Friends with Benefits: Brushfire Records
Brushfire family bonding
Part of Brushfire’s appeal to its artists is the opportunity to be involved with—or at least highly considered for—any number of films, projects and, most important, tours.
Twenty-eight year-old Orange County, Calif.-based singer/songwriter Matt Costa knows the power of being on a soundtrack first hand. As a former semi-pro skateboarder, Costa began skateboarding while living with his family in Florida. “Some of the first skate videos I saw were really budget—where they had to tape it on a VHS camera—but I remember watching people skate all across the world,” he says. “Even on the most miniscule budget level, when [the footage] had the music going along with it, it really created something cool. I remember going out and buying CDs for that reason. To have that same sort of involvement in something else that my music could be in”—Woodshed Films used some of Costa’s music for its third film, A Brokedown Melody —“was really special.”
Costa came to Brushfire through Emmett’s friend Tom Dumont, No Doubt’s guitarist. “I think that was the first direction [change as a label] of me saying, ‘Jack, you’ll love this guy,” and getting him to open for Jack for a whole run and ultimately making a record I really love,” says Emmett.
Jack, who had never met Costa before, recalls listening to the living room demos and being impressed by the unsigned artist. Still, Brushfire stuck its original M.O. as a soft sell. “We’re not really a competitive label,” Jack says. “We always encourage people to check [all the other labels] out—how JP did with me—see what’s best for you and if this sounds fine, then we’ll do it. No pressure.” Three albums later, including this year’s critically-acclaimed Mobile Chateau, Costa seems to have quickly found his stride.
For Costa or any of Brushfire’s nine other artists—including Neil Halstead, Money Mark and Zee Avi—the label’s touring component is key. When Jack tours, he always brings Brushfire artists with him. Always. While the concept seems rather obvious—a record label supporting its roster—consider what other multi-platinum artist regularly takes their fellow labelmates on world tours?
“It works out great for me to have all these musicians be able to come up and play,” says Jack. “And obviously it’s great for them to be able to get in front of these crowds and share their music. It’s about the best thing we can do as a label for these bands.”
“Jack is supporting us because we support him in some way as well,” says Zach Gill. “There’s a symbiotic relationship there.”
G. Love—who recently opened for Jack solo acoustic—puts it rather bluntly. “Let’s be honest: Any label would pay a shitload of money to have their new critically acclaimed pop band on the Jack Johnson tour but the bottom line is they’re probably not going to get it because Jack doesn’t give a fuck about it. He has that luxury. [Brushfire] has always done things the way they want to do it, with no compromise. That’s paid off. I hate to use the quote, but they’ve really kept it real.”
Part of what’s kept Jack grounded, which other Brushfire artists have looked to, is the decision to make his immediate family part of his music career. His wife Kim, along with Emmett, serve as his managers. (She also helps with art direction, photography and guest lists.) Kim and their three children also tour with him.
“I’ve talked to people where they say, ‘How do you make it work? Cause every time my wife comes out she just gets bored after a few days,’” says Jack of musicians’ unenviable balance of work and family. “I think that’s the real secret to the success—when she comes out, she’s part of the tour too. She doesn’t feel like the visiting wife.”
The future for Brushfire Records is wide open. While Jack confirms that the label intends to sign additional artists in the future, for the time being it remains focused on its current roster. Label priorities, as of press time, are Costa’s Mobile Chateau and the second leg of Jack’s tour behind To the Sea. G. Love will release his fourth album for the label in February, a straight blues record produced by Scott and Seth Avett.
“When G. Love and Jack did music at the beginning, there could have been a competitive spirit that came out of that and there wasn’t,” says Emmett of how quickly the latter’s popularity eclipsed the former’s.
“Jack has always had my back since,” concurs G. Love. “Anything I ever did for him, he’s repaid me a thousand fold. I can’t say enough about how at home I feel [on Brushfire] since I’ve been there. I think could see potentially spending the rest of my career there.”
Emmett laughs as he recreates a typical conversation with G. Love. “He’ll go, ‘Hey Record Boss!’ And I’m like, ‘Man, don’t do that.’ Even saying that I’m a manager to anybody makes me feel uncomfortable.”
So when he finds himself being asked about his business relations, Emmett ducks the “and what do you do” questions rather easily. “I always just say, ‘I’m Jack’s friend.’”
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