Summer Shindig: Interview with Hearts & Plugs’ Dan McCurry

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What began as a way to release music from his own band, Run Dan Run, Dan McCurry has built Charleston indie label Hearts & Plugs into one of the Southeast’s most well respected labels release by release. Next Saturday, June 25th, Hearts & Plugs celebrates the summer, their talented roster, and the support they’ve received with their 3rd annual Hearts & Plugs Summer Shindig. Grab your bright summer colors and the flamingo ornaments from your lawn, it’s time to head to Charleston’s Royal American for one of the best parties of the summer!

In today’s DIY music industry, small indie labels are able to develop more than just a following for their artists, but for the label themselves by creating a tight-knit, highly engaged community around them. A lot of these small labels are highly curated that aren’t just releasing every artist thrown their way, instead choosing to focus on making each release a priority, giving each artist they choose to work with the attention they deserve. Not only are the artists making up the roster becoming a community together, but with fans able to keep up with the smaller amount of releases, the fans really build into a supporting community around these labels.

Hearts & Plugs has become one of the Southeast’s strongest labels over the last 5 years, working with artists that have begun to get national recognition, as well as bringing to light their hometown of Charleston as more than a historic tourist trap, but a city with a built in culture and it’s own strong and supportive music scene.

Indie pop band, Slow Runner, has had songs on TV shows like Shameless, Grey’s Anatomy, and others across FOX, ABC, MTV, Showtime, and other networks. Brave Baby has gotten national acclaim with their brand of indie rock landing them spots on the Communion Music tour and shows around the US. The #AcidBoys, SUSTO is clearly well on it’s way, building upon their rabid fan base show after show (and a personal favorite of mine). Crab Claw is one of the best and most entertaining listens around. Numerous musicians (inside and out of Hearts & Plugs) have been singing the praises for  Hermit’s Victory. Southern twang rockers The High Divers have been making a name around the southeast, recent releases from Grace Joyner and Gold Light have impressed. In short, Hearts & Plugs small roster is one to pay attention to.

To celebrate their talented roster and the beginning of summer, Hearts & Plugs just released their soundtrack to summer, the Hearts & Plugs Summer Essentials. With all tracks produced by Wolfgang Zimmerman (of Brave Baby), it features summer jams from H&P artists Brave Baby, SUSTO, ET Anderson, The High Divers, Grace Joyner, Hermit’s Victory, and Johnny Delaware. It’s great for pool parties, road trips, beach days, etc. and free to stream on Spotify and Soundcloud, while also free to download via Bandcamp and Noisetrade. You can also purchase on CD and Cassette as well.

The same group of artists are playing next Saturday’s Hearts & Plugs Summer Shindig at Royal American in Charleston, a party we wouldn’t miss. We caught up with Hearts & Plugs Founder and Director, Dan McCurry to discuss where the label has been, and where it’s going next.

Come find out for yourself next weekend:

Hearts & Plugs Summer Shindig
Featuring: Brave Baby, SUSTO, ET Anderson, The High Divers, Grace Joyner, Hermit’s Victory, and Johnny Delaware, plus after party with Infinitikiss
WhenSaturday, June 25th, 5pm-11pm
WhereRoyal American, 970 Morrison Drive, Charleston, SC 29403
Tickets: $20, All Ages –> www.hpsummershindig.com

Questions with Dan McCurry:

OE: When you first started Hearts & Plugs back in 2011, it was more of a collective than an actual label to help put out albums from artists you love. A few years later, Hearts & Plugs has become a major player in the southeast with many of your artists getting national attention and touring not only the Southeast, but around the US. Looking at how far you’ve already come, would you have imagined the success you have achieved already and having such a talented roster?

DM: Initially definitely not. I always thought of myself as the artist before H&P happened. It wasn’t until H&P got going that I realized that I enjoyed helping others and just being a part of the creative process in general. For me, a lot of H&P has just been figuring things out as you go, learning what it is you didn’t even know you needed to learn, etc. There’s not exactly a manual on starting and running a record label and if such manual did exist, I wouldn’t trust it because I think at the end of the day, each label is unique (at least it should be, that’s the whole point).

OE: Looking back to starting the label, what would you have done different?

DM: Hard to say. Sometimes people say to me “well, you should have had money” or “you should have done such and such kind of deal with such and such band to make money” etc. I just feel like it would have been hard to get to where we are if the steps we’ve taken weren’t taken, you know? I really enjoy the community aspect to what we’ve got going, that everyone supports one another here. If we did things differently, I think perhaps we might have lost a little bit of the magic, you know?

OE: What have you done right while learning on the job?

DM: I think focusing on trust is a big part of it. I think it’s pretty clear to the artists that I genuinely care, that I’m not in this for the money, that this is more my passion than anything. I believe from this standpoint it’s possible to really build something sustainable. I think there are lots of opportunities in this business to make a quick buck but generally those are the sorts of opportunities that if you want to have a career perhaps you should steer clear from.

OE: Over 5 years, you’ve probably learned a lot and developed a focus for the label, where do you foresee taking Hearts & Plugs over the next 5-10 years?

DM: I hope that in the next 5-10 years H&P will become a well-respected indie label known for making and supporting career artists. Also, I’d like to help put Charleston and the southeast on the musical map so to speak. We’ve got a great scene in these parts that I think generally flies under the radar. I’d like to see that change and doors open for us folks here down south, you know?

OE: The attention bands such as Slow Runner, Brave Baby, and SUSTO alike have received, has brought national attention to Charleston as more than a city for tourists, but instead a place that can cultivate local talent. Has the talent always been there, and Charleston just needs someone to bring it to the forefront?

DM: I think to some degree, yes, the talent has always been here. But then again I’ve seen Charleston go through phases where those key artists leave for bigger cities and the whole building process on the music scene starts over somewhat. I feel like the difference lately has been that more artists see how great this place is and choose to stay and really dig their heels in – I think that’s great for everybody. I think at some point people will take notice of the wealth of talent that’s driving a unique culture here in Charleston. We’re already seeing that on the food scene and I think that’ll eventually spillover to the arts/music scene as well.

OE: You were involved in the Charleston music scene long before starting Hearts & Plugs, how has the scene evolved since you started the label up?

DM: Charleston’s music scene has always been very supportive. I remember watching Jump Little Children over a decade ago really help pull others along here in town, folks like Cary Ann Hearst and The Films (who later led to Shovels & Rope), The Working Title, Owen Beverly, Slow Runner, Bill Carson, all these fantastic artists who I really looked up to, well, they’ve always been doing this, I’m just helping to carry the same torch here. But I think the big change has been Charleston in general, there’s just so much to do here now, and so many more great people to work with. Yeah, maybe just more great people, that might be the biggest change, like-minded folks who want to make a positive impact in the community just like you. That’s the key difference perhaps.

OE: How is the Charleston scene different from other cities you’ve been around?

DM: As I mentioned before, everyone on the music scene is really supportive. There’s not so much of a cut throat competitive spirit or anything – I think people here realize that we’re in this together and that when one does well, everyone does well (to some degree). I’m not saying it’s 100% candy and fairies either though, there are certainly some areas that need work, but I think at the core, that’s a big part of what makes the Charleston music scene unique.

OE: Most of your artists are primarily out of South Carolina, will Hearts & Plugs look to expand their roster further out of state?

DM: Absolutely. That’s the plan, yeah. We’re not a “South Carolina only” kinda label, it’s just been that, well, this is what I’m familiar with and it just so happens that there’s a lot of great music happening here so why not put it out? I think even as we grow though, we’ll always be based here and will have some regional focus in the roster. Not saying we’ll stay 100% southeast but perhaps it’s 40% with the rest coming from all over. I figure we’ll get there eventually but no sense in rushing it, just best to let that happen naturally.

OE: What do you look for when adding a new artist to your roster?

DM: Always the music first. More and more I think the artists having some sort of presence is important – both in the sense of performing live as well as connecting with people through social media, etc. As we grow we’re looking to work with artists who have established themselves somewhat, that way we can build off of one another. I’ve found it’s just a lot harder to work with an artist from total square one where they haven’t played a single show and therefore have zero audience that’s eagerly waiting for them to put something out. It’s all about building momentum really.

OE: Hearts & Plugs have had a few exciting new releases over the last few months, tell us about what’s current?

DM:Well, thus far this year we’ve put out releases by Slow Runner, Grace Joyner, and Gold Light. We also just released our H&P Summer Essentials mixtape that features summer jams from 7 of our artists – SUSTO, Brave Baby, Johnny Delaware, ET Anderson, The High Divers, Hermit’s Victory, and Grace Joyner. So far so good!

OE: What should we be looking out for in the near future??

DM: Hopefully just more releases from our roster. I anticipate more from Brave Baby, SUSTO, ET Anderson, The High Divers, Hermit’s Victory, Johnny Delaware, and perhaps a few new additions, we’ll see. Not necessarily trying to add new artists but you never know what’ll turn up really.

OE: Coming up on June 25th, you’ve got the 3rd annual Hearts & Plugs Summer Shindig with Brave Baby, SUSTO, ET Anderson, The High Divers, Grace Joyner, Hermit’s Victory, and Johnny Delaware, plus after party with Infinitikiss, this year at a new location, the Royal American in Charleston. What kind of fun can we expect at this party??

DM: FLAMINGO FUN! (the best kind of fun) But for real, it’s flamingo themed so there will be a lot of flamingos.

OE: What’s with the flamingo theme and where can I buy at T-shirt??

DM: Flamingo is the official bird of summer, amirite?!? And you can snag a flamingo party shirt at our webstore here.

OE: To celebrate the upcoming event and the impending official summer, you just released Hearts & Plugs Summer Essentials soundtrack. Should I grab some fresh limes and a strong margarita to listen to this??

DM: Idk, I feel like this is more of a Corona kind of soundtrack if ya know what I mean. Or maybe a Moscow Mule or perhaps an old fashioned honestly. Sometimes just a straight shot of whiskey even.

Hearts & Plugs Summer Shindig

Hearts & Plugs Summer Shindig

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Mike Gerry

Head music fiend at OpenEars Music

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