Label Launch

Memphis music fans launch new singles label

By Andy Meek

John Miller and Chaney Nichols are a pair of Memphis music aficionados who tend to dismiss with a laugh that old saw about how music is fine and well for fun but involves misspent, wasted energy when pursued as a career.

John Miller, left, and Chaney Nichols of Misspent Records hope to complement the high level of recording activity in Memphis while increasing exposure for “unique” artists. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

That same feeling is reflected in the name of the record label they launched on Black Friday – Misspent Records, a label that will release seven-inch singles from independent artists in Memphis and the surrounding area.

Miller, born and raised in Memphis, moved back here in 2004 and has since then done stints at places like Archer Records, the Memphis Music Foundation and Shangri-La Records.

Nichols in 2002 formed the record label Esperanza Plantation in Jackson, Miss., and over the next decade released records for a wide range of acts. He’s shifted his focus to Misspent, though, and while he’ll continue developing the Esperanza catalog, he’s joining Miller in working to expose underrepresented artists in and around Memphis.

Misspent’s first label release was “Robot Love,” a single from local band James and the Ultrasounds that was celebrated with a release party at Bar DKDC. In addition to that release, the band has a full LP due out in the near future from Madjack Records.

“Both of us are from the region and grew up listening to music from this region,” Miller said. “I was with Archer (Records) and learned a lot about the independent music business there and knew I wanted to keep pursuing that. An opportunity came up at the Music Foundation in 2010, and I pursued that to work with more artists rather than just those on Archer’s label, and through that I got interested in working with more people and different people.”

Nichols and Miller started talking about working on something together like a label over the past year, after their respective years of working with artists in various settings around the music scenes in Memphis and Jackson. The idea they settled on – putting out 7-inch records from artists they felt deserved to be heard more widely – was hatched as a result of those conversations.

It was at a show at the Hi-Tone earlier this year, in fact, at which Nichols asked if Miller was game to get a singles label started.

Miller points to a plethora of recording activity happening in Memphis at the moment on labels like Shangri-La, Electraphonic and Goner. Misspent, he and Nichols hope, can complement that activity as well as elevate unique artists who might not otherwise have made it onto someone’s turntable yet.

“Chaney’s background was in kind of unearthing a lot of these acts people might not know about,” Miller said. “Mississippi is known for things like blues and gospel, and he was trying to show this other side, with country, rock and folk artists creating different, unique sounds and living in relative obscurity. He moved up to Memphis maybe early last year, and he I started hanging out and going to shows together. We started thinking about a singles label, doing vinyl as well as digital.”

Because Misspent focuses on singles, he added, it’s somewhat easier for their label to escape being pigeonholed into a specific sound.

“Really, we just want to work with people to pull something unique together,” Miller said. “We already have national distribution set up. We’ll have everything available online. With our label, we’re trying to focus hard on each artist, what they have coming up and how to maximize our efforts for them.”