When creators you admire express admiration for one another, their creations glow even brighter. That’s been the story of American Paradox Records, a label that’s strung together an inspiring early discography, with releases from Richmond standouts Kenneka Cook, Sid Kingsley and Marcus Tenney that scan as fresh, clear-eyed creative statements. Yet the sense of connectedness at American Paradox — the degree of collaboration, the support shown among artists — has magnified each individual, and the individual at the center of it all is label founder and in-house producer Scott Lane.
A Richmond native, Lane spent his college years at Randolph-Macon College before returning to his hometown for a short but formative time in which he helped to start a popular open mic series at Emilio’s. “It became [a] driver for me to understand community in music. We would have like 100 people out some Mondays. It was really insane.” He soon moved to Colorado, where he began his journey as a producer, took a music business class at the University of Colorado Denver and formed the band The Congress, which eventually relocated to join an ascendant Richmond music scene. While you can still catch him playing guitar in The Congress from time to time, American Paradox has provided an avenue for meeting the goals he set in response to a pivotal CU Denver assignment:
“We had to write a paper about what you want to be in the music business,” he recalled in our recent conversation. “I [said] ‘I want to be a producer, but I also want to help the community in some way or another.’ So I wrote this paper, and I came back here, and I decided I was going to do what I said.”
When did the idea to start a label germinate? Is it something you’ve always thought about?
It is something that I’ve wanted to do for a while. In college, I didn’t take music very seriously… It was really when I graduated from college and a bunch of people who were at VCU at the time — people like Marcus Tenney, Reggie Chapman, Jason Arce — started having me sit in, and I started seeing a little more of people releasing records. So when I was 22 years old, the aspect of community here really touched me… I was [suddenly] in the midst of these folks who I thought were otherworldly good. A lot of them I work with today still.
What kind of atmosphere do you aim to create when recording?
I really think it comes down to “Do we gel in a personal way?” I think that’s such an important thing… “Is this a good fit for the two of us to work together? Are we going to get along?” And part of that is “Do you already believe in what I do?” Obviously, in the beginning of your career, someone has to take a stab on you, because you don’t have anything under your belt. Sid [Kingsley] was like that. The only thing in my discography was the Congress records. And that’s cool, but it stacks on itself. People can hear then what I did with Sid’s, and hear what I did on Kenneka [Cook]’s record, and it gives people a fuller picture. I think that it is part of the job to provide this sort of positive environment for people, but I also think that environment is naturally provided by the excitement of working together. That’s just absolutely a requirement for me to be the producer on a record, I think.
When did it feel like American Paradox was gaining momentum?
You can’t have community with one person. On Kenneka’s record, I was thinking “Who’s interested in this? Who wants to see Kenneka Cook succeed?” I do. I want to help in whatever way I can to make her able to have a career in music, because she’s so talented and has such a lyrical and physical voice that everybody connects with, and such a good heart. Honestly, I think that she’s such a good person that the more good people started being involved with it, the more other good people wanted to help good people. Also, those people happen to be insanely talented, and have their own voices, and have a lot to contribute. And it has continued with Landon’s record, which has some of the same familiar faces on it, but also happily a lot of new faces.
What are you hoping to do at American Paradox that you haven’t done yet?
I haven’t taken on a record I didn’t make, and I haven’t taken on a record that’s from outside Richmond. Those are both things that I eventually will do. Working up to that takes years and time and building trust and all sorts of things. It’s going to take time. Each record I’m just trying to learn from every experience and be able to implement those lessons with the next one. And I think that’s happening.
Will you be releasing any of your own music?
I had a couple of close friends of mine die in succession within a couple years of each other… I think I was making four records at the same time, and in February of this year, my brain was exploding. I didn’t have any time for myself. I would come home, and as an outlet, I would write just a song quickly. My partner said “Why don’t you go record that? Why don’t you go ahead and do that?”
So in February, I flew out to Denver with a few days notice, and I called my friend Carl Sorensen, who’s the drummer on the record, and [asked] “Hey are you free on Valentine’s Day?” He [said] “Yeah,” and I [said] “Cool, I’m booking two days.” I called my friend John Macy, [who] mentored me as an engineer, and he [said] “Come take over my studio…” I brought the drum tracks back to Richmond and threw as much against the wall as I could, playing almost everything else on the record myself. There are a couple of other people here and there. Kenneka sings all the background vocals. There’s also one track where everybody from the AP community is on the track singing this big crowd vocal thing.
I took a break from the record April through August, and now I’m back on it. I’ve deleted like half of what I recorded, and now I’m really putting the effort in to make sure everything’s right.
For more information on American Paradox Records, visit americanparadoxrecords.com. To catch the next Congress performance, visit thecongressmusic.org. And keep an eye out for new music from Lane under the name “Lefthnd”.