Crossbill Records was started in late 2005 during a time when I was heavily involved in the local Davis, CA music scene. I had a weekly radio program, “Cool As Folk” at KDVS and I was also booking two shows a week at the Delta of Venus Cafe. An integral part of the Friday morning radio program was inviting musicians down to the station to play their songs on air and tell their stories. I always admired the songwriting process and that was only strengthened by the intimate weekly acoustic concerts in Studio B. It was through this experience that I had the opportunity to interview such respected voices like Jolie Holland, Sean Hayes, Josh Ritter, Mason Jennings, Sonny Smith, The Avett Brothers, Utah Phillips and dozens of others. I never had any label aspirations before volunteering at KDVS, but after hosting the “Cool As Folk” show for 2 years and receiving a positive response from the community to what I was playing on the airwaves and the talent I was bringing to town, it provided the confidence to take a step forward and become more involved in the music making process.
The other major factor for me was to help my buddies Garrett Pierce, Jake Mann and The Mad Cow String Band release their records and to contribute to the Davis music scene. I'm thankful especially to Garrett and Jake as they gave me a push to first release Garrett Pierce's Like A Moth in January of 2006.
As I look at the records we have put our name on over the last 7 years I'm really proud of the Crossbill catalog. I think we have been thoughtful and conscientious about the music we have released. There's been a common thread of strong songwriting throughout all the releases and it's been fun to see artists like Sea of Bees, Matt Bauer and Dana Falconberry find larger audiences. It's gratifying and validates you as a label when others appreciate what you put out. Crossbill is no longer only a local label as evident by our latest release The Secret Will Keep You from Lafayette, LA's Brass Bed, a joint release with Greg Edwards' Off the Air Recordings. As a small label with limited resources it's never been necessarily about selling records, it's been more about finding inspiration, making connections with other like minded music lovers and hopefully helping my friends along the way.
[Ed's Note: Michael Leahy would also like to note that in his mid-30s he can still do this, making him quite possibly the only label founder that can dunk.]
I asked Crossbill's first artist, Garrett Pierce (now signed to Narnack Records) to provide a history of Crossbill Records history from his perspective:
Over early morning coffee and numerous egg dishes at the Delta of Venus in Davis, California an idea was planted, and some eight years later, I am proud to say I helped Michael Leahy sow the seed of what became Crossbill Records.
Michael, Jake Mann and I brainstormed ways for my newly finished full-length album to get the exposure we believed it warranted. We knew how difficult it was for radio, magazines and even listeners to press play on a record without having the support of a label behind it. So I proposed an idea to Michael, “Why don’t you start a label?” With his background as a radio DJ at KDVS and booker at the Delta and Sophia's Thai Kitchen, I could think of no better person.
Originally, the idea was more of a fluke. Maybe Michael would put out my record, maybe something from Jake or another local band. We were thinking in the short term – just a few friends haphazardly riffing over one too many cups of coffee. What occurred since then might be small potatoes to the larger labels of the world, but to me is a major achievement.
Michael always said “If I could do anything, I’d want to help launch the careers of the people on my label”. Ever-humble, Leahy has done just that numerous times over.
Within the first few years of its inception, Crossbill Records released albums from myself, Matt Bauer, Jake Mann, Mad Cow String Band and Silver Darling. On a budget culled mostly from his day job as a middle school counselor, Michael supported all of us as we toured past our comfort zone of Northern California, on through the states, and even overseas.
Before you knew it, Crossbill Records became a legitimate business. It was around that time Michael realized that this was no longer a hobby. And there couldn’t have been a more perfect record to release at that juncture than Sea of Bees’ Songs For The Ravens. With songs of rich, sentimental longing, Julie Baenzinger's debut masterpiece was the embodiment of Michael's favorite kind of music, and it quickly became Crossbill's biggest hit to date.
And the roster keeps growing. The last couple years have seen the talents of both local and national acts enter the Crossbill family. Appetite, The Loom, Dana Falconberry and Brass Bed – bands and songwriters who fit seamlessly among the core group that helped launch the label.
Some of us may have moved on …which is, I guess, is what Michael always hoped for. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a single person on the Crossbill roster who hasn’t cherished their time working with Michael. I, for one, can say that my time with The Dirty Bird was the best of my life.
Garrett's most recent record, City of Sand is out now on Narnack Records.
Sands – The Natural – release date TBA
Brass Bed – The Secret Will Keep You (Crossbill/Off the Air Recordings)
West Nile Ramblers – Western Garage & Country Noir
Jason Lytle/Sea of Bees 7″ (Crossbill/Off the Air Recordings)
Matt Bauer – No Shape Can Hold Me Now EP
Brass Bed – Bullet For You 7″
Sea of Bees – Live at the Hangar EP
Songs For the Ravens
Brass Bed with Allison Bohl- On Nilsson EP
Dana Falconberry- Though I Didn't Call It Came EP
The Loom- Teeth
Appetite- Scattered Smothered Covered
Matt Bauer- The Jessamine County Book of the Living
Jake Mann + The Upper Hand- Parallel South