Sheer Ambition

With SeeThru Broadcasting, Dave Sardy and Kevin Wortis envision a new kind of indie label: one that's passionate about music and well-financed

I'm trying to start the label that I wish I could have signed to," explains Dave Sardy, on the phone from his Hollywood home. He's taking a break from producing the new Marilyn Manson record in an abandoned mansion somewhere in L.A. It's going well, he says, claiming that behind the sinister exterior, his current client is, in fact, "funny as shit."

When Sardy talks about his new record label, SeeThru Broadcasting, he's unable to resist doing a little major label bashing, and he speaks from personal experience: His own band, Barkmarket, was recently released by American Records. But Sardy has been exasperated with indie labels as much as with majors, if not more so. "I've never had as much disrespect shown to me at a major as I did on an indie," he says, noting that Barkmarket has been on "every label on the planet at one point or other," including San Francisco's Man's Ruin. "With a lot of indies there's so many decisions based on a frantic need to get things done, at a cost that often gets the artist screwed. It's really hard because you're operating on a shoestring, whereas at a major they have all the money in the world."

Yet even at the majors only a few bands get access to the mountains of cash, which can grow very small very quickly. And Sardy would know: He spends a lot of time dealing with major labels. In fact, while he'd be loath to admit it, at 32 he may only be a few years away from being one of the top producers in the world.

Kevin Wortis, holding a Dave Sardy-emblazoned spray can.
Akim Aginsky
Kevin Wortis, holding a Dave Sardy-emblazoned spray can.

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Sardy cites his experience working with one well-known rock band as an inspiration for SeeThru's fiscal policy. "I spent a year on this one record," he recalls. "It's a real straight record. It was basically just an engineering-mixing job. Coming off of it, I just wanted to do everything fuckin' wrong. I thought, 'How can I record in the most chaotic, unthinking, unprofessional, stupid-ass way?' I was so frustrated sitting in a $3,000-a-day studio for seven months just watching the money burn."

SeeThru Broadcasting, formed last year in conjunction with European über-distributor Play It Again Sam, is the real world manifestation of a very simple tenet: If you want something done right, do it yourself. Disillusioned with their experiences in dealing with both major and indie labels, Sardy and San Francisco-based manager Kevin Wortis thought they could build a better mousetrap. So they did, creating a label they hope will attract artists who, for whatever reason, will never meet the increasingly unrealistic, bottom line-oriented demands brought on by major label consolidation.

Though Sardy began twisting knobs for an array of indie stalwarts, including his own band, his uncanny ability to produce phenomenal-sounding recordings has created considerable demand for his services within mainstream rock circles. His previous major label projects have included records by Helmet, Slayer, Skeleton Key, and the much-anticipated Dandy Warhols follow-up for Capitol Records. But it's Sardy's work on the forthcoming Manson album that promises to garner him the most attention to date. Meanwhile, Sardy's own band is revered as one of the fiercest, loudest ensembles to ever emerge from New York's post-hardcore scene. Across five releases, Barkmarket has won a small but rabidly evangelical cadre of fans, and Sardy's easygoing nature belies his ferocious presence both onstage and on record.

"Dave has been in and around the business and he knows all the shitty things about it and all the traps," says ex-Brainiac guitarist John Schmersal, who last year, under the name John Stuart Mill, recorded the first album to be released by SeeThru. "Dave knows what the industry should be that it's not. I think he's the perfect candidate to be doing a label. I think SeeThru is in an optimum place for putting out records because of Dave and Kevin and what they've done."

The concept for SeeThru isn't novel: Take talented artists, give them the resources they need to create their music, and promote the results with vigor. But with Sardy and Wortis at the helm, the label is armed with resources that extend far beyond those of even more established labels. Factor in the muscle and cash of label-distributor Play It Again Sam (whose accounts include Tommy Boy, 4AD, Epitaph, and Mute) and you've got the convergence of three frighteningly capable entities.

Intelligent and deliberate, with a wry sense of humor, Wortis himself is the kind of guy any band would be lucky to have on its side. Arriving in the Bay Area from Philadelphia in 1990, Wortis immediately immersed himself in the city's burgeoning noise rock scene while living in a converted bar in the Mission. "It was one of those amazing properties that used to be in San Francisco, that you walked away from thinking, 'I'll find another one,'" he says, ruefully. Wortis befriended groups like Steel Pole Bathtub and Neurosis, eventually booking and then managing them. As a co-owner of Rave, a Mission-based booking and management firm, he spent the early '90s working with some of the underground's most beloved noisemongers, including Unsane, Seaweed, Mule, the Ex, Elliot Sharp, Antiseen, Crash Worship, Seven Year Bitch, and Doo Rag. When his wife, a tour manager, moved to San Francisco in 1993, she introduced him to Sardy; Wortis began managing Barkmarket shortly thereafter. In addition to that band, he continues to manage Steel Pole, Neurosis, and Michael Gira of Swans, as well as the business affairs of Gira's Young God imprint and Neurosis' Neurot Records.

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