Learning Curve Records celebrates 10 years
With 31 releases in 10 years, Rainer Fronz has learned a bit about the music biz: namely, to keep putting out records that he loves. Learning Curve started in 2001 and Fronz has maintained a steady stream of almost exclusively Twin Cities-based releases in the new millennia.
He's seen bands like the Hold Steady and Soviettes take off from humble beginnings, and has recently worked with local artists like Gay Witch Abortion, Birthday Suits, and the Blind Shake with Michael Yonkers.
Gimme Noise: Do you have a staff, or is Learning Curve a one-man operation?
Rainer Fronz: Learning Curve Records is just me. I have had help over the years from friends stuffing records, promoting shows--all the fun stuff that goes into running a small, independent record label.
The label's catalog consists primarily of loud local bands. Is this a conscious decision, or just how your tastes have panned out?
The label's sound is a conscious ideal. I always liked the more abrasive, interesting music when I was younger. I was also a big fan of pop punk and depressing slowcore, which isn't really a highlight of LCR. LCR is a combination of what interests me musically and what is happening locally.
I branched out earlier in the label and worked with a St Louis band, Climber. It was a good relationship, but I quickly realized that it is a heck of a lot easier to work locally. I am going to be expanding outside of the Twin Cities this year again to work with an agro, pig-stomp band called Grids from North Carolina.
What are you currently working on? Will you be releasing the next Blind Shake?
I just released the new LP from Disasteratti: Transmissionary. Later this year I will be releasing a four-way split featuring the Gay Witch Abortion, Grids, Seawhores, and Skoal Kodiak. Also, the new Blind Shake record will be coming out in the spring. It rocks big time by the way.
The Twin Cities have a rich music history that's continued as various scenes have dried up. The metro continues to open new venues and even new record stores. What do you think sets Minneapolis-St. Paul apart from a lot of other cities?
The scene here in the Twin Cities is very supportive of each other. Kind of the big city, small town feel. Specifically in the "underground scene," playing shows together, selling records at the same stores, playing in side project bands together, crossing genres, are all things that make this "scene" special. A lot of other cities seem so divided musically. Here we all kind of suffer the same winters and enjoy the fruits of our surroundings, which I think makes the music more rewarding to create and share.
Plus, the Twin Cities has an underdog aspect to it: the scene here has never been totally sucked dry like Seattle or Brooklyn. There have been successes but there still hasn't been wholesale buy-up of all bands in the Twin Cities. This keeps us vibrant, feeding on the purity and pride of Minnesota. We make the best music here in the Twin Cities. Who cares what other scenes do--they can tour here, but then move along and think about how they were blown off the stage by the local opener.
In your label bio, you say you wanted to create a label whose sound people could trust, one where they can buy it based on the label name without having heard it. How has internet streaming and downloading changed your approach to running a label?
Well, believe it or not, the Internet hasn't totally ruined music. Now there are just more ways to find it. Music still, in my view, follows the same philosophy: find something you like and then go from there. Now, in addition to flipping through records at a record store, we also look to networks, podcasts and browsing iTunes.
I still check out the liner notes to see who a band thanks, and then I look up these bands online. Instead of ordering a distro catalogue and mail ordering the records, you can hop online and listen, then buy the format you prefer. That being said, the amount of vinyl and cds actually purchased is less: more people are streaming and downloading tracks. This trend is also creating a shorter life span of music. Treasuring an LP, cassette, or cd is no longer the case. Now music gets lost somewhere on an external hard drive hoping for a random shuffle play.
Running the label has changed since I started it in 2001. The Internet has brought more opportunities to me for distribution, press, and overall availability. Who would have thought that a series of tubes would have such an impact? Running a label is still fun because there continue to be people who want to buy a record, listen to it, flip it over and so on. There are also folks who trade records and keep the fun part of collecting, listening, and exchanging music alive. The Internet has just made what used to be exclusive "record stuff" available to everyone.
Learning Curve artists Gay Witch Abortion will be holding residency at Grumpy's Downtown Saturday nights in April and The Blind Shake will perform every Saturday in May.
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