Musicians discover a 'Treasure' in Scullville
YOU COULD CALL IT A SIMPLE twist of fate that brought Christopher Dallman to rural Atlantic County-based Treasure Records. The singer-songwriter was living in Brooklyn about a year and a half ago when his manager sent a demo to Treasure's studio head Jerry Klause. The demo landed in a pile of similar packages on Klause's desk and collected dust. Meanwhile, Dallman plugged away, trying to get someone in the recording industry interested in his music. Such is the tale of many an aspiring musician.
By chance, Dallman set out for Harrisburg, Pa. to attend The Millennium Music Conference a few months later. At a demo critiquing session at the conference, he sat down with Mike Newman, a recording engineer and mixing pro who had lent his talents to several Treasure Records' projects since the label got off the ground in 2001. At the conference scouting young talent, Newman happened upon a gifted songwriter living in New York by way of Milwaukee. It was Dallman. A year later his debut album, Race The Light, would become the latest release from Treasure Records.
Although Atlantic County residents may not be familiar with Treasure, recording artists from all across the map of modern music are. The distinguished list includes Bruce Springsteen, The Dixie Hummingbirds, Dr. John, Levon Helm and Garth Hudson of The Band, Mavis Staples and longtime members of Bob Dylan's band Tony Garnier and Larry Campbell. All of these artists have recorded at the humble location in Scullville over the past few years.
What is it that's been drawing these veteran musicians -- as well as local and up-and-coming artists -- to this small label?
"It's a really creative place," explains Dallman. "Jerry's obviously in it for the right reasons and that kind of emanates throughout with the small staff there. The space is really nice and has a good vibe, which for me, coming from having more limited experiences in NY studios, it was really nice to have something that kind of actually lived up to [my] na�ve, childhood expectations ... of the whole experience."
Green, wide-eyed musicians aren't the only ones attracted to the genuine vibe of Treasure. In the past two years the label has put out albums by such distinguished acts as Patty Blee (one of Atlantic City's premier singer-songwriters), Soozie Tyrell (a member of Springsteen's backing band) and the great grandfathers of modern gospel music, The Dixie Hummingbirds. The latter group recorded their internationally acclaimed 75th anniversary album, Diamond Jubilation, at Treasure.
"The real pleasure of that record was just making it," says Klause, who founded the label with Herb "Bubba" Birch, owner of Somers Point's Bubba Mac Shack. Klause eventually took control of the label after Birch left to concentrate on other endeavors.
Klause adds that the Hummingbirds album, picked up for distribution by Rounder Records, is selling well and that a follow-up could be in the works next year. Diamond Jubilation hit Billboard's top 40 Gospel Album chart in 2003.
"When your new car becomes 30 years old, and you need a colostomy bag or whatever's happening in your life -- as we all age -- that record will still stand right there and be what it is, which is just a magnificent record," he says.
Magnificent records are what Klause and his partners at the independent record label, housed in a renovated auto repair shop between Mays Landing and Somers Point, are all about. Not in terms of record sales, but in terms of creative spirit and emotional power. Instead of shooting for the "next big thing," the small staff at Treasure focuses on fostering a trusting and healthy artistic environment, attracting musicians willing to leave the rest of the world behind to concentrate on their gifts.
"The reward for making just great music transcends the difference about how much you're going to make," says Klause, a co-founder of the ChARTer TECH High School for the Performing Arts in Somers Point. "And if you do that, in some strange way I think that you have your best chance of maximizing your ability to be successful because you'll ultimately make something that rings true."
Klause understands that in the climate of today's music industry, chances are slim for young performing songwriters to become "the next Dave Matthews." Instead of grooming artists for cookie-cutter success, he hopes to offer them a chance to record at a studio equipped with top-notch equipment and people who are willing to give them the time and attention it takes to make something they can be proud of. If it sells, that's OK too.
"I came up with an idea where if an artist came by and they [could raise enough money], then I would provide them with as much studio time as it would take to make a record, mix it and master it, no time limitations," says Klause. "When you're watching the clock, you're not making music. I just wanted to take that element out of it.
"The supposition of all this is that it's music that you're proud of. It's not just like somebody coming in off the street because they have money. And from my end of things, it's music that I'm happy to put my label on. Then I can go out in the world and see if I can ... release it on a broader level."
Klause's idea came to fruition with the release this month of Dallman's album, Race The Light. After Newman told Klause about the singer-songwriter last autumn, the three met and decided to go ahead and record an album together. Klause gathered an assorted cast of local talent to contribute to the album including Blee, guitarist Lew London and drummer Ivan Funk. About seventy-five studio days and 11 songs later, Race The Light was completed and Dallman was ecstatic with the results. (Fans of John Mayer and David Gray will be too.)
Klause is garnering interest in the album from larger distributors and a gig celebrating the CD's release is scheduled for June 24 in Los Angeles where Dallman now resides. A CD release show at NYC's Living Room is slated for July 1.
"Obviously, I want to succeed at this," says Dallman. "I want this to be my income, no matter what level it ultimately ends up being. But the risk of just making a record, it's such a creative risk when you stake your future on it and you spend all this money. You can make so many mistakes, so just getting out of it with a great record that I really like -- and I've never liked anything that I've recorded -- it surprises me. The people that I worked with on it just raised the bar so much. I'm just riding that good feeling."
And more good feelings shall be flowing out of Treasure for years to come. Projects on tap for the near future include a solo, all acoustic guitar album by Larry Campbell (when he's not touring with Dylan) and an album of lullabies by bluegrass banjoist Tony Trischka that Campbell is producing. Area artists from Tuckerton to Reading, Pa. are also working with Treasure on projects. Multi-talented Philadelphia-based singer and keyboardist Devin Greenwood is recording an album in July. Veteran gospel belter Mavis Staples turned up at the Scullville studio recently, where her as yet untitled August release was mixed and mastered by Newman and seminal engineer Shelly Yakus (The Band's Music From Big Pink).
Brick House Pub & Grille has live music most Friday nights and a slew of other ongoing enticements throughout the fall.
Laughing with George Lopez
Fight Night at Boardwalk Hall
Rush to the Taj