Eugene’s Captain Crook Records remains at the “heart of DIY” music
Before Eugene’s Slade Nevin began his own record label, “Captain Crook” was just the name of his disabled cat.
“Its neck was broken to the left, its tail was broken to the right, so it walked sideways,” Nevin said.
Crook passed away but lives on: his name is memorialized through Nevin’s record label, founded in 2008. “It was a made-up label at first,” Nevin said. “I put [Captain Crook] on my own demo CDs and people asked me who it was.”
Nearly a decade later, Captain Crook Records has over 100 releases in its back catalog and remains one of Eugene’s most unique homegrown record labels.
Nevin runs the label alongside his partner Whitney Allen, who started helping out around 2014. Around that time, the label began to release music on a more consistent, month-by-month basis.
Most of Captain Crook’s releases fall into the bedroom pop or lo-fi categories, but the music is very eclectic. Since Captain Crook is entirely independent, the label works with a diverse group of artists. “We listen to a lot of stuff,” Allen said. “It’s very rare that we don’t think something will mesh with us.” Past releases have ranged from earnest songwriting to experimental noise projects.
Nevin’s original intent may have been to release local music, but that focus soon shifted. “We don’t really do Eugene artists,” he said. “I tried when we started but nobody really wanted to at that time.” The label features some artists based in Oregon, but many of Captain Crook’s releases come from artists based in other parts of the country, such as the Midwest or the East Coast.
Most of this happened through word of mouth. Some way or another, an artist looking to release their music will happen upon the label. “It’s always someone knows someone,” Nevin said. “We don’t really go scout people because it’s too much work.”
Captain Crook also places a large emphasis on physical media. In addition to digital albums on the website Bandcamp, the label releases music on CD, cassette and even floppy disc formats. But Nevin will tell you physical media is dead. “It’s just a novelty almost at this point,” he said. “But I like physical media and I buy physical media, so that’s why I keep doing it.”
And clearly others share that same sentiment; almost every CD or cassette release sells out online. “I think we got on that trendy form of media,” Allen said. “People just like that they can go pick up a cassette. They probably won’t listen to it, but it will sit on the shelf somewhere and look rad.”
Nevin and Allen assemble each physical release at home, so it helps that the cassettes are much easier to make than CDs. “You can just flip on the dubber and watch ‘Dragon Ball Z’ instead of sitting at a computer doing it,” Nevin said. This approach sets Captain Crook apart, as very few labels do all of the work entirely in house. In Allen’s words: “It is still truly the heart of DIY.”
Profit is not much of a priority either. With most releases, Captain Crook just intends to break even. “Every release is a gamble,” Nevin says. “I’ve learned over the years how to make it a little bit cheaper so we can keep our prices cheaper.”
The two owners both have their own day jobs, and in a way, the label is just a hobby. “It’s just a way for us to help people get their music out there,” Allen said. “And we enjoy doing it.”
Next year marks the label’s 10-year anniversary, and the couple has a number of things planned for the celebration. Special Captain Crook coffee cups, stickers and basketball hoops are in the works, in addition to a four-hour outtakes compilation. “It’s gonna be all throwaway music,” Nevin said. “So I want to call it ‘Four Hours of Throwaway Music From a Throwaway Label.’”
As far as future goals go, Nevin and Allen would love to see a Captain Crook storefront, or even a music venue. “A lot of parents have problems sending their kids to a house for a house show,” Allen said. “If we did do a space, it would definitely be all ages. I want to see more community involvement.”
But for now, Captain Crook’s owners just want to continue helping people get their music out there. “We just like that people are making things,” said Allen. “We send [the bands] their tapes and they are always stoked.” For Nevin and Allen, being a part of that process is what makes running Captain Crook worthwhile.
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