Piñata Records: Folks drinking and swearing and brainstorming

Categories: EP Release
Photo by Dave Hoenack

They might have chosen the name Piñata Records, but the four members of Southside Desire who founded the label have hardly stuffed it with the unexpected. With two releases last year, and a third out this weekend, Piñata has put perceptions of the "throwback" act on its ear by giving it a distinctive punkish edge. Southside Desire's LP, Songs to Love and Die To, gave a "spirit of '77" jolt to retro soul, and the Narco States EP that followed it took the same approach to reviving vintage garage rock.

Gimme Noise met Marvel Devitt, Trevor E, Gloria Iacono, and Damien Tank at Memory Lanes to talk about the label's direction and its new release, a split single featuring two songs each from Southside Desire and Black Diet.

See Also:
Narco States: We're tired of seeing watered-down bands
Southside Desire on analog recording, old-school retro, and Hymie's

Tank says the label was inspired by Our Noise, the 2009 book about Merge Records subtitled The Indie Label That Got Big and Stayed Small. "It was especially the first 10 chapters or so, when they were just putting out their friends' records around Chapel Hill, but it also had a lot of practical information. Things like, 'What is a distributor?' not to mention a business model we ended up co-opting. We make sure everyone we work with is compensated as equally as we are, keeping everything as 50/50 as possible."

"The thing that holds it together is an attitude," explains Devitt. "It's not throwback or retro, but an approach." This approach is what Black Diet's lead singer, Jonathan Tolliver, has described as "garage influenced, energetic, and unpretentious."

Tolliver's rockin' soul band is the third and latest to be pressed by Piñata, having pushed itself into their world at just the right time. Marvel Devitt explains how they discovered Black Diet, who were then playing under another name: "Sometimes I peruse the Craigslist musician postings for entertainment. If I ever have a bad day I just look there a while, because some of it is really outrageous. Once in a while I post something myself and on one occasion I finished doing that -- 'Keyboard player wanted for soul band' -- and I found another band had written almost the same thing only a couple days earlier."

"I thought, 'What the fuck? Who are these guys?' So I looked them up -- JT and the Sloppy Seconds -- and found they were really good. They had been together a while longer than us. I found a few old videos and loved them." Devitt sent them a message and forgot about it.

Tolliver, i.e. frontman JT, contacted the Nomad World Pub about playing Southside Desire's next show there, the album release for Songs to Love and Die To. And who is the Nomad's booking agent? None other than Trevor E. Seemingly destined to work together, the members of Southside Desire first saw JT and the Sloppy Seconds perform that night. "My jaw dropped," says Devitt, "They floored me. They made me scared a little bit. 'We've got to follow these guys?' And that little bit of friction is good."

The bands established a healthy friendship, exchanging members on occasion. Mr. E and Tolliver traveled to South by Southwest and reported their adventures back on the label's blog. Tolliver's band evolved into Black Diet, who recorded two new songs for this week's new 7-inch single.

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