Record label is out to help Merced artists

Nyx Records hoping to build on budding downtown music scene

tmiller@mercedsunstar.comJuly 27, 2013 

There's a line from the 1962 film "Lawrence of Arabia" that goes like this: "Big things have small beginnings."

Case in point, three locals are hoping to build Merced's budding music scene into an entertainment hub recognized throughout the Central Valley and beyond.

"What we're trying to do is create a scene here," Dan Hong, 51, said, "so that we can attract more like-minded people, possibly people that don't live here."

Lifelong Mercedian Hong and two East Coast transplants, Alison Rush and Jordan Cowman, started Nyx Records in January. They have produced two albums, with two more on the way.

Hong, who once played in a Merced punk band called Speedbumps, called Nyx a "record label with a cafeteria plan."

The three share the work at Nyx, which stretches beyond the studio. They help artists with news releases, building websites and designing album covers, among other services.

"We're kind of a one-stop-shop to do a lot of stuff," Hong, a 1980 Merced High graduate, said.

Nyx's first album was Rush's first album, "Rarest Bird," which she recorded this year. Rush's music heavily features the ukulele and emphasizes her lyrics.

Rush, who moved to Merced from Washington, D.C., a year ago, said she was like many artists who have a long list of songs but no album.

Getting in the studio gave her that album, something she hopes other artists will be able to achieve. "We really wanted to allow other people to do that," the 25-year-old said.

Promoters typically want to hear the music, and often see an artist on video (another serv-ice Nyx can provide), before booking the performer.

The second album, "Coffee Bandits Presents: The Local Grind," produced by Nyx Records, was recorded live June 8 during a night of performances at Main Street's Coffee Bandits.

The more than a dozen performers on the 20-track album stick to acoustic instruments.

Baltimore native Cowman, 24, has his fingers in Merced's musical pie. He's organized a number of Coffee Bandit shows.

It's that connection to artists that makes Cowman confident the label could work. "There's talent here; Dan's got the setup and we know the people who would be interested," Cowman said.

The team plans to record another live album at Coffee Bandits in September.

The partners agree that they're not out to be one of those huge record labels that collects a large percentage of the money made by artists. They just want to give local talent an outlet.

"Ideally, I'd like to help the group that becomes the next big thing," Cowman said. "The thing that would put the biggest smile on my face is hearing that someone drove from San Francisco to hear a band in Merced."

Hong said Merced has the potential to develop a music scene, just as Seattle did with grunge music in the 1990s or like Austin, currently a live music mecca. "We talk about this a lot, how a scene starts," he said, also pointing to Minneapolis and Athens, Ga. "It really doesn't take that much to turn that tide," he said.

Nyx Records' next album comes by way of Merced-based Bus Stop Boxer, an acoustically driven rock band. An album release party is set for Aug. 31. at The Partisan, 432 W. Main St.

Nyx's first two albums are available at Main Street's Coffee Bandits and J&R Tacos, or at www.nyxrecords.com.

Reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 tmiller@mercedsunstar.com.

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