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Revival of the Fittest

Made in Mexico Brings Dolour to Light

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DOLOUR New sign, new signing.
Dolour
w/the Catch, Aqueduct
Thurs Nov 18, Chop Suey, 9 pm, $7.

Made in Mexico. For Seattle music lovers at the tail end of the 20th century, those three words were the indie rock equivalent of a Good Housekeeping seal of approval. Although this tiny label issued only 11 releases in its three years of operation, its catalog was incredibly strong, including It's Hard to Find a Friend, the debut album by Pedro the Lion; Damien Jurado's answering machine messages set, Postcards and Audio Letters; and the first 7-inch and full-length from teenage art-punks the Vogue (who begat the Chromatics). The small roster also included the Blessed Light, Summer Hymns, T. W. Walsh, and Unwed Sailor.

MIM was dedicated to promoting original records, regardless of genre, created by a tight-knit community of musicians. "Whether it was folk or punk, it was music that was melodic," explains James Morelos, who founded the label in 1998, while working as a publicist for Tooth and Nail. "It was artists who were very young, a group of people who were friends, and who toured together." In addition Jurado, PTL's Dave Bazan, and Casey Wescott of the Vogue were all of Mexican descent, "so there was the Latin thing," says Morelos.

"James was a hard worker," observes Jurado. "He put so much time and energy into the label, and he absolutely adored the bands he was working with. The way the label became successful so quickly still baffles me." (It's Hard..., recorded for $2,000, sold 15,000-plus copies and made Spin's top 10 underground albums of 1998.) "James was willing to give bands a chance. That's what I loved about him and Made in Mexico."

Morelos shut down MIM in 2001, after relocating to New York City. (Today, he is creative director of Brooklyn's Public Salon.) But Made in Mexico is back. The resurrected label is operating under the guidance of new proprietors--Damien Jurado, Audra Higgins, and Jessica Toon--but with the same principles as the original incarnation. Just check out their label motto: "New owners. New roster. Same name. Same commitment to brilliant music."

And, judging from their first two signings, the same commitment to a sense of community. The first release on the new MIM is the appropriately titled New Old Friends, the third album by Dolour, the recording alias of superlative local songwriter Shane Tutmarc. Tutmarc, 23, worked with Jurado and Morelos at the Jewish Community Center on Mercer Island. "Damien had a little tape label for a while, called Casa, and I gave him one of our first demos," recalls Tutmarc. "That was how we met."

Tutmarc has been at the epicenter of the Seattle scene for several years. Raised on a diet of Mozart, Elvis, the Beatles, and Nirvana, his first two albums, Waiting for a World War (2001) and Suburbiac (2002) garnered comparisons to maestros like Brian Wilson and Burt Bacharach. In truth the carefully arranged, yet vibrant, Dolour sound shares more in common with innovative pop ensembles like Hidden Cameras, Flaming Lips, and Weezer. In addition to Dolour, Tutmarc also was part of the earliest incarnation of United State of Electronica, and filled in on bass for the Lashes for one show; likewise, members of the Divorce, Friends for Heroes, U.S.E., and many others have performed or recorded with Dolour. The other flagship artist on the MIM roster, the Catch, features Tutmarc's ex-girlfriend, keyboard player Amy Rockwell.

The union of artist and label is ideal. "Dolour is an amazing and talented band," says Jurado. "We think Shane is one of the greatest songwriters around, and we wanted the rest of world to hear his music." Tutmarc was equally excited. The label was offering him a 50-50 profit split, nationwide distribution (via Secretly Canadian), and a no-strings-attached agreement concerning future releases. "It was the easiest contract I've ever read," he reveals. "It even said things like, 'We will try and come to every single show we can.'"

This enthusiasm came as a welcome relief to Tutmarc. Lend an ear to the first few tracks of New Old Friends and it quickly becomes apparent that the past couple years have been choppy: The jubilant opener, "I Smell a Lawsuit," pokes fun at the lower-level major label A&R guys who wined, dined--and then shined--him after his first flush of recognition; the bittersweet "Cheer Up Baby" was inspired by mounting frustration with the label that issued Suburbiac.

Written and recorded at home between the summer of 2002 and early 2004, New Old Friends pulls together material from three different records Tutmarc was working on. The first, from which only one song ("Next 2 U") was salvaged, was more universal in sentiment, he says. "Then when all the label bullshit happened, I thought, 'That isn't what I want to say. I'm pissed off!' So I started writing songs that were more direct." The third project, a detour into country music, birthed "Candy," "Running Forever," and "Behind the Melody," though the songs got a radical "face lift" by the time they wound up on New Old Friends.

Tutmarc credits U.S.E.'s Jason Holstrom, who helped mix and engineer New Old Friends, and sings lead on "Behind the Melody," for giving him the impetus to pull the album together at all. "At my lowest point he said, 'Just let me mix some of stuff and I think it will sound cool,'" Tutmarc recalls. "Fine, have at it," he said. "Shortly after, he started sending me the mixes that he'd made, and then I really wanted to get involved."

For all parties concerned, this rebirth is cause for celebration. Tutmarc, who has nearly completed a fourth Dolour record, the live-in-studio Hell or High Water, is looking forward to touring. Jurado and company are fired up to release the highly anticipated debut album by the Catch next May. And Morelos is pleased that the MIM legacy will continue. "I knew Shane when I lived in Seattle--although he was really young then--so it was good to hear that Damien would be working with someone who ran in the same crowd," he concludes. "I had no apprehension about [reviving Made in Mexico], because Damien has great taste, and I'm sure he'll do a great job."

kurt@thestranger.com

 

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