“We've never bid against or chased bands against a major. If anything, I believe majors are looking at us to see what we're signing, and learning a thing or two from it.”
——Jesse Israel


Reunited for This Week Only, Jesse and Erica Bring the Heat as We Wait for Autumn to Kick In

This week’s edition of Wheels spotlights a pair of amazing bands and features a guest appearance from my former partner Erica Ramon, who turns us on to some happening artists as well. Also, check out my interview with Jesse Israel of Cantora Records. Keep feedin’ my inbox: [email protected].

Beyond the Element:
Since forming in early 2008, these rockers have become the top local band in south Jersey, playing venues like the Trocadero, the Sherman Theatre and Lincoln Financial Field, while opening for such national acts as Z02, Papa Roach and Skid Row. In June 2009, BTE released their debut album Resolute Sorrow (available at iTunes, Amazon and CD Baby), which continues to turn heads in the music biz. Their single "Walk Into Fire" was featured on the 93.3 WMMR collection Jaxon's Local Shots Vol 6., which can be purchased at CD Baby. They’re now in the process of writing their second album. You can find out more about these up-and-comers at www.beyondtheelement.com and www.facebook.com/beyondtheelement.


White Arrows
(www.myspace.com/whitearrows): Electric pop-rockers breaking out of the hipster scene in Silver Lake and repped by Chris Allen of The Collective. Still unsigned, White Arrow is scheduled to do several performances at CMJ this year, so be sure to check them out—you won’t be disappointed.


The “Just Music” Trifecta:
As I slide back into Wheels mode this week, trying to find my bearings once again, I bring you a cornucopia of talent. Lately, this column has not only featured artists but also those in the business, like you and I, who help make dreams come true while living the dream ourselves. This is the only thing I have ever wanted to do (career-wise, of course; the personal list is endless, and I am working on it), and my rant this week proves that “if you will it, it will be.” Yes, I coined that phrase—feel free to borrow. So here goes.

Watching over the two talents featured here this week is Just Music Group, with Nosa Eweka at its helm. This determined and passionate visionary is dedicated to the development of talent around the world, working to expand careers, promote social consciousness and encourage entreprenuership. Two of the artists that Just Music Group is currently working with to develop their sound are the talented and sexy Allison Gray and a self-proclaimed star, Mr. Xquisit, whom you’ve read about here in Wheels.

Allison Gray
(www.myspace.com/allisongraymusic): Fresh off the release of her debut EP, Off My Mind, Allison is inspired by several of the same things that many songwriters are, and she has found an audience to relate to her lyrical honesty and emotional melodies. Stray away from committing her to one genre, because Allison has a nice blend of pop, rock, soul and jazz. Her journey has been brewing since she was just three years old, sitting down to take her first piano lesson. Like so many of us, music took over her life and became the stronghold that kept her grounded during her sometimes rocky formative years. Allison has been trained in opera, ballet, vocal jazz, musical theatre and pop music and one performance of “The National Anthem” brought invitations from Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall and later Beneroya Hall in Seattle, where she landed for a while, and all this before she graduated high school. She’s now based in L.A., where she’s teamed up with producer Marc Jordan to release her EP, drawing on influences from Stevie Wonder to Fiona Apple and the Smashing Pumpkins.

Mr. Xquisit (http://www.myspace.com/mrxquisitmuzik): We introduced you to this youngster awhile back, but it’s time for some exciting video news that you can be a part of. Sunday, October 10, will mark the shoot for “I Can’t Take” featuring model Andrea Lowell, with coverage by all Playboy outlets, including radio, TV and print. Here is where you can get involved. If you are press or a blogger and want to cover the shoot, or you rep a brand with product to be placed, you can reach out to Nosa for more info at [email protected]. And be sure to join the after-party following the shoot.

What brought you into the music business?
I got in the game entirely by chance. It was 2005. Spring had just sprung. My sophomore dorm suitemate at the time, Will Griggs, told me to come into his room and listen to this rough MP3 that his cousin at Wesleyan College had sent him. The band was then called The Management, and the song was called "Kids." Before playing it, Will guaranteed me I'd listen to it on repeat for the next two weeks straight. Turned out I'd be listening to it nonstop for the next five years—hearing it in strangers' cars as they drove by, at baseball stadiums with Dodgers fans singing along, at my neighborhood bar, coming from a 16-year-old girl’s headphones at an airport in Mid-America...

After sitting on Will's bed and being blown away by that first listen, we knew we had to be involved. We reached out to the band and somehow convinced them that two 20-year-olds with zero experience managing bands should manage their band. Eventually, we linked with our third partner Nick Panama and recorded the Time to Pretend EP during discounted late-night studio sessions, the band changed their name to MGMT and Cantora Records was born...


How did hooking up with MGMT help you to create your indie label?
Cantora Records existed for two years with MGMT as our only artist. Once the band really took off, it gave Cantora something incredibly special—something that money or investors can't buy—it gave us meaningful recognition. MGMT's success gave our indie label a reason to be noticed among the thousands of other dorm-room labels at the time. With that attention and clout, we were able to sign more bands, which led to worldwide distribution deals and sync partnerships. With solid sales of the Time to Pretend EP, we were able to lease a studio and office space in Brooklyn, form our Cantora Creative digital video production arm and flesh out our live events activity Cantora Live. MGMT birthed our label, and the success of MGMT greatly helped make our label what it is today.


Talk about your model and what you offer to bands.
Since day one, Cantora has been about collaboration. As college students, we worked with our designer buddies to build posters, our animator friends to create viral spots and our web heads to launch download pages. This cross-creative mentality is at the core of what we do—we offer bands resources to build meaningful content and provide our bands with valuable channels to release that content to their fans and future fans. We've made it a priority at the label to offer our artists as many tools as possible in-house, which is why after graduating from NYU Film School, we built out our video production arm Cantora Creative. Equally important to us has been having the ability to put on live face-to-face music events in taste-making cities, which led to the creation of Cantora Live.

These two arms of Cantora have proven to be very helpful outlets for developing and exposing our artists, but they also touch on another important area of focus for us - interacting with bands that aren't signed to Cantora Records. Our production arm allows us to do web video series, viral content and live footage with our favorite bands - both on and off the label. The same mentality holds true with Cantora Live - the events we put on showcase our favorite bands at the moment - this includes bands signed to Cantora and non-Cantora acts. On top of this being a blast, these channels bring added value to Cantora's brand and are meaningful ways for us to further cultivate and interact with the music community. 


What type of bands do you go after?
There is one giant thread that ties all of our bands together: good songwriting. We are a pop label, and most important to us are great songs that we want to share with the world. Babe drummers help too.


Being an indie label, do you find it hard to compete with the majors when you’re chasing bands?
We've never bid against or chased bands against a major. If anything, I believe majors are looking at us to see what we're signing, and learning a thing or two from it. The beautiful thing about being an indie is that we're nimble, fast and efficient, so if there's a band that we know we want to work with, we can make it happen quickly. Part of our appeal to bands is the level of intimacy we encourage with our acts. If a bassist is stressing on something, they'll call me and we'll get to the bottom of it. If a band comes up with a great idea for a viral video spot for this weekend, we can get them a small crew to shoot it. We're reachable and damn transparent, so bands know what's goin on.


The almighty final question: what's your favorite ice cream and why?
Cookies and cream in a sugar cone. It's all about the cookie chunks.

Maren! Luke! Carly! (4/19a)
Who's next? (4/16a)
"RAPSTAR" is accurately titled. (4/16a)
It's exclusive, but you're invited to come on in. (4/20a)
"Fearless" takes flight. (4/16a)
The musical tapestry we know as R&B.
Predicting the next big catalog deal.
Once we all get vaccinated, how long before we can party?
How is globalization bringing far-flung territories into the musical mainstream?

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