Korda Records hits all the right notes

Korda Records artists the Ocean Blue
Korda Records artists the Ocean Blue
Guillermo Melgarejo

Launching a record label in today's capricious musical climate is a risky move. For new Minneapolis "label cooperative" Korda Records, it was a decision rooted in friendship, but also business sense.

With the same basic template Superchunk's Laura Ballance and Mac McCaughan used to start the mega-successful Merge Records in 1989, Korda was formed in 2012 by a group of four local artists seeking to put out their own work and spotlight their friends. Doing it together meant lowering the risk and increasing the fun.

David Schelzel, lead singer of longtime modern-rock act the Ocean Blue, is credited with the initial inspiration to create the Korda collective. Between the late '80s and mid-'90s, his Pennsylvania-bred band was signed to majors Sire Records and Mercury, but when the band's fortunes changed he attended law school at the University of Minnesota and became a business and intellectual property lawyer based here.

"[David] is a very kind person, and I think the idea was a reflection of his kindness," says fellow Korda artist Brian Tighe, former frontman of alt-rockers the Hang Ups, member of the Owls, and currently in Jeremy Messersmith's band. "He wanted to share his deep knowledge of the music business based in his past experience with major labels and his current experience as an entertainment lawyer. Over the years he's been consistently supportive of our music and a great when we all found ourselves close to finishing records it made perfect sense."

"Ourselves" is an extremely tight-knit group with a lot of overlap. Tighe now fronts chamber-pop group the Starfolk, which also features another Korda co-founder, Allison LaBonne, and she leads the electronic experimental act Typsy Panthre.

The fourth piece of this label's founding framework is local stalwart the Legendary Jim Ruiz, who jokes sportively: "To give credit where credit is due, word got out I was going to release my first album in 14 years. Everyone I know decided it would be a great idea release their albums at the same time, in order to capitalize on the resurgence of interest in pop music its release is sure to cause."

Starting with October releases of Typsy Panthre's three-years-in-the-making self-titled debut and the Jim Ruiz Set's Mount Curve Avenue, the label's activity has been brisk. An eight-song Korda Kompilation dropped in November. Upcoming releases include the Ocean Blue's first LP in a decade on January 15, and the Starfolk's debut full-length in April.

"We decided early on to see how it goes with the four releases of the existing Korda artists and then think about the next move," says Schelzel hopefully. "A part of me thinks it would be awesome to expand to other artists, support them and make more great music available to people. But first we need to get through this year."

The records represent the culmination of years of collective hard work from all the bands, a creative flurry that Korda Records is celebrating with a grand showcase at the Entry on Saturday night, which will feature rare live performances from all four acts. "It's a perfect time to celebrate all of our artists. Each band has either just accomplished something big, or is right on the brink," LaBonne explains.

Shaping Korda while also putting the finishing musical touches on their own — and each others' — records presented unique difficulties. The encouragement and support of all those involved helped make the process a smooth one — once the actual name of the label got sorted, that is.

"We are all used to making collective decisions within our bands, but getting four bands to agree upon a name for our label was the biggest challenge," says LaBonne. "There were so many hilarious opinions flying around. Finally my sister Charlotte, from the Jim Ruiz Set, came up with Korda and it just clicked. It means 'chord' in Swedish and I like the underlying meaning of musical notes working together."

Typsy Panthre
John Crozier and Allison LaBonne

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