Misra Records has a new home and a familiar face at the helm.
Jeff Betten, President of Pittsburgh’s Wild Kindness Records, has stepped down from his position as general manager at Wild Kindness to assume the general manager position at Misra Records. Wild Kindness is now an independent subsidiary of Misra Records, and the entire label group is headed out of East Liberty by Betten, age 29.
“You can call it indie, you can call it pop-rock, or alt-country, or whatever, but my goal for those [labels] is Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, Saturday Night Live,” says Betten.
Betten will handle day-to-day operations at Misra, while David Pokrivnak, the original founder of Wild Kindness, reassumes the role of operations manager at Wild Kindness.
For the past five years Misra was managed by Leo DeLuca, of the Misra band Southeast Engine, and located in Dayton, Ohio. The label hit it big shortly after its inception in 1999 with Streethawk: A Seduction, the breakthrough album by Destroyer, aka Dan Bejar, perhaps best known for his work with The New Pornographers. In subsequent years Misra oversaw landmark releases from Shearwater, Phosphorescent, Great Lake Swimmers and several other highly regarded indie rock performers.
“The track record speaks for itself when you look at [Misra’s] discography,” says Betten. “So, I think to say that that label is now working out of Pittsburgh says something about where Pittsburgh is at as a music scene.”
“I don’t think Pittsburgh’s heading for a Seattle moment where we’re going to be known for one genre and that one scene explodes,” says Betten. “I can see Pittsburgh being, if not the next Austin, at least the next Athens, Georgia, where it’s just known as this great music city disproportionate to its general population.”
In Pittsburgh, Wild Kindness has been known as home to many of the city’s prominent indie musicians, including Chet Vincent, Harlan Twins and Grand Piano, most of whom Betten signed to Wild Kindness after he assumed ownership of the label in September of 2013.
Just don’t call it a “local label.”
“I take issue with the fact that [Wild Kindness] was ever considered a Pittsburgh label,” says Betten, “because it wasn’t. It’s a national label, an international label. Just the fact that I had local bands on the roster means that I thought there were local bands that were worthy of national/international renown.”
So while the Misra acquisition will seemingly benefit the city and scene as a whole, one question lingers: what happens to all the acts currently signed to the labels?
“In short,” says Betten, “Morgan Erina [for example] doesn’t have to find a new record label. The walls aren’t tumbling down. Basically, there are no layoffs, we’re not going to find ‘redundancies’ or anything like that.”
Betten’s new position with Misra was formally announced April 17 with a post to the Wild Kindness Facebook page that caused consternation rather than celebration inside the Pittsburgh music community.
“We had a good time in Pittsburgh,” the post began, “but now Wild Kindness Records is coming back to its roots in Youngstown, Ohio.”
The post was written by David Pokrivnak, who founded Wild Kindness in Youngstown in 2008 before selling it to Betten in 2013. (Today, Pokrivnak owns half of Wild Kindness, while Betten retains the other half.) He explains that the Facebook post was referring to his return as General Manager, not any larger relocation.
“The label’s still in Pittsburgh,” Pokrivnak clarifies. “The base of operations is Youngstown, which, I mean, I’m only about an hour’s drive away; I’m in town often.”
“I’m really excited for both [Misra and Wild Kindness], both together and separately,” he continues. “I think Jeff did a really great job cultivating a brand and bringing/intermeshing the community with the label and vice versa.”
Andre Costello, of Andre Costello and the Cool Minors, is one of two Pittsburgh musicians (Host Skull the other) who signed to Wild Kindness before Betten arrived. Costello says that over the years he has noticed a different aesthetic for the label depending upon whether Betten or Pokrivnak was at the helm.
“Originally, Wild Kindness did have that eclectic nature to it,” says Costello. “Whereas, whenever it was [in Pittsburgh], it was more like bands that have somewhat established themselves, or were on the verge of establishing themselves.”
“It’s safe to say, now that David is back in charge, he’s probably going to start signing those interesting niche groups.”
“I think that each label will have its own flavor,” explains Betten, “where Misra will stand for ‘X’ and Wild Kindness will stand for ‘Y.’ Wild Kindness probably will be more David’s baby as things evolve, whereas I’ll take a firmer control at Misra.”
Betten pointed out that his contract with Misra prohibits him from doing any A&R work for Wild Kindness; if he wants to continue to scout and develop talent, it has to be exclusively for Misra.
Aiding Betten in A&R for Misra will be Gabe Wolford, of SOFAR Sounds Pittsburgh and Opus One Productions.
During his tenure as General Manager of Wild Kindness, Betten was known as one of the biggest champions of the local indie rock scene. Stop by almost any local show, Wild Kindness artist or not, and odds are Betten would be in the back, wearing his trademark smile and cowboy hat. But was his fandom to a fault?
“If I had to do anything differently,” he says, “I would maybe have tempered my enthusiasm. I mean, I just love the music here. It’s obviously of that caliber that it should be supported by [a label] that has the ability to really get it out there and beyond the limits of Allegheny County. But, I guess if you do that in such a short span, to the degree that I did, everyone starts saying, like, ‘oh, Wild Kindness, that’s that label with all those Pittsburgh bands on it.’”
If Pokrivnak does shift Wild Kindness away from the indie Pittsburgh acts that characterized Betten’s tenure, Betten doesn’t necessarily see it as a bad thing – he fervently believes that local indie rock scene that he helped to catalyze can stand and continue to flourish on its own.
All photos by Brian Cohen.