Music

Stumble-Footed Serendipity

The Luckyhorse Lambs Claim Their Lion's Share

As an active independent record label, clothing distributor, and show promoter for roughly two years, Plan B's label, Luckyhorse Industries, has constructed a multifaceted niche business that works entirely on handshake commitments. James Bertram, an inviting face familiar to just about anyone with even passing interest in Seattle's music community (a former member of Built to Spill, Lync, Red Stars Theory, and 764-HERO), founded the company two years ago with his wife, Amanda Graham, as something of a backward means of job security, almost by accident.

Hired as a full-time sales employee at Sub Pop in 1998, Bertram inherited the responsibility of a rough trans-continental network of T-shirt distributors mainly responsible for supplying the entire nation of Japan with classic-style "Loser" shirts. With Sub Pop's consistent financial woes, however, this business relationship often became strained, and in a moment of somewhat foolish desperation, Bertram proposed that he and Graham, with the help of an outside investor, front the cost of the initial production investment, with profits split fifty-fifty between themselves and Sub Pop.

On the basis of an extremely narrow distribution deal with Sub Pop, Luckyhorse Industries was born. With the machine in motion, the couple spent the next year and a half expanding production to include tour merchandise for several friends and acquaintances (among them Modest Mouse, Murder City Devils, Vendetta Red, and the Blood Brothers) under similar handshake agreements. "We work with people we know and trust," says Bertram. "We have real relationships with everyone we work with, and so if someone's dissatisfied, it's your friend who's dissatisfied." In the summer of 2001, this personal commitment eventually led the couple into the business of making records.

"We started printing shirts for the Blood Brothers for their national tour while they were waiting for their record to come out, and they really needed new product to sell," says Graham. "Since we were making shirts for them, I suggested we manufacture CDs too. We weren't really planning to distribute them or anything; it was just so they had something to sell on tour."

Morgan Henderson, bassist for the Blood Brothers and member of YKK, explains, "James and I had been talking about the idea of Luckyhorse starting to release music, and I got really excited about it. At the same time, the Blood Brothers had started thinking about releasing a singles discography, and it became a sort of rush for me to have our record be Luckyhorse's [first release]. James knows so many talented people who all just love the two of them, and I knew that everybody would be excited to lend any help that they could."

With the continuing anomaly of its success in Japan, Luckyhorse Industries has grown into something of a full-fledged label, with its little lamb logo already gracing four eclectic commercial releases (the aforementioned singles compilation by the Blood Brothers, Plan B's debut, the latest from San Francisco's broody Winfred E. Eye, along with the vinyl version of Love as Laughter's Sea to Shining Sea)--and a long list waiting in the wings (including releases by the Vells, FCS North, Minus the Bear, YKK, and a posthumous Kill Sadie, to name a few). Not satisfied with the breakneck demands of a two-pronged company, the Luckyhorse family also helms a monthly music showcase at Chop Suey, and distributes all of its wares through an official website.

"We just feel so incredibly lucky," says an earnest Graham of the company's success. "Through this whole crazy T-shirt business, we've been able to fund a list of other endeavors. Now our goal is to be able to assist other people in the city with the same. I mean, this all just came out of nowhere--and success is a weird thing."

by Zac Pennington

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