Odessa Records almost didn't last long enough to release two albums by the same band.
In May 2009, the Carrboro startup debuted with Pretzelvania, the first record from angular Carrboro trio Americans in France. Subsequent releases came quickly for Odessa, the brainchild of indie label veteran and The Kingsbury Manx keyboardist Paul Finn. He issued his own band's Ascenseur Ouvert! in 2009, as well as Ripped in No Time, the burly first outing from Impossible Arms. A cassette release followed, as did a digital EP, a seven-inch single from Spider Bags and a handful of albums from area acts.
They sold well enough to sustain the label—at least until Odessa hit a snag. For their second album, Americans in France insisted that they record and mix only with analogue equipment. The process was lengthy and expensive, but with Finn's help, the band finally shipped Crawling off to be mastered. That's what almost killed Odessa.
"That was the most time I had ever spent on mastering," explains Finn. "Combined with bills, that kicked me into serious worry. We didn't even have the money to release the LP, which was the point of doing this entirely analogue record. I thought I was going to have to call it a day."
But The Kingsbury Manx had released its previous album on Yep Roc Records, the area label owned by the same people who control Redeye Distribution—a company that essentially helps manufacture music from other record labels and get it into stores. Around the time of his worry, Finn ran into Yep Roc and Redeye co-founder Tor Hansen. They hatched a plan to work together.
"I had never approached them initially because I wanted to start out on my own," he says. "But I went to their office and met a bunch of new people, and they were excited about the label and excited about the releases. It freed me up to focus on my strengths."
Those strengths include recruiting new records. To wit, Odessa's first release after forming the partnership, Spider Bags' Shake My Head, received rave reviews nationally, even landing on multiple 2012 best-of lists.
After a year spent on the brink of closing shop, Finn—a new father who's balancing the responsibilities of both the label and his 10-month-old daughter, Audrey—confesses that he now has more records being readied for release than he ever thought he'd have again. Five years ago, he started Odessa in part to issue The Kingsbury Manx's new music. Finn assumed that his band would have to find another label for its sixth album, Bronze Age. But Odessa will release it on March 5.
"The Redeye deal allowed me to hit the restart button," Finn says. "It's been easy to get help from all directions."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Odessa's odyssey."