Serving the vinyl fetish

Mt. St. Mtn.’s ultra-collectible focus puts the needle on the record

Rub-a-dub-dub, Mark Kaiser and Jay Howell in a tub.

Rub-a-dub-dub, Mark Kaiser and Jay Howell in a tub.

Mt. St. Mtn., the record label spawned from the vision of Jay Howell and Mark Kaiser, is like a sleek, pink, vibrating dildo: compact in size, functional, fun and colorful. More of a collaborative art project than a traditional label, Mt. St. Mtn. promises aural pleasure with a discreet aim—putting out collectible, high-quality records with a unified aesthetic to fulfill your vinyl fetish.

An exercise in limitation, the label is built to be small. The artwork on each release will be created from Howell’s drawings and paintings and Kaiser’s graphic design. Each album will be restricted to a single pressing of heavyweight, 12-inch vinyl LPs. At present, the plan is to confine each release to 500 copies or less.

“There’s no collectibility in CDs,” Howell said in a recent interview. “As soon as your laptop can spit out a vinyl record, things will be different. But not until then.”

Howell’s opinion no doubt rings true for many music fans for whom the CD has always been a less attractive option than vinyl, aesthetically. With the onset of MP3 technology and the iPod, the CD is losing its primacy as the most practical way of transporting and listening to music. Although the CD may be the only way of getting the music from the show or shop to your home computer, and thus onto your MP3 player, vinyl has lasting appeal as a work of affordable art.

For Kaiser, who has spent more than a decade working on his record label Omnibus Records, this project represents a step back from the maelstrom of the music business. Omnibus has been one of Sacramento’s most significant labels, with releases from the Shins, Gary Young, Electro Group, Mister Metaphor and others. With Omnibus, Kaiser explained, the musicians’ vision was primary, and the album art was their responsibility. Kaiser represented the bands by booking tours, working with distributors and putting in time behind the computer, accounting instead of going to shows.

Mt. St. Mtn. is a different kind of project, an exploration of what he and Howell can do with a label creatively. Of course, the bands have to be willing to cooperate. “They’ve got to be willing to do something ultra-limited. This isn’t a money-making project for anyone,” Howell said.

Kaiser agreed that business isn’t the focus for Mt. St. Mtn. “With mid- to small-sized record labels, it’s really hard to make money,” he said. “I ran Omnibus for 11 years and didn’t make any money.”

Rather, the focus is on bringing something fun and small to life, something unique enough to get excited about. Now that indie rock has been fully absorbed into the popular consciousness, Kaiser and Howell want to bring it back to the secret, elite club of cool kids in the know. Discovering music that others are too philistine to know about is half the fun for the die-hard music nerd. Make anything too accessible, and the jerks will find out about it. The label’s vinyl-only policy ensures that only those who possess the patience to listen to music through a record player will even hear its releases.

Running Mt. St. Mtn. as a streamlined micro-label is just one of the ideas Howell and Kaiser are plotting. Both have been involved in booking shows for their own bands and others for years. Recently, they’ve booked shows at the Fools Foundation and promoted them via the Mt. St. Mtn. Web site, at Part of the label’s record distribution will be accomplished through album-release parties, where other yet-to-be-made Mt. St. Mtn. merchandise such as T-shirts, zines or books can be made available.

Mt. St. Mtn.’s first release, from dynamite San Francisco band the Mall, will come in late September or early October. A punky but danceable sound rounded out with keyboards and half-sung, half-shouted vocals lands the album somewhere between pop and noise. “We’re really into the music,” Howell said. “We really believe in these bands.”

If the bands mind the sound, Mt. St. Mtn. will take care of the vision, and everyone can satisfy the vinyl urge.