This story first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal, and can be viewed here.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — From the outside, Maple St. Records has a bit of an unassuming appearance. After all, it looks just like any other house on San Joaquin Avenue, a residential street a few blocks from University of New Mexico.
But then you enter and walk through the foyer, the kitchen, the living room, down a few stairs – and you start to notice the little details. And the big ones.
Huge studio speakers.
A few desktop monitors and Macs of various sizes crammed onto a large table.
Five guitars of all types sitting in a corner.
A stack of vinyl records on a side table.
Before you realize it, you’re in a makeshift recording studio, the same one where – despite its amateur looks – the co-owners of Maple St. Records are working to put Albuquerque on the national music map.
Manu Sandoval, Drew Mitchell and Zach Spalsbury, all with their own personal backgrounds in music, founded Maple St. Records in 2016, with the goal of helping burgeoning local musicians – whether that be through collaboration, production or connection to even bigger labels.
“This is a means for them to let that creativity flow,” Spalsbury said.
The trio – all in their early 20s – reside under the same roof. They live together, work together and even play together as PLEASE, their own group with a pop sound reminiscent of something that you’d hear on West Coast radio.
And that’s exactly where they are being heard these days. In mid-December, the group put its song “NAM€” on SoundCloud, where it got the attention of Noon Pacific, an LA-based blog that was able to exponentially increase PLEASE’s exposure.
As a result, “NAM€” is nearing 60,000 listens on SoundCloud, and the group is preparing to release its first EP.
Now the band is trying to help other local artists scratch the surface of big-time potential for themselves, in an environment that’s as much about having the freedom to express yourself as it is working to make dreams come true.
“It’s nice to have people from different backgrounds just have a good time and jam,” Spalsbury said. “We can all have an influence on each other.”
Maple St. Records currently works with about 10 artists – most of them Burqueños – all at different points in their musical careers, but all with seemingly hidden talent, as if the Sandias were a sort of natural obstacle.
“We know how much talent there is in this city,” Sandoval said. “Even when I think we know most of it, there’s still so much more here that nobody knows about. Nobody.”
And sometimes it comes from unlikely sources, like a recent high school graduate who blew the group away with his trombone skills. Maple St. Records has musicians at the house about four nights in a given week – experimenting, discussing or perhaps even collaborating with the trio as PLEASE, if their styles mesh.
A place on the map
So despite being an hour south of what many consider the art capital of the world in Santa Fe, why haven’t Albuquerque musicians seen much success beyond The Shins?
From what Sandoval has seen, the problem isn’t just that Albuquerque isn’t, say, Miami or New York or Los Angeles, or a bastion of chart-topping sound at all. He says it’s that there’s no real sense of community, no consistent urge to help one another grow.
“There’s no unity to the scene at all,” he said. “Everything is so scattered.”
That’s the void Maple St. Records is trying to fill. Sometimes all a group needs is a little guidance, Mitchell added, a little bit of a push to get the ball rolling.
The company’s biggest goal for now is to get as many EPs produced from as many talented local artists as possible. There’s isn’t necessarily a quota to meet; the way Sandoval says it, every time a New Mexico musician gets noticed outside the Land of Enchantment is a small success.
For a group that is comfortable proclaiming itself to be “Albuquerque’s Music Revolution,” the focus will always be on home and the homegrown. But for Maple St. Records, it’s necessary to catch the eye of the “gatekeepers” of the national music scene for the city to catch the attention that Sandoval says is overdue.
“If we can get to where we can know those people, and we have been led through that gate by those gatekeepers, then we can bring it back to Albuquerque,” Sandoval said, “and do whatever we want.”