That's Mark Trehus, the owner of Treehouse Records on 26th and Lyndale and former owner of the defunct Treehouse record label. He continues: "I have felt disconnected from what the kids are buying—I call them 'kids' but they are in their 20s—but I still love records."
Trehus's answer to his frustrations was to start an almost all-vinyl label called Nero's Neptune, named after the lyric from Bob Dylan's "Desolation Row." "People are mainly listening to music on iPods and computers—a lot of people don't even have stereos anymore," he says. "So I wanted to share the excitement of putting a record on the stereo, and getting the full nurturing effect. I think vinyl is really important, holding it in your hands, sharing a record with your friends. It is just so satisfying."
But Trehus was not content simply releasing LPs; he also decided to make each one with limited-edition artwork. Trehus shared a few of his recent releases with me, including former Low bassist Zak Sally's Fear of Song. "Zak did all the design and screened these on his own press. Each piece is different," he said of the beautiful vintage flower design on the cover. "I wanted these records to be a really neat thing to own. I believe in making every package something to be cherished."
The Nero's Neptune roster is quite eclectic, featuring popular locals Vampire Hands and Dark Dark Dark, as well some very obscure offerings. The label recently released "An Attempt to Record Coincidence" from Brainsound, an Austrian avant-garde band from 1972. "It is a series of voices that have a sort of pattern—it's very hard to explain," Trehus says. "It is just a wild experimental record; I will leave it at that." Also in the way-out category is former TVBC guitarist Paul Metzger's LP, Spontaneous Composition Generator, which was recorded with a creation built from parts of 37 different music boxes. Metzger, on the split LP shared with free-jazz improv master Milo Fine, hand-screened his covers on wax paper similar to the kind found in LPs from the '50s. Hauntingly beautiful silhouettes of trees stand ghostly on each delicate cover, with the inverse image on the flip side.
Nero's Neptune typically prints a maximum of 500 copies of each LP, though it recently pressed 1,000 copies while reissuing the first album from the Original Harmony Ridge Creek Dippers, a gorgeous collaboration between Jayhawks founder Mark Olsen and his ex-wife, Victoria Williams. "That is an album I just adore," gushes Trehus.
Trehus has a refreshing attitude toward the music business. "I am doing records with friends whose art I respect and who I respect as people. That is the number-one thing," he says. "There was this label in the '60s called ESP whose motto was 'The artist alone decides what appears on ESP records,' which is similar to my credo, but I take it to another level—the artist alone decides how their work is presented, too."
Nero's Neptunes' upcoming releases include and a CD/DVD set from legendary bluesman Spider John Koerner, a three-sided LP from avant-garage band Pere Ubu titled Live at the Longhorn, and a career retrospective double LP from punk legends Suicide Commandos ("That band truly changed my life," says Trehus).
So far each record has sold out, with distribution including Japan and Europe. "These records are finding their way to the people who need them and want to hear them," states Trehus—and the future of the label promises more uncompromising and exciting choices. "I am following my heart. How many people get to do what they truly love and make a career out of it?"