[There are only so many music columns one man can write in a week, so while Ezra Ace Caraeff is covering for a vacationing Cary Clarke's Our Town Could Be Your Life (pg. TK), Mr. Tonry will be filling in here on Once More with Feeling.]
Seminal Northwest indie label Kill Rock Stars—who have released albums from Elliott Smith, the Decemberists, Sleater-Kinney, and many more over their 17-year history—recently made Portland their new home. Portia Sabin, who took over for husband and founder Slim Moon in 2006, answers our questions about leaving Olympia, signing Portland bands, and selling records in the digital age.
What brought about the move?
It was a serendipitous thing. I'd love to say that it was part of a larger plan. Slim and I moved to New York right before I took over the company. We thought we'd be in three offices around the country. When we decided to move back to the West Coast, I decided that Portland was probably a little more appropriate for the label headquarters because there are more bands passing through here. Olympia has always been a little bit of a weird place for bands to play. Our mail order is still based in Olympia, and pretty much always will be. It remains the stalwart part of KRS.
Does Slim still have input on the label's direction?
Actually, you'd be surprised. The day he left it was like he just dropped the ball and ran. He was really embracing his new job at Nonesuch and he basically said, "Here you go, enjoy!" To this day, it's really hard for me to get him to even be able to remember a lot of the stuff, like questions I might have about old stuff. He's filled his mind with other things.
You've signed a number of Portland acts recently (Panther, New Bloods, Horse Feathers). Are you more interested in working with local artists?
It's funny. Elliott Smith, the Decemberists, and Sleater-Kinney are all in some sense Portland acts. I feel like our ties to this city are really close. In terms of new stuff, Portland has such a great music scene that everyone passes through here on a regular basis. It is probably true that there is a bit of an easier time [to sign] a local band. That said, I don't always know where bands are from. This band we had a meeting with on Saturday that we're very excited about signing, I didn't even know they were from here.
How has the rise of online music affected the label?
It's such a strange time. Definitely physical sales are down. We get the feeling that a band that sells 5,000 units today, five years ago they would've sold 15,000 to 20,000. The whole industry is shifting, but that said, we've also experienced really excellent internet sales. It's kind of nice for us. We're not having the problems that the majors have. It's very different for indies. Indies, in general, over the last five years, have experienced kind of a boom.