Jay Anderson is working.
The prolific Milwaukee musician is in the middle of a rehearsal—his second-floor Riverwest apartment pulling triple duty as a practice space and office—but he’s not thinking about, say, his latest move with jazz/blues/funk/hip-hop collective Foreign Goods. Or his next gig with the unstoppable New Age Narcissism. Or his jazz trio. Or the host of other bands he currently plays with. He’s thinking about VoodooHoney, his new record label that seeks to, among other things, bring some organization to his own career, and foster the growth of a music scene already on the rise.
“I have, like, seven unreleased projects, and none of the labels bouncing around town or even any of the larger labels seemed right,” Anderson says. “The New York and Chicago labels that were interested in my jazz music, they still weren’t offering anything I couldn’t do myself.”
It’s a bold statement, but Anderson’s concept for VoodooHoney is just as bold. Far from a recording-focused label that simply drops albums to Bandcamp and occasionally dabbles in vinyl or cassette releases, VoodooHoney has been designed as a complete in-house experience, with a long list of contracted talents filling specific roles. Artistic development is key. Fashion, business skills, and even cooking also fall under the VoodooHoney umbrella. It’s more akin to the old Hollywood studio system that it is to a modern homegrown indie label.
“I saw the other big record labels keep all of their stuff in-house, and all the smaller record labels around town work in conjunction with other stuff,” Anderson says. “I wanted a big fucking team of people so I could just keep everything in-house, just streamline it and make it really quick and easy.”
Currently, that team of people includes everyone from Tarik Moody, David Ravel, and Reginald Baylor serving as artistic directors; Danny Zelonky, Timothy Russell, and Jeremy Thomas as associate recording engineers; Strehlow and Klassik as associate producers; B-Free as vocal coach; and Christopher DeAngelo Gilbert as in-house choreographer. It’s an exhaustive list of nearly everyone making relevant music—or supporting relevant music—in Milwaukee today. Anderson is the executive producer.
“My only real job for the label is to run everything and listen to lots of music, all the time,” he says.
As for music, VoodooHoney’s current roster includes many of the musicians involved with the label: B-Free, Klassik, and Strehlow. An EP from Nickel & Rose was just released. Future releases, meanwhile, are promised from the likes of Lorde Fredd33, SistaStrings, Stomata, Brit Nicole, Foreign Goods, the newly formed The Truth, and more. “I already have a list of people for us to push,” Anderson says, “and I have another twenty people in my head for when this crop of people is done.”
In keeping with the label’s structured approach, Anderson sees VoodooHoney as a way to holistically develop current or up-and-coming artists. He explains the process:
“You have Strehlow, B-Free, and Klassik as the producers. Between the three of them, they can do any kind of beat at all. Me and the artistic directors will listen to this person’s voice and figure out, like, electronic or live band? What’s going to be their thing? A mix of both? Then we decide, okay, so you’re going to do this song with this beat. If they want to sing and they’re not the best singer, or they’re trying to hit a note but can’t, B-Free comes in as vocal coach.
“So then we have a person who can sing, with an awesome backing back or beats behind them,” he continues. “The next step is finding the most appropriate studio to record in. Then we get them ready for their live show. We do all the promo and the booking and poster design and all the advertising. At the show we handle all the pictures, the security, the guest list, the booking at the venue, the video. Even down to the stage manager and the sound man of the show.”
Anderson’s vision will come to life at a VoodooHoney unveiling party Saturday, December 10 at Company Brewing. SistaStrings, Lorde Fredd33, Klassik, B-Free, and The Truth will perform, with Kavon Cortez-Jones and Brit Nicole turning in spoken word performances. SistaStrings, in particular, seems to embody what VoodooHoney is all about.
“I was talking to Chauntee [Ross], and they don’t have any albums out,” Anderson says. “And I’m like, what? How? So I was like, okay, we’re going to record that album. It’s just a thing that makes sense. These stars have aligned for this to make sense. It’s not just randomly recording bands because they’re good, or because I’m friends with them, or because they don’t have an album out yet. Does it make sense for you to record an album right now? It’s not about how good someone is. Is this person going to do something that the city needs, and how dedicated are they to doing that, and does it make sense timing-wise?
“Have you ever seen one of those action movies where the evil dude has to wait for the planets to align before he can do some kind of ritual and fuck shit up? With every individual artist, we’re waiting for the shit to align correctly.”