The “Tandem” in Tandem Shop Records refers to the fact that its founders, Megan Frestedt and Sam McAllister, originally envisioned a label that would be based in their hometown, Minneapolis, and their current home, Chicago. But Tandem Shop has a dual nature for other reasons, too: the name has been given to both the label and the music blog they write, Megan and Sam are also in a band, Project Film, on their own label and, of course, they work as a team. Friends-through-friends in high school, the pair became closer when Sam moved to Chicago to attend Columbia College, while Megan had just completed her first year at the University of Chicago.
They actually started the label in their hometown, but it did not really take shape until both had moved to Chicago. “We spent a summer trying to build it in Minneapolis,” Megan says. “But I think it was difficult because we both had been largely consumers of the Minneapolis scene, so we knew a lot of people, but everybody was always like, oh, you’re these fans. Whereas coming here, we from the beginning began to be involved in everything we could.” Sam adds: “It’s more of an art community I guess as opposed to a label. At the core there are bands and we’re working with them, but we had Chicago artists do posters for us, make videos—I think more of a connected community of bands that know each other and are collaborating.”
They admit that balancing schoolwork with label work made for a lot of sleepless nights, but the payoff was well worth it. “When you see a band that sounds great and has great songwriting but doesn’t really know how to present themselves or do things like get CDs made or go on tour, it can be really motivating to be like, I want to help them. That’s been the cool part, the thing that’s really kept us motivated,” says Megan.
Their first signing was Jack Bishop, a.k.a. Mr. Bear (also the drummer in Project Film), who Sam met during his Columbia College orientation. Megan recalls picking up the first Mr. Bear record: “It was the middle of winter, and our car broke down, and everything in the world went wrong but we were so excited about it.” “We filmed a video update in the car,” Sam adds, talking to Megan. In another of these filmed recaps of the label’s most recent and upcoming developments, they sit on a couch covering a Jonas Brothers song and wait for the Damen Blue Line while promoting their then-new online store. These short videos, posted most frequently when they were just getting started, provide a record of how much they have grown up with the label; Megan has graduated, Sam’s in his last year of school and, now, they are professionals. “I think when we started it was definitely about learning to be involved in the music scene and be active in a productive way, but now it’s definitely more about the artists,” says Megan.
In the beginning, Megan was primarily interested in management, and Sam had been toying with the idea of starting a label for a while, inspired by the cohesiveness of the Minneapolis scene. “It was kind of like, you can sign some artists, and I’ll manage some artists, and we’ll see how it works, all these levels of management are totally necessary!” Megan recalls. “So we started doing separate things, but everything is so combined. Why create boundaries and define roles if you don’t need to?”
The fact that they are also musicians on their label contributes to the all-encompassing nature of the roles they play. When we spoke, Project Film was about to embark on its first tour. Sam wore a Death Cab For Cutie shirt, and he and Megan are big fans: they recently saw the band play a show Sam called “mind-blowing.” On some of their songs, which Sam writes, he does have a Ben Gibbard-style delivery, but he is able to turn it off. The way Megan’s sweet-sounding harmonies complement Sam’s lead vocals sometimes recall another Chicago band, The Hush Sound, but the densely layered instrumentals are heavy and almost orchestral in a way that sets the two groups definitively apart. Tandem Shop may have been inspired by Minneapolis, but Project Film’s first album hints at where the label currently stands; they play a song called “Minneapolis,” but the album’s name is “Chicago.”
Project Film plays at The Whistler, 2421 North Milwaukee, (773)227-3530, 10pm on August 14.