(Run Out Groove)
Vinyl-only label Run Out Groove is putting the finishing touches on an album release already sure to please the loyal fan base of Morphine, the unique rock trio formed in Cambridge, Mass. in 1989 by late vocalist/bassist Mark Sandman, saxophonist Dana Colley and drummer Jerome Deupree (replaced by Billy Conway for the group's second of five studio albums).
Live at the Warfield 1997 is a two-LP set culled from unreleased recordings of a live performance at the Warfield in San Francisco during Morphine's 1997 Like Swimming album tour. Sandman, who conceived the band after fronting the noteworthy blues rock group Treat Her Right (also including Conway), had insisted that the recordings showcase the room's superb ambience and dynamics, and the audio was sourced from the original masters with lacquers cut at Sam Phillips Recording Service in Memphis.
Colley co-produced, wrote the liner notes, and provided never-before-seen photos for Live at the Warfield 1997, for which Run Out Groove commenced a pre-order month closing Wednesday; release date, at suggested retail price of $36.98, is set for Oct. 27.
Each two-LP set will be individually numbered, with the total available sets strictly limited based on pre-orders. High-quality black vinyl discs will then be pressed and packaged in equally high-quality gatefold "tip-on" sleeves.
Additionally, the package will also include never-before-seen original watercolor drawings by Sandman on both the inside gatefold panel and on the center vinyl labels.
Launched in January, Run Out Groove is owned by Warner Music Group (WMG), but operates like an indie. It caters specifically to music fanatics, notes Matt Block, himself an avowed music fanatic who handles the company's A&R, artist relations, retail sales and publicity.
"It's really a DIY operation with very little budget—which in a way helps," says Block. "We're trying to get back to creating higher-end packages geared to real music fans and collectors and people who want to own the artifact."
Run Out Groove evolved out of Block's role in third-party licensing at WMG.
"I A&R projects for [indie reissue labels] Sundazed and Light in the Attic—small labels who come to us to license material that we deem 'not wanting to mess with' because they're too under-the-radar," says Block. "As a major label, we can't get the [sales] numbers we need, but we can go to [small reissue labels] as catalog opportunities."
Each month Run Out Groove posts potential projects on its site and social media outlets in seeking fan input on which title should be pressed next. The project chosen by majority vote is then made available to order for 30 days, after which the title goes to the pressing plant. Orders are only taken within the 30-day pre-order window, and after it closes, the total quantity to be pressed in the individually numbered limited edition is announced, the finished copies then shipped directly to those who ordered and to participating retailers.
Run Out Groove releases so far include MC5's The Motor City Five, Echo & the Bunnymen's It's All Live Now, Secret Machines' Now Here is Nowhere, Dream Syndicate's The Complete Live at Raji's and The Stooges' Highlights From The Fun House Sessions.
"We try to find overlooked, classic artists, many of whom weren't really popular but have cult followings," says Block, namely, "bands like Morphine, who have a story or need to be reintroduced—and I personally really liked them."
The label came into being, he adds, "when it dawned on me that I could be doing this in-house—that we could create a new line of business, and with vinyl [being] one of the last [audio] formats trending upwards for us, why not really create a new catalog division that just focuses on limited vinyl pressings and digs deeper. It's a little like the Rhino Handmade [Rhino Records' limited catalog edition imprint] ethos, putting out limited unique collections, out-of-print records, and looking into the WMG vaults for unreleased material—which is how I came across Morphine."
Most of Morphine's recordings were released on Rykodisc and are now part of WMG's holdings. Block discovered and "poured through tons of live [Morphine] shows" in combing the WMG vaults, then reached out to Colley. Together they settled on the 1997 Warfield tapes.
"They're sonically great and sound awesome," says Block, "and other than a Detroit concert bootleg it will be the only live document of Morphine that's really out there. It was such a great live band that wasn't around long enough to exploit more, a great improvisational band that really stretched out, with Mark breaking out into poetry in the middle of a song! I hope this starts a trend to do them justice."
A major fan of 1950s and '60s jazz, Block was drawn to Morphine because of its jazz roots, musicianship and improvisational aspect, "also Mark's beat vibe" and song lyrics.
"When I first heard them they were like nothing I'd heard before," says Block, "and even to this day nobody sounds like that. I love anything that forages its own way and is unique unto itself, and the second one of Morphine's songs comes on—with Mark's two-string bass and slide, and Dana's baritone sax—you know it's them. It made me a fan, and it's a real honor for me to do this record."
And while Live at the Warfield is "a pet project" for Block, he's hardly alone in his high regard for the band.
"Radio didn't pick up on them, but they sold out shows, and fans have been coming out of the woodwork since we announced the record," Block says. "We went to the band's global fan forum on Facebook and posted it, and it lit up and went insane! They have a big out-of-country presence, with a huge following in Europe, Poland and Russia. Everybody rallied their friends to vote."
After tallying the pre-orders from the Internet and Run Out Groove's direct retail partners, the company will run the single pressing, with all copies being numbered and packaged using the vintage "tip-on" sleeve where the artwork is printed on paper that is then glued on to the cardboard jacket.
"This establishes a bit of urgency," says Block. "If someone's a fan, they'll grab it on our site during the 30-day pre-order period. And when you have an artist involved like Dana, who signed test pressings for giveaways and can rally friends on social media, it becomes a very fan-engaged thing."
To this end, Run Out Groove instituted an "Ultimate Morphine Fan Contest" whereby fans were encouraged to share their favorite Morphine memory of the Like Swimming album or tour in 100 words or less posted to Run Out Groove's Facebook page. The five most original and entertaining submissions were then printed on a special insert to be included in all copies of the set.
Meanwhile, the three potential Run Out Groove titles currently being voted on are Tuff Darts' Tuff Darts!, Plasticland's Plasticland and Marshall Crenshaw's Thank You, Rock Fans!!—for which Crenshaw made a video showing him getting out the votes.
Morphine performing "Cure for Pain"