Hain: "How do you approach something that is a radical restructuring of your life?"
Madison has sprouted a healthy number of new independent labels in the past few years, from the adventurous Brave Mysteries to the garage-pop leanings of Kind Turkey Records. But Jon Hain has been running Uvulittle Records since about 1996. In his spare time as co-owner of Mother Fool's Coffeehouse, Hain has gradually built a small but chaotic roster that includes singer-songwriter Ritt Deitz and Chicago psych-improv band Milkbaby, and he distributes many releases not on his own label.
Hain has been scheming in recent years to make Uvulittle more of a full-time concern. He's hoping a Chicago band called Maestro Subgum And the Whole, and the small but intense group of fans they built through the late 1980s and mid 1990s, will help him do that in 2012. He's planning to re-issue the Chicago group's run of eight albums.
Maestro's slap-happy yet technically sharp music smeared together bouncing cabaret rhythms, theatrical vocals and exuberant horn arrangements. Should the reissues draw any new fans, Hain says, they might be the kind of listeners who enjoy Dresden Dolls.
Hain admits he doesn't have many specific goals or milestones to hit in revving up his label, like pursuing a certain number of artists or keeping to a certain timeline. He says it's got to turn at least some profit. The label has always broken even in the past, he says.
Still, the reissues aren't Uvulittle's only new development. The label recently posted a digital reissue of Madison veterans Honor Among Thieves' out-of-print 1996 album The Vision And A Friend. And Kanopy Dance Company's April show, Cassandra, will incorporate three songs from Milkbaby member Barry Bennett's Uvulittle release Death To Death! And Other Tales Of Uneasy Harmony. The album's ambient, eerie songs could prove well-suited to a modern-dance crossover.
Hain decided to talk Maestro Subgum And the Whole into doing a reissue series after seeing the band play a reunion show and noticing they had no merchandise to sell. The source material will be tricky to deal with: Two of the releases were cassette-only, and for several others, he'll have to work with the initial CD releases, as the masters aren't available.
"The vinyl pressing [of one record] wasn't good. I had that record and I always thought it was one of their weaker performances until a few weeks ago," Hain says. "I got my ears on the DAT master and I couldn't believe it, it was phenomenal."
Hain already has some connection to the band's members. Trumpet player Bob Jacobson now lives in Madison and has contributed to such local bands as Yid Vicious and Optometri. Two other members, Jenny Magnus and Beau O'Reilly, are in the Uvulittle band the Crooked Mouth.
Hain, who also programs Uvulittle's website himself, is hoping to recruit some Maestro fans to help him sift through the band's live recordings with a web-based rating system. "I'm building a new website that will just be used for this project," he says. "I've got so much live stuff." Once that's boiled down, he'll put together some kind of live compilation.
The reissues might start coming out by late summer. It's the start of a big experiment for Hain. He's hired a manager to help him run Mother Fool's so that he can put more time into the label.
"It kind of put me in a state of paralysis when I first conceived of the plan, because of the mountain it is," Hain says. "It's like, how do you approach something that is a radical restructuring of your life?"