There's a new record label in town: New American Folk Hero. Yet the label's already released over a dozen CDs in only two years, with a post-rock aesthetic similar to indie imprints Table of the Elements, Constellation, Revenant and Jim O'Rourke's Moikai.
Heading up Folk Hero is New Kensington-based Mike Tamburo, already known in Pittsburgh for his solo guitar drones and previous post-rock bands Meisha and Arco Flute Foundation. "Most of my music is about how strings can be manipulated," Tamburo explains, "and that's a theme of my label as well." A recent mini-CD features him playing the Boyinger, a 24-foot-long mandolin that took up much of an art gallery in Edinboro.
The label began in 2005 when Meisha recordings, Tamburo's budding solo work, and the Nüx project by Arco pal Matt McDowell began piling up with no one to release them. Tamburo was also talking to Louisville, Ky. avant-guitarist Keenan Lawler, who didn't have any bites either. Toss in a CD by Ken Camden of Meisha, and the label was born.
Since then, musicians have signed on from across the globe. Dave Krejcki from Minneapolis debuts a contraption called the Cleophone (the innards of a piano and a Rhodes electric, played with hammers, bows, ball bearings and brushes), while San Francisco's Robert Horton has created his own disorienting, ramshackle language from Just Intonation influences and self-built instruments. Talented Detroit fingerpicker Nick Schillace joined after touring with Tamburo, and there's Hong Kong's Fathmount (a.k.a. Wilson Lee), who creates spacious, Keith Rowe-ish guitar noise and has remixed some of Tamburo's Boyinger tapes.
Tamburo roped in the locals, too: young folk-droner Tusk Lord (a.k.a. Mike Kasunic) and Bradam Streiple (Adam Strohm and Brad Streiple's noise duo). The latest release, Ghosts of Marumbey, produced with friends in six cities under the umbrella moniker Mike Tamburo Orchestra, also sports Tamburo's unique paintings (he's also a visual artist). It's possibly Folk Hero's finest release yet, sure to interest those into Do Make Say Think or Godspeed You Black Emperor.
Yet with all this activity, Tamburo still doesn't have serious distribution. Instead, he sells CDs online, and to the audiences who have seen him play well over 200 shows across the U.S. in the past two years. He unloads just enough to press the next batch, while giving the label's artists complete artistic freedom.
"I back anyone's vision once they're in a circle of trust," he explains. "I try to help them discover something about themselves through making music and putting out records." For more info, visit www.newamericanfolkhero.com.