Nevada City Scene Gets a Lift From Grass Roots Record Co.

Grass Roots is in the vein of other region-centric labels like Sub Pop or Omaha’s Saddle Creek, but more hippie.

"It's a really woodsy, natural setting," says Jesse Locks of her hometown, Nevada City, Calif. "People tend to flock here. Creative, artistic folks."Locks, a one-time Seattleite whose past résumé includes stints as an advertising rep for Seattle Weekly, Venus, and Arthur magazine, was born and raised in the idyllic town nestled in the foothills north east of San Francisco. She recently moved back to Nevada City and, with her childhood friend Marc Snegg, founded Grass Roots Record Co., a label with an emphasis on the eclectic Nevada City scene. Their first release, The Family Album (2006), is a 17-song compilation of artists who range from hard rock to minimalist freak folk—all recorded in the same Grass Valley studio over just two weekends. The artists vary in genre, but similar to the early Sub Pop compilations, all share the common thread of being connected to the region.

It was only a matter of time before someone started an indie label in Nevada City. It was one of the first settlements in California, fueled by the discovery of gold. And in the late '60s—after the gold rush—it became a cultural mecca of sorts, as flower children took flight from cities and headed back to the land. It's been home to poets Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsberg, and songwriters Jonathan Richman, Utah Phillips, and currently fairy-folk darling Joanna Newsom. But no matter how colorful the environment, Locks and Snegg still spent their teenage years eager to explore beyond the confines of the small town. They chalk it up to the influence of Sub Pop's huckstering of the Seattle sound.

"In high school, everyone was obsessed with the Seattle scene," says Snegg. "Everyone had Sub Pop stickers on the back of their cars, and patches on their backpacks. We were all into Mudhoney."

For Locks, it was Sub Pop's influence that inspired her to move here for a brief time.

"Seattle had always been one of those places that I felt like I needed to live in and experience," she says. "While I was growing up, there was so much mythology and excitement surrounding the area and the music that was being made there. I remember watching Hype! and feeling a certain kinship with those bands and kids because I, too, was living up in the woods, wearing flannel, listening to my parents' heavier albums, and wanting more."

Naturally, after high school, the two moved away from home for the experience—Locks to Seattle, and Snegg to Berkeley, Calif., where he worked as an artist's assistant. In 2004, however, Snegg moved back to Nevada City and, with fresh perspective, saw that the children of flower children were nurturing a local music scene. The talents that had just been tapping through their shells when he was a kid had come into their own and developed into an all-out talent pool of artists. And, much like Sub Pop in the early days, Snegg felt compelled to build the back end to provide support for the talent so they could get their music out into the world. He convinced Locks to join him in 2005, and within days they went to work, with a converted train depot serving as their office.

And while the two agree that Grass Roots is in the vein of other region-centric labels like Sub Pop or Omaha's Saddle Creek, there's one big thing that sets them apart.

"We're more hippie!" admits Locks. "Saddle Creek has a sound, Kill Rock Stars and K definitely have a sound, and even Sub Pop had a sound there, too, for a long time. We've got bands like Hella [on the compilation], a hard-rocking metal band, and Mariee [Sioux], who's soft and ethereal, and Alela [Diane], who's kind of twangy, [and] Lee Bob Watson, who's got soul."

Grass Roots Record Co. seems to have hit the ground running. By this fall, Locks and Snegg will have put out three more records: Full-length works from the aforementioned Watson and Sioux, along with Aaron Ross (whose raw delivery channels storytelling imagery much like Woody Guthrie), were all recorded in the same Grass Valley studio, each in 10 days. They, along with Portland-based Diane and Benjamin Oak Goodman, will hit the road together, family-style, as the Grass Roots Record Co. Summer Revue, a live preview of the talent that Nevada City has helped to seed. And while the two founders have been able to find nearly all they need in their own backyard (Locks even grows her own vegetables now), sometimes the quiet life can be a little too quiet.

"Something I really miss about Seattle, though, is the harder, louder bands," she says. "There are very few here, and sometimes I just want to go out and see some metal!"

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