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Fights to fests: XRA and FGR host fest at Bishop


Jared Cheek and Mike Adams work it out. - SUBMITTED PHOTO
  • Submitted Photo
  • Jared Cheek and Mike Adams work it out.
The founders of Bloomington record labels Flannelgraph Records and Crossroads of America Records are a little like brothers. They can bounce ideas off each other, and grow separately but together in same small, eclectic town. And, like a lot of brothers, they've been rivals.

"You know how when you see someone who seems to be exactly like you in a lot of ways, so you somehow hate them for it? It was like that," said Flannelgraph Records' Jared Cheek.

When Cheek first moved to Bloomington, Mike Adams, now of XRA, was running Fox Records with Bryant Fox of band husband&wife. Cheek began a small boutique outlet called Manual Label.

"I liked the stuff he was doing," Adams said of Manual. "But I felt really threatened by the way he was sort of encroaching on our turf."

The mini - war began. Adams tried in small ways to battle Manual Label, putting signs on top of his promotional signs, their merchandise directly next to his, etc. Adams was met with a fight.

"One time I prank called [Adams] up as a distributor and put in a fake order for 1,000 copies of a Canterbury Effect record that they only pressed 500 copies of," Cheek said.

Around this same time, however, Adams began to break away from his affiliation with Fox Records. His interest in creating XRA was growing. He began asking around on various local online music forums, offering a sort of internship - a collaborative position alongside him. His username gave no indication of his actual identity; when Cheek posted back, neither knew the other's position as his rival. Through their online conversations, both realized the unique power they would have in a partnership.

"Once we finally realized one another's real identity, we were both pretty embarrassed, but took it as a sign to start over and help each other out," Adams said. "Pretty crazy, but it's made us very comfortable to work with and trust each other ever since."

A few years after Crossroads of America launched, Cheek created Flannelgraph Records. They continue to work together, discussing ideas for criticism or confidence, and helping each other create and mold their labels while keeping their specific goals in mind.

"Our packaging ideas are usually some sort of boneheaded amalgam of an idea that one of us came up with and then the other added to or subtracted from," Adams said. And they often share artists in one way or another. For example, Adams releases his work as Mike Adams At His Honest Weight on Flannelgraph but releases his experimental work as Dust Collectors on XRA; XRA offers Frank Sweikhardt's vinyl album while Flannelgraph offers his work on an instrumental cassette.

"I like to think we're pretty distinct," Adams said. "There's certainly a lot of overlap at times, but Flannelgraph is driven by Jared's whims and XRA by mine. We make a good team when we collaborate, but I think that's because we complement each other. Jared's thing tends to be very playful and sometimes weird, and I think Flannelgraph artists reflect that. That also tends to land him in some very creative, interesting and unique places with his releases. I'm usually more drawn to a kind of sincerity and this sort of emotional-Midwestern-experience thing."

Cheek is interested in instrumentals, and subsequently, Flannelgraph honors that. "I'm really picky about what I listen to lyrically," Cheek said. "Each year we do a benefit album of all new original instrumental holiday music. We've also started doing a series of instrumental versions of new albums on other labels. Our next one of those will be the new Candy Claws, which might be my favorite album of the year so far."

"I think both of us put out records because we like them and think that they deserve to be heard by other people. So, there's no rivalry for recruiting bands or anything like that," said Cheek.

Most recently, XRA released Mount Eerie's 12", Live in Bloomington, September 30, 2011. And much is on the horizon. "Later this year we will hopefully have a new Metavari album to deliver to the universe, as well as a humongous retrospective/B-sides and rarities release from husband&wife. There's a lot of work to do," Adams said.

Flannelgraph is streamlining into the future as well. This month, they will release their first ever reissue, a 1977 album from synthesizer pioneer Don Muro called It's Time. They're plumping up their annual benefit Christmas album and planning full-lengths from Chad Serhal, Mike Adams At His Honest Weight, New Terrors and Via Vegrandis.

Adams and Cheek will host a two-day festival Friday and Saturday at Bloomington's The Bishop.


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