I’ll confess that I’ve only been to the Cottage once. It was for the Criminal Records benefit show last November, which—and I know I’m not alone in having this thought—turned out to be one of the most memorable local events of the year. The combination recording studio and D.I.Y. venue had only been open for a few months, but already there was a palpable buzz about the place, something unique and compelling. With its old stone quarry and forty foot cliffs, the Cottage was certainly a shoe-in for the city’s most picturesque venue, but what truly really made the evening was the atmosphere generated by the show’s 300 or so attendees—relaxed, respectful, emotionally invested. In the course of a few short hours I fell in love with the place, and I would argue that it, along with the Goat Farm, are the two most magical places to catch a show in the city.
And for that we have Luciano Giarrano to thank. The 31 year-old musician and audio engineer took a big financial risk when he chose to bet everything he had on the Cottage. But so far his gamble has paid off. After a lot of hard work and considerable help from friends and family, his studio sees a steady stream of clients and the venue continues to increase its visibility and popularity. And although he has kept his day job in order to pay the bills, things have progressed well enough that he recently found the time and energy to launch a new record label, the Great Big. Tomorrow night, the next evolution of his labor of love will come to fruition when the label releases its first record—a four-song 7″ from Jeffrey Bützer and the Bicycle Eaters.
The Cottage has quickly immersed itself into the Atlanta music community; at this point it seems like it’s been there forever. What motivated you to start it and how did it all come to life for you?
It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but there’s always been a dichotomy in my personality between perfectionism and reality where I don’t want to start something unless it’s going to be exactly what I have in my mind—maybe it’s a fear of producing something I would never be truly happy with. There was a point when I came to realize that I’d never be fully happy or satisfied with anything I tried to accomplish. Once I came to terms with that, I was liberated. I embraced that idea and knowing nothing would ever be perfect anyway allowed me to reason with myself: I could start something small and build it from there. You never really know where something is going to take you, so might as well start somewhere.
Having said that, the culmination of what led up to starting the Cottage was nothing short of a perfect storm of opportunities. I had been searching for a way to get back into recording on a regular basis and found out about the Cottage being for rent from Sean Zearfoss of Small Reactions. Three of the band members continue to live in the main house and I really owe a great deal of the last year or so to their belief in and tolerance of me.
On a whim I came to check out the Cottage even though I really wasn’t able to afford it. As soon as I saw the house and the property and how beautiful it was, including the old stone quarry and it’s forty and fifty foot cliffs, I was sold and knew I was going to do whatever I had to to rent the place. So I took some contractor jobs I hadn’t pursued in a while and had some other friends chipped in to start out.
I started fixing up the place in January of 2011 and by about April I had decided to get out of my lease in the Highlands and had moved in and started recording. It’s a great setting for a studio and, in extension, shows. Small Reactions had thrown house parties over the years and it was a natural progression to throw a few house shows. They were in the garage and driveway at that point.
It wasn’t until Maria Sotnikova from WREK (who is one of the sweetest and most inspiring people I’ve ever met) asked me to put a show together last minute in July with a touring band called Dolfish that I really knew we had something special and relevant. Dolfish was amazing and the kids that came out to see the local band, Dope Magic, we’re in awe despite it not being what I thought would coincide with their taste. They were respectful and responded. No drunk obnoxiousness. No arrogance or cliqueness. Just enjoyment and support. It inspired me and after that I started pushing for more shows and word got around. I continued to record and both the studio and venue started feeding off of each other.
It started getting cold so with some help I remodeled the basement in the main house and moved the shows there beginning with the Criminal Records benefit. By the time the Criminal show happened we had a reputation and word of mouth nationally, including a spot on dodiy.org. After the show it seemed people started to realize the potential of the space and the vibe that we try to create here and they have responded in kind.
Who are some of the bands you’ve recorded at the Cottage?
Small Reactions, of course. Sam (keyboards) and Sean (drums) who both liked the way I work and my results were kind enough to push and hound my name along to some amazing bands and vouch for me—bands like XO and This Piano Plays Itself. Others projects include Order of the Owl, Spines, Charges, Lindsey Appel, my brother Nico’s band Places (damn, he’s so talented it makes me look like an ant from an aeroplane), Tim Kholer and the Big Tent Revival. There are bands like A. Grimes and Sleepy Genes that like to record their own music, so they’ll book a few days to come over and do drums with me and then they can take those files home and work on the rest on their own time. Although I think Damon Moon finished recording the Sleepy Genes record with much success.
I like all kinds of music so I don’t stick to any specific genre, plus that can get boring and you don’t learn as much when you’re just recording sparkly acoustic guitars all the time, or only crazy, fuzzed-out, tone-crunching doom metal.
What drove you to start the Great Big?
I feel when I was young there was much more of a disconnect between music I listened to and shows I saw and the possibility that I’d ever get to really be a part of that. How many hours did I spend practicing guitar in my bedroom to the Ramones dreaming not that I’d be the Ramones, but that one day I’d be in a band that would cover one of their songs onstage? At the time it seemed almost an impossibility.
I was a little spoiled being exposed to great music and artists from a young age beginning with my parents. It’s pretty cool one of my mom’s favorite records is In the Aeroplane Over the Sea or absolutely wears out every Crooked Fingers record. Or my dad, who got me into Muddy Waters and the Who and let me listen endlessly to the Queers and Dead Milkmen with little complaint.
I always hung out with the older crowd, too, so my first show wasn’t Pearl Jam (which I would have loved) or Ace of Base (one of Bützer’s favorite bands by that way. Oh, crap that’s on the dl), but it was Jawbreaker and Smoking Popes at Masquerade at 14. Going to the Point or Somber Reptile, the Echo Lounge or sneaking into the Earl to see Five Eight at 17. Getting exposed to This Year’s Model and Nina Simone was a huge turning point and I… I never thought I’d ever have a chance to play those venues, let alone be apart of putting out any sort of record or tape or longbox or especially vinyl. I think that has changed today with new media, the way we consume and share and how close the world has seemed to get, but it didn’t change for me until I was in my mid 20′s.
I started out doing documentary work and band photography, which led into album design. I love music. Playing, listening, recording, creating and supporting. I’ve been around the Atlanta scene for about a decade and starting a label was the next step in that passion.
There is music that I love, that I want to yell on the rooftops about and that opportunity arose with the current Bützer 7″. We started recording it for a toy piano label (Acidsoxx Musicks) that wanted to press and release it. That fell through and talking to Jeff one day I just blurted out: “I’ll put it out!”
One of the bands I’m in had released a 7″ a couple years ago so I had a little experience in releasing vinyl. I have also been around and been involved with releasing records, doing merch, mailers, press, etc.
But thankfully for me the girls at Pretty Ambitious wanted to help us put it out. The Bützer 7″ is a co-production with them. They have a great deal of experience to offer, so of course I said, “YES! Let’s do it together!” Those girls, Kerry Gibson and Marcela Gonzalez, are awesome!
I also have great help with everything here at the Cottage. I have some dear über intelligent friends like Amanda Bryan and Sean Zearfoss, along with my old band manager Stuart Roehm and my very patient and sacrificing girlfriend Kit Carter that I trust and consult with almost daily. They also have believed in me and contributed monetarily to upgrading the studio. Shit’s expensive and I couldn’t do it without their help and guidance and just my day job salary.
Tell me how it was working with Jeffrey Bützer.
The first project we recorded at the Cottage was actually the Jeffrey Bützer and the Bicycle Eaters 7″ that is being released this weekend… almost ten months after we started the recording. I played drums with Bütz for a couple years, and I’ve known him for a while. We met through MySpace! Where most lovers meet, especially these days.
But we’re like brothers—we get annoyed with each other, but we’re over it quick. I respect him a lot. He’s crazy prolific and one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. He has the greatest stories. Seriously Moe, hang out with him one night if you haven’t ever. You’ll wake up the next day with a sore stomach from laughing so hard and you’ll repeat his stories to everyone you know.
That EP was fun to record. Most of it was live together. The most fun was recording Kristin (Jarvis) on cello and Eric’s (Balint) full 1940′s Art Deco marimba. Plus, it’s always nice to record great musicians; makes my job much easier and makes me sound better at my job than I am.
I’ve actually lucked out and every band I’ve worked with has been great to work with and listen to, day in day out.
From what you’ve told me, you have an impressive list of upcoming releases. Tell me a little bit about the records we can look forward to from the Great Big.
We are currently booking a release for an Order of the Owl/Spirits and the Melchizedek Children 7″ split for early summer. There’s a Places/Vocabulary 7″ split after that. An XO 7″ and a few more surprises for the year, all of which are going to be more than just your average release shows.
I would really love the Great Big to release a very diverse catalog of music. I think having a diversified catalog with a label creates a bigger community—not just a genre subculture, but a real destination for music fans in general. I’ve definitely seen that in action at the Cottage.
Is there a unifying theme or particular aesthetic you’re aiming for?
There’s really only one rule I have for booking the Cottage and that is to not exclude anyone, especially those who I might have an aversion to at first. It has really widened my tastes and respect, and I’ve made a lot of great friends that I otherwise might not have. I realize my tastes aren’t going to coincide with everyone else’s at times. I remember David Mamet had a quote about never having met an audience that wasn’t collectively smarter than he was. Many times the bands I think might not be my cup of tea, really surprise me.
Exclusivity just isn’t nice. Who am I to say what’s cool? It’s not my place to be cliquey; I hope I left that in high school. I’d love to see more varied pairings for Atlanta shows, although I think we are getting tremendously better. It’s natural to want to play with your friends, but in the long run it’s not doing the Atlanta scene any favors or helping pursue longevity and creativity. Make new friends. Get out of your comfort zone. It’s good for everyone, especially you and your band.
Aesthetically it has become very affordable to put out cohesive and interesting albums. There are so many vinyl options; color, clear, etched, picture, cracked. The first thing I do when I buy a record these days is open up to see what color it is. It’s like an extra little surprise. I want to show it to my friends. It’s a piece of art.
In the fleeting digital world we live in now, I think the tactile and sensory onslaught of good design and product is that much more important, and I think it’s much more appreciated these days. Spoiler alert: the Bützer record is a very cool color. When you pull the record out of the sleeve it just makes you happy! I think it’s worth the bit of extra money.
With the rest of the releases I really hope to continue with that attitude. You’re putting so much time and money into something so why skimp at the end? Go all the way. You might look back and regret not doing it, but you’ll never regret being proud of a solid product through and through.
So is the Great Big going to be predominantly a 7″ label or are there plans to expand into other formats?
I’m sure we will be releasing other formats in the future; I definitely have plans for 12″ LPs and I’m sure we will be printing CDs and releasing music digitally. But I figured I would start out with a format that I love. It’ll help keep us motivated as I know it’s going to be tougher while we find our sea legs. Since 7″s are predominately a marketing tool and labor of love, I also thought it would be smart to start of with them to help grow our aesthetic and build our brand.
And, worst case, if things don’t pan out, maybe we can help encapsulate a time in the Atlanta scene—a turning point, I feel, towards a golden time. A supportive and symbiotic community that really leaves its mark. It’s happening now.
The Great Big will celebrate the release of its first record, Jeffrey Bützer & the Bicycle Eaters’ “Hiding Plastic Spiders” 7″, tomorrow night at the Earl. Supporting Bützer will be fellow locals Small Reactions and Christ, Lord. Doors open at 9pm. Admission is $7.