Mesa Recordings: Big Things in Store for Santa Fe
By Clara Hittel/Photos by Christopher Stahelin
I am provided with hot tea and guided outside to the shed, amidst small patches of snow still clinging to the high-altitude chill. Within the odd structure that sits apart from Paul Groetzinger’s idyllic mountain home is the studio of Mesa Recordings. Groetzinger apologizes for the mess, while I decide that a variety of instruments scattered around the floor and dangling ominously from shelves overhead is exactly how a recording studio should look. He sits at his desk and I settle in by the space heater.
Paul Groetzinger is a member of two well-known Santa Fe bands—D Numbers and Detroit Lightning—as well as a DJ and solo artist known as Feathericci. He is also now one of the founders of Mesa Recordings.
I met the astoundingly friendly Groetzinger when I went to see Detroit Lightning play at the Cowgirl last week. It didn’t take me long to realize that this was the same Grateful Dead cover band I had the pleasure of stumbling upon at Totemoff’s—the bar on the slopes of the Santa Fe Ski Basin—a few weeks ago. Beats on the Basin is a regular winter occurrence, it turns out, presented by Hutton Broadcasting and benefiting the Adaptive Ski Program. Groetzinger and fellow Connecticut-born band mate Ben Wright, who have been playing music together since they were 14 years old and are both members of D Numbers and Detroit Lightning, run sound for every Beats on the Basin show. They are very busy men indeed.
“I really like having a diverse musical life,” Groetzinger shares. “It makes me feel complete to do a bunch of different things. We’d sunk into the D numbers thing really heavily for many, many years and it’s nice that we’re all at points in our lives where we’re playing with other bands and doing our own solo projects and then, of course, the record label.”
On Feb. 20, Mesa Recordings released their first EP: Onda Remix Vol. 1, consisting of the D Numbers track “Ghost Talk” remixed by both Brickwall Brigade and David Last. Remixes Volumes 2 and 3 will be released on March 20 and April 3, respectively, featuring more D Numbers tracks remixed by a lengthy list of other artists. I ask how D Numbers became acquainted with so many electronic musicians from around the country and even the world.
“We asked a bunch of our friends who are incredible producers from Serbia, Germany, and in the States to remix D Numbers songs. So that was our idea for our first release, which we curated over a year ago,” Groetzinger explains. “It’s like this network of underground electronic music artists…there’s mainstream electronic music and there’s so much else…and the mainstream stuff makes up 90% of what you hear through the radio or even on Pandora…so we’re in this much smaller network of amazing people making underground stuff.”
D Numbers participated in a “cross-cultural exchange” that Colorado-based production company Communikey and Serbia-based production company Dis-Patch organized. This is how Groetzinger, Wright, and Mayhall came to meet Brickwall Brigade—a duo from Belgrade who remixed one of the D Numbers songs on the new EP.
“[Communikey and Dis-Patch] wrote a grant proposal to bring these Serbian artists over here to do a tour with us—a U.S. tour [in 2010]. This collaboration was called Vice Verse, and then ‘vice-verse’ we went to Europe and did a tour with them [in 2011],” Groetzinger informs me.
Especially curious about the origin of Mesa Recordings, I ask why the members of D Numbers decided to undertake the foundation of a record label in addition to their already extensive list of projects, and also what the process entailed.
“Onda was self-released. We didn’t have our own label [and] there was no one else to release it, and that’s true for our first two records—Light Parade and Onda,” answers Groetzinger. “Our distributor, who’s a friend of a friend, got turned onto our music—this is a distributor out of Holland—and he came to us to say, ‘Your music is great. We really want to distribute it for you but you have to be a record label. We don’t work with bands. We work with labels.’
The men behind Mesa Recordings have spent a year teaching themselves the business behind running a label.
“Largely it’s working with the distributor to make sure that your stuff is hitting the right markets and getting to the right ears and building a portfolio,” a now expert Groetzinger clarifies. “A label is kind of like an artist in a way where, of course, you’re building with releases rather than just songs, but you’re sculpting a creative being with the different artists that you bring in…and so we’re learning that there’s a lot to it.”
D Numbers member and fellow Mesa Recordings founder Brian Mayhall also shares his experience with starting the label:
“It’s been amazing to work with Ben [Wright] and Paul [Groetzinger] for so many years on numerous projects,” Mayhall writes in an email. “The label I am really proud of because it is a new type of collaboration that I feel like we are really thriving in. It is a business that provides a new home for our creative projects—not only D Numbers, but our solo projects as well as collaborations with other artists that we admire. In our work on the label, it seems like everyone’s strengths are working together and we are in a good flow.”
In the background, Groetzinger quietly plays a track by Ben Wright and Andrew Bowen’s duo project Public Address. This is one of the upcoming Mesa Recordings releases, due out in April. The electronic sound seems a little out of place in this small shed in the mountains, but also perfectly ambient in the sense that, if the room was cleared out, Groetzinger could throw one heck of a tiny party in there. Brian Mayhall’s solo debut is in the cards as well, although I didn’t have the honor of hearing one of his pieces.
“I started out just working on tracks at home on my computer, about three years ago.” Mayhall writes. “I wanted to use my voice, but in an abstract way, so I began making all of these tracks that had highly edited vocal melodies without any cohesive words and it sort of became a signature part of this new project…Now that the label is in place, some of these tracks that I have been playing out live last year are scheduled to be released this May!”
As an added bonus, Groetzinger shares a track of his own from his Feathericci solo project. As Groetzinger, Mayhall, and Wright are all members of D Numbers, this makes it seem as if Mesa Recordings has been designed solely to produce D Numbers-related albums. Groetzinger clears up this misconception:
“As I was explaining it to you, it sounds like a place for D Numbers to put out our stuff, but as we’ve progressed [we’ve realized that] this is a chance for us to do so much…more than just D Numbers and more than just D Numbers side projects. There are specific artists that have done some D Numbers remixes that we want to solicit full-lengths from, and the sky’s the limit, in a way. If it fits as an expression of what we want to do then we’re open to it.”
The label isn’t the first attempt that Paul Groetzinger, Brian Mayhall, and Ben Wright have made to bring great music to Santa Fe and generate a community of artists.
“Even though D Numbers hasn’t been performing much over the last year or so, we have still been working together a lot behind the scenes,” Mayhall contributes. “We had been promoting a lot of shows over the past two to three years in Santa Fe under the moniker Team Everything. That’s not to say that Team Everything is necessarily a ‘D Numbers Project,’ but we had met so many awesome people out on the road—and we have such an awesome community here in Santa Fe—that we wanted to try to bring the two worlds together.”
Record labels tend to spring up in much larger, more populated urban areas than Santa Fe, with much larger music scenes. However, the three Mesa Recordings colleagues don’t seem to mind the challenge of starting a business with such large possibilities in such a tiny place.
“We’re out here in the vacuum and it’s beautiful…it’s kind of hard to break out and get the word out…but we all love living here,” Groetzinger remarks. “We’ve toured and gotten to play amazing festivals in Canada and Europe and now we’re starting our own label, and we get to live in Santa Fe and not have to be waiters in New York and barely have time to make music…I feel pretty damn lucky if we can bring world-class releases out and tour the world and get to live in a beautiful mountain town and have it all.”
In June, D Numbers promises to play a trio of shows—in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Taos.
“D Numbers is excited to play for everyone again. It’s been a while,” declares Groetzinger. “We love playing together live; we love the experience of playing for an audience. There’s no other group that I’ve played with that the audience and the band have such a language together. It’s incredible.”
As for Detroit Lightning, member Josh Martin is soon to move away.
“We will do shows when Josh and his family visit, which should probably be two or three times a year,” Groetzinger predicts. “We’ll try to do at least two or three when he visits so that it’s like little bursts of Detroit Lightning shows when Josh is around…it’ll be sad when he’s gone, but he’ll be back.”
Paul Groetzinger escorts me out of the Mesa Recordings studio/shed, and all I can see are mountains and trees in every direction. With a view like this, it’s easy to understand why he’s so content to stay here in Santa Fe and make the music come to him.