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A New COMPosition

BY MCKENNA PAULUS | APRIL 17, 2014 5:00 AM

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Amps combined with old-school enlarged Beats Per Minute meters and handmade wooden shelves line the walls of Flat Black Studios.

Owner Luke Tweedy doubles as a woodworker and musical engineer. He likens the atmosphere in his studio to the post-World War II era. However, what he truly cares about is recording the perfect sound for each band.

"When it comes to the gear I use, it's about the sound," Tweedy said. "The people that hear this stuff, they only hear the songs. That's the most important thing."

In the past year, Tweedy said some of the "most talented bands" have come through the studio but many didn't have the proper support to release their music.

So to celebrate one of the greatest years for Flat Black Studios, Tweedy will release a record on Saturday, otherwise known as record-store day. He titled the album COMP — a moniker that refers to its containing what he calls "the best unreleased music" recorded in his studio.

The bands featured on the album are Xerox, Wet Hair, Hallways of Always (William Elliott Whitmore and Jenny Hoyston [of Erase Errata]), Blizzards of Wizards, Huge Lewis, Jenny Hoyston, Bleeds, Liberty Leg, Brooks Strause and the Gory Details, T'bone featuring Chris Besinger (of STNNNG), and Super Sonic Piss.

This will not be the first time Tweedy has released a collection of music on his own. The first venture he made in the music business was when popular Iowa blues singer Whitmore, who happens to be his cousin, came to Tweedy with four songs recorded on a tape. After Tweedy heard the songs, he knew he had to spread them to a wider audience.

"It was real music," he said. "I knew people had to hear it, and if they did, it would resonate."

Tweedy bought a CD burner, which at the time was a stand-alone as opposed to the modern version usually combined with a computer. These were the days when Hawkeye Audio was still in business on Forest Ridge Drive.

The Iowa native then attended concerts and sold CDs at $10 apiece. Eventually, he upgraded his equipment and morphed a CD burner into a full-fledged studio in Iowa City.

Tweedy sees COMP as a piece of Iowa history, and he believed he was doing it a disservice if it wasn't available to the public.

His friend Brendan Spengler, who is also in several bands on the record, said COMP will be remembered.

"Bands such as Liberty Leg and Wet Hair are legendary in this town and beyond," Spengler said. "But if these songs are never heard, then a piece of Iowa music history disappears."

Spengler and Tweedy developed their longing for great music when they worked together at Record Collector, an Iowa City music store.

"Older guys would come in [to Record Collector] periodically with records they had made in the '60s, lost obscurities that were garage or psych gold," Spengler said. "And [they] were worth a lot of bread, but also were from a forgotten music scene here in town; we don't want that to happen again."

Zach Westerdahl, a member of the band Bleeds, said this release reminds him of the old days, when a compilation CD was released every year.

"It harks back to those old days, when everyone banded together and put out their own stuff," he said. "I think it's really nice; most of the bands don't have proper releases, and so even if it's only one song per band, it's a nice representative."

Shawn Reed, who is a vocalist for Wet Hair, said his band has recorded all five of its albums with Tweedy in Flat Black Studios and is looking forward having his group represented on COMP.

"It's a cool thing," he said. "He is very supportive of local music, and he is always trying to make things happen and hold it down."

Now, with illegal downloads of music increasing and streaming options such as Spotify becoming more popular, it is harder for bands to distribute music effectively and get signed to a record label.

Tweedy looks for bands to become more innovative with their strategies, and he hopes releasing this record inspires other bands to work together instead of competing.

"Bands need to get into the habit of trading shows with one another, like I will get you a good show in Iowa City for a good show in Minneapolis," Tweedy said. "Don't get discouraged playing to five people, because if you do it right and play your ass off, the next show will be 10 people. Put your music out however you can."

To release this record, he asked some of the bands for their help in covering the costs of pressing and printing the vinyl. With a common goal in mind, every band also bought a copy of COMP.

"I put it together, but could not have done it without the bands' help," Tweedy said. "Doing it like this takes bands and puts them into a situation in which they are in this struggle together and makes them responsible for their share. They are all chipping in, freely, to build something bigger than any one of them could have built alone. It helps the local music scene and our community."


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