"I'm not terribly interested in the music that's happening in Portland right now," says Joe Dixon, the bearded and bespectacled founder-owner of local upstart label Shake Appeal Records. "Don't get me wrong, I love the music scene here, even though a lot of the music doesn't turn me on."
Dixon, 26, grew up at Northeast Fremont Street and 16th Avenue, and he's no stranger to his hometown's indie roots (he name-drops defunct Portland clubs like La Luna and 36 Nautical Miles with authority). And Dixon's long been involved in music, as an appreciator, a house-show booker and a freelance writer (occasionally for WW). So, when he and his brother inherited some money six years ago, it seemed only natural to buy a house and start hosting shows.
After some success—the North Portland house's first lineup boasted Brendan Benson, now of Jack White's Raconteurs—Dixon attempted to convert his home into a kind of "rock-and-roll hotel." Dixon Manor, as it came to be known, operated during 2002 as a place where bands could enjoy the comforts of home while on the road.
The hotel, which put up notables like Peaches and Lou Barlow, eventually flopped—Dixon says he charged $8 a night per member, which is comparable to a Motel 6 for a quintet—and the house was sold. But Dixon put aside some money from the sale to start a record label, something he'd long dreamt of doing. And he sat on the money while searching out the right bands. After seeing local garage-rockers Pure Country Gold (who tied for ninth place in WW's most recent Best New Band Poll) last fall—and learning that they were looking for a new label (the self-titled duo's debut was released by Portland's Empty Records)—Dixon knew he had found what he was looking for.
Since typical indie rock does nothing for Dixon these days (he cites electro-pop project YACHT as an example of an artist whose success he just "doesn't understand"), Shake Appeal has had to look outside of the Rose City to fill its roster. In fact, PCG's the only local artist on the 4-month-old label. The other bands—Seattle's Tall Birds, New Jersey's Titus Andronicus and English expats Dan Melchior und Das Menace—are on Shake Appeal because they sound, as Dixon puts it, like "young white bands ripping off Chuck Berry."
"I wanted to have a jukebox label," says Dixon. "I wanted to put out 45s, where the labels have a unified aesthetic, and all the bands have a unified aesthetic." Growing up, Dixon says he'd buy records by a band he'd never heard of just because they were on In the Red Records. It was a label whose musical taste he could trust, and he wanted Shake Appeal to revive that idea.
Though Dixon realizes now that a label based on such a narrow idea requires too much energy and begets too little profit, he still wants Shake Appeal to represent a different kind of music in Portland. "It's fun music to DJ," he says about the dirtied-up garage rock he loves. "It's fun music to dance and listen to. I get kind of tired of [hearing] Depeche Mode again."