"I Have Learned That Running a Company Is a Lot Easier Than Keeping a Band Together": A Chat With Prekindle's Pete Swulius and Dave Howard
Welcome to Local Music 'Mericans, where we get to know the people behind the scenes in DFW music.
Lindsey Carneal Pete Swulius (left) and Dave Howard
Pete Swulius and Dave Howard are old band pals from a now-defunct outfit called The Virgin Trebles. Nowadays, they devote their energy to supporting other local artists, not just as fans, but through their business, Prekindle, a web-based ticketing service directed at smaller shows. For a service charge of an extra buck or two, you can secure a ticket and won't be turned away at intimate venues that book national acts alongside locals, like LaGrange, Double Wide and The Kessler.
So, did the Pearl Jam-fueled rebellion against Ticketmaster have anything to do with the start of Prekindle?
Pete Swulius: Pearl Jam took a hard stance in the '90s while negotiating with Ticketmaster. They both had strong positions, so you knew it was going to be an interesting ride. From a business perspective, it was inspiring to watch those big plays be made. From a more personal perspective, the thought of giving people choices is extremely inspiring, and influences everything I do.
Dave Howard: We thought a lot about what kind of company to start when we got into this. I wouldn't say the Pearl Jam vs. Ticketmaster thing led directly to us starting Prekindle, but definitely made it seem possible. If everyone were just fine-and-dandy with Ticketmaster, we would have kept looking for something else to get into.
It seems like the rebellion towards those fees tapered off after a while. Why do you think that is? What do you think Ticketmaster should have done differently?
Howard: I think once Congress decided there was no anti-trust issue and you stopped having rock stars in Senate hearings on Capitol Hill, the media frenzy died down. That, in turn, cooled fan sentiments. But pull any touring artist or venue manager aside and ask them if they'd like to have more choices and more flexible, transparent, cheaper options for ticketing and I know they will say, "Yes, tell me more!"
Swulius: Yeah, that goes for the fans as well. We believe transparency is the right model for this generation. As far as what they should have done differently, maybe nothing, or maybe exactly what we are doing. Only time will tell.
It would seem -- much like with indie film, labels and radio -- that your approach is more example-setter than a follower.
Howard: The one cross-cutting trend going on in all these fields is the shift from top-down to bottom-up organization of projects, meaning less and less is dictated by "legacy" labels, distributors and live production giants. Every day there are more ways for independent musicians to make their own way, small and niche venues to cut their own deals, and fans to influence how music gets made and brought to market. I see a really cool future of self-determination in the music business and if we're seen as setting an example by believing in this and working toward it, then that's so much better!
Swulius: I agree, and as we learn the ropes of the industry, trend-setting ideas seem even more plausible. Expect to see some of these come into existence.
Tell us about this band you guys were in together.
Swulius: Dave and I have been in a couple bands together, and some others individually. We formed a shoegaze band in 2002, here in Dallas, called The Virgin Trebles, with our friends Lindsey Carneal (vocals/keyboards), Blake Miller (drums) and Jef Newsom (guitar). Our first gig was at Tom Prejean's open mic at Club Dada. Man, that was so much fun, and nerve-wracking for me. I was young, and had an overly complicated guitar rig. We returned to Dada a few more times, as well as Trees, Muddy Waters and The Cavern.
What's tougher, a band or entrepreneurship?
Howard: I have learned that running a company is a lot easier than keeping a band together. I do miss playing and hanging out with these peeps. I definitely have a lot of "if I only knew then what I know now" moments. Oh, and if anyone wants to buy a CD, we have a few (hundred) in the garage.
There must have been a lot of growing pains starting up a company like this.
Howard: Sure, it has been a lot of work, but having an awesome team makes it so much easier. Chelsea, Randall and J.R. keep the company on the right path. We are super-capable for such a tiny company, and that is all thanks to them.
How about politics and bureaucracy? Is that a hurdle for Prekindle?
Howard: Not such a big deal, really. I mean, we occasionally get tugged one way or the other in a local dust-up, but it's been pretty natural for us to stay above the fray. Pete said it best when he said, "A can opener does not take sides." If we do have to take a side, I like to think it's the side of what is right and of people not getting screwed.
What bands are you craziest about from our backyard?
Swulius: I am the type of guy who enjoys any good performance, but I do seem to get the most from the shoegaze/wall-of-sound genres. Also, any sounds that my mind considers extensions, variations or inexplicably connected. I listen to these bands a lot: Little Black Dress, Menkena, True Widow, The Boom Boom Box, Old Snack, Pleasant Grove and Lift to Experience. There are a lot more, especially outside that genre.
Howard: I would add Ishi, Bravo Max, Datahowler and The Burning Hotels.
If the DFW music scene could collectively ask you for suggestions on how strengthen what we have, what would your answer be?
Swulius: In terms of the live performance industry, everyone is working hard, and doing a great job. I think there is a population of potential fans out there who just haven't discovered us yet. And by us, I mean the whole scene. I had a few key friends growing up that demonstrated exactly how rewarding it can be to venture out of the house. Not just that it can be done, but how to do it. We should all work hard to be those mentors for anyone reluctant to take the plunge.