CK: What is the staff at Third Man is like? Who’s there and what do you do?
BB: We’ve got a staff of approximately 10 at this point. We’ve got people who do the website, people who do design, people who handle our merchandising, our Vault subscription series, promotions and radio, a couple of people who run our physical store and mail order as well. It’s an expanding business. When we started out it was two people here.
CK: How involved is Jack White in the daily activity and decision making at Third Man?
BB: Extremely hands on. If he’s not in the studio or on tour then he’s here almost everyday. Everything from listening to test pressings with me or going over the fine points of the visual design and the website. All of this is basically fueled by his creative push. His desire to create records and to produce records is what keeps us going. I love it. His work ethic is great and keeps me on my toes and keeps me working hard as well.
CK: When you have groups come in to record at Third Man, what kind of things do you do with them around Nashville?
BB: Well the recording sessions usually start out with a celebratory jump off the Shelby Avenue bridge into the river just to make sure that they’re serious. [laughs] No, usually it’s pretty quick. It’s probably a day in the studio knocking out two songs — the mixing is usually finished after the artist has left. On day one or two, the cover photos are taken here in our offices — where we have our blue wall. Usually not much more than that. We show them around Third Man and maybe give them a tour of the city, but we try to keep it pretty quick and focus on the task at hand. We don’t get bogged down doing touristy stuff with the artists, we just want to make great records.
BB: There’s no hard and fast way. I get a phone call at least about once a week from someone asking, “How do I get signed to Third Man Records?” There’s no answer to it. Between all the employees here, we’re seeing shows probably every day of the week. That’s kind of a system. We’ve got friends all over the country — all over the world really — who are all pretty well embedded in local scenes, touring, etc. It takes two seconds to find someone on YouTube or Facebook, so we can find out about things pretty quickly and we’re fairly proactive in regards to working on putting out their records.
BB: Carl Sagan was easy. Jack saw the YouTube video for “A Glorious Dawn” and said, “I love this. We need to put it out.” He charged me and my co-workers with figuring that out. My coworker Ben Swank did a great job of tracking down Carl Sagan’s estate and the original producer behind the actual track, a man by the name of John Boswell. We just did that and worked really, really quick to get it out. It’s been a great seller for us. Jack and Elvira kind of became friends after meeting at some point — so when it came up that she had a new show coming, Jack just casually said, “Oh you should check out this band [the Black Belles] — you might like them. The songs might be up your alley.” She said, ‘That’s it! I want to use that as my theme song!” She used it, and we put out a picture disc with some really cool artwork and packaging. Things like that all come up similarly organically.
CK: With things like the glow in the dark, the “triple decker” record, the rose petal Karen Elson record, you guys are obviously known for your inventive packaging. Who comes up with some of those designs?
BB: It’s kind of just a collaborative effort between the folks here at Third Man and the people at the pressing plant we use, United Record Pressing. They’ve been really great, working with us on almost all the records we’ve done. The rose petal record was done with Erika Records in California, but the triple decker record, the glow-in-the-dark, the scented vinyl, the grooves underneath the center label, that was all stuff that we figured out with United. Sometimes we’ll just shoot around ideas here and a lot of times we’ve got an idea but we don’t have the record to pair it with. There are a couple of ideas that we’ve got on hold just waiting for a record on which it makes sense to utilize them. There’s definitely more innovation on the way.
CK: Have there ever been any artists that Third Man has wanted to record or any albums that you’ve wanted to reissue that haven’t been able to happen for whatever reason?
BB: To be vague, yes there have. To be optimistic, we’re not giving up just yet. We’re in this for the long haul so there might be some reissues that we’re working on that might not happen for another year or two — but we’re going to keep working on it until we get something together.
CK: Any big future plans for Third Man? New releases?
BB: We’ve got so many exciting releases that I can’t tell you about! It’s awesome — I’m just gonna say that January is gonna be really, really fun.