Posted by: Amy – Apr 14, 2016
A lot can happen in two years. You could start a band and record your first EP. You could get a new job and hopefully a promotion. Hell, you could learn a new language or two if you had the discipline. But I don't think "starting a record label and making it a success" would be on anyone's list of possibilities--yet that's just what the team at Egghunt Records have done.
In just two years, this Richmond label has gone from being a plucky upstart full of modest aspirations to an in-demand record label brimming with the lofty potential of placing our local scene in the national spotlight. It's a daunting task, but it’s something founders Adam Henceroth and Greg Gendron are very vocal about.
"I kind of envision Egghunt as this label that's an RVA hub," Henceroth explained. "My idea is to be a family of sorts and help cultivate this strong network of musicians. They were already doing that [on their own], for sure, but I think we've helped catalyze some of it [by] getting the word out. Sort of the way Sub Pop did in Seattle."
Henceroth and Gendron are both music stalwarts with years of personal and professional experience that they've brought into the business. Gendron, currently a resident of Silver Springs, MD, is a recording engineer who's actually helped master some of Egghunt's releases, while Henceroth was better known locally for starting booking company Oncology Promotions in 2009.
Egghunt's seeds were planted when Henceroth built a studio in his home in Midlothian in order to "hunker down and work on some projects." Word got out among friends, and his humble studio caught the eye of local band Red States when they were looking to record their next project. At the same time, Henceroth had been introduced to Gendron through mutual acquaintances and the two of them began considering starting a label.
"We just got this idea in our heads that it'd be great to start a record label," Henceroth remembered, "because then, you could focus on all the projects you wanted to, with bands you were passionate about."
Red States' project, the High Bison EP, would become their first proper release in June of 2014. It kickstarted Egghunt, a name Henceroth believed exemplified the label's mission statement.
After a phone conversation in which he and Gendron juggled some generic names with RVA or River City in the name, Henceroth recalls heading to a neighborhood Easter egg hunt, where the label's name became obvious. "It was this lovely day in spring." he recalled, "I was just thinking that looking for these good bands is an Easter egg hunt in itself. It's like finding a diamond in the rough. And Egghunt just sort of hit me."
High Bison provided Egghunt with a strong debut in town and news spread about the duo, most notably reaching White Laces mastermind Landis Wine.
"I had known Landis from booking with Oncology Promotions," Henceroth remarked. "He reached out to see if we were interested, and of course we jumped at that chance, even though it was just going to be vinyl." White Laces were putting the finishing touches on their 2014 record, Trance, and had already landed deals for CD and cassette releases with two other labels, making Egghunt the third partner in a major co-release that Henceroth credits with laying the foundation for what Egghunt would become. "[Trance] was a crash course on running a record label for us," he laughed. "I learned everything on that release, and made some incredible contacts who were able to help us grow and strengthen our abilities. Looking back, I'm very grateful for that release because it really pushed us in the direction we wanted to go."
Along with Trance, Egghunt also re-released White Laces' Moves. They followed it up that same month with the debut record from DC group Sun Machines. It was clear Egghunt was poised to become a major player in town, on the same level as Spacebomb and Jellowstone--two local labels the Egghunt founders have deep admiration for.
"They've been a big inspiration for us," Henceroth declared. "They've been around longer than us and they both showed how big the talent pool Richmond has really is. They have their own pocket of the scene, but their work is so great that it really spreads out across the whole community, and drives people to want to do bigger and better things."
2015 saw Egghunt spread their wings a bit with releases from artists outside of Richmond like North Carolina's Family Bike and OKO TYGRA from Denver. These artists came to Egghunt's attention as submissions through their own website, a fact that Henceroth was blown away by.
"Those submissions are so incredibly humbling because it means they paid attention to what we were doing and liked it," Henceroth explained. "They're sending us these lengthy emails with all of these links to their stuff, and it just became a little overwhelming." Henceroth admitted he never foresaw the type of responsibility Egghunt now had in fostering these young bands, but it was a responsibility the label were not going to take lightly. "I can only imagine if I was an artist submitting my work," Henceroth thought. "What kind of hopes and dreams would I have of a record label approving it for release? I don't take that lightly. We may get twenty to thirty submissions a month, but we listen to everything because it's fair and the artists deserve it."
But Henceroth and Gendron aren't ones to sit by and wait for the bands to come to them, either. They're actively searching for talent that makes sense for Egghunt, even if it comes from outside of Richmond, as in the case of Virginia Beach band Feral Conservatives. "I found them on Twitter, actually," Henceroth revealed. "I really liked their stuff, so I started a dialogue and then really tried hard to persuade them to record an EP in our studio." Henceroth's persistence wore the band down, allowing Egghunt to not only release their early 2015 EP, The Feeling Noise Becomes, but also their next full-length, entitled Here's To Almost, which saw release this past January to strong reviews.
Brimming with folk songwriting, punk energy, and pop melodies, it's a versatile highlight of Egghunt's young discography and perfectly exemplifies the label's spirit and vigor.
Bands from outside Richmond provided Egghunt with great opportunities, but they still kept their finger on the Richmond pulse. Summer of 2015 saw the label release Manatree's self-titled debut, as well as co-release former Richmond favorites The Diamond Center's new album, Crystals From The Brass Empire. With each release, they were getting stronger at handling the business and anticipating release demand, something that was crucial when dealing with bands who often hold lofty ambitions for their music.
"A lot of bands want vinyl and everything, but it's tough," Henceroth explained. "Sometimes there's a lot of interest so it make sense, but you still have to be conservative." Still, Henceroth admitted his foresight wasn't 20-20 and he actually loved being surprised. "That Manatree record was an example of the CDs flying off the shelves like hot cakes," he exclaimed. "They sold hundreds of CDs in a matter of weeks, mostly at live shows, and it was just great. It made us really think about what we would do next for them."
After The Diamond Center and Manatree, Egghunt remained quiet for the rest of 2015 as they worked on their next projects--one of which would become their most noteworthy and successful release to date: Lucy Dacus' No Burden. Like all of Richmond over the first few months of 2016, Henceroth gushed about Dacus and was deeply grateful that Egghunt was able to take part in the whirlwind.
"She's probably the most talented artist I've ever met," Henceroth casually stated. "I firmly believe she's going to do big things for years to come." It's not something he kept to himself either; he made it very clear he believed she would get picked up by a bigger label than Egghunt, something he was perfectly content with. "Our whole purpose for doing what we do is we really want to help break people into the bigger realm," he explained. "I think Egghunt could be pretty big in the future, but that's not our purpose right now. It's supporting and developing artists like Lucy and being grateful that they're letting us."
The attention for No Burden was unprecedented for Egghunt. With love from Rolling Stone, NPR, Pitchfork, and more, it was clear Egghunt had a true indie hit on their hands and they began seriously considering a vinyl repress before the album was even properly released. "I don't think anyone could have predicted all this," Henceroth reflected, "but if you've seen her live, you know she was destined to break out."
Henceroth used one of Dacus's Hardywood performances as a clear example. "I got to watch from behind the stage and I just saw all these people watching her like they were in a tractor beam. It's no wonder she's got so much momentum. She's so talented and so very clearly has that intangible you can't define."
No Burden will cast a long shadow over future Egghunt records, but their next release might just be the exception. In early May, Egghunt will release the long-awaited sophomore record by Clair Morgan entitled New Lions And The Not Good Night.
Dacus' shadow may be long, but it's nothing compared to the internal band shadow cast by Clair Morgan's 2012 debut, No Notes. It's hard to overcome the legacy of that timeless record, but with Clair Morgan now a fully realized seven-member group, it actually seems possible. The first single "Rogue Island" is out now, and has received strong reviews thanks to its atypical structure and infectious melodies.
Egghunt believes the single is only a taste of things to come. "I think people are going to be shocked by how good this record is," Henceroth declared. "I'm really glad we were able to get this one to follow Lucy, because it's kind of the perfect one to do so. It's a completely different sound and it shows off more of the strong talent we have here in Richmond."
Outside of the music, New Lions And The Not Good Night will be a big release for Egghunt based on the packaging alone. "It's this huge gatefold record with this incredible artwork," Henceroth previewed. "It's just as stunning to look at it as it is to listen to, really. We're also going to release some of them on this solid white vinyl which I had never seen before. The whole product is top-tier and I can't wait for it to come out." It's Egghunt’s most ambitious project to date and one that aims to set the bar higher for their next releases, much like Feral Conservatives did with their twee gold in January and Lucy Dacus did with her thundering songwriting in February.
With all of these heavyweight releases coming out, though, Egghunt hasn't been able to do as many releases as they’d like, something Henceroth was almost remorseful about. "The hardest part of this is telling people we can't take on their projects," he sighed. "The talent pool is so deep around here; having to say no at times just sucks." Throughout all of their recent activity, Egghunt has remained a small operation run solely by Gendron and Henceroth, with additional logistical help from Henceroth’s wife Candice. "It's a family business on the side," said Henceroth, who works full time as an anesthesiologist in Richmond--something that makes Egghunt's success even more unexpected. Henceroth was straight-forward about Egghunt's placement in his life as a hobby or side project, but joked that it's no different than his colleagues in the medical field. "Most physicians spend their time playing golf or going on fancy trips,” he said. “I spend my free time hanging out with bands and running a record label. That's their passion and this one's mine. I think I'm getting the better deal."
Despite being a side project, Egghunt has reached the level where Henceroth conceded they'll have to take on more employees. They've added a sales manager already, who's become a travelling liaison to record stores and radio stations across the region. Henceroth predicts they'll have to take on some more to handle their growth moving forward. "If Egghunt's a house," Henceroth suggested, "then the house is intact and the walkthrough is done, so we're ready to move in. We're going to let the dust settle for the releases so far this year, and then just go for it."
They may be letting the dust settle, but Egghunt is already making big moves behind the scenes to make sure the end of 2016 is equally as strong as the beginning. They're in talks with some of the bigger bands in the area to release their next work, but are also keeping their ear to the ground for exciting newer bands coming on the scene that might find their way onto Egghunt's roster at some point.
"The Erotic Bombs had some demos out that were real promising," Henceroth said. "Then of course there is Spooky Cool, who everyone is raving about." Beyond that, Henceroth did reveal the tentative plans to release Manatree's sophomore record in 2017, and even admitted they're thinking of hosting an Eggfest event towards the end of May to showcase their talent roster as well as some other local bands. "Shows are still so vital in Richmond, because that's how you tell where the talent is," Henceroth stated. "With Eggfest, we'd love to show off our talent, but also some newer bands, and maybe some other bands we love but just haven't been able to schedule something with yet."
It's a crazy time for Egghunt now, as the demand for Lucy Dacus increases and Clair Morgan's release looms on the horizon, but Henceroth dismissed the idea that they've bit off more than they could chew. "We're not overburdened in any sense," he answered. "We just can't take on much more than we have right now without expanding. Our big challenge this year is going to be looking at infrastructure and where we want to go. Do we stay relatively small and focus on two to three releases a year? Or do we really want to grow and reach whatever the next level is?"
No one realistically knows what’s next for Egghunt, but it's a safe bet the label is going to go for it with the same tenacity that got to them this point now. With the spotlight on them only growing, they're truly poised to become Richmond's own Sub Pop. Maybe one day, we'll look back on Egghunt with the same endearing nostalgia that we do with Sub Pop now. For now though, sit back and enjoy as Egghunt continues to showcase the best of the local music scene--one release at a time.
Words by Doug Nunnally