Saddle Creek Dozen
In an era where big labels are bleeding money while playing internet bad cop, the story of Saddle Creek — the little music collective that could — is a heartwarming case of David trumping Goliath. Maybe that's because the Omaha, Nebraska-based label has always functioned as more of a family than a money-making operation, with a large cast of characters that rotate in and out of in various musical incarnations.
At the center of it all is Conor Oberst, who founded the label in 1993 with his older brother Justin when he was just 13 years old. Conor, who's enjoyed perhaps his greatest success as the frontman of the band Bright Eyes, could be one of the most prolific and talented musicians of his generation, having formed his first bands, Commander Venus and Norman Bailer (the latter of which morphed into the hit new-wave outfit the Faint) in 1994, and the short-lived but critically acclaimed punk act Desaparecidos in 2002. Multi-instrumentalist and producer extraordinaire Mike Mogis is Saddle Creek's beating heart, having produced the majority of the label's acts while performing on some of its biggest hits, such as Bright Eyes 'Cassadaga (2007), which debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard album chart. Other key players, many of whom grew up in Omaha and attended the same schools, are Tim Kasher (of the hardcore act Cursive) and Todd Fink (of the Faint), both instrumental in shaping and pushing the so-called "Saddle Creek" sound — emo and country — in new and unexpected directions.
While Oberst's strong political views shine through on later Bright Eyes and Desaparecidos records, much of his work, and of other bands on the label, adopt a introspective stance, leading some critics to call Saddle Creek the label from "Emoha." But Saddle Creek has unquestionably transcended the term, in part by opening its borders to a wide variety of non-Omaha-based acts such as Rilo Kiley, Two Gallants, Land of Talk and Tokyo Police Club. Though some still think of Saddle Creek as the label that made emo famous and country music cool, with over 20 acts and countless releases to date, the Saddle Creek of 2009 is no one man's sound and no one man's vision.