Good Sponge Records celebrates new sampler
“Just because you’re not 20 years old and jumping in a van with your guitar, it doesn’t mean you’re not fully invested, musically speaking,” says Ben Parent, leader of local Americana act The Rivergods. He smiles and takes a bite of a steak wrap from a booth at Mr. G’s. “I’m not on the road constantly because you get older and you have kids and jobs. But we still play and, just as importantly, I’m invested in the music in other ways.”
Parent is chiefly talking about Good Sponge Records, a label he started in 2011 to expose and promote regional roots-based rock artists. “GS III - The Good Sponge Sampler Vol. III” came out digitally in January and will be officially released on CD on Saturday at a live celebration in the Rose Barn Theater at Waterford’s Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. Thirteen of the 18 acts included on the album will perform at the soiree, which will feature both an electric and an acoustic stage.
Appearing at the release party are Dirt Road Radio, SheSaidHeSaid, Chris Mackay & The Toneshifters, Ebin Rose Trio, Dogbite, Nancy Parent, Sue Menhart Band, Vincent Tuckwood, Ravens in the Woods/Dave Rave, Ear Candy for the Soul, Anne Castellano & The Smoke, Carl Franklin, and The Rivergods.
“I started Good Sponge in 2011 because I always wanted my own record label,” Parent says. “But the way the business has changed, what does a record label actually mean anymore? I had to think about that.”
Parent decided that Good Sponge would serve as an aesthetic “umbrella” where the idea is to help promote the music of artists he not only respects musically but are also friends. Parent underwrites the production of the CDs and markets the recordings, and he handpicks the acts that appear on Good Sponge. The musicians are actively involved in promoting and selling their own releases, and also work supportively with one another.
In the time since Good Sponge released the first sampler and recordings by The Rivergods, Nancy Parent and The Sue Menhart Band, there have been several EPs and CDs by bands performing styles from across the roots-rock spectrum. Along the way, Parent has refined his concept not so much to fit the whitewater shifts in the music business but also in the context of his own evolution as an artist and a fan.
“As I look back at what we’ve been doing over three to four years and what is possible with technology today, it’s pretty obvious there are more musical choices for the consumer than ever before,” Parent says. “And so I’ve become even more committed and focused on the idea that we’re doing roots-based rock music. Which, if you look back, comes out of blues and country. For so many years, musicians, whether it was the Stones or Led Zeppelin or Pearl Jam — artists who were very aware of their lineage — made the effort to trace it all back to the old blues or country musicians. And a lot of us learned from that; that it was important and fun to go back and explore that.
“I think a lot of people today don’t care anymore where it all comes from. It’s sad, but that’s how fast the world moves. To a 15-year-old today, the music of the ‘60s is like the music of the ‘20s was to us. Now? It doesn’t surprise me if a 15-year-old doesn’t know who Paul McCartney is.”
Good Sponge, then, is a way to keep the old ways, so to speak, fresh and vital in music’s current, revolving-door attention span.
“I still like the music I always liked,” Parent laughs. “It’s part of my imprinting. But there are a lot of artists taking this music into the next generation and I want to help with that process. I think most of the Good Sponge artists share that feeling. Maybe Americana isn’t the most popular musical style of the moment, but it’s certainly still vibrant and valuable.”
That attitude is one of the reasons Tuckwood is delighted to be part of the Good Sponge Family. A British-born Waterford resident whose pop tunes resonate with fans of Johnny Marr and Neil Finn, Tuckwood made his Good Sponge debut on the label’s Vol. II sampler and is represented on Vol. III with a solo tune and as a member of Anne Castellano & The Smoke.
He says, “I think with this label Ben has created a nice place for deserving artists who maybe can’t find a home somewhere else. Good Sponge is a good place to be as an artist. It’s eclectic in the very best possible way.”
Carl Franklin, member of The Franklin Brothers Band and owner of PWOP Studios in New London, where many Good Sponge projects have been recorded or mastered, has been closely involved with the label both as an artist and serving in a technical capacity. He sees Good Sponge as not only part of a local musical legacy, but also as a nationally competitive label.
“Ben does a really great thing with Good Sponge,” Franklin says. “He keeps putting out these sampler CDs, carrying on a tradition of New London compilations with a great group of local and post-local bands and solo artists. I have audio mastered all three collections, and I always hear something new. I’m always surprised by the amount of great original music there is in the New London area.”
In addition to the much-hurrahed New London scene, though, Parent has consistently expanded the geographical parameters of the roster. Jeff Slate, a New London native who’s been based in New York City for several years and has worked with Sheryl Crow and Pete Townshend, is on the new sampler. Dave Rave, an Ontario, Canada, guitarist who’s worked with Daniel Lanois and was in the national ‘80s punk band Teenage Head, is a compatriot of many Chester-area Good Sponge artists and is on the new album with Ravens in the Woods. And ArleneWow!, a perennial and award-winning singer-songwriter presence in the New Haven musical community, has joined the Good Sponge Family in Ear Candy for the Soul, a melodic acoustic duo also featuring Rivergods violinist Dana Takaki.
After Ear Candy for the Soul recorded their first album, ArleneWow! and Takaki reached out to Parent for help with the photography and cover design. Parent was so impressed with the CD that he asked the band to be on the label.
“We were thrilled,” ArleneWow! says. “Last year, I went to the ‘Good Sponge II’ CD release party and it was an incredible night filled with really talented local artists. Ear Candy for the Soul is the perfect fit for this project. We’ve shared stages and friendships with many of the Good Sponge artists, and we’re proud to be a part of the southeast Connecticut music scene.”
Parent has no expectations or grandiose dreams for Good Sponge. It’s not about money or fame, other than any attention the label artists might get from fans or fellow musicians.
“Roots music lends itself to a sort of ongoing history,” he says. “It’s about learning your craft and mastering your instrument and enjoying the music and the collaboration and possibilities. My rule of music now? I don’t do it if it’s not fun. If there’s a prospective Rivergods gig that doesn’t sound fun? We’re not doing it. Good Sponge? It’s fun.”
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