Resurrecting The Ghost

Local Label Ghostmeat Relaunches With Albums From Lona, William Tonks And Founder Russ Hallauer

Gordon Lamb, Flagpole, Feb. 2008

For the past several years, Ghostmeat Records has been known mainly for being the organizing and manufacturing arm behind the annual AthFest compilations, but the formerly semi-dormant label is getting a shot of new life, thanks to the efforts of founder Russ Hallauer. Even so, Hallauer doesn’t call it a comeback.

“It’s funny for me to think of it as a new phase... Ghostmeat has always existed as something that could ebb and flow according to other things that were happening around me,” he says. “[The label] turns 14 in March. In my view, Ghostmeat has never stopped, but when you average one or two releases per year for awhile and then announce that you have eight coming out in 2008, I guess it’s fair to call it a new phase.”

Formed in 1994 as a vehicle to release records by Hallauer’s own band Sunbrain, Ghostmeat unexpectedly wound up releasing recordings by a few artists who would have a solid impact on the shape of new music in the new century, including some of the earliest recordings by a teen-aged Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) and Andy LeMaster (Now It’s Overhead).

As a functioning independent label, Ghostmeat was one of the first in Athens (and beyond) to issue co-op compilations whereby all the bands split the manufacturing costs and each received a share of the pressing. It might seem quaint now, but in the mid-1990s, CD manufacturing cost a good deal more than it does now, not to mention that Internet access was expensive, and this method proved to be effective in helping bands get heard.

“I stole the idea from Rob Keller,” says Hallauer, “who used to run Spinning Mule Records in Clemson. My first experience with a co-op compilation was my band, The Love Psychos - wow, did I really name a band that? - being one of the bands on a Spinning Mule CD called Deep South. This would have been circa 1992 or so. There are no plans right now, but we have been kicking the idea around again.

”Over the years, the annual AthFest CD took the place of the Ghostmeat compilations. But the AthFest CD is for Athens bands only. With all of the things Ghostmeat has brewing these days, there might be a reason for a compilation that is open to Athens and non-Athens bands alike.“

Ghostmeat is currently gearing up to celebrate the debut solo release, titled Catch, of long-time local player William Tonks (Hot Burritos, Barbara Cue, Workhorses Of The Entertainment/Recreational Industry) and a re-release of the 2001 album To The Nth by local band Lona. In pure Ghostmeat style, both these releases were born out of Hallauer’s personal friendship with the artists.

”I’ve been a William Tonks fan for years, ever since I saw the Hot Burritos play The Band’s ’It Makes No Difference’ at the High Hat in ’95 or so,“ says Hallauer. ”When I learned about William’s plans for the solo album, we met a couple times and decided that the album being part of the Ghostmeat family was something that just naturally made sense.“

In the case of Lona, the relationship goes a little deeper. ”Clay Leverett and I go way, way back,“ Hallauer says, ”When I met him I think he was 14. [Leverett’s band] The Remedy traded a few shows with Sunbrain in the early ’90s. [Leverett and LeMaster’s band] Drip’s debut was the first full-length on Ghostmeat. We were in The Lures together for years.“

Hallauer says producing Lona just came naturally: ”The idea to reissue To The Nth came from discussions Clay and I had last fall before he left to tour with Bright Eyes. With Clay’s commitments to Bright Eyes, Now It’s Overhead and The Chasers, Lona has been on and off the radar a number of times over the past few years. With plans to record a new Lona album this year, Clay wanted to have the old material available again to build momentum," says Hallauer. "I talked him in to including a couple bonus tracks that were not on the original release.“

You might call it business among friends. ”Everything Ghostmeat has ever done is the result of the artists and myself working together in a cooperative manner," Hallauer says. "There are no contracts or recording advances. In that sense, it’s debatable if the phrase ’record label,’ in the traditional sense, is even the correct term to use for Ghostmeat.“

With a back catalog teetering near 50 releases, and a good amount of those out of print, Hallauer has been steadily releasing albums from the Ghostmeat family to the digital realm and making them available via iTunes. Hallauer also has a solo CD of his own that he’s releasing; all three albums were officially issued on Tuesday, Feb. 12. To commemorate the event, Hallauer & Co. are putting together a Ghostmeat show at Kingpins on Sunday, Feb. 17; Lona also plays at the Caledonia on Saturday, Feb. 16.

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