If you look up a band called Khat House, and then listen to “Tyger Girl” — the lead single off their debut album “Welcome to Khat House” — a couple things will probably be clear right off the bat. The band hangs its hat on an undeniably catchy blend of pop and indie rock, showcased on what comes off as a polished studio album, and Khat House’s members certainly have talent.
What might not be immediately clear, however, is that “Welcome to Khat House” was recorded in the basement of Todd Union as the first album produced by UR’s new, entirely student-run record label, yoUR Record Label.
Putting together a student-run record label at UR was a central element of fifth-year senior Andrew Polec’s Kauffman Entrepreneurial Year (KEY) project, which he hopes will culminate with the eventual creation of a music business major.
“Khat House was kind of like a beta test to see if this whole record label idea could work out,” he said. “We wanted to show that it is possible to do here what the student labels at Drexel University and the Berklee [College] of Music are doing.”
In getting yoUR Record Label off the ground, Polec wanted to ensure that the first act signed by the label would be one committed to following through with the project. So, in what is his typical way of taking the reins, Polec decided to sign his own band up for the label’s test flight.
Polec is joined in the band by guitarists and seniors Mark LaMagna and Nicholas Shirley, bassist and junior Neal Kennedy and sophomore Eric Chubinsky, the band’s drummer.
“When we heard a student-run label was starting up, we immediately knew we wanted to be on board,” Shirley said. “When we heard that our lead singer was spearheading the effort, it became a no-brainer.”
The credit for the album, however, certainly doesn’t rest only with Polec and his bandmates. On the contrary, the band members stressed repeatedly just how involved the process of producing a full-length studio album turned out to be, pointing out the valuable contributions on the part of students from a variety of academic backgrounds.
“We recruited students from the computer science department to design the band’s website, and other students who took ECE 479 — Theory and Practice in Audio Recording and Processing — to help out with recording,” Polec noted. “We really had to dig into a number of different departments.”
Even the album cover was the end result of an extensive collaboration — after Khat House won a battle of the bands at RIT, a photography group there contacted Khat House and asked to do a photo shoot with the band for a class project, which later included the artful addition of several cats via Photoshop. The band obliged, and then a logo designer from RIT submitted the scratchy “Khat House” lettering used on the cover. Shirley combined the images and, in Polec’s words, “Voilà, we had an album cover.”
However, the production of this album doesn’t mark the end of the work for yoUR Record Label. Rather, the label plans to advertise for its artists both in the local community and through social media outlets, get artists’ music represented on iTunes and Bandcamp and help bands book shows at venues throughout Rochester.
Polec has grand hopes for what the record label could accomplish after he moves on from UR, including the possibility of signing artists not only from the University community, but also from the greater Rochester area.
“We’ve seen off-campus groups want to come onto campus to reach a student audience,” David Bendes, another KEY scholar working alongside Polec on a similar project, noted. “Signing with an on-campus record label … allows you to work directly with students, which is a great way to get in touch with that audience, so it’s something [yoUR Record Label] might consider in the future.”
Polec also hopes that the yoUR Record Label will eventually be able to turn a profit, but for the time being, he emphasized that it’s all about proving the label’s sustainability and setting the groundwork for future members.
“We’ve got a lot of people involved who are interested in looking for new bands and recording them,” he said.
After a semester’s hard work by everyone involved with yoUR Record Label, “Welcome to Khat House” drops this Saturday, April 14 with a release party at Drama House. The event represents not only an achievement for yoUR Record Label and Khat House, but also for Roc Thursdays — Bendes’ KEY project and the event’s sponsor — which is a subsidiary of UR Concerts created to give students hands-on experience in bringing artists to campus.
“Alone, all these pieces can be relatively simply executed,” Polec said of the numerous efforts that went into getting yoUR Record Label up and running. “But it’s been great to see all the pieces link together — to see this whole process come to fruition.”
Fleming is a member of the class of 2013.