Throughout the history of Bar/None Records, Glenn Morrow has been a constant presence.
On March 26, 1986, the indie label shipped its first release — the debut album by Rage to Live, a band that included Morrow and Bar/None founder Tom Prendergast. Morrow soon became a Bar/None partner, then eventually the sole owner of the Hoboken, N.J.-bred label, which recently moved back to the Mile Square City after many years in neighboring Weehawken.
Bar/None’s roster may not be filled with household names, but many acts with long careers have called the label home over the past 30 years, among them The Feelies, The dB’s, Freedy Johnston, Yo La Tengo and The Front Bottoms.
While in Austin, Texas, for this year’s South by Southwest, Morrow, a longtime Hoboken resident, talked about the state of his label, where he goes to seek out new acts and more.
Medleyville.us: All labels have challenges, and indie labels probably have about five times as many things to deal with. What have been Bar/None’s biggest hurdles in recent years as consumer habits have changed?
Glenn Morrow: “There are lots of ways you get paid these days. When we started 30 years ago, we did vinyl only — that was the only format we did. Now we’re back to [putting out] vinyl and selling a lot of it, but probably our biggest income source is streaming. Digital downloads are big but starting to fade a little bit; CDs are trying to hang in there — maybe they’ll make a comeback and be the cool retro thing at a certain point. We’ve done a few cassettes lately.”
So is one of the challenges being able to manage all of that stuff with a smaller staff than one of the remaining majors?
Morrow: “Yes. It’s a lot to manage, but once you have it set up, then it flows. I guess the other scary part for the whole industry was: Would the digital download go away before streaming became significant enough? With streaming, you’re not selling anything: You’re just getting people to click on something. So that’s a very different mindset [for a business to adjust to].”
What does Bar/None offer that other indie labels today don’t or can’t offer?
Morrow: “Because we have a small roster, we can keep working on acts and try to figure out ways to keep working with them until hopefully they break. [As an indie], you’re always a little bit under the radar, so people may not even know you have a new release, so you can keep working it from different angles for a longer period of time. I think major labels tend to put things out there, and once it’s out there, it’s either sink or swim. And if it sinks, it sinks pretty quickly.”
These days, would you say bands seek out the label, or do you seek out bands?
Morrow: “That’s a good question. … Sometimes it’s people you have a relationship with for a long time; sometimes it’s things you find on YouTube. Sometimes somebody you know tells you something; sometimes you stumble into a band at South by Southwest. I wouldn’t say there’s any dominant way.”
When you’re back home, where do you go to see live music — and how often are you going out to check out bands?
Morrow: “I go into Manhattan a lot. There’s that whole area on the Lower East Side: the Mercury Lounge, Pianos, Bowery Electric. WFMU has a performance space in Jersey City, N.J.”
Bar/None and the Hoboken club Maxwell’s were a tandem for a long time; the label’s bands often played there. A version of Maxwell’s still exists, but what’s it like now for Bar/None since Todd Abramson stopped booking shows there?
Morrow: “Actually, I went to Maxwell’s under the new ownership and found a band there that I signed called The Moms. There’s a different vibe there now, but it has a good sound system.
“In Jersey City, there are clubs opening all the time. There’s a place called The Citizen. There’s Porta, which is this giant pizza restaurant. Jersey City seems to be embracing the arts in a big way now. … I do think that Jersey City is going to start pulling kids from all over New Jersey who feel, ‘Well, I don’t have to schlep all the way to the scene in Williamsburg [in Brooklyn, N.Y.]. Why do that when I can have the same experience in my own state?’ I think you’re going to see a real reflowering of the culture.”
— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior
Glenn Morrow photographed in Austin, Texas, in March 2016 by Chris M. Junior