Today, in the era of Name-Your-Price digital downloads, 99 cent iTunes singles, and abject saturation in the music industry, owning a record label isn’t exactly the glamorous and financially lucrative endeavor it once was. Though the profit margins are slim (if they exist at all), countless entrepreneurs continue to funnel their passion for music into record labels, including more than a few operations based right here in Milwaukee. One of the youngest and smallest of those local imprints is Triple Eye Industries, which will celebrate its two-year anniversary with a pair of shows at Cactus Club this weekend.
What Triple Eye lacks in longevity and finances, it more than makes up for in ambition. In under 800 days in business, the label has managed an astonishing 13 releases. The first record was a self-titled 12-inch by a band called Volunteer, which not-so-coincidentally features all three Triple Eye owners—Martin Defatte, Francisco Ramirez, and Mark Sheppard—in its ranks. At its root, the project originated as a means of releasing Volunteer material.
“We’re not going to be going on a lot of tours,” Defatte says. “We’re not going to be a big band, so why would anyone want to invest in us?”
Despite its early focus, the trio quickly expanded its catalog to bring in other acts, both based in Milwaukee and hailing from elsewhere, with each owner bringing their own specific skills to the venture. Defatte was a former art director for another record label and did freelance graphic work for bands and labels sporadically. He designed Triple Eye’s website and (under the tutelage of Justin Perkins at Mystery Room Mastering) mixes and masters some releases. Ramirez uses his experience he gained at Chicago’s famed Fireside Bowl to handle booking and promotional duties. He also screen prints flyers and record sleeves. Sheppard’s keen understanding of shipping logistics helps materials come in and out as quickly and inexpensively as possible. Combining their varied areas of expertise, they’re able to handle nearly every element of production and keep costs down for their 300- to 500-record pressings.
“We just decided to do it because we all have things that would make the label easier. It seemed like we had enough of the resources,” Defatte says. “Nobody around here is doing it, so it’s kind of filling that void.”
The void Triple Eye fills is in regard to the type of bands predominately populating its roster. Despite the stark sonic differences between Soup Moat (TEI 004), Northless (TEI 010 and TEI 012), and Volunteer (TEI 001-003), every act can safely be clustered beneath the expansive “rock” umbrella. That attention to a genre often ignored in Milwaukee led local rockers Hot Coffin to release its self-titled sophomore album on Triple Eye in April.
“We definitely wanted to keep it local, and no one else is putting out the type of releases that they are with the types of bands that we fall into such good company with,” Hot Coffin singer Chris Chuzles says. “Triple Eye Industries has created a second home for bands that might not frequent Milwaukee as often, otherwise.”
Triple Eye Industries has also put out music for out-of-town acts like South Bend, Indiana outfit The Rutabega (TEI 005), Them Teeth from Muskegon, Michigan (TEI 007), Chicago’s own The Terrible News (TEI 009), and a new Volunteer split with Minneapolis-based Buildings (TEI 013). Those bands will join most of the aforementioned local talent and others for this weekend’s Triple Eye Industries Festival. The two-show event isn’t a victory lap or a showcase strategically put in place in hopes of a band being “discovered.” Rather, the festivities signal a celebration of oft-overlooked talents bound together by a noble venture that was put into place to give their music a home. If a few albums are sold in the process, even better.
“If we were in business to make money, we wouldn’t be putting out records,” Defatte says. “At the end of the day, it still comes down to the music, and that people know it exists. If the music is good, it’s worth it.”