"I NEVER REALLY expected to be a 'label guy,'" says Morgan Troper over late-night doughnuts and coffee. "I thought it was something I would be kind of bad at."
I'm seated across from him and Blake Hickman, his partner in Good Cheer Records, a new label dedicated to the local all-ages music community. We're talking about why Portland needs yet another label. "The 25- to 30-year-olds who just moved here are in control of the means of production," Hickman says. "They have all of the money, the venues."
To Troper, a 23-year-old musician (and writer for the Portland Mercury—see our All-Ages Action! column), and Hickman, a 30-year-old KPSU college radio promotions director, the Portland music scene is fractured between aging, established bands that have a legal and financial stranglehold on venues, and young, vital bands with increasingly few places to play.
As people move to Portland in huge numbers, they "have the misconception that the all-ages scene doesn't exist," says Troper. "The reality is that there are no all-ages venues, but there is this all-ages scene that exists that isn't being documented by anyone."
Troper and Hickman see Portland youth culture's "desperate" hunger for live music stymied by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission's (OLCC) stringent requirements for serving alcohol—which remains the main source of income for most venues—while minors are present. "My brother is 17 years old, and he doesn't go to shows, because there aren't any," says Troper. "They're prevented by the OLCC."
Last year, Troper and Hickman heard the first album by local band Mr. Bones, a scrappy rock outfit with a deep, abiding love for J-pop. Troper thought, "I want somebody to take a chance on that. I want young people to find it." Thus, Good Cheer was born. The label's first release was a reissue of the Mr. Bones tape, and they followed it up with the latest album by Our First Brains, a clear step forward in asserting the Northwest's pop-punk primacy.
Earlier this year, Hickman had the idea of putting out a compilation of the bands he and Troper felt operated outside of the local mainstream indie scene. The Sounds Like... Good Cheer Records, Volume 1 comp contains new tracks by local standouts Blowout, Robot Boy, and Our First Brains, alongside Seattle all-ages proponents Jason Clackley and Super Projection. There's even the first song released by local band Rod.
Good Cheer Records has a lengthy purpose statement on their website, but Sounds Like... is a more effective manifesto. The songs are alternately scrappy and polished, boastful and introspective, wild and measured. They come fully formed, ready to be heard. Taken all at once, the songs sound of a whole—perhaps the mark of a great compilation, and no small feat for the diverse Portland music scene.
"We could easily make another one of these," Hickman says, a sentiment that's indicative of both the energy surrounding the venture and the quality of the bands Good Cheer wants to work with.
"The best music is made by people who are under 20. I'm no longer in that bracket. None of us are," Troper says. "I don't care about what I have to say." He eyes Hickman and shouts, "People over 30 are dead to me!" before breaking down laughing.
Sounds Like... Good Cheer may not exactly be a totem of anti-parent culture, but it sure makes listening to anything else seem like a bore.