Niki Payton shows off the cover of her vinyl record, TOP NOTCH! Hits from the Hive, a compilation of local bands released on her newly resuscitated label, CDB Records
In 2005, Missoula music promoter Niki Payton started her record label, CDB, for the sole purpose of recording one band—a local husband-wife duo called Two Year Touqe. The next couple years, CDB lay dormant while Payton spent time ramping up press for some local acts. But making another recording weighed on her mind, she says. This week, after a year of gathering songs from local bands, commissioning local artist Wally Catton to do the cover art and, finally, sending the recording off to press, Payton is ready to release Hits from the Hive, a vinyl compilation—that’s right, vinyl—of what she deems some of the best bands of the Missoula music scene.
“There were bands I had my heart set on. There were bands that had they said no or didn’t have anything [for the compilation], I would have been heartbroken,” she says. But everyone she asked said yes.
You can’t get a vinyl record pressed in Missoula, but you can order them. Payton says she was pleasantly surprised to find that vinyl—at 99 cents a record—doesn’t cost much more than a CD. The recording shipped to Colorado for mastering; a metal plating company in New Jersey then created the mold which went to a California operation for the actual vinyl pressing.
“A vinyl record, I think, is such a collector’s item,” she says. “People buy them for the novelty or for the sound, and so that was a part of my decision.” Originally, Payton wanted white or pink colored records, but the guy at the vinyl company told her it was expensive and “a pain in the ass” for him. Payton says that he told her, “If you don’t care what it looks like, I’ve got 50 little pots of colored wax. I can throw them all together and you get what you get. And I’ll give you a deal.” She took it.
The mixtures of blue, gray and white result in records wildly different from one to the next—some marbled, others stormy blue with silver hues.
Payton says the odd colors are an accurate reflection of the varied bands she picked for the disk, which include acts that made brief but popular appearances on the Missoula music scene, anchored by long-lived stalwarts like the Volumen and the Oblio Joes. She also chose bands that had unconventional origins such as the Hills Bros., who began playing the Missoula Farmers’ Market while they were still in high school.
“I loved going to the Farmers’ Market,” Payton says. “At the time…I honestly wasn’t in a place where I was into eating fresh, locally grown vegetables. But I was so attracted to what the Hills Bros. were doing. They were so weird and they seemed aloof even in the middle of everything—just doing it for themselves.”
Payton says she tried to select tunes that illuminate the oddball character of each band, while other times she chose more B-side songs that even fans of a particular group might not recognize.
The Hills Bros. song “Blind Judgment,” for instance, tallies up to a mere seven seconds long. And Jon Brownell—locally famous for his lyrical prowess in the Oblio Joes—performs a song called “Walk Through Me and Smile,” an instrumental, of all things.
Another song, “Call it Art” by ex-Missoulians Razz m’ Tazz, reminds Payton of house shows that popped up when music venues in Missoula were scarce, and she says she wanted to record them for people who missed out on hearing their strange pop sound and to remind people of the unique nature of living room performances.
“When you go to a house show it’s a very concentrated group of people who are excited to be there. It’s intimate, without being exclusive. I can’t think of a time when I had a bad time at a house show.”
In all truth, Hits from the Hive wasn’t all cake and sunshine at the beginning. As is often the case, ideas came easier than money. When frontman Ben Spangler of the Bozeman band, The Touchers, died last year, Payton’s lengthy press-work for them came to a halt, and she never got paid. She had problems extracting promotional payments from other bands, too, and so had difficulty funding the record. It was hard for her, she says, because many of the bands that she promotes she also considers her friends.
“I had to nag them and nag them and nag them,” she says. “I never had to threaten them, but it really sucked. It’s like, ‘I shouldn’t have to beg you for money [when] we already have an arrangement.’”
But Payton isn’t the same person she was before CDB records. Four years ago, Josh Vanek, founder of indie rock festival Total Fest—asked her to help out with press for his label, Wantage recordings. At the time, Patyon says, she assumed that releasing records required living a charmed life. Vanek, however, funded his releases through a summer job and cheap living.
“I got a glimpse of how easy it was—not how easy, but how doable it was,” she says. “Josh likes music and [I learned that] if you like a band and you have the time and can come up with some money…you can put out a record.”
Payton waited it out, and after finally getting paid for some of her promotional work and receiving her economic stimulus check, she got on task.
With the anticipation of finally releasing the album, Payton eagerly looks forward to her next project.
She says she’ll stick with the compilation theme and go with Hits from the Hive II, picking bands with similar unusual qualities that didn’t make it on the first comp.
“I feel like [these bands] have the essence of what makes Missoula unique,” Payton says. “I think that Missoula cultivates talent because of its acceptance, and if you’ve got a plan, there’s someone in Missoula who will support your plan. I think it’s true of this record.”
The CDB record release party for TOP NOTCH! Hits from the Hive happens at the Badlander, 208 Ryman, Friday, June 6. The night kicks off at 5 PM with an all-ages DIY bazaar, suggested donation of $1 or a non-perishable food item. Razz M’ Tazz, Volumen, Johnny Apple, Cabinet of Natural Curiosities, Hills Bros. and Travis Sehorn & the Pebble Light start playing at 9 PM. Show is $3.