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December 14-21, 2005

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Strictly Amateur Films

Male Pattern Boldness: SAF act Yip Yip yuck it up at CMJ.

Nothing Amateur About It

Matt Driscoll and Strictly Amateur Films pump out the indie hits in Aptos, one release at a time


By Peter Koht

So what's life like for the owner of a relatively successful record label? "You spend a lot of time at the post office," says Matt Driscoll, owner and sole employee of Strictly Amateur Films, the Aptos-based label that has put out nearly 20 records by acts like Yip Yip, Honeyhander and the Mae Shi.

Driscoll, who created the label for his own tunes, soon began amassing talent drawn from his contacts in the underground music world. But his biggest act, Honeyhander, came to the label unsolicited through the mail slot.

"I get about five or six demos a week but I still listen to theirs all the time. It's just awesome," says Driscoll. "They are getting so much press, they are definitely going to go on to something big."

Regularly charting in the Top 30 in CMJ (College Music Journal) for airplay, Honeyhander is attracting not only buzz, but also interest from major label talent scouts. Driscoll is surprisingly nonpossessive regarding his artists; in fact, he wishes for them to move onto the big leagues.

"I wouldn't mind," he says. "Not at all. I can't produce what a major label can. We can't afford ads in Spin and stuff like that. We can't reach millions, and there is no way that I can offer the acts the kinds of opportunities that I would like to."

Still, SAF recently inked a distribution deal with Red Eye that puts them in stores around the world. "I have been working so hard to pump up these bands, and now they can put our records in stores I have no access to and stores I have never even heard of."

This year also saw the label put on its own showcase at the CMJ Music Marathon in New York. Once there, SAF's bands got to play for industry insiders and fans alike at the Lit Lounge.

"CMJ was awesome!" Driscoll enthuses. "My friend Maria is also my publicist. She pretty much set it up. She knew about this club and we teamed up with this other label out of Brooklyn called Love Pump United." Despite this industry exposure, most of SAF's records move at the individual band's shows. In fact, an artist's ability to tour is something that Driscoll takes into account whenever he thinks about signing a new act.

"I drop about four or five grand on every release, so I have to be really particular. I've got to make sure people will be into it, that the advertising will work out and that it will sell. If you do a record for a band and they will not support it by going out and playing shows, then you will just sit on the copies because no one is every going to hear about them."

As if fretting about sales, mastering, pressing and promoting almost a dozen bands' releases weren't enough activity, Driscoll is also supervising a number of video projects. Strictly Amateur Films is not a figurative phrase.

"I am doing a DVD for the Crimson Curse, which has members of the Locusts. Then we are going to do the Head Wound City DVD, which will feature members of Locusts, Blood Brothers and Nick from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. That's pretty big.

"Every day it is getting bigger and bigger," Driscoll continues. "We recently got some orders from Turkey and some from Russia. Things are blowing up pretty big. I can now press 2,500 of every release we put out."

One curious aspect about the label's existence is its total lack of acts that call Santa Cruz home. While bands from Rhode Island and Florida are signed to the Aptos imprint, no one from 95060 is chiming in on the label. "I need to get out more and go to more shows," Driscoll admits. "I have so much coming up, it's just silly."


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