By Ashley Zimmerman
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By David Von Bader
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Al Galvez has a plan. The leader of Miami's dreamy acoustic trio A Kite Is a Victimnot only resides at the center of his own little music-business ecosystem, he has also managed to tap into the nationwide network of indie-rock cognoscenti. He has made friends, influenced people, and carved out a most impressive niche both for his band and his home-brewed record label, Space Cadette.
By embracing the tragic swoon of Nick Drake and the evocative mystery of Jeff Buckley -- and by playing out an average of three nights a week throughout Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties -- A Kite Is a Victim has cultivated the kind of fanatic following that both plagues and enriches other groups of their emo ilk. For instance when the band opened for Mark Kozelek in West Palm Beach three weeks ago, it sold very few copies of its current CD, Home. "Everybody already had it," Galvez says. "It blows me away."
The low-key, coffeehouse-friendly group is keeping some heavy company of late. In addition to Kozelek, the mastermind of the revered Red House Painters, A Kite Is a Victim also recently opened for the similarly adored trio Low -- a feat akin, in some sensitive circles, to a starving artist hanging paintings next to a Jackson Pollock or Francis Bacon.
Those kinds of props are priceless -- but in Space Cadette's case, such choice opening slots do come with a specific price tag. For last month's Kozelek show at the Underground Coffeeworks, Galvez spent some serious coin to secure the gig. He had to fly Kozelek to West Palm Beach International Airport, shuttle him around town (Kozelek doesn't drive), feed him, plus pay him a hefty fee for his performance. All the work was worth it: Galvez cheerily reports that he and Kozelek struck up a partnership that may include a musical collaboration in the future.
"When he left it was like my friend left instead of someone who just came to play," he says. "I've had a chance to spend time with all the people I've brought down, but this is the first time I truly got to bond with someone."
That connection is one of the consolation prizes, Galvez says, that helps offset the sting of a concert that doesn't quite make back the cash he put up to make it happen.
"I feel great, even though I lost money on the show," he reports. "Lost is the wrong word. I invested money. If I adopted the attitude of, "Fuck that -- I'm never doing that again,' I wouldn't get anywhere. I see it as a huge investment, because I put my band in front of a lot of people who like the same kind of music and who would never know of us otherwise."
In the five years since Galvez and his brother Rafael began Space Cadette, they've brought down some of the most praiseworthy national indie acts around, including the Promise Ring, Tsunami, Ida, Jawbox, Sonora Pine, Retsin, and At the Drive-In. Most of the groups are obscure enough that few promoters would dare to bring them to South Florida. "So, as a fan, I get to have my own little private party," Al says with a wide grin. But he's quick to point out that it's not all fun and games.
"After some of those shows, I've had people come up and say, "Man, you're so lucky to get to open for so-and-so,'" he says, "but I had to go after all these things. They didn't call me. I had to bust my ass. But that has provided us with new opportunities. Bands that just sit back and wait for them to come, it's never going to happen."
Both A Kite Is a Victim and Space Cadette have hitched their plans for world domination to the Internet. The band site, akiteisavictim.com, posts upcoming show information and MP3 and Real Audio files; it even provides fans the opportunity to order a copy of the band's new album, Strange Delight, which is scheduled for official release in June. On www.spacecadette.com, tickets for Space Cadettesponsored shows are available for purchase online. So is the label's catalog, which includes local offerings from Ed Matus' Struggle (now known as Disconnect), Ashes of Grisum, and Swivel Stick, a regional compilation from Slipstream Productions, along with recent albums from New York's Ferdinand the Bull and a Russian choral outfit called Zedashe, which specializes in chanting a capella. Through a deal with San Franciscobased Badman Recordings, Space Cadette is distributing Kozelek's solo record, Rock 'n' Roll Singer. Plus, the label has actually started to solicit demo recordings from promising artists for the Website: "As with our own releases," reads a recent newsletter, "we are accepting no less than the best from bands that reflect our own personal tastes in good music. These are the groups that we feel should be heard and loved by the masses, whether they're teenagers recording in their basement or an already well-worn international success."
Space Cadette has also become famous for the exquisite packaging that wraps its releases. Home comes cloaked in a cardboard slipcover with hand-printed lettering and a multicolored feather glued to the back. Inside is a 32-page booklet with lyrics and photos, printed on textured paper. Glued inside the clear plastic jewel box is a pinch of beach sand. Strange Delight, Al Galvez relates, will resemble a children's pop-up book with sliding stubs. "It takes an hour to make each one," he says. "I'm upping the ante with the packaging because that's something people really enjoy. It's giving them lyrics and images, the full experience, because CDs are such a step down from vinyl."
Rafael Galvez, who is also a painter, has scaled back some of his Space Cadette duties to concentrate on his artwork. Al and bandmate Ulysses Perez handle much of the hands-on work in South Florida while Bruce Crowder (who played drums on the first AKIAV release) actually oversees the mail-order department from Space Cadette Records North, which is based in New Haven, Connecticut.
In effect the band's and record company's Websites act as both online shops and distribution nodes for the label. The Homealbum can be found in record stores and even on amazon.com, but most copies, Al Galvez says, are snatched up at shows.
Swapping his different hats -- bandleader, record-company businessman, promoter, and distributor -- runs Galvez ragged at times, but he's always breathlessly upbeat and positive.
"I love it, I love doing it, and I do it with a smile," he enthuses. "As a musician and label owner, I can actually say now that I can do both relatively well. And promoting the shows is getting easier, too. I genuinely like and respect these bands, and I want to be associated with these bands. And by playing with them, automatically we start being considered in the caliber of these bands."
Cultivating these relationships had better be keeping Galvez content, because he's quick to admit that the business side isn't making anyone rich. However, A Kite Is a Victim does enjoy a pretty sweet profit margin on its CD sales, with the guitarist being the label owner and all. "We make more money per CD than most major-label acts will ever see," he crows. "And we're never going to get dropped."
But he notes that any profit is immediately reabsorbed by Space Cadette. The cash ebb and flow can be stressful to Galvez and company, but somehow they're able to ride along with the bust-andbreak-even cycle.
"I'll wake up broke from the last effort, and I'll say "Shit, this is it! Time to pull down the rope and let it swing. But before I do that, let me check my mailbox.' And there's three checks in there for product. Or there's a phone call or e-mail from somebody important in the business, and that takes me to my next project. I live like a detective -- on clues. I live on leads. A company like this needs all the help it can get.