North Elementary
with Octopus Jones, Deep Ecology
Tir Na Nog
Thu, Aug 28, 9:30 p.m., Free

PotLuck Presents: 2nd Annual Hopscotch Rock n’ Roll Pizza Party
Thursday, September 4 at Slim’s Downtown Schooner (4:30 outside)
Le Weekend (4:00 inside)
See Gulls (3:30 outside)
The Good Graces (3:00 inside)
North Elementary (2:30 outside)
Curtains (2:00 inside)
Beauty World (1:30 outside)
Rogue Band of Youth (1:00 inside)
Horizontal Hold (12:30 outside) Sponsored by Big Boss Brewery, Lilly’s Pizza, and The Music Loft w/ FREE Lilly’s Pizza while it lasts!
Door prizes from the above, as well as CD Alley, Cirque De Vol Studios, Schoolkids, Slingshot Coffee, Seven Hot Sauce, Shakori Hills, and more TBD! Facebook event:

Reid Johnson had to learn the hard way about the value of self-promotion. In 2008, Johnson’s veteran pop-rock project, Schooner, embarked on a northbound tour with Regina Hexaphone. The trek included only a few dates, mostly in markets they’d already visited.

Still, Johnson was shocked at what he didn’t find: new fans, fresh fliers or really any evidence that someone had lent his band an advertising hand.

“We take the trip, and there were posters in no places,” Johnson remembers. “Nobody had known we were heading up there. The only press person that came out I had e-mailed personally.”

Out-of-town tours for small bands are always a gamble of finances and egos, but Schooner was on a label with a publicist, and this wasn’t their first trip. Johnson had hoped for a little backup from the people responsible for helping to sell his band’s records. That benefit of the doubt backfired.

“The only people that knew about it,” Johnson says, “were basically the people that I had directly contacted.”

Johnson took such lessons of disappointment as an inspiration, using frustration to help shape the PotLuck Foundation, a loose collective of area artists who function as a record label even if they don’t behave like one. Together, PotLuck co-founders Johnson, Maria Albani and John Harrison have built a purposefully shoestring operation that allows their friends to release records at their own pace, according to their own standards.

And it’s working: In only three years, they’ve issued 24 titles, including a half-dozen in the past few months alone. PotLuck has become one of the Triangle’s most vital currents of local music. They’ve learned that self-reliance offers some of the best label support imaginable.

“If you do it yourself,” Albani says, “you have no one else to blame.”

The PotLuck Foundation releases albums, yes, but it’s less a traditional label than an inclusive resource pool. They don’t have contracts or a hierarchy dividing the signers from the signees. Rather, the three seasoned musicians who lead PotLuck offer their help to bands they like, who in turn take it or leave it. It’s about what the bands say they need, not about what the PotLuck trio thinks they want.

“The whole word label just doesn’t feel like it even applies,” Albani says. “It doesn’t work that way.”

Albani, Harrison and Johnson each have their own main musical outlet. Albani fronts the chirpy and swerving Organos, while Johnson leads Schooner’s pop-rock charms. Harrison explores collages of pop and noise in Jphono1 and leads the long-running rock outfit North Elementary, too. They’ve also all played supporting roles in scores of other bands, offering backup and playing bass and filling in where needed. PotLuck stems from that experience, as they realized that all their bands would benefit if they could employ one another’s skill sets.

One day, Albani remembers, they reckoned they had been helping each other out for years, anyway; why not do so in a more official and efficient way. “Why wouldn’t we just continue to do this ourselves, but do it the way we want to do it on our timeline?” she says.

This year, that timeline has been hectic. PotLuck has released full-lengths from Rogue Band of Youth, North Elementary and Curtains, plus an EP by Beauty World and a 7-inch split between Wild Fur and Joshua Carpenter. The most emblematic release, though, might be Le Weekend’s EP No Object, a 7-inch record sleeve with no CD or single inside but filled with visual art and a download code for the new tunes. It was an experiment in extreme DIY.

“We said, ‘What can we do that’s interesting that quite un-sexily keeps our overhead down?’ Again, it has to still be interesting and be good,” explains Le Weekend’s Matt Kalb.

He found some 7-inch sleeves left over from an old college band, flipped them inside out and stamped them with the record title. No Object became an object. Kalb already had that release format in place before he joined forces with PotLuck, but they didn’t balk at the idea. Johnson says that such measures reflect their try-anything approach. Though they encourage bands to take unconventional routes, what the band wants supersedes such advice.

“I’ve definitely encouraged people to try to do something,” he says, but if they want to do a CD, yeah, do a CD, man.”

“If we can help, we will,” Albani echoes. “Maybe we’ll all chip in towards getting some cassettes made, or maybe John will screenprint posters. We’ll all pool our resources.”

PotLuck doesn’t sign new bands, per se. Instead, Harrison, Albani or Johnson simply ask an act if they can help. If the answer is yes, they take on each new release like a project manager. There are no official powwows to discuss who joins PotLuckthey’ve had one official meeting in their three-year historyand no label representative cuts into any prospective band profits. The bands and the label co-founders work together to ensure the record gets out and gets promoted, as best as budgets allow; to date, whatever money has been made has gone straight to the bands.

One of Johnson’s new projects is Beauty World, the duo of cellist Leah Gibson and guitarist Duncan Webster. Formerly Prypyat, the pair changed its name and released its self-titled EP in June. Webster plays bass in Hammer No More the Fingers, and Gibson played for years in Lost in the Trees. Both of these bands have been on labels, and Gibson and Webster have both gone on long tours. But Beauty World was a new sound and experience. They found comfort and confidence through the PotLuck trio’s cumulative expertise.

“[Those three] have been playing music around here and touring and putting out records for 20 years now, I bet,” Webster says. “They know what it’s like, and they know what to expect, and they know how to do it right.”

Gibson learned just how invaluable that earned wisdom could be in June when Beauty World hosted its release party at Durham art gallery The Carrack. She hustled to set up the space for the evening and burn CDs to sell. Johnson arrived unexpectedly and got to work, alleviating the stress by running errands. He set up lights and raced out for beer, arranged the merchandise table and even sat behind it for a spell. That attentiveness and intuition made the show a success, Gibson says; he just knew what needed to be done.

“We didn’t even have to think about it or ask him,” she says. “He just knows what you need and takes care of it.”

What’s more, no one involved in PotLuck has ever sold a lot of records in their other bands. In turn, they keep expectations reasonable for the artist and keep both the record-release process and the finances transparent. As Harrison puts it, “We definitely don’t promise anybody shit.”

“It’s very realistic and very together,” Webster says of Beauty World’s collaboration with PotLuck. “We know we’re not going to just give them a CD-R and let them do all the work. We work together.”

Aside from supporting friends, the most essential aspect of PotLuck might be its mood. It’s a low-key operation of necessity, as they’re more into delivery than demands or promises. Sure, they’d love for the label to make money in the future, if only to pour it back into band perks like vinyl pressings. But that can’t come at the expense of the project’s overarching mood.

“It’s chill,” Harrison says. “There can’t be bad vibes with this thing, or it’ll be over.”