When Jim Eno converted his garage into Public Hi-Fi Studios in 1998, he didn’t think owning a studio would involve doing anything other than making music. About a month before he launched Public Hi-Fi Records in March, however, everything hit at once. “Studio owner = booking agent, tech, IT support, plumber, janitor, photographer, customer service rep, runner, career planner, interviewer,” he tweeted during one particularly brutal week in February.
“Without the limitations of 140 characters, I could have added a lot more,” says the Spoon drummer and producer for artists like Heartless Bastards, !!!, Telekinesis, and Har Mar Superstar. “I never thought owning a studio was going to be all these incredibly non-creative tasks.” Yet somehow, between juggling his Instagram account with fixing the studio toilet and building a reverb chamber in a concrete drainage tube, Eno has somehow found the time to launch his own independent record label.
Eno recently created Public Hi-Fi Records specifically to issue special pressings of unsigned musicians and previously unreleased tracks from artists he’s worked with before. For a producer who has been accumulating material for nearly 15 years, and owns his own studio, starting his own label seemed like the logical step. He’s starting with Nuestro Camino, the new LP from Austin boogaloo trio Dupree. It’s a swampy mix of bluesy Hammond B3-driven grooves and jazzy, split-fingered guitar licks that Eno tracked directly to half-inch analog tape before deciding to release it himself.
“I tracked [Nuestro Camino] and thought it would be great if I could press it to vinyl directly, so there’s no digital at all when you buy the vinyl. But who’s going to put that out? I’m not going to waste my time shopping around a jazz vinyl. I’d rather just have me controlling everything,” he says. After he recorded Dupree, Eno knew he was the only one who would pay to master their album to vinyl. “Even though it’s a weird first release, I think it’s really a great record,” he gushes. “It’s really good music, you know?”
Public Hi-Fi can afford to put out niche albums like Nuestro Camino because Eno believes in the fiscally responsible model that drives artist-run labels. Unlike major labels, “Indie labels are more cost-conscious. They don’t throw a ton of money at a specific act. They do music they’re passionate about and they pay the bills,” Eno explains. “They’re like, ‘Okay, if we can pay back this money, then we and the artist will split this fifty-fifty.’ It’s a partnership. You’re not getting a ton of money up front, but hopefully we’ll put out a lot of records together and we can keep making music.”
Eno left his day job years ago without a business plan–owning a studio just doesn’t work out on paper–so finally being in the position to support artists he’s passionate about is the best part of Public Hi-Fi Records. “That’s the cool thing about this. You find someone, do two songs, it’s two days and then there’s a two-song 12″ LP,” he says. That exact situation happened recently when Eno had lunch with the Strange Boys’ Ryan Sambol, whom he’s worked with before. Eno will put out his new single, in addition to local band Hard Proof Afrobeat.
Though Public Hi-Fi Records aims for a diverse roster, Eno nonetheless hopes that his signature sparse, angular rhythms–the same that appeal to Spoon’s established audience–come across in his albums, whether he’s behind the board or the drum kit. “If I do a gospel record or a dance record or a rock record, you can put them side by side and think there’s a similar sound or an underlying thread, which would be me in the studio,” he says. Since the label’s output so far has been limited, to say the least, it remains to be seen if the “indie rock kids” that dig Spoon’s rhythmic architecture will pick up what Public Hi-Fi is putting down.
But a guy can dream, and right now Eno is thinking about Phil Collins’ comeback record. “If he can’t play drums, I’ll play drums on it,” he says. “I heard he’s an Alamo history buff, so he goes to San Antonio all the time. Maybe I’ll stalk him down there. Kidnap him and bring him back to my studio and make him do a record with me. I think I could make him sound cool.”