Add Event My Events Log In

Upcoming Events

    We see you appreciate a good vintage. But there comes a time to try something new. Click here to head over to the redesigned It's where you'll find all of our latest work. And plenty of the good ol' stuff, too, looking better than ever.


    Print this page

    Before Facebook or SoundCloud or Bandcamp, the only way to release music was through a record label, local impresario John King says. “Which was impossible. All these local bands would show up for a year and disappear and never release a song.” A lot of the 7-inch label compilations King would get when he was in high school had a theme — Christmas or Halloween, for example — so he decided in 2001 to compile local love songs and release the album Louisville Is for Lovers on Valentine’s Day to get Louisville bands some exposure.


    When I meet the 38-year-old on a Friday afternoon in his Old Louisville apartment, he’s in the middle of what he calls his morning routine: coffee, cigarettes and, on this day in January, listening to folk singer Odetta croon on the record player. “I’m not even sure why I thought I could do the album because back then it wasn’t like it is now where you could just get online and order stuff,” he says. One day at a record store, King ran into a high school friend named Jeremy DeVine, who had started a record label in Baltimore. (DeVine’s Temporary Residence label is now in Brooklyn and represents Louisville’s Rachel Grimes and Young Widows, to name two.) DeVine flipped over the receipt from the record he had just bought and jotted down instructions for producing CDs. “He was like, ‘Call this girl named Mary in Bloomington. She can broker CD production out of Canada for cheap, and there’s a guy on Hurstbourne Lane, he can get you this.’ For the first eight years, I followed that receipt to the letter pretty much,” King says.


    King asked friends and acquaintances who were in bands if they wanted to submit an unreleased love song for the first album. Then he had 500 CDs made. “I didn’t think Louisville Is for Lovers would be a record label. I really thought I’d put out this compilation and other labels would hear it and be interested and pick bands and send them off into the great rock ’n’ roll stratosphere, which didn’t happen,” he says. “Well, it had nothing to do with me, but shortly after that My Morning Jacket got really big.” People did start asking when the next one was coming out. King told them Valentine’s Day.


    Within the first couple years, King started getting 50 to 100 submissions for the album, which at the time was limited to the length of a CD or 40-minute vinyl record. “You have to curate,” King says. “I try to make sure that there’s brand-new bands that no one’s ever heard of and also anchor bands that people love.” Over the years, Louisville favorites such as My Morning Jacket, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, the Deloreans, Joe Manning and Cheyenne Mize have appeared on the albums in various band combinations. Musician Billy Petot says that in 2009 when he submitted a song he and a buddy had been recording, King asked him to be on the compilation, so Petot put an electronic/acoustic band together called Whistle Peak. They played in the WFPK studio to promote the label. “That was the first time we played as a band — because of John,” Petot says. By the third year, King was ordering 1,000 CDs for the compilation. In the past 15 years, the Louisville Is for Lovers label has had 30 releases in the form of CDs, LPs and cassette tapes. King estimates that close to 1,000 bands have been featured on the albums. In 2010, King organized a 10-year anniversary show in the Seelbach’s basement Rathskeller.


    This month King releases a new Valentine’s Day compilation, which he hasn’t done since 2010, when he left for Berea College in central Kentucky to get a degree in popular culture. Haymarket Whiskey Bar is hosting an album preview listening party on Feb. 2, followed by the album release on Feb. 5 (available through the label’s website; 300 LPs will be for sale at local record stores) and an album release show at Zanzabar on Feb. 12 with Quiet Hollers, the Gallery Singers, Hot Wires and the Winger Brothers. Out of the 40 bands that submitted for this year’s album, titled LIFE, King accepted 31, including White Reaper, the Gallery Singers, Jaye Jayle and Quiet Hollers. A Twin Limb track was recorded while two of its members, Maryliz Bender and Lacey Guthrie, were in their tour van. Third member Kevin Ratterman sent them music and the women recorded their parts as the van drove from one place to another. When the music drops you can hear the sound of their ride.


    In his apartment, King turns off the record to play some songs from the new album on his laptop, and his roommate/band mate Logan Nicholas comes back from the store with a pack of Winstons. King lights another. “Love can be anything,” he says. “It can even be hate sometimes, or jealousy. We’ve released songs about people writing about their dog. This song by Hot Wires is pretty straight-up love. I think it’s about a girl who’s driving him wild — in a good way. There’s something about not feeling alone in your emotional states, and love songs can definitely help you through a lot of those roller coasters.”


    “Also, John’s a big fuckin’ sap,” Nicholas says from across the room.

    “I don’t know why you’re not going into your room,” King says to him.

    “He puts off this tough-guy vibe, but really, on the inside, he just wants a big hug,” Nicholas says.


    Each month for the rest of the year, King plans to reissue each of the previous records, though he only reached 15 percent of his $12,000 fundraising goal that ended in December and doesn’t plan to do any more crowdfunding. Making the 300 LPs alone costs $4,000. In the past, he’d save up all year for releases and asked friends to help out if he needed more funds. He sometimes will have a sponsor, like Zanzabar this year, but he’s not sure if he can get the money to do more costly and time-consuming albums in the future. Plus, since he graduated last May, he says he wants to try to do something with his degree and not just scrape by. “Archiving culture. That’s the ultimate goal,” King says. “That’s what Louisville Is for Lovers is — it takes the fingerprint of what is happening musically at a specific place at a specific moment.”


    Image: Mickie Winters. A group of Louisville Is for Lovers musicians gather for a 15-year reunion photo. Founder John King estimates that thousands of people appear on the label's albums. Back row, left to right: Alexander Smith, Jeremy Irvin, Daphne Luster, Mark Kramer (hand on chin), Jeff Shelton, Chris Hawpe. Middle row: Joe Manning, Suki Anderson, Billy Petot, Regan Layman, Carrie Neumayer, Natalie Felker, Andrew Sellers, Conner Bell, Parry Thomas, Scott Carney, Tory Fisher. Front row: Nick Layman, John King, Cheyenne Mize.

    This article first appeared in the February issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, click here. 

    Mary Chellis Nelson's picture

    About Mary Chellis Nelson

    Mary Chellis Nelson is the managing editor of Louisville Magazine.

    More from author:

    Share On:

    Most Read Stories