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Team Love Records is Saddle Creek in the big city

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Being a displaced Nebraskan myself, I feel like I understand Team Love Records, based in New York City.  Maybe you’re a little bit more of a curiosity because you’re perceived to have grown up uninitiated, among corn, but you’re also a little bit more at home where you are now, away from home.  The label of many Omaha music darlings (past and present) and founded by the most beloved Omaha darling of them all, Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes, takes the Omaha sound—and those affiliated with it—and takes it to newer, and larger, audiences in bigger cities.

Along with his band manage, Nate Krenkel, Oberst founded the label in 2003.  Unhappy that he was not able to sign and showcase enough artists on the Omaha-based Saddle Creek Records, on which his band is signed and which his brother co-founded, Oberst created this new label in New York.  Team Love was originally distributed by Saddle Creek, but now is distributed by Alternative Distribution Alliance.  The first album produced by the record company was Tilly & the Wall’s Wild Like Children in June of 2004.

Tilly & the Wall is an example of a band that provesyou don’t have to leave Omaha to be signed to a New York label or to have a fan base out of the Midwest. Tilly & the Wall still live in Omaha—its members are yoga instructors and substitute teachers—but have a fan base all over the country; I read an article about how Tilly & the Wall’s concerts sold out in New York City.  The tap dancing, neon-wearing group makes psychedelic, fast-paced pop. Another Team Love baby is Simon Joyner, who still lives in Omaha with his wife and three kids.

It’s a comfort to see that although Oberst and other Omaha-bred artists have left the city—Oberst keeps one home in his hometown and one home in New York—Team Love lets, and perhaps encourages, its artists to live anywhere they want to live.  Still, this model of having artists all over the country is very different from old-school Saddle Creek, where it was common to have an Saddle Creek-signed artist live down the block from another Saddle Creek artist and record the back-up vocals on your newest album.

Team Love can never completely replicate Saddle Creek from the mid-‘90’s to the early 2000’s and it doesn’t try to—Saddle Creek is nowhere near defunct.  From folk to indie pop to Americana and in-between, Team Love certainly aims for a more diverse group of artists than Saddle Creek, which for a long time aimed to pick artists to build up the “Omaha sound,” a lonely sort of music with stripped-down vocals and minimal guitar that makes you think of abandoned brick buildings and pick-up trucks. Team Love has more extensive plans for distribution of its artists in more of the world.

Although they’ve grown bigger than Omaha, it’s nice to see that Team Love doesn’t forget about the hometown crowd.  Most of their artists make a stop in Omaha on their concert tours.  Even Jenny Lewis, Rilo Kiley’s mega-star who was a child actor (Troop Beverly Hills) in Los Angeles as a kid, recorded some of her Team Love album in the city.  It seems that no matter how many times an Omaha kid tries to leave (for good this time!), there’s something pulling him or her back to Nebraska, trying to build the city up, to give back to it somehow. Or maybe sometimes it's just nice to see all that flatness again, to remember--and maybe wonder a little bit--why you left.