Sounds and Tones makes waves in North Berkshire

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NORTH ADAMS — While Sounds and Tones Records has produced 24 albums since its founding in 2015, the company makes more regular contributions to Berkshire County's music scene by hosting concerts that span multiple genres.

On Friday night, Sounds and Tones will host its latest evening event with a Halloween show and record release party for House Sparrow, a Western Massachusetts-based alt-folk duet featuring Francesca Olsen on baritone ukulele, tenor guitar and vocals and Joe Aidonidis on keyboard, at MCLA's Design Lab at 49 Main St. In addition to House Sparrow playing some songs off of its new album, "Eat Honey, Taste Mud," the event will showcase three other bands: Ruckzuck, The Chain Letter and Bit Lip.

Spectators wearing costumes to the event will receive a $2 discount off of the $8 tickets. The band itself may participate in the fun, too. "I think we're going to be Margot Tenenbaum and Richie Tenenbaum," said Olsen, who helps Sounds and Tones with marketing and has written for The Berkshire Eagle. (She noted, however, that the duet hadn't yet bought these homages to Wes Anderson's quirky 1999 film, "The Royal Tenenbaums," so no promises.)

On Sunday night, the record label will stage another record release concert, this time for Sharptooth's "Clever Girl," at the Adams Lodge of Elks. The Maryland-based punk rock quintet isn't a Sounds and Tones group; while the company gives preference to the artists it works with, it also receives two to five inquiries per day from other bands who want to book gigs in the area, according to founder Christopher Hantman.

The MCLA graduate said one of the reasons he started holding the events was due to the lack of stages for young musical performers in the North Adams area. He said the initial events were at The Parlor Cafe, which is now closed, and in people's houses. They subsequently moved into art galleries and multi-use spaces and are now held approximately two times per month.

"Culturally for us, we want an all-ages, open, safe place for people to come and enjoy music and [attract] really as much of a diverse population as possible," Hantman said. "Most of us who are kind of [in] the management, behind-the-scenes side of things all grew up going to shows at a very young age and kind of were nurtured by our own DIY [do-it-yourself] culture, so we really want to try to bring that here."

Sounds and Tones Records technically began with the release of Hantman's own album, "Wormwood Soliloquies," in 2013, according to the company's Facebook page. But the label didn't start frequently producing music until 2015. One of the earliest artists to sign with Sounds and Tones was Olsen, who released "Wolf Island" (under the name Francesca Shanks) as a solo artist in 2015. In 2016, she teamed up with Aidonidis at the release party for her second record, "I Am Walking Away," ultimately leading to the formation of House Sparrow.

Through its events, Sounds and Tones gives new bands, including ones it has a vested interest in, much-needed exposure. But the record label also helps fill a need for affordable live music in Berkshire County, particularly in North Adams. In that sense, the company is similar to the Common Folk artist collective, another North Adams-based organization working to provide more nightlife options in the city.

"I wouldn't consider us competitors because we really communicate when we're holding events and make sure we're not overlapping ever," said Hantman, who was involved early on with Common Folk as well. "We have a really similar goal I believe in fostering an arts and music scene in this community."

Achieving this objective requires keeping admission prices for the events low.

"We want to be accessible," Hantman said. "We know that not everyone in the North Adams and surrounding communities can necessarily have the disposable income to be able to go see live music regularly, and we would rather be able to engage the community and get people there more often than make money."

Olsen agrees that Common Folk and Sounds & Tones have similar missions. She opened for Moon Hooch at Common Folk's inaugural event in 2015, and even though Mass MoCA's Solid Sound Festival was one of her inspirations for moving to the area, she feels the North Adams institution can't match the intimacy of the two up-and-coming organizations.

For example, before Friday's event, she said, somebody will make vegan chili for the bands. And if there are leftovers, the crowd will get next dibs.

"It's that homey feeling," she said.


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