"The whole record is a tribute to my grandmother and the story of her passing," says Nick Wolch, sitting across from me. "There was this big, epic Shakespearean tragedy involved."
A tall figure in a scarf and thick hair, Wolch tells me about how his grandmother exiled his own mother from the family for 34 years, and how only divorce and death brought the two together again. He tells me how on Christmas Eve, two years ago, his grandmother was diagnosed with a brain tumor the size of a baseball. He tells me how his mother suddenly had to watch a parent who'd physically and mentally abused her slowly die.
"It was a big deal for me," Wolch continues. "So the whole record, all four songs, are specifically about one moment that I had with either my mom or my grandmother as she was passing. And the last song is the physical embodiment of her death."
He considers the bombast of that last statement, and asks for a pen. He writes something on the record, and hands it to me. I look down at his handwriting: "The Strength of Weak Ties," it reads.
Under the name Goodriddler, Nick Wolch has played over a hundred shows in the last three years and released a full-length album, Tickling the Tail of the Tiger. That debut ably balanced influences of Aphex Twin and Radiohead in a palatable context, and as such was featured this year on NPR's All Songs Considered. When I play the record Wolch has just given me, however, I can't help but think that Ira Glass would so not be into it.
Fierce, lovely, earthen and human, The Strength of Weak Ties is by bounds the most accomplished release by Wolch and the strongest local release in years. Manipulating vintage Wurlitzer and Fender Rhodes keyboard sounds, exacting complex patterns from a live drum kit and singing forlornly about love and loss, Wolch has married the cerebral and the emotional in ways most will have probably thought didn't exist anymore.
Projects like this—especially from a talent as great as Wolch—used to readily find willing support in the golden era of the independent record label. But though independent labels are still flourishing, they're unlikely to sign a band that hasn't done a lot of preliminary legwork. In other words, if you haven't toured the country three times, launched a massive viral marketing campaign and managed to stoke a substantial Pitchfork buzz on your own, don't bother calling Matador Records.
What of the idea that an artist needs space—and funding—to grow? No one can write good songs if tweeting the details of their band's next show takes priority. "So many of our friends are in bands," says Andy Pohl of Santa Rosa, "and they want to release something, but they just don't have the means to."
This year, Pohl heard about Kickstarter from local band Mowz, who utilized the online funding platform to raise $2,735 for their CD, Every Sun Sings Its Own Song. "We made a big thing out of telling everyone else about it, for sure," says Thomas Limper, adding that the money pledged online came mostly from friends, family members and fans. As is the Kickstarter model, each donation level came with rewards, from a signed copy of the CD ($20) to a handmade electric guitar ($1,000).
Pohl, taken with the campaign, drew up an outline for a record label called Sell the Heart Records. It invoked successful independent labels of yore, promising commitment to artistry and inspiration from Fugazi. He hoped to raise $2,500. He failed.
"But then we tried to be a little more focused," Pohl says, "specifically for the Goodriddler record." The subsequent campaign was a success, and Goodriddler's vinyl EP will be released at an all-day extravaganza record-release show Nov. 27.
The good part about the record is that it's paid for up front, without the stress most bands feel of hustling to sell copies of their records in order to pay increasing credit-card bills from the pressing plant. But the even better part about it is that it's an incredible suite of songs from the heart.
"Nick's a great guy," Pohl says. "I can tell he's passionate about what he's playing. That to me is important. I dig his passion, and I'm behind it 100 percent."
Goodriddler plays with the Velvet Teen, Not to Reason Why, Snipers, Kindness and Lies, Low Five, Hanalei, Odd Bird and others on Saturday, Nov. 27, at the Arlene Francis Theatre. 99 Sixth St., Santa Rosa. 3pm. $7. No phone.