The (Un)Discovered 2012 is a two-disc compilation of live tracks by more than a dozen local bands recorded at a backyard barbecue in May of this year. The sound quality is surprisingly pristine for a live recording, the crowd sounds small but enthusiastic, and the bandsfrom the big-gesture rock of The Kanes to the folksy psychedelia of Memory Motel and the power pop of Big Remoteare in fine form. A little loose, as would befit the party atmosphere, but rockin’.
“We just like to throw a party in the springtime,” says Jess CherryBear—not her last name, but the only one she uses professionally. “It’s the end of the semester. It’s a kick-off of summer. It’s graduation for at least two people we know every year, so we record the whole thing and put out a record.”
She’s the proprietor of CherryBear Records, an independent local label that’s released dozens of albums—not to mention DVDs, audiobooks, pins and stickers—by Northern Nevadan bands.
CherryBear Records presents the annual compilation alongside Dogwater Studios, the Sparks recording studio where the event is held. The 2012 set is the third (Un)Discovered collection. The first was a single disc covering the 2009 event. The second was a double-disc covering 2010 and ’11. The lineups are different every year, though there are many recurring bands.
Many of the bands are bands that have worked with either the studio or the label, though CherryBear says that some of them are bands that she and Dogwater Studios honcho Rick Spagnola just really like. And though not everything released on CherryBear is recorded at Dogwater—nor is everything recorded at Dogwater released on CherryBear—there’s a close connection between the label and the studio, of which the compilations are a great artifact.
For Spagnola, the compilation is also a chance to bring together many of the unheralded talents in Northern Nevada. He takes some inspiration from Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records, the Memphis studio that helped launch the careers of artists like Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis in the 1950s.
“I kept thinking about Sam Phillips, and how he recorded people like Elvis before they were ever famous and how we have those early recordings of Elvis before he was famous that sound so different from the first records when he went with a big record company,” says Spagnola. “You can still hear the desperation. You can tell that it’s just some guy who stumbled in off the road, and all he’s got is a guitar and 20 bucks. … To me, it seems everybody I record should be famous, and I don’t know why the rest of the world doesn’t see how amazing they are.”
Part of the motivation for any compilation is to bring together different corners of the local music scene and showcase bands that might fly under the radar.
“There’s just so much music here, and to take the people who are undiscovered and showcase them, that’s where the name came from,” says Spagnola. “I wanted to call it ‘Undiscovered Reno,’ and Jessica was like, ‘Some of these people are from Sparks! Some of these people are from Carson! You can’t call it that.’”
Dogwater Studios has been up and running at full capability for about four years. In that time, Spagnola has worked on records—top to bottom, from recording through mixing and on to mastering—by a diverse slate of bands, including the upbeat punk of The Shames, the surf rock of The Riptide Bandits, and the alt-rock of Present. The studio is also home to The Worst Little Podcast.
“I always wanted to do this,” says Spagnola. “I always wanted to make records. Like some people want to play guitar and some people want to dance, I always wanted to make records. … And then, when I got older, I just became a pothead drunk. Like, starting at 14, and then I didn’t do anything. Then, six years ago, my drinking got so bad that I finally had to stop. I managed to quit drinking, and I got sober six years ago. And then, two years after I got sober, it was like all of a sudden I had the drive and the ability and the extra money from not buying whiskey, to be able to invest in microphones and stuff. So I started putting everything I had into that. Really, all the energy that used to go into my drinking, which was a daily occurrence, went into building up the equipment to try to be able to record my friends’ bands.”
Spagnola has a day job and says that recording bands will always be a passion project rather a job. He’s motivated by his affection for the music he records rather than paying bills.
“I knew these great songs and I was in love with this music that these people made,” he says. “And I thought, ‘Holy fuck! If they get hit by a bus tomorrow this stuff is just gone forever. And that’s not OK.’”
The studio’s name is intentionally evocative of something unpalatable.
“I thought that ‘Dogwater’ was cool, because it was kind of duct tape-and-bubblegum, kind of a shabby little something that you wouldn’t want to drink, but you would if you had to,” says Spagnola. “It sounded low-rent and second-rate. That’s kind of what I liked about it. … In the beginning I really wanted to lower expectations.”
Over the course of the last few years, the studio has evolved into something more professional, but it maintains a down-and-dirty atmosphere, which complements Spagnola’s accessible approach to recording.
“The one consistent thing that I get from every band that records with him … is that ‘I love how much I learned about what recording is and how it works,’” says CherryBear.
CherryBear Records grew up alongside Dogwater Studios. Jessica CherryBear and Spagnola were roommates when Spagnola started recording bands at the studio—which was also their house. And CherryBear was inspired to start creating merchandise and packaging for the bands that would record there.
“Jessica is one of those people that will throw herself in heart and soul and get whatever she needs to get done to help people get their shit out there,” says Spagnola.
The label is a totally do-it-yourself operation. CherryBear does much of the layout and production by hand herself. Many of the production runs are significantly smaller than what most companies will commit to. The label has done runs as small as 15. The maximum order is just 200, though she’s done reissues.
“We’re here for people who can’t quite go there,” says CherryBear. “People ask me all the time, ‘What kind of music do you do?’ And there isn’t a kind. It’s all the kinds.”
A key aspect of the CherryBear Records is an ethos of come one, come all accessibility.
“That’s why we started,” says CherryBear. “You shouldn’t have to front a thousand dollars. You shouldn’t need a thousand copies…. There’s so much talent, and so much of it is really young, and when you’re really young, you’re typically really broke. It doesn’t mean people shouldn’t be hearing your music. That’s why we do it, to be open to everyone, even if you just want 25 copies just to capture that summer, a time and a place, and 50 years from now, you’ll put that record on and be there.”
“Reno never runs out of music,” says Spagnola. “It just pours out of this city. We always have a problem not being able to fit all the people on the undiscovered that we want.”