July marks the first anniversary of Nova Labs, a small, independent record label based out of Ames and founded by Bryon Dudley and Matt Dake. Their first year was a big one—with 26 releases from an all-Iowan artist roster—and the label shows no signs of slowing down. Focusing on avant-garde artists on the fringes of the Iowa scene, yet still allowing room for less-eclectic strains of pop and rock, Nova Labs has taken a remarkably detailed snapshot of Iowa music as it is right now.
Recently, Dudley took the time to answer some questions with Little Village via email about the label and what lies ahead for Nova Labs.
Little Village: How did Nova Labs begin?
Bryon Dudley: My buddy Matt Dake and I both operate studios here in Central Iowa, and we were talking one day about how we’d turn over a master disc to a band, and sometimes they’d say, “Okay, what now?” We’ve both been in bands for many years, and took it for granted that everyone knew what happens next—getting discs made, planning release shows, etc.—but it felt like there was a need for that in the music scene. It also felt like there were a lot of great bands making great music, and not many labels to represent them.
What releases are you working on now?
We’ll be releasing albums by Fiszt, Morning Sex and the Good Weed, Moonrabbit and Strong Like Bear. We’re releasing our first vinyl full-length soon, a Des Moines band called The Seed of Something, which is pretty exciting. And we have a pretty full schedule of releases coming up, with … our first year anniversary party in July, which so far we have, like, six releases planned for. Our original plan was to have four release parties a year, but it’s already kind of growing on us. So we’re also trying out some different kinds of shows and just figuring out what works.
How does the label fit into your work at The Spacement, your home studio?
In my head, they’re very separate endeavors, and I think we’ve done a good job of releasing albums that neither Matt nor I have anything to do with, in terms of the recording process. But there’s no denying that it’s pretty easy to be in the process of recording a band, getting excited about their music and figuring out if they’re interested in releasing it on Nova Labs. I’ve done a number of things for Maximum Ames in The Spacement as well, amongst other projects, but there’s probably always going to be some overlap, just because it’s convenient. You get to be friends with bands while recording, because you spend large chunks of time together, so it’s nice, and generally natural, to keep working together.
Nova Labs seems to have a good relationship with Maximum Ames Records—how do you think the two labels fit together in the Iowa scene?
The Maximum Ames guys have been friends for years, and we look up to them as sort of a big brother. We ask them for advice for things when we hit snags, and we generally try to involve them in our shows when it makes sense to do so.
They do mostly vinyl, and we’re not really able to do that, so we specialize more in CDs. Since the cost of discs is a lot lower, we can put out a lot of releases in a shorter amount of time. I think what that allows us to do is rep a lot more of the underground stuff in Iowa. A handful of our releases are studio projects that would be impossible to play live, for example, and we can release things that may not sell a ton of copies and still be okay, because we hand make our digipaks. It’s a very DIY, make-on-demand sort of affair. We’re hoping to collaborate on some things with the Maximum Ames guys in the future, though. It’d be a shame not to, really.
What do you envision Nova Labs turning into?
When we started, we thought of it as very underground and DIY and were happy to just do that. I think it’s probably gotten bigger and been more successful than either Matt or I anticipated. We’re certainly not getting rich off of this, but we’re having a lot of fun doing it, and it seems to be well-received. I think our current goal is to try to make sure the label itself is self-sustaining, which can be a challenge by itself. And luckily, the model we came up with for our DIY approach seems to be flexible enough that it can scale up and it seems to work so far. I have a dream of sometime being able to do some publishing, like local poets or short story anthologies by Iowa authors, that sort of thing, but one thing at a time—we need to make sure we’re good at being a record label first!
There seems to be a huge appreciation for the Ames music scene at the heart of Nova Labs—do you have any re-releases planned?
On the horizon is a re-release of a ‘90s band from Ames called Great Big Freak. I can’t wait to put that out, because it’s really good. It has to be one of the first Iowa bands that incorporated hip hop, so it feels really historic and ground-breaking to me, and it’s been out of print for a long time. That one’s definitely going to happen, and I remember going to see them, long ago, so it feels special.
I’d love to be involved with some sort of re-release plan for someone like House of Large Sizes, who were a big influence on a lot of Iowa bands and still play killer shows. I think we’d probably have to be quite a bit bigger than we are to pull something like that off, though, so it’s just a fun dream at the moment.
Max Johnson lives, writes and cooks in Iowa City. He probably wants to start a band with you.