This weekend, the Music Hall of Williamsburg will play host to a family reunion of sorts as Don Giovanni Records takes over the venue to showcase its artists. The Brooklyn-based label is unusual in that its roster is one big bear hug of a multi-faceted musical love fest, a collection of independent artists that check off a handful of genres as they challenge and re-work their definition of the word on every release they put out with Don Giovanni. Thy name of the game is “acceptance” in that regard, in that Don Giovanni banks on the personalities of the bands it supports, and encourages them to write and record their music as opposed to rejecting submissions and tailoring their artistic identities.
For Laura Stevenson, who’s been with Don Giovanni since 2011’s Sit Resist, these are the primary reasons that fuel her love for her label and for the showcase they’re presenting in Williamsburg–and she’s especially excited to join friends onstage that she hasn’t gotten the chance to hang or play with over the course of the very busy year she’s just had. Stevenson, who dropped Wheel back in April, has waved at and passed through the American/Canadian border multiple times while headlining her own national tour and opening for Tim Kasher all in support of the record; she’s moved to upstate New York with a couple of the members of her band, away from Brooklyn and her native Long Island, and the adjustment is one that’ll come to fruition on songs we’ll hear from her in the (hopefully) not-so-distant future. The space between her label and labelmates has grown farther, and that’s partially why Friday can’t come soon enough for the singer/songwriter who plays her heartstrings like her guitar.
“I’m going to play a song with Shell Shag!” she gushes, calling in from her new home upstate. She’s driven the band van to town, because that’s the only place where she can get cell service. “We’re going to do this Evan Dando cover–well, it’s a Lemonheads cover–and our accordion player is going to play one of the songs with Warriors. We’ve been on this label for a while, and we’re starting to feel like it’s one huge family. We’re really psyched about each other. It’s going to be a really nice night.” Indeed–and the collaborations, homecomings and eclectic embrace of all the label’s talent has to offer is only the beginning.
When did the Ballad of Laura Stevenson and Don Giovanni Records begin, so to speak?
We released our first thing ourselves; my friend Jess put it out on Quote Unquote Records, which is a digital, donation-based label, so they never had any physical copies of music, but we were making CDs and giving them away on tours. Asian Man was like, “Do you want me to release your first record? I could make it on actual, you know, wax. It’ll be cool.” We released that but two years after the fact. We were touring on that and hanging out with Joe [Steinhardt, co-founder] from Don Giovanni, and he said he wanted to put our next record out and courted us really intensely, so we were like, “Totally! You don’t need to convince us, we’ll definitely do it!” We did Wheel with him, and hopefully we’ll stay with [Don Giovanni] forever.
It’s great to know that you’re dealing with people and not just an email address. The constant praise I hear from artists who work with labels like Don Giovanni is that you have direct support from the label and that help is a phone call away with typically immediate results.
Totally. Anytime I have a question or a concern or something that I’m into that I want to do for a record or whatever, I’ll text Joe, and he’ll be like, “I’m going to call you–” and then we’ll just talk on the phone for a long time. They definitely want to give all their time to each of their bands. I’ve never been on a label that wasn’t friend-based, so it’s really nice to me, and it’s all that I know: “I can call this person because they’re my friend.” I feel bad for bands that don’t have that good of a relationship with their label, when it seems sterile.
Does that enable you to push different boundaries with your music or take a more courageous creative license with your music? Is the relationship you have with Don Giovanni a creatively lucrative one?
I think so. There’s never a scenario where I’ve been working on something and the line between the label and it being released comes up. There’s no boundary there. Whatever I’m working on, I know I can just do, and I know that if they ever had a problem they would let me know. I never have to think “Is the label going to like this? Am I going to be able to release this?” It’s more like, “I’m going to make this thing!” I just don’t think about it, which I think is a blessing. To put things in perspective, I never think about how I don’t think about it! (laughs) There’s no limit to what I can do. They don’t stifle any of their artists, which is really, really cool … We give a record to Joe and we’re not afraid that he’s going to reject any of the songs. From hearing how my friends’ experiences are on different labels, where their records are rejected by the label. To me, that’s unheard of: why does that label want to put their records out if they don’t believe in the songs they’re writing? That seems crazy to me. That’s the biggest gift, being on this label.
I feel like geography has played such a huge part with your development as an artist given your gravitation towards Long Island and New York on the whole. The same goes for Screaming Females–I feel like I immediately think “New Jersey” whenever I hear the band name. Has geography played a part in the development of Don Giovanni?
I think the scenes that everybody were parts of when they were coming up and learning how to be in bands and stuff, that definitely informs their style and their style as a band, not even like, sonically, but just the way that they run themselves and their openness to one another. I definitely see it as a super regional thing even though every band sounds totally different. There’s excitement you can hear in all the bands, in the recordings. I guess that’s informed by the scenes in New York and New Jersey for sure.
In what ways do you think the showcase lineups we’ll see this weekend at the Music Hall Of Williamsburg best represents what Don Giovanni is all about?
I think that it definitely spans a lot of genres and influences, and that’s what the label is all about: good bands and good people. It doesn’t have to be a uniform style. It’s all over the place from band to band. Even within each band, you’ll hear influences from all different places. I think it’s just open-minded, great people that are excited about making music together, and I think that’s what ties it all together.
To go back to the family vibe at Don Giovanni, if we were to assign familial roles to each band on the label’s roster, where do you fit into all of that?
I guess Screaming Females would be mom and dad. (laughs) I have no idea! We’d be one of the kids I guess. We wouldn’t be a cool aunt. We’d maybe be one of the kids. I guess we’re all just brothers and sisters at the end of the day, but Screaming Females would probably be mom and dad. Nobody’s crotchety or creepy. Or maybe I might be crotchety a little bit. I’m trying to get over that. That’s why I’m living up here.
Don Giovanni Records takes over Music Hall of Williamsburg all weekend starting tonight.