In the midst of what may be the worst year in record-business history, with industry execs citing downloading, payola-restricted radio playlists and consumer apathy as the culprits, it may be a strange time to start a label. Yet that didnt even enter the thinking of Anna Waronker and Charlotte Caffey, the former front person of That Dog and the co-founder of the Go-Gos, respectively, who set up their own label, Five Foot Two, earlier this year.
The duo formed their partnership not to get rich, to change the world, to buck trends or any other concept, noble or venal. I dont want to assault the major labels and what they represent, says Caffey. I just didnt want to be involved with them. Waronker had completed a discs worth of new material, and It never even occurred to me to take it to a major, she says. I started talking to Charlotte [Waronkers sister-in-law], we raised the money and decided to do everything ourselves, from the ground up.
Anna is the mailroom, Im the intern, and were the new mom-and-pop label -- well, mom-and-mom, really, says Caffey.
But their motivation is fierce. Do you hear female artists on rock radio as much as you did 10 years ago? asks Caffey. Its come full circle to when the Go-Gos were considered a risky signing for IRS, because you just didnt hear it back in 1980. Caffey believes that the majors are no longer artist-friendly enough to take seriously. I remember when the Go-Gos were being distributed by A&M, they nurtured and kept acts like Joan Armatrading when she wasnt making commercial records. Now its a weeks worth of promotion, and if you dont click, bye-bye.
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So, Five Foot Twos philosophy is different from bottom to top. Caffey and Waronker have a slate of projects besides Waronkers on tap, from reissues of Caffeys husband Jeff McDonalds group Redd Kross, to a new one from the Muffs, to a Lisa Marr (ex-Cub) disc. What these acts have in common is a love of and devotion to the short and sweet pop song -- not to mention that almost all of them were on majors and indies both. Thats what Ive loved all my life, says Caffey. Thats why I want these acts on my little label. And, yes, they are friends and relatives so far, but Id love to put out anything I was crazy about. Thing is, I dont know how crazy theyd be about us -- were very small.
Waronkers homemade disc fits very nicely into this scheme. A 14-song slab of succinct pop gems, its a far more straight-ahead take on the basic tune than her old band offered up on their three Warner Bros. discs. With a minimum of outside help from husband Steve McDonald, the singer plays pretty much everything on this home-recorded outing. Unlike so much of what is concocted in the home studio, it is the polar opposite of indulgent. Each tune is neatly packaged with simple guitar hooks and ringing, chiming harmonies, while motifs run the gamut from pithy takes on femme-aggro (Perfect Ten) to wittily observed love songs (I Wish You Well, Nothing Personal). Waronkers throaty, evocative singing and the sets lush, carefully layered arrangements make the disc one of the great out-of-left-field comers for this blinkered year, hopefully earning it a bit of radio play to augment its distributors push (the disc will be carried by Oglio).
As such, it would have fit easily into the modern pop oeuvre served up by many major labels, but Caffeys own experiences, recent and in the distant past with the Go-Gos, have soured the guitarist-songwriter somewhat. Relinquishing control is painful, she says. Ive found that when Im in control of the budget and the money, how much more efficient Ive become [her new labels initial capitalization was about $15,000]. When we threw our launch party at the Echo, the cost was about 700 bucks. Because its our money, were frugal, we make everything count, not like Oh, wow, lets really go for it and blow two grand when we dont have it. All I want is to do a bit better than break even, so I can put out more records. So far, minus any real press or radio, Waronkers disc is selling briskly. If it was on a major, wed be terrified, says Caffey. As it is, its better than we could ever have imagined. Were hitting our goals.
I learned from my mistakes and naivete. Annas song I Wish You Well was on the Josie and the Pussycats soundtrack, and she thought that putting it out again wasnt right. But I persuaded her that it was a great song and had to be heard, because I remember the Go-Gos going through the same thing with We Got the Beat. It was a dance hit in the clubs in 1980, and IRS wanted us to re-record it for Beauty and the Beat, and we were like, Oh, but its old, like our friends from the Starwood or Whisky might be sick of it, so therefore the whole world was. We did it, reluctantly, what did we know? Well, what I know now is that I didnt want to know the business end back then, and now I have to -- and it isnt that bad.