On a Saturday night in May, Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside are burning through the song “Party Kids” in the vaulted main room of Matarazzo’s office. “’Cause I know where the party can be found,” Ford wails with a soulful growl, bending her peppermint guitar while the Sound Outside surges behind her. A crowd of Portland music luminaries fills the kitchen, with its chalkboard walls and kegerator, showering birthday wishes on Seann McKeel, a longtime local booker and events producer.
Matarazzo met McKeel’s husband, Chris Funk, a multi-instrumentalist in the Decemberists and Black Prairie, shortly after she moved to Portland. He had been trying to break into composing for commercials. She gave him his first shot. Matarazzo wanted an office and both of them wanted a studio, so they teamed up. The result: an open loft space with offices on a mezzanine and a recording studio that rises like a white glacier of abstract geometry but with rustic wood accents on the inside, thus earning it the moniker “the space barn.”
"Once I become obsessed with you, it's hard to shake." —Sara Matarazzo
At first, Funk worked on his own projects, recording and producing local bands. With one of Portland’s most extensive music Rolodexes, he’s the kind of producer who can sweet-talk internationally touring bands such as Blind Pilot to play to an audience of children at his regular You Who! event, or who, with a couple of calls, can book one of the most star-studded local music events ever: k.d. lang, the Decemberists’ Colin Meloy, and Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard in a benefit at the Aladdin Theater for Children’s Cancer Association. As Matarazzo walked down from her office with questions like “Where can I get Tuvan throat singers?” Funk organically assumed a producer role with Search Party. “I was looking for a way to make music in Portland,” he says, “without the pressure of being on the road all the time.”
The two have been able to offer a similar hope to a range of Portland bands. Last year, in Matarazzo’s third partnership with Paul McCartney’s music publishing company, MPL, they put together the Starbucks album Holidays Rule. (While McCartney doesn’t own the Beatles catalog, it turns out he owns a formidable Christmas library.) Inspired by Sallie Ford’s take on “Sleigh Ride” for Target, they placed local acts Y La Bamba, AgesAndAges, and Black Prairie (featuring Ford) alongside McCartney and radio stars like the Shins and Fun, hitting 42 on the Billboard charts. “It has been strange to have our music in commercials—and believe me, I’ve gotten crap from friends about it,” Ford says. “It has also been where we made the most money from music.”
Indeed, indie bands earn four to five figures for a spot, says Berklee’s Gorder. While significant for the musicians, it’s a bargain rate for advertisers, who have to pay six digits for established pop stars. And as commercials increasingly bring in film directors and strive to be slick mini-movie productions, the appeal of under-the-radar acts is growing.
Wanting to be her own boss, Matarazzo branched her Portland office off from Search Party in April to launch Walker, concentrating more on developing original music and coming full circle back to her DJ name (although she still frequently works with Poster). McKeel’s birthday party was the first large event hosted in the renamed office. As Sallie Ford wrapped up and Funk started inviting the various musicians in the room to play with him—and Matarazzo dodged his entreaties to sing (was it Huey Lewis?)—the camaraderie the two have created with Portland’s music community resonated like the heartbeat of the bass drum. “We’re feeding a community of musicians,” Funk says. “Sara’s so generous when it comes to taking a shot on a rookie. Her presence has spawned a new form of currency for musicians in Portland.”
Indie Cred Unblemished | Three bands Walker likes to work with
Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside
“Sallie inspired the Starbucks holiday album,” says Matarazzo. “She did this version of ‘Sleigh Ride’—a song I’ve heard forever, but now it’s good.” Playing raw and raucous rock ’n’ roll that’s simultaneously modern and a throwback to the ’50s, Ford and her band have charmed audiences everywhere from the Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee to The Late Show with David Letterman to Europe—they tour France for weeks at a time.
Matarazzo has placed Ford in Target and J. Crew campaigns, which led to the band’s songs appearing in The Good Wife, Vampire Diaries, and a number of independent films. “They’re very selective with licensing,” Funk says. “They’re not just like, ‘We could make 100 grand right now.’ They’re like us: they pick and choose.”
↓The music video for Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside's first single, "I Swear," off their debut album Dirty Radio
Y La Bamba
“I love that she’s modern, she’s a strong woman, and she comes from a Latin background,” says Matarazzo about Luz Elena Mendoza, the lead singer of the hypnotic, Latin-inflected folk-rock band Y La Bamba. “You’ll be at a show, and all of a sudden she’s singing something in Spanish. And it’s not [just] for a certain market, and that’s great.”
After hearing Mendoza sing, Funk produced the band’s first album, Lupon, pro bono. He recently recorded and produced its EP, Oh February, in Walker’s studio. Matarazzo and Funk placed the band’s adorable “Señor Santa (Mister Santa)”—a Latin-spiked, holiday rewrite of “Mister Sandman”—on the Starbucks compilation. “That album has been giving us so much exposure,” Mendoza says. “Chris and Sara believe in the spirit of music. They get it.”
↓Y La Bamba's newest video, "Ponce Pilato," from its album Court the Storm, featuring the Olivia Darlings and the M.A.C. synchronized swimming team in the Red Wood Forest, Oregon Coast, and the Puget Sound
Actor Ryan Gosling and director Nicolas Winding Refn kept Chromatics’ 2007 album, Night Drive, on repeat while working on the film Drive. After the electro-pop trio’s gig in Los Angeles, they approached band member and producer Johnny Jewel to compose their film’s soundtrack. In a classic Hollywood tale, the producers ultimately pushed Jewel out for a veteran composer, including just one Chromatics’ song on the soundtrack. But Jewel countered with a cinematic, two-hour, noir-electro album on his own label (Italians Do It Better) titled Themes for an Imaginary Film, expanding and altering his score.
“He created this genre that people point to when they’re throwing out creative ideas, which is not easy to do,” says Matarazzo. She’s had Jewel and Chromatics compose several songs for potential projects, although none have landed yet. “I think they push limits. Once I become obsessed with you, it’s hard to shake.”
↓"Lady" from the Chromatics' 2012 album Kill for Love