According to its online bio, local record label Love Harder "started out as a slogan after the demise of the American Electoral System." But, over beers at the label's two-year anniversary show this past Saturday at the Red & Black Cafe, founder John Barrios cleared up the implication that Love Harder has a political agenda: "That's just a bunch of B.S.," he said candidly. "It's sort of an anti-political activism [thing]. I just wanted a positive something out there."
Judging by the 30-some friendly faces in the audience Saturday night and the quality (and quantity) of music Love Harder literally gives away, it seems safe to say Barrios (a Powell's employee by day) has succeeded in that goal. Barrios produces 50 "excessively DIY, low-budg" copies of every Love Harder release with his own money; the albums are given away at Love Harder release shows, and the artists retain all rights to their music after the shows. It's a veritable music-sharing utopia, which is just what Barrios (who's also known as his "musical persona," Jack Tuftee) intended.
When the 36-year-old Buffalo, N.Y., native started Love Harder, he felt that people's attitudes in general had become "so negative." "I just wanted people to remember that it's all about our communities," said Barrios. "I love music and I love sharing music, so I wanted that essence to be out there, and I wanted it to be free. If just the message gets out, that's great. And I don't mean that in a hippie way."
But, Love Harder does have that feel; after all, its mantras are "free," "love" and "community." And the vibe at the Red & Black—which hosted Barrios' project Nest and songwriters Tyler Riggs, Nate Ashley and Em Brownlowe—embodied all three. Opening his set, Barrios announced, "I know 90 percent of your names, and that's what Love Harder is all about."
And on the first song he played, Barrios—who also plays guitar and sings (along with Riggs and drummer Nick LaRue) in local punk band Curious Hands—sang the words, "I'm here for you and you and you." Indeed he is. From his own set, which morphed from quaint folk pop into what was basically an acoustic Curious Hands set to Ashley's poignant folk-rock and Brownlowe's impassioned set of bluesy folk, Love Harder doesn't discriminate. It does, however, focus on "the act of creation." "That's what turns me on about music," said Barrios. And this focus offers artists like Brownlowe—who released Retrospective, a 22-song collection spanning five years, on Saturday—the opportunity to release music that might not fit with their other projects.
Barrios even called out audience members by name and tossed them CDs like Frisbees. When asked if there's any hope of Love Harder ever making a profit, Barrios shrugged it off: "I haven't received a penny. I've never asked for any money, and it's not that I spend a lot," he said. "I find stuff. Just go into the dumpster behind Music Millennium, and look at the crap they throw out. It's a couple bucks a day," he added. "It's coffee money." Barrios had unintentionally turned into Portland's own indie music Sally Struthers: I egged him on, saying, "For the cost of a cup of coffee a day...." He obliged: "You, too, can adopt an independent record label."
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To get a copy of Love Harder's first compilation CD, visit myspace.com/loveharder. Em Brownlowe's band, Swallows, plays with the Affair, the Ettes, Garland Ray Project and DJ Ox Wednesday, Feb. 14 at Rotture. 9 pm. $5. 21+.