Check the label

Local boy brings Lefse Records smack-dab to the heart of Midtown

Matt Halverson (left) and Ryan Creego (of Banter Media’s first band, the Antiques) play dueling banjos in North Carolina.

Matt Halverson (left) and Ryan Creego (of Banter Media’s first band, the Antiques) play dueling banjos in North Carolina.

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When synth-pop act Neon Indian toured California last month, they, like so many other national acts, did not stop in Sacramento. This time, however, it was strange: The band’s record label is actually based here in town.

Surprised? Lefse Records moved to Sacramento in March 2009. The label is the brainchild of Matt Halverson, son of former SN&R film critic Mark Halverson, who grew up in Fair Oaks, but has been out of town since he graduated high school 13 years ago. The label was previously based out of San Diego and San Francisco, but when Halverson needed to be closer to his girlfriend and family, he returned to his childhood home.

“I wasn’t really looking forward to it, except the fact that my girlfriend was here,” Halverson explains. “[But] I realized that downtown and Midtown are actually rad. When I came back to Sacramento to visit, I usually only visited the suburbs, so I never really got to see it.”

Halverson and Tyler Stover, his business partner, run both Lefse Records and also Banter Media out of a Midtown office.

Banter Media was originally Banter Records, Halverson’s first project. But he says it slowly died off because he was mainly working with bands who also were friends, instead of signing projects that he actually felt were sound investments.

Now, Banter Media manages bands, music producers and even Web sites. They also do some publicity campaigns for other record labels.

Lefse evolved as their new project when they discovered Neon Indian on a blog and realized they wanted to release records again. So they contacted the band and convinced them to sign a one-album deal.

“They didn’t know they were going to explode, otherwise they probably wouldn’t have signed with us,” Halverson speculates. “At that point, they knew Vega [21-year-old Texan Alan Palomo of Neon Indian’s other project] was going to pick up, and they thought Neon Indian was just going to be his quirky side project.”

Neon Indian’s debut single, “Psychic Chasms,” sold 16,000 units on iTunes in the first three weeks of the release. Pitchfork raved. CMJ New Music Report put them on the cover.

And Lefse continued to grow, too. Since the Neon Indian signing, the label has penned acts like Tape Deck Mountain, A Grave With No Name, Sunnybrook and Cuckoo Chaos. Both Tape Deck Mountain and Sunnybrook already have Pitchfork’s attention. Halverson is trying not to read too much into the early success.

“We don’t want to get too crazy, thinking, ‘This is it for us,’ because we don’t have [Neon Indian] much longer,” Halverson explains. “But, we started Lefse just to sign them, and now buzz bands from all over that we would have not been able to sign before want to sign with us.”

Still, Lefse Records recently signed North Carolina indie-pop outfit Annuals. The label also plans to release a remix album of Neon Indian tracks in the coming year.

Although he loves releasing albums and working the label side of things, Halverson claims he prefers to manage bands. He feels that the relationship he has with the bands on his label lack the personal touch, yet when he manages a band, he becomes more of an “extended band member-slash-buddy” than a stiff in a business suit who puts out records.

Still, few, if any, record labels are run out of cities besides New York, Nashville, Los Angeles and maybe Seattle. For a city with a fledgling music scene, Lefse Records’ presence in Sacramento allows for a new generation of music lovers in the area to thrive.