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'Missoula to Memphis'

"Missoula to Memphis" is the first album by Switchback Records, a student-run label at the University of Montana. The record has covers of Elvis songs by Missoula artists and five national or international acts.

Artwork by Courtney Blazon

If you see a new vinyl record around town, it's courtesy of the University of Montana's independent, student-run label, Switchback Records.

"Missoula to Memphis" has five covers of the King, alongside five by national and international artists.

"It's a cool, fun new twist on classic Elvis songs," said Christian Coiner, a junior at Switchback, a student group started within the Entertainment Management program.

The students picked some that are poppy, like Chloe Gendrow's acoustic ballad, "An I Love You So." Others, like the Rotgut Whines' "Hunk O' Love," "straight-up sound like biker-gang songs out of 'Sons of Anarchy,'" he said.

Roots-rock belter Andrea Harsell covered "Rubberneckin'" and Edgar Allan Kubrick conjure up a Southern-goth indie rock take of "Clean Up Your Own Backyard." Maiah Wynne turned in an atmospheric version of "Devil in Disguise." Earlier this year, Wynne, a former Missoula resident, placed second in Sound Off!, an under-21 battle of the bands in Seattle. In conjunction with the high finish, she recorded a song live on KEXP, one of the Northwest's flagship indie radio stations.

Wynne is an example of a musician who took off from Missoula and is subsequently seeing their career take off, said Mike Morelli. He's director of UM Entertainment Management, a certificate program within the School of Business Administration. About 50 of its 200 students complete their certificate each year. Switchback is a student group, now with about eight students taking part.

Hannah Doerner, who's now wrapping up her Master of Business Administration degree, said industry people had an interest in the UM program and wanted to help start a student-run label.

That was two years ago, and Doerner said there were some early trials trying to find out just what the mission would be.

The "Missoula to Memphis" project "came about because we wanted to help local musicians get their music into sync and media placement," she said. (More on that what means later).

Morelli said the local bands on the album are all strong, part of the reason behind the Elvis theme — his fame can help draw attention from the listeners. With the deluge of music online, it's harder for artists anywhere — let alone geographically isolated Missoula — stand out.

Through connections from Entertainment Management and UM alums, the label was able to partner with Media Horse, a Los Angeles firm that licenses music on every media platform you can think of.

"They're working with the Elvis estate to sync new renditions of Elvis songs," Morelli said.

The students solicited demos from local groups and narrowed them down to five from a pool of around 28.

Doerner said they listened to them over and over, trying to decide what best represented "the sound of Missoula."

The bands recorded at Club Shmed Studios, run by Ryan "Shmed" Maynes, who played keyboards with nationally touring bands like Arlo before moving to Missoula.

Media Horse picked the five other artists on album. Most have an electronic pop sheen compared to the earthier Missoula bands.

Coiner said the label hopes that fans of these outside groups will come across the album on Soundcloud, Spotify or Apple Music and give the Missoula acts a listen.

Regarding "syncing," Media Horse is working to place the songs anywhere it can: ads, radio, television, movies. Twenty some years ago, artists may have scoffed at the impurity of placing their music in commercials, but Morelli said the Internet has changed everything.

Now that "everyone's music is available somehow," artists are more likely to take up an offer for a sync deal. The sheer amount of music online means that it's more difficult to get noticed.

Rodel Delfin, an artist and repertoire representative for Red Bull Records, has advised Switchback through the process, Morelli said.

That covers everything from finding artists, getting them into the studio, arranging for the recordings to get mastering, and then marketing, release shows and press releases.

Coiner said they're in contact with him frequently and have a weekly telephone conference with him, covering "what we have done and what we need to get done."

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The label ordered 500 vinyl copies from Pirates Press in Emeryville, California. They were paid for with a donation from one of the program's guest instructors, Eric Manegold. The Glendive native and former Grizzly football player co-founded a transportation safety tech company. He's also a longtime drummer and a business partner at the Central Saloon, a Seattle music venue.

To help catch Missoulians' eyes, they enlisted local artist Courtney Blazon to design the cover, which depicts Elvis in a flower-accented white suit on Higgins Avenue.

Now that the album is complete, Coiner said their task is to "promote, promote, promote."

While Media Horse handles the sync front, he said the students are promoting it on social media and traditional outlets like newspapers and radio. They hope to launch an advertising campaign with national reach. As an out-of-state bonus, copies will be for sale at the Graceland Mansion in Memphis, Coiner said.

In the larger picture, Doerner said the label is still figuring out what it can do — like any student group, it experiences high and fast turnover, which can complicate projects that require more than two semesters to execute. She no longer plans on going into the music industry. She compared the process to starting a business from scratch, one that heightened her appreciation for the amount of work musicians and others put into the recordings that people hastily scroll through online.

And she hopes that Missoula listeners and musicians will see it as a potential resource down the line.

"It really revolves around community support. Missoula has this really healthy music community," she said. "We're not here to be competitive. We're really here to try to help the music scene come together."

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Arts & Entertainment Reporter

Entertainment editor for the Missoulian.