Leo DeLuca brings the lure of Misra Records to his hometown of Dayton
By: Zach Rogers
Photo: Leo DeLuca relocated indie label Misra Records to Dayton in 2012; photo: Bill Franz
The music industry is a very different place than it was 20, 30 or 40 years ago. Numerous technological and cultural advances have made the way music is created and consumed a sort of rebellious, musical Wild West, where all the songs you could ever want are just a mouse click away. This has all had interesting effects on the music industry, and now record labels and musicians – along with retail, bookstores and innumerable facets of life – are trying to figure out how to adapt.
Enter Misra Records, an independent record label with nearly 15 years under its belt, whose recent move to Dayton is just the start of another chapter for the company. Under the direction of Leo DeLuca, a Dayton native who took over the label in 2010 and relocated it in 2012, Misra is determined to give as much back to the city as the city gave to DeLuca.
“Dayton is one of the most innovative cities of all time,” said DeLuca. “For an underdog city this size to be bursting with such creativity in both the arts and sciences is truly remarkable. It inspires me.”
In all reality, an independent record label based in a city with a booming local arts scene can do wonders for everyone involved. “I think the arts bring way more to communities than people even realize,” said DeLuca. “In addition to adding to the health, attractiveness and character of a city, they also add a lot to local economies. Look at Austin, Texas or Portland, Ore. I think it’s very important for people to support the arts, especially in their own communities, and that’s what I want to do.”
Misra Records was formed in 1999 by brothers Michael and Timothy Bracy, along with Paige Conner Totaro. With the help of friend Phil Waldorf managing, the four launched Misra’s first release, Bablicon’s In a Different City, that same year.
“Tim and Phil both went to the University of Georgia, so the label’s first releases are tied to that area and that scene in Athens, with bands like Neutral Milk Hotel, Olivia Tremor Control and Apples in Stereo,” DeLuca explained. “Neutral Milk Hotel drummer Jeremy Barnes went on to form Bablicon, and that’s how the first release came about.”
Summer Hymns is another Athens-based band that connected Misra to that scene, even with the label operating from New York City. Their album Voice Brother and Sister was Misra’s second release in 2000, and rave reviews from popular blog sites like Pitchfork brought the band and the label some attention. Misra went on to release seminal albums from bands like Destroyer, Phosphorescent, Shearwater, Centro-matic, Great Lake Swimmers and more. With the investment of the founders and the management of Waldorf, the label grew and evolved, making a solid name for itself and eventually moving operations from New York City to Austin, Texas. The atmosphere was rich and intoxicating.
In those early years, distribution was handled by SC Distribution, which also owned the labels Secretly Canadian and Jagjaguwar. When they wanted to start up a third label, Dead Oceans, Waldorf became the new label’s manager in 2007 and left his position at Misra. Cory Brown, owner of Absolutely Kosher Records, took over and moved Misra out West, running the two labels from a Bay Area office in Emeryville, Calif. It was under Brown that another band, Southeast Engine, was signed to the label and whose drummer, Leo DeLuca, would eventually take over after Brown’s departure in 2010. After two years of operating Misra in Durham, N.C., DeLuca and the label finally arrived in Dayton, a place where strange vibrations still lingered in the air.
Raised in Dayton, DeLuca witnessed the city’s underground golden age of the ’90s firsthand, where bands like The Breeders, Guided by Voices, Brainiac and Swearing at Motorists became instant heroes for the young musician.
“Music has always been a curative component of my life, and I’ve had a deep love for it for as long as I can remember,” DeLuca explained. “Grandma DeLuca played the saxophone, my brother John is a fantastic guitarist and my cousin Douglas DeLuca is one of the most intriguing composers I know. I play the drum kit. I guess it’s in the blood. Additionally, my Uncle Joey DeLuca was a scout for the Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians. He scouted Manny Ramirez and was with the Orioles when they won the ’83 World Series. These days, I’m working on tapping into the family’s talent-seeking genes as well. Ha!”
During its underground heyday, Dayton was the epitome of a young scene buzzing with a slew of promising new bands, many of whom actually started to gain a little bit of exposure outside of their Midwestern bubble. But it wasn’t just the bands that made Dayton feel special; at the time, there seemed to be a lot of places in the city that felt more like safe havens, places that were a lot more open to letting these odd sounds through their doors.
“One could head to Canal Street, The Sub Gallery, The Lithuanian Club, Trader Vic’s, The Chameleon Club, Gem City Records, Network, etc. and feel the excitement everywhere,” said DeLuca. “All-ages shows were frequent, and the whole community was involved. Seeing Brainiac play at the Lithuanian Club at age 14 proved to be a monumental experience for me. It gave me the fever for independent music.”
That fever translated into the work of Southeast Engine, who released several albums through Misra. It was being signed to the label that gave DeLuca the interest in running a label of his own one day. “It had always been a dream of mine to run a label,” DeLuca said, “so I started up a cottage label called Moon Jaw Records in 2010 that was distributed by Misra. Soon after, I ended up taking over as Misra’s manager.”
The takeover has already proven successful, with a handful of Misra artists making headlines via the likes of “The David Letterman Show,” SPIN, Pitchfork, NPR and MTV Hive, just to name a few. DeLuca himself was even featured in Billboard, which highlighted all the work he’s put in with the label. With his band Southeast Engine on an indefinite hold at the moment, the majority of DeLuca’s time and energy is being funneled into Misra, which was certainly needed for the move.
“Southeast Engine is taking it easy right now,” DeLuca said. “Our bassist Jesse Remnant moved to Vermont last year, our vocalist and guitarist Adam Remnant became a father in 2011 and I’m in a long-distance relationship with a wonderful woman named Mary Fecteau who calls Cleveland home. As a result, it just became too hard to manage logistics at this time. We’ll see what the future holds, though.”
For Misra Records, the future is bright. But why Dayton? For DeLuca, the answer is simple: It’s the city’s creative backdrop and lasting legacy in the modern world that he finds so appealing. “I walk around Dayton and think about how this is the same setting from which Paul Laurence Dunbar, the Wright Brothers, Charles Kettering, the Deal sisters and Zapp & Roger all drew inspiration,” admitted DeLuca. “These people experienced the same weather patterns, many of the same structures and the same geography that’s around us today. This was the backdrop that gave rise to such extraordinary creations. I love Dayton’s story, and I wanted to be back here.”
With the move now well-established, DeLuca and Misra have several Dayton-related releases lined up. First was R. Ring, the new project from The Breeders’ iconic Kelley Deal and Ampline’s Mike Montgomery. The duo released their debut 7” “Fallout & Fire” b/w “SEE” on Misra back in October 2012, and the two tracks are bare and minimal, highlighted by Deal’s signature voice and Montgomery’s sparse guitar. The release gained a wealth of feedback from places like SPIN, Stereogum and Consequence of Sound, and showcased the band’s ability to do so much with so little.
Next is the full-length debut album from Crooks on Tape, an eclectic trio comprised of John Schmersal, Rick Lee and Joey Galvan. Again, the Dayton roots are evident, with Schmersal having played guitar for Dayton legends Brainiac back in the ’90s. After their tragic end in 1997 due to the sudden death of singer Tim Taylor, Schmersal went on to form the band Enon with Lee and Steve Calhoon. Now, Schmersal and Lee have joined forces once again, and the release is important for both the label and the city.
“It’s John’s first record since 2007, so it’s pretty exciting,” said DeLuca. “Due to Brainiac’s influence on me as a boy, this one’s very special to me.”
The album, Fingerprint, is out now and it’s a wild assortment of improvised wonder. The tracks are pulled from hundreds of hours of recorded material, from sessions that date anywhere from winter 2010 to spring 2012. The band went in with the mindset of recording everything, and it’s from these impulsive jams that actual songs came to life. The album is already generating noise from websites like PopMatters and Tiny Mix Tapes, and it marks only the beginning of what the band has to offer.
At the same time that Crooks on Tape are making headlines with their debut, Misra also recently signed Dayton veterans Motel Beds. First up from them is a split 7” with labelmates R. Ring, which is currently in the works. After that, Misra plans on releasing the album These Are the Days Gone By, a collection of Beds favorites and never-before-heard tracks from their prolific career on the local music circuit. All tracks will be remastered by Carl Saff – who lent his hand in mastering albums by Guided by Voices, Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, Silver Jews and more – with a release date set for January 2014.
In addition to releasing Dayton-related material, Misra also has its eye on the world at large. The label plans on working with an act from London soon, as well as bands from all over the globe. “Misra will also be releasing the next album by Shaquille O’Neal,” said DeLuca jokingly. “It’s the long-awaited follow-up to his hit single ‘(I Know I Got) Skillz.’”
While this is obviously not true, it doesn’t look like anything is going to stop Misra from giving back to the city it now calls home.
“Dayton has given me a great deal,” said DeLuca, “and now I just want to try and give back to my hometown in some way.”
To find out more about Misra Records, including release dates, artist information, news, tour dates and purchasing options, visit misrarecords.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Zach Rogers at ZachRogers@DaytonCityPaper.com.