Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Q&A with Keith Latinen

Keith Latinen plays in a band called Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) and runs a label called Count Your Lucky Stars. If you miss music that is cut from a cloth of true earnestness, vulnerability and sincerity, check out both the band and label. Since Latinen will hit up Denton’s Macaroni Island this week, I talked with him about doing the label and band and a younger generation of bands that blows our minds.

I know that you’ve played the DFW area before, but, roughly, how many times have you played here before?

Oh, boy. We played at 1919 Hemphill probably four or five times. And then, we played a couple of house shows around the area too. I would probably say six or seven times. We play a lot in Texas.

That’s cool, especially for a band from Michigan to come on down here. It’s pretty nice because there are bands that will not come to Texas.

Yeah! I think Michigan gets a little bit of that too because we’re lake-locked, so bands that have to go all the way come to us.

On a related note, with Denton specifically, how did you hear about Innards and Two Knights?

Because they played shows through there. Leo from Innards had actually set up some shows with us maybe a couple of years ago. A relationship grew from there. The best thing about being in a band and running a label is they definitely go hand in hand. So that’s how we ended up signing Two Knights and Innards.

I finally saw Innards and Two Knights a few weeks ago at Macaroni Island. What struck me is how there was this intensity during Two Knights’ set and everybody was circled around them, singing along. Consider me late to the party, but it’s kinda cool to see that going on. There was a time when I wondered if talking about Braid or Cap’n Jazz to a sixteen-year-old would fall on deaf ears. Whereas, seeing bands like this, I realize there is a younger generation that gets it.

Yeah, it’s cool. Everywhere we play, we’ve been pretty much born in the house show scene/DIY circuit. It’s like playing with friends everywhere we go. That show that you went to at Macaroni Island, I’m probably friends with all of those guys. It’s really nice to come back to places like that. It’s seeing friends because your relationship is built on seeing them one day or a couple of hours, so it’s like we pick up right where we left off every time we see them.

You’ve been doing Count Your Lucky Stars since 2007, correct?


I was curious as to what motivated you to start the label.

Well, part of it was that nobody was going to take a chance on our band and put our record out. We talked to a lot of labels and a couple fell through and I was like, “Well, if no one else is going to do it, it’s not going to stop me.” Our first EP was self-released and then our second, Year of the Rabbit, was co-released by a label in England. [Their owner] offered to pay for half of it and we’d find a label to put it our stateside to help pay for the other half of the costs. I was pretty cynical we could find somebody else. That’s sort of where it started. I had played with so many good bands and they too were with a label home, so we started cherry-picking all of the bands that we played with. It was pretty excellent. There weren’t any labels doing what we were doing at the time. There was no competition, as it were. I’m not competitive with any labels today. We’re all friends, but at that point, there weren’t any labels doing what we were doing.

Can you pinpoint a time when you started to see bands that were wanting to go the route of American Football or Cap’n Jazz instead of the Fall Out Boy route?

Yeah! When we were first started the band, there were no bands doing what we were doing. That period had distinctly passed on, but that had never left me. When we played all these shows in Michigan when we started in 2005/2006, it was pretty much hardcore bands and metal. When we really started touring, most of the bands still played heavier stuff. It was a slow moving front where. Algernon [Cadwallader] was around, us, Perfect Future was another band that had formed. We just sort of stuck together and started playing house shows and word of mouth spread around. We just played wherever we could.

Something I can’t help noticing after I go to these house shows: a lot of these bands are a little hidden on the Internet besides Mediafire and Bandcamp. Is that an intentional sort of thing? I know a lot of Empire’s stuff is on Amazon. But is there an intention to keep that off of iTunes, Amazon, eMusic?

Well, we put them on those services, but what really happens, it’s not hard for me to find that stuff. I know how bands operate, essentially. Most bands, if they have a website, it’s a hub. It can send you to their Facebook, their Tumblr, their Twitter, and their Bandcamp. Those are pretty much the essentials. Mediafire is pretty easy to find most bands. It’s weird with technology that you can get something out so quickly. I think some of the bands gear themselves to get something out as quickly as they can and putting it out without any fanfare or album art. They want to get it out to the right place.

I’ve really latched onto vinyl in the past few years. I’m not one to say, “Hey, vinyl’s making a comeback” because I remember buying a lot of 7-inches in 1997/1998 because songs that face to face released weren’t going to be found anywhere else. Along the way, I kept up with vinyl. About five or six years ago, there was this understanding of buying a record on vinyl because you wanted to physically own it because I can get it online anywhere. That’s the way the younger folks do it, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Oh, yeah! It was interesting when we put out our first physical product in 2009, we wanted people to buy the vinyl. It would be harder to sell, of course. The tides were slowly changing at that point and now, for Count Your Lucky Stars, we sell probably 15 records for every CD. People, if they’re going to own something, they want the aesthetic of vinyl, the feel of vinyl, the sound of vinyl. Owning it is a piece of art. I still like CDs. I grew up with CDs, but I can’t remember the last time I bought a CD. I can remember the last time I bought vinyl.

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