When he was putting together the latest compilation CD for his label CorpoRAT Records, Kris Martin had intended to hand out promotional discs at Boise's Treefort Music Festival, where several artists from the Spokane label were scheduled to perform, and then officially release the album in April for Record Store Day.
But plans change, and both events have been postponed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Martin decided to put out the compilation anyway, because why not? Titled Stop Making Cents, the record is essentially a sampler platter of the talent that is currently releasing music under the CorpoRAT umbrella, and it should, Martin says, whet the appetites of music fans who haven't had any live shows to go to.
"This gives people something to look forward to. This gives people something to support," Martin tells the Inlander. "It's new music, but people can do it on their own. It's the perfect social distancing thing."
In only a couple years, CorpoRAT has amassed a roster of six local acts: the psych-rock duo Indian Goat, punk quartet Itchy Kitty, surf-rock trio Bad Motivator, grindcore band thrpii (pronounced "therapy"), blues rocker Vanna Oh! and the hip-hop fusion collective Kung Fu Vinyl. They're all represented on Cents, a 17-track collection that Martin says was inspired by similar compilations from indie-rock and punk labels — San Francisco's Fat Wreck Chords, for instance, or the Los Angeles-based Epitaph Records — that he loved as a teenager.
Of course, Spokane doesn't have the same clout as those cultural hubs, and Martin acknowledges that: "A lot of national touring bands skip us over. We're the day off between Seattle and Boise." But having a convenient sampling of Spokane's scene in the form of a label compilation could, if it falls into the right hands, change all that.
"You don't even need to be from Spokane to get what's going on," he says.
Martin, 38, did grow up here, graduating from University High School and getting a track scholarship that took him to the University of Oregon. His running career ended after he broke his hip, which also led to an opioid addiction, and after moving to California for treatment, he ended up staying there and working for the long-running label Vanguard Records.
He moved back to Spokane with his wife about five years ago, and it was while he was working as a screen printer that he established the CorpoRAT brand, starting it on the side in a 1,000-square-foot garage. CorpoRAT became a label itself in early 2018 after Martin signed his former co-worker Garrett Zanol's band Indian Goat, and he turned it into a full-time job shortly thereafter.
Martin runs CorpoRAT as a one-man act, and he helps the label's artists put together their packaging and artwork, produce and design T-shirts and other promotional items, and get them on bigger and bigger stages. It's all about quality and consistency, he says: Let the public know your label puts out a good product, and they'll keep coming back.
"That takes time, and it takes a little bit of faith in knowing that a band's gonna be around in three years," he says. "You've got to build an audience up who's gonna buy those things."
As for what he looks for in signing artists to the label, Martin says he doesn't have a master list of conditions or qualities. But he does say that each of the artists under the CorpoRAT umbrella has an undeniable presence on stage, and that he's drawn to that kind of electricity.
"All their music is killer, but I think they really shine when people get out there to a show and see them in person," Martin says.
In the meantime, fans will have to settle for this new compilation, and Martin thinks of Stop Making Cents as a "statement piece" about the CorpoRAT label itself: It radiates the underdog spirit that has driven so many other similar independent labels.
It's also "a love letter to the community," he says. The CD package itself is a testament to that, with a cover image of the downtown skyline and shoutouts to some local businesses — including 4,000 Holes record shop and fashion label the Great PNW — on the back. When you peel back the shrink wrap and open it up, stickers and business cards for Spokane artists fall out.
And considering the CD's title is a play on a famous Talking Heads concert film, it's fitting that the inside sleeve features a mission statement-like quote from David Byrne: "You create a community with music," it reads, "not just at concerts but by talking about it with your friends."
"The people I work with, the bands I work with, the people I get to hug every time they come buy a shirt or just show up at a show and say 'hi' — that just sums it all up," Martin says. ♦
The CorpoRAT Records compilation Stop Making Cents drops Fri, May 1. Pre-orders are now being accepted at corporatrecords.com.