Empire of Two
Jared and Brianne Mees

Tender Loving Empire

For Jared and Brianne Mees, the giant upside-down cardboard city-scape hanging from the ceiling of Tender Loving Empire’s retail store is typical of the record label’s crafty, DIY aesthetic. But it could also serve as conspicuous symbol of their stubborn tenacity as a small business during tough economic times: “It used to fall down all the time,” says Jared, “and then one day it just stopped falling.”

If times are better now, it’s because the Meeses have gradually built and fortified their “empire” on the strongest bedrock they could find: their deep love of music and crafting. “Our excitement about an album can come through because we’re right there handing it over the counter,” gushes Brianne. Indeed, browsers who are lured into their SW 10th and Alder retail store in search of crafts often find themselves purchasing music instead, without having heard any of the label’s bands before. “We’ll play albums for them on the spot, and they can decide if they like it,” Jared says.

These days TLE doesn’t have much difficulty finding love for their music. They recently booked arena-folk act Typhoon on Late Night with David Letterman, while other headliners like Y La Bamba and Loch Lomond will have ample stage time at Portland’s upcoming late-summer concert juggernaut, Musicfest NW.

But Jared and Brianne, who met in Oxford, England, and married in LA before moving to Portland in 2006, are just happy that the business is now sustaining them, though they reminisce grimly about the times when they could barely pay their bills and had to pep-talk each other through the doldrums.

As it turned out, the greatest panacea to business worries was to draw a line in the sand. “We moved our computers out of our house,” says Jared of their decision to keep their sanity and happiness even as work and bills piled up. Perhaps “tender love” is a smart business strategy after all.—Anne Adams