The founder of SoHiTek Records, 30-year-old Erik Carlson, lives the quintessential Portland dream. Aside from owning and operating his own homegrown record label, he also curates the SoHiTek visual arts gallery in Old Town and lives in a loft just a staircase away from the viewing space. Humble in discussing his lifestyle, he jokingly tiptoes around references to the obvious city clichés.
"I feel like it's such an episode of Portlandia," he says.
But more effort goes into Carlson's business than a comedy sketch could portray. Because the California-raised, University of Oregon graduate is SoHiTek's sole employee, he takes on everything from courting prospective bands and writing press releases to packaging album releases and stapling posters across the city.
Carlson originally formed the label in 2009 after he approached Hosannas—then called Church—about releasing the avant-pop band's first album, Song Force Crystal. With what turned into a co-release with Portland label Tender Loving Empire, SoHiTek's inaugural record reinforced Carlson's eagerness to run a business that provides a platform for lesser-known and unrecorded local bands.
Since then, SoHiTek has put out albums from experimental act Chrome Wings, spacey synth-pop group Pegasus Dream, dance-pop quartet Pocketknife and Carlson's own electro-surf project, DoublePlusGood. The label's newest addition, indie-folk up-and-comer Fanno Creek, is also in the midst of recording its first LP. "SoHiTek—and I think it's true for many smaller, local labels—is essentially an artist's label," says Fanno Creek singer-guitarist Evan Hailstone. "We don't feel any pressure to change our sound in any way or create one particular kind of album."
There are, of course, obstacles that come with running such a small operation. At a time when access to free music is just a few keystrokes away, the headaches for emerging labels like SoHiTek have multiplied. "You have to be more creative about how you're trying to get people to buy music," Carlson says. "Luckily…with a lot of our bands being smaller, [albums do] sell, because people still buy records at live shows."
Although Carlson hopes to eventually expand the label beyond a one-man outfit, working with only a handful of groups is enough to keep SoHiTek going for now. And he manages to stay plenty busy. "I'm a pretty tenacious dude," he says. "I like following through on projects, and SoHiTek just seems like an infinite project." Ultimately, through all of the unreturned publicity emails and tattered show fliers that come with his job, Carlson just wants to help young artists.
"He's super-supportive and is more of a friend who just wants to see us succeed more than anything," says Pegasus Dream's Andy Carlson (no relation), whose band has released two albums on SoHiTek.
And while he's modest in talking about the life he's created, Erik Carlson doesn't deny his satisfaction. "I get to work with all my favorite bands," he says. "I get to work with people I love and encourage them and what they do. I just get to be No. 1 fan of a band kind of permanently."
SEE IT: The SoHiTek Records Showcase, featuring Fanno Creek, Pegasus Dream, DoublePlusGood and Pocketknife, is at Doug Fir Lounge, 830 E Burnside St., on Wednesday, May 8. 9 pm. $5. 21+.