Happy 2018! Welcome to the first entry of Kingston After Dark for what will hopefully be a prosperous year of mass uprisings against the darkly allied corporate teat-sucking, deregulation-crazed ruling types of the world and their fake-Christian pro-fascism difficult uncles and dictator friends. I hope you had a wild and wacky New Year’s Eve, Kingston. I got to hear Phil Collins masterful “In the Air Tonight” for my first song of the year, so things are sure to be eventful one way or the other. Now, let’s settle down and focus on powerful local music, art and personality.
Sammi Niss has been an appreciated member of the Hudson Valley music scene for years now and is known for percussion work with and contributions to musical acts including Laura Stevenson, Matt Pond PA and Battle Ave. Now Niss is partnering with some other like minded musical folk to launch a regionally situated label called SubFamily Records. Niss’ debut album as a solo artist is called Words Escape and will be released this spring under the creative project name Hiding Behind Sound.
In 2018, SubFamily Records will release new music by a range of acts like American Film History, Hiding Behind Sound, Macrofone, Peter Naddeo, Mark Donato, and potentially more. The label’s core members are Frank McGinnis, Sammi Niss, John Burdick, Jesse Alexander and Peter Naddeo.
As if just coming off playing the last Matt Pond PA shows ever wasn’t enough, each upcoming endeavor also requires meeting personal standards. Prepping the Hiding Behind Sound record was the hardest because Niss is not known as a solo performer and rather for semi-hiding behind a drum kit (while nonetheless playing a big role).
“I am pretty much playing everything off this album, including singing,” Niss says. “I made Kevin McMahon at Marcata Studios leave when I was doing vocals. I had never sung in front of anyone so he set me up in front of a mic. I was also just coming off of chemotherapy. I am at two years in remission as of a month or so ago. The album happened all through that time.”
Was there a sense of working things out through song or more of a big emotional dump of stuff that the songs brought out of you?
“It was a lot of both, I guess,” Sammi responds. “I was recording before I was diagnosed and I finished it in the months of recovery from chemo. It was hard to take it all in at once.”
Niss tells me how it was hard to process until after the fact a sense of empowerment, as everything felt far away during the time of recording, but that the energy was there somehow to create the record when Niss went looking for it.
The idea of putting out Words Escape is somewhat terrifying, but Niss admits some of the butterflies have abated. The final artwork for the album is in the process of coming together and now the hardest part is getting out in front of an audience and sharing. Now that the Matt Pond dates, which were cold but fun, are also over Niss feels like it is a good time to focus on the SubFamily roster. Sometimes you have to really move through the energy attached to milestone life moments and transits before you can step onto a new plateau. When you get there, new endeavors are often also waiting for you.
“John Burdick from The Sweet Clementines and I have a band called Macrofone with his son. We are heavily working on that and this is different than a ton of our other stuff,” Sammi says. “He is such a killer guitar player. I don’t like to be in the same kind of band five times so working with John is fun.”
The label allows the organizers and participants to have their own power base helping one another in the DIY tradition to boost awareness of one another’s records. The scene here can still be vibrant and full of solutions. The level of enthusiasm in the community for music and the emotional support of like minded creative allies and participants ensures that SubFamily Records is putting their best foot forward from the start to deliver great content in various formats as best suits each planned release.
“What is a record deal anymore, anyway?” Sammi asks. “We are all friends and from here. Everything is in the city but we are not in the city. We aren’t city-based. I don’t think we should have to move to the city to make it real. I want there to be a nice music scene and I think that is really happening again right now.”
When it has really happened here, the music scene has indeed been a thriving organism of Catskill art. It generally does rise up again after more anemic times of creative disarray, but right now things are really poppin’ in the Hudson Valley. The new year of 2018 allows for the potential for a fresh mental palette for your average person. It seems like a good time to point out that we have the potential to carry a lot of the positive momentum of our region’s enthusiasm for the arts with us into the coming months.
“Spoon just played The Chance? What is happening!?” Niss exclaims. “All the back room shows at BSP. Even little shows at smaller venues. The music scene is happening.”