There has been so much drama with the story over the course of today alone that I’m tempted not to post this. But it is the biggest thing I’ve ever written, so I should have an account of the correct version that was supposed to appear in print somewhere. Like Leslie (whom you’ll meet in a second) said, the print copy will end up in the recycling. It’s the online version that sticks around.
Long story short, an old draft of the story got submitted to production, before the final paragraph was added and where my editor mistakenly referred to my subject, Leslie Hampton, as Lisa. Since her first name was only mentioned once, every reference in the headline, captions, etc. says Lisa.
This is how it was supposed to look both online and in print.
FOR a town where bands are relegated to playing in bowling alleys, arcades and church rec rooms, Leslie Hampton’s one-woman operation, Side With Us Records, is fantastically sophisticated.
Hampton uses Side With Us as a test kitchen for new ideas. New ideas like not taking starving guitarists for all they’re worth. She’s less interested in turning a profit than she is in helping out local bands.
“A label is all kind of relative,” she says. “Some people will tell me, ‘You know, you could be getting more money out of them.’ I could, but …” she says, scrunching up her nose a little. “To me, this label is a way to say, ‘I’m here and I believe in what you’re doing.'”
The bands she represents agree. “She’s great,” says Evan Jewett, guitarist in Worker Bee. “Being on Side With Us is not like being on a label. First of all, we never had to sign anything,” he says with a laugh. “It’s like having a friend.” Before Worker Bee embarked on a tour last year, Hampton asked for a list of the cities they’d be stopping in, so she could contact all the local record stores about carrying their CD. She has also managed to set up a small U.K. distribution for them.
Hampton has an overwhelming presenceóshe talks fast and moves fast, and channels her kinetic energy into Side With Us. The label only officially launched in November 2009, but thanks to her tireless work, it’s gaining impressive momentum.
“She’s so helpful,” says Jesse from the Record Winter, a San Jose band on Side With Us that’s heating up fast. “She does a lot. She advertises a lot for us, really puts herself out there.”
Hampton also has an eye for design. When she pulls her business card out of her wallet, she’s quick to point out a printing error on the logo. “See, they cut it off wrong. It should have been here.”
She originally lent that skill to longtime San Jose promoter Eric Fanali, once she returned home to Los Gatos after studying design in England for six years. She made promotional posters for Fanali and worked the door at his shows when she could. After a while, she started playing around with the idea of starting a label, and asked Fanali to start one with her. He wasn’t interested, but he had a vast network of contacts he was willing to share to help her get it off the ground.
This is not an idea she dreamed up overnight. In college, she gave dissertations on the business of major and indie labels. Having played in bands for years, and currently playing in two on the Side With Us roster, Hampton was more than familiar with the inner workings of labels, big and small. “Running a label and being in a band is like owning a place and being a renter at the same time.”
Hampton’s latest project is PostCode, an online catalog of Side With Us music that a friend built for her. Hampton sells posters for bands on her roster, stamped on the back with a URL and a unique code that users can enter into a form to receive a zip file of a band’s album. Mike Park of Cupertino’s venerable Asian Man Records has already put his catalog on the PostCode system, and Streetlight will be carrying PostCode posters for Hampton’s band, Tourister, later this month.
“It taps into something a lot of people complain aboutówith downloads, you don’t get the art that might come with a CD or a record.” She designed the Tourister poster herself.
Though she’s got what most people would consider a full plate, she still works with Fanali. “I still make posters for him, and I think I worked the door at almost every show last year. He jokingly calls me Miss Moneypenny,” she says with a laugh and a wide grin that bares most of her teeth.
Hampton is looking to expand the label, but, unlike everything else about her, she’s not in a huge hurry. “I’m looking to have as much of a cohesive sound as possible,” she says, on the hunt for bands with what she calls “a bunch of noise and reverb”. “There are so many good bands here that not enough people know about. Eventually, I just want to collect all the bands in the area that I really, really like.”