When Scott Walus and Keri Cousins moved to Charleston in 2011, they knew they had to bring live music to Charleston. What they brought was Cavetone Records and an idea for free, local music every week.
Walus opened Cavetone Records in 2005; it’s an all-analog recording studio and record label that only releases vinyl, but on a good day could be convinced to record a cassette, 8-track or open reel.
“I am the founder, but I don’t really have a lot of pride in being the founder,” said Walus, an EIU faculty member who is in charge of the label's audio engineering, branding, design, public relations and press. “But I have a lot of pride in running it. Anybody can start something, but it takes a lot to run something.”
A Rough Beginning
The Cavetone recording studio opened its doors to simply make records, but there was no launch or ribbon cutting. For about four years, Walus tried to put out a record, but something would always stop the process. An open reel deck would go down, a car would break down or the money would run out.
But in 2007, he got enough money together on a green Visa card for his own band, Pat Boone’s Farm, to record “Garage Dance Loud” on a 7-inch record. Walus and Cousins are also the duo behind the band The Ex-Bombers. In 2012, they released their first full-length album, The Tightwire, on Cavetone Records.
“Now it’s a little difficult to sell somebody a record, but in 07-08 is was impossible!” he said. “Nobody had a turntable. There was the only the hardest of the hardcore who had kept the turntables and were listening to vinyl at that point.”
In 2008, the record label was born and Walus has been working with bands from all across the Midwest ever since.
A Different Kind of Label
Cavetone is different in three ways: It is one of the last places in the world that does vinyl, its sound is unique and it is a non-profit recording label.
At Cavetone, they cut their vinyl in a 100 percent analog process. They track to tape, mix to tape, and it’s cut to lacquer; at no point does it ever see a computer. Cavetone Records is a label of dirty pop music. It’s a weird pop. It’s catchy and it’s interesting.
“It’s bands as they sound making pop music and it’s a very Midwest label, which is again return to how record labels kind of started.”
As a non-profit label, all the work at Cavetone is volunteer and all the money goes to the bands. This money is not an advance or something the band has to pay off.
“It complicates things to add money to things that are pleasurable,” he said.
Walus knows vinyl is not widespread, but he sees listening to it as a social experience. People listen to the music and they can have a conversation about it.
“A record is something that you experience. That’s going to be the difference,” he said. “You say why vinyl? I say, well, it’s an experience. It’s nearly romantic and like a good romance it’s terribly flawed too.”
Free Music Fridays
On Friday nights during the fall and spring semester, Cavetone books and runs free shows at Top of the Roc. This provides Charleston three or four bands and original music.
“I started doing it because I live here and I want there to be music and culture and that’s important,” he said.
Since booking shows at Roc’s, Walus has noticed other venues such as Macs Uptowner have added more live music as well. He says the more music and the more dedication to music in Charleston, the better.
Cousins, Cavetone’s vice president, said Charleston needed at least one place for live music.
“It’s not that we were just big lovers of live music and we want to go see it, we also needed a place to do it ourselves,” Cousins said.
Cavetone in Charleston
Even though Charleston is a smaller college town, Walus said Eastern is what brings Cavetone to Charleston. The university drew him here, but the town drove home the decision to stay.
“There’s a weird vinyl sub-sect here,” he said. “I guess every town doesn’t have an all-vinyl record label and an all-analog recording studio. I think we’re very aware of where we are located in the sense that we want to make that home. We want to be a part of the community.”
When applying for a job at Eastern, Eastern asked for a reel of his work. Walus said he was going to be completely “me.” He submitted a 7-inch vinyl record for which he had designed the artwork, engineered and spliced the tape.
As a professor in the Communication Studies department, Walus finds ways to bring what he does at Cavetone into the media studies and public relations classes he teaches. Most of the information he teaches is theoretically based, but when Walus talks about things in terms of Cavetone, it makes sense.
When students ask him how to make a webisode or poster, Walus says what has worked for him because he deals with those things on a frequent basis.
Cavetone has also been working with Eastern since 2012 to offer music based internships to students who want to work with video and audio, design, PR, and branding.
“People tell me they’re very grateful that we’re doing these things, but they’re helping me too,” Walus said. “We’re making a community. Socializing through music, it’s a crazy concept.”