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A grassroots movement
By the fireplace on a laid-back Saturday afternoon, Dillan Witherow and Abby Mae Latson preview two new songs for a group of friends in a rustic home off Silberhorn Road called River House. Their songs “Confounded” and “From This Valley” accompany the crackling of the fire with acoustic guitar, foot-tapping and harmonies in a sound that Witherow said is reminiscent of the soundtrack from the film “Once.”
Sitting in to listen are singer/songwriter Noelle Johnson; Hayden Pomeroy, bassist for the Abby Mae & the Homeschool Boys; and Braden Torras and Soren Olsen, the co-founders of Dungeness Records.
The label started 18 months ago with an early emphasis on folk, bluegrass and pop 20-something peninsula and Seattle musicians.
Olsen said so far everything has been great with the resources around them such as partnering with local producer Jeremy Cays on all of their releases.
Dungeness Records takes a much different approach from those taken by large record labels looking to stay alive, said Torras.
“If music is to survive, it needs to be organic and family based,” he said. “If you are part of Dungeness Records, you are part of the family.”
One philosophy they’ve taken on early is that their musicians play on each other’s songs.
“It’s using everything at your hands,” Torras said.
The label owners see themselves staying local with their artists while signing a lot of different styles.
“A big part of our identity comes from fiddles, mandolins and acoustic guitars,” Olsen said of the label.
Witherow and Latson recently formed Standing on Shoulders in the wake of their other bands — Witherow & Gibson and Abby Mae & the Homeschool Boys — going on hiatus. Latson’s Abby Mae & the Homeschool Boys is a Dungeness Record group preparing to record together one last time.
Johnson connected with Torras, and later with Dungeness Records, after they competed against each other in the Pass the Mic singing competition at King’s Way Foursquare Church.
She hasn’t toured or performed live yet with her new music, but Torras said in the next six months to a year they plan to do so. He hopes to incorporate more digital sounds into their music, too, such as with label artist Mary Lambert, a Seattle poet and singer/songwriter who utilizes a vocal harmonizer on her upcoming album “Petal,” released this May.
One of Torras’ goals is for Dungeness Records’ artists to tour together.
Dungeness Records is taking both amateur and professional routes with its music videos.
Torras and Olsen created a simple point-and-shoot video of artist Elijah Sussman’s “Boy on a Bus,” created a raw “Fireside Session” video of Latson and worked with a videographer for Johnson’s single, “Autumn Song.”
The latter is available online for purchase at multiple music sites such as Bandcamp and iTunes, and for listening on YouTube. Torras said they are planning to shoot another video in November.
Working a vision
Dungeness Records’ artists are nighttime musicians who work a variety of jobs as janitors, bookstore clerks, photographers, construction workers and tutors.
They help finance their musical dreams through the popular site Kickstarter, where artists fund their projects through pledges for items such as music downloads, autographs, CDs and more.
Abby Mae & the Homeschool Boys are days away from accomplishing a $3,000 goal to produce one final album. They started recording last week. With funding secured, Latson and company can spend more time perfecting the songs and not rushing through recording.
Pomeroy said they encountered some stress on their last album, “Wade in the Water,” but “it turned out great.”
“If we meet our goal, we won’t be able to make the CD longer due to the amount of time we have, but we would get better packaging if we go beyond it,” Pomeroy said.
Lambert successfully financed an EP album through the site and Torras and Olsen are eyeing a Kickstarter campaign for Johnson that just started April 23. Johnson plans to base her first album on the song “Beautiful Soul.”
“I dreamed about it but never thought I would record music,” Johnson said.
Going out fiddling
The Dungeness Records family changes like any other. Abby Mae & the Homeschool Boys has grown a lot, Latson said, since the band was first called Jammin’ Salmon and featured two fiddles and a guitar.
“Our sound is a lot tighter than it was three years ago,” she said.
They’ve released two albums and toured the Northwest, notably playing Wintergrass in February, all the while becoming a popular draw for local events and venues.
Pomeroy said when he joined he wasn’t into bluegrass music at first. “But it’s what I do now,” he said.
Latson said people in Sequim have been very receptive to their music especially when they put in older gospel songs in their sets.
The band has no plans to continue since members Joey Gish and Pomeroy are starting college, while David Rivers is moving into the building trades and potentially becoming Standing on Shoulders’ booking agent.
“We were able to come together and really touch people,” Latson said. “I felt like I was getting out a good message that was important to me.”
“We lived the dream for a while,” she said.
Olsen said they are continuing to work with band members in different projects, like Standing on Shoulders.
“The stuff she and Dillan are putting together is meaningful,” he said.
For more on Dungeness Records, visit www.dungenessrecords.com.
Reach Matthew Nash at firstname.lastname@example.org.