Interview: Kurt Travis (Esque Records / A Lot Like Birds)

By Mark Johnson

Not content with being the vocalist in A Lot Like Birds, creating his own solo material and managing artists, versatile vocalist Kurt Travis is also trying his hand at running a record label. Esque Records has four bands on the roster so far, ranging from instrumental math-rock to post-hardcore. Kurt filled us in on what it takes to run a label and what we can expect in the future from Esque Records and his other musical projects.

What made you want to set up a label?

Honestly, it just seemed like the right thing to do! I started managing artists about a year ago that I would come across while touring as a solo artist and with A Lot like Birds. Representing them meant looking for the necessary elements to move them forward,  while also giving them advice and guidance along the way. A record label signing an artist or band is a crucial step in this process and most of the time does wonders for their publicity, and usually means financial support and backing from said label. I have been on record labels in the past and have learned a fair amount from doing so. Some practices that I’ve learned throughout the years have been implemented to my own label, others I have omitted. Eventually, I wanted my own label to change and make things fair for my artists, being one myself. It’s been a blast so far and I am still learning and eager to learn along the way.

On a daily basis, what’s involved in running the label?

A ton of emails, calls, maintenance of the website, brainstorming new ideas, meetings with mutual business partners, fulfilling online orders, countless trips to the post office, constant checking in with our bands, constant pushing of our bands on social media, publicist partnering and correspondence, meeting financial deadlines for studio recording dates for our artists, critically listening and producing new material, critically listening and responding to submissions, involvement and help with setting up tour dates with booking agents and synchronizing album cycle releases, and the list goes on and never ends. [Laughs]

Of all that, is there one thing that stands out as being the hardest thing to deal with?

Coordinating and fulfilling the online orders has been a challenge starting up, but I think we have finally found our rhythm systematically. Also, we have had some difficulty transposing my ideas into reality sometimes. My wife Lauren is a huge asset to this record label. She is way smarter than me in the ways of web design and is a wizard at Photoshop, I am pretty useless when it comes to that stuff. She built the website and maintains it and also fixes any problems that we might have. I’m better at steering the ship, bringing ideas to the table and persistently making these visions a reality.

Is there a story behind the name Esque Records?

When people ask where I got the name, I usually go to the word “picturesque” for similarity or for further understanding or its origin. “Esque” meaning like or like mind and pronounced “ehsk”. Every band I sign has that unique something about them in my opinion. I’m always on the hunt for the next band that has that same quality or Esque sound.

Are you looking at particular genres of bands to sign or are you open to anything?

I’m pretty much open to any genre. When I hear an artist, my usual immediate thought is what and where I can help with my resources,  if they have talent/potential to grow, if they are hard working and if they are willing to put their all into the project they have presented. I also take into consideration marketability, but that can usually be worked on along the way. It honestly  just comes down to if the label likes the material. We don’t care how many likes you have on Facebook, and whatnot. If it’s good material, you’ll get our attention.

Can you give a quick summary of the bands you have and why the Punktastic readers should check them out?

Our current roster is as follows: Floral, a two piece instrumental act from San Francisco area, jazzy, technical math rock with catchy melodies. In Angles, a four piece New Brunswick, NJ post hardcore, math rock outfit, with influences stemming from Lower Definition and Chon. Rome Hero Foxes, a four piece indie rock band from Houston, TX, with hints of screamo and beautiful catchy hooks. Lemix J Buckley, a four piece throwback indie/emo band from the Detroit, MI area that have incredible lyrical concepts and impeccably flowing transitions with dual belting vocals that mesh together as one voice.

What’s the process for scouting bands for the label? Are you trawling the internet for bands, going to local shows, people sending in demos – or a mix of all these things?

There’s no wrong way to find an artist, but I usually listen and take the advice of my already existing artists and bands on the label or that I manage.  Adventurer was the first band I started managing about a year ago (and still do!) and I was eager to pair them up with bands that they wanted to play shows with. I wanted the label to feel like a huge family that the artists could count on for anything whether it be financial, mental, physical, spiritual, emotional, and continue to do so everyday; as much as it is in our power to serve the artist.

Should Will Swan be expecting some competition in the future between Blue Swan and Esque Records to sign some bands?

Not so much [laughs] but I’m sure a little competition is healthy to fuel quality artists to represent for the both of us. Will Swan has done nothing but support Esque Records and has offered to help in anything their label can. We consider them part of the family and I currently remain a Blue Swan artist with my solo project. Will Swan and I remain and continue to be friends on this wild ride of a career he, myself, and countless others that are close to us.  It keeps growing and is exciting to watch everyday as it gets bigger and bigger!

A lot of bands are choosing to do digital only these days to reduce costs. I see that Floral is being offered on cassette, do you still believe in the market for physical music and will your label support that?

I’ll never give up that’s for sure! Our technology has made life easier or better throughout the years, but I still believe that there is something extremely incomparable to holding a physical copy of your favorite artist in the flesh. I ultimately leave the decision to the artist and discuss what we can make happen with resources of the label. Floral wanted a cassette release, and I think it was the best decision for them and their fan base.

Moving away from the label briefly to talk about your own music – can we expect to hear another solo album?

Yes, absolutely! I’m always trying to stay busy and I have other projects in the works on deck, waiting for the time to make it happen.

What about A Lot Like Birds? Is there music in the works there?

That is our main focus for 2016. Write a new ALLB record and tour in support of it’s release.

Can we expect to see A Lot Like Birds back in the UK at some point? ‘No Place’ is an incredible album and we need to see those songs played live!

Thank you so much! I’m glad you liked it! We have been trying to get back over,  just have to wait for the right opportunity. We’ve had plenty of offers to tour, but being a six piece band, we have to make the financial side of touring overseas feasible for us and our families.

Would you be looking to release your own work on the label? Be it your solo stuff or A Lot Like Birds?

It’s definitely crossed my mind, I would love to take either project once the label is able to cater to their needs. It’s definitely a goal.

Try these three interviews

Interview: Greywind [Reading 2016]

Interview: Arcane Roots [Reading 2016]

Interview: Trash Boat [Reading 2016]