In October of 2003 Southern California was on fire. Team Love’s co-founder Conor Oberst and I were staying at Jenny Lewis’ apartment waiting for LAX to re-open so we could return to NYC. At this point the idea of the label had already been hatched. Tilly & The Wall would be the first release, we’d offer everything for free on the label’s website and we’d do one-album deals. Why? Who the fuck knows really, looking back it was all a reaction to the jerks running the jerk store otherwise know as the music industry at the turn of the century. The industry was suing kids for outrageous sums of money because in their minds intimidation and financial ruin were what the consumer deserved for popping their 1990s bubble of selling mediocrity and outright shit to the masses. So we figured, let’s put all our albums on the label’s website for free. From witnessing what other bands and artists had experienced with record labels it seemed one major complaint was the multi- album deal. So we went with the single-album deal. We were going to piggy-back on Saddle Creek for distribution, we were going to work out of my apartment in the East Village on 13th Street and 1st Ave (Mee Noodle, Detour Bar) and I had a big notebook in which to write all these ideas down in (lost years ago). But we did not have a name.
So it’s 2003 and for some reason we’re out in LA and at Lewis’ and we’re talking about the label and specifically how she should record a solo album for the label (eventually that became TL08 Rabbit Fur Coat) and Jenny tossed out Team Love. We were walking up a hill toward Trader Joe’s (still a West Coast phenomena at that point) to re-up on cheap wine when she said it. And like that, the label had a name. Was it a good name? Probably not. It has been made fun of a fair amount since then. Does it mean, there’s a Team and that team is called Love? Maybe. Or does it mean there’s a type of love out there and it’s love of Team? No, probably not. It just stuck, Jimmy T was around at the time, and Runion, Boesel, Megstown… talented and creative people that made LA feel like a safe place to be yourself… so maybe that’s why the name stuck. If we’d been walking down 13th Street at the time we might have called it No More Crack Records.
The first few years went relatively smooth. Tilly was brilliant. The band with the tap-dancer, how folk was that? Better than a washboard and a jug in a way. Willy Mason came along via Sean Foley and we were two for two. Hell, we were crushing it, so naturally we signed a rapper. From Omaha. I guess that was reality check number one. But whatever, Mars Black was great and we ended up making two albums with him over the years.
We lucked out by finding Rebecca who came in everyday, year after year, and made sure bills were paid, MP3s were posted, artwork was in the right format and posters were being sent to venues. Eventually we dropped the free albums concept as more and more bands found it to be a little much, but we kept the spirit alive by starting the Team Love Library.
Some of the Omaha bands from that time that were not destined for Saddle Creek came our way like McCarthy Trenching, Capgun Coup and Flowers Forever. Some of our heroes came our way too, Gruff Rhys and Craig Wedren. We did a trippy Franco- Nebraskan album with The Berg Sans Nipple. We did a soundtrack (Shortbus), had a hit with Rabbit Fur Coat (hit meaning we cracked 100K) and we put out some more stuff by Tilly.
As we crossed the five year threshold we evolved, or at least did not drown, with the times. We embraced digital retail, which stopped the bleeding to some extent, but the industry was clearly fucked beyond belief, as it still is more or less. But we embraced this fucked-ness because as long as the big guys were hurting, we were fine with it. Because really, fuck those people. They had given us Third Eye Blind and the Smashing Pumpkins and those types of crimes should not go unpunished.
Then along came the Felice Brothers, from upstate New York. It would be through this relationship that Team Love eventually found itself pulling up its East Village stakes and embracing a small town existence in the Village of New Paltz, NY.
The move upstate started the way most folks start when they move from Manhattan to the Hudson Valley; with us looking for a bigger space in Brooklyn. When that proved to be futile we turned our sights north. We’d had the idea of opening a physical space for a while, but this was prohibitive in NYC. Now that idea was back on the table. And memories of a strange and debauched night spent with the Felice’s in their hometown had stuck with me, the dirty little rock bar that reminded me of the old East Village, the record shop with the attitude-free clerk, the used book shop and the absence of Duane Reades.
So like that, in the summer of 2009 we put Team Love in a box and shipped it upstate. It did not take long to find the perfect spot, and the Team Love Ravenhouse Gallery was born. “The Gallery,” is an art-space, half gallery (we’ve done shows now with such badasses as Pete Fowler, Will Johnson, Paul Spadone, Abigail Dillen and Kaitlin Van Pelt …TL-RH.com has a full archive) and half music store, we built a space that both placated our ego (see the record wall) and fulfilled out need to push back a bit against the digital world. Because really, who wants a world that is all Spotifys and digital shops and social media? There’s nothing wrong with those things, they all provide people with access to music and the ability to share interests and discoveries, but we wanted to create an place to fulfill the tactile need to pick up a record made and experience it as an object. We wanted to talk to people that were interested in music in the real world, not just on Twitter.
The move took some time but now things are pretty much settled. We did a local band comp called Die Pfalz that included the brilliant Breakfast in Fur. We’ve put out records by Last Good Tooth, Andrea Tomasi, Simone Felice, Peter Broderick, Sea of Bees, MiWi La Lupa, The Lowest Pair and the UK’s bentcousin. We have helped create The Tin Roof Sessions. We host shows in the space, have openings, readings and impromptu debates about politics, music and vinyl finds from the two incredible record shops that are up the street (Rhino and Jack’s).
The music industry has not gotten much better in the 10 years we’ve been in operation, in fact it’s pretty much gotten worse and worse, but the pleasure of running a label, putting music into the world, that’s only gotten more satisfying. So if you ever find yourself in New Paltz NY please come by and say hello.