To say the landscape of the music business has changed in the past 10 years is an understatement.
But there was a time before the demise of record sales where bands like Hootie & The Blowfish moved more than 16 million units of Cracked Rear View. There was even a day when compact discs were found in large bulky boxes and back catalog items are now found via the Internet and local record stores.
And hard to imagine, Murfreesboro was once tossed around in the same breath as large music scenes while garnering national press with tags like “Little Seattle” as it was producing a hotbed of talent through Spongebath Records during the mid 1990s.
Located on the Square, the independent label housed some of the most noted bands and songwriters from Murfreesboro such as Self, The Features, Fluid Ounces and The Katies.
Originated as an idea from Self front man Matt Mahaffey, Seth Timbs and Rick Williams, the label started abruptly with Timbs tossing around names.
In a recent phone interview, Timbs explained the start as he can be credited back to the namesake.
“The name just started as a joke as we were sitting around,” noted Timbs as he indicated a logo soon came into fruition not long after the name.
Most startups need capital to get off the ground and Spongebath was no different.
“Rick scored money from a major (label) to start up. He played some of Matt’s work with Self,” Timbs said as he wasn’t sure it would get off the ground in the early days.
The label in reference was Zoo Entertainment, an American label that released albums from Matthew Sweet and Tool among others.
As Spongebath was growing wings, it was becoming known regionally and nationally as well. Given the proximity to Music City and a bustling college town, Murfreesboro was putting its own name on the map with the help of Mahaffey and Self.
Self’s debut album, Subliminal Plastic Motives, was released in 1995 and remains to be the most recognized work from the label.
The album contained the standouts “Cannon” and “So Low” and had success on MTV along with several radio stations. Mahaffey’s credits also extended into work with Beck and production with Phantom Planet.
“Matt was the studio wizard,” Timbs added in reference to his work.
As Murfreesboro’s music scene was heating up, the energy extended into tours throughout the Southeast with a communal aspect.
“It was great. There were so many bands out at this time,” Timbs said. “We were like family. Everybody played with everybody. There was no competition.”
One of the groups who toured at this time was The Features, who Timbs first met at Jave Café, a long-defunct coffee shop on Greenland Drive, and helped book a show. When on the road, The Features, The Katies and Timb’s group Fluid Ounces would book shows together as a package deal.
The Features have endured the years and have become one of the most spirited bands in the mid-state and always act as a joy to see in a live setting.
In recent years, they have toured with Kings of Leon and played several festivals while being signed to Bug Music, which released their latest album, Some Kind of Salvation. The group has currently released a new single titled “Rambo,” which will be on their new album due out this summer.
Another artist on the label was hip-hop artist Count Bass D who acted as an addition to a well-rounded lineup among others.
In the same manner, the small staff from Spongebath went on to be players in the music business, like Michael Eades, Andy Kotowicz and Bingham Barnes.
Barnes is a local staple with rockers Glossary who are set to record their seventh album Long Live All of Us minutes down the road in Rockvale, Tenn., while Eades is most noted for his web savvy and operation of the music blog, We Own This Town.
Kotowicz went on to work in marketing and A & R with Sub Pop Records, which is a label mostly associated with Nirvana and Mudhoney along with new rock acts like Band of Horses, Fleet Foxes, Beach House and Iron & Wine. Sadly, Kotowicz was killed in a tragic car accident less than a year ago.
The label was short lived and dissolved in the early 2000s with much of the staff going in different directions. Mahaffey went to Los Angeles while others split from Murfreesboro also.
Timbs and Mahaffey continue to make music as well to this day.
Given the timeframe and the evolution of the music business during the early 2000s, there is a notion that if it had endured a little longer then it could possibly have a place today.
With Nashville’s rise during the last 10 years, it has attracted artists of all calibers such as Jack White, The Black Keys and many others. The country music moniker of the past still remains but has been slightly reduced as Nashville now has credentials for a rock town. In fact, Rolling Stone magazine recently named the city to have the best music scene in their April issue.
In the same manner, technology has boomed during this span where an independent startup such as Spongebath could exist very easily in today’s time.
There is a certain beauty that can be found in something that no longer remains, and Spongebath definitely left its mark on a growing college town during its livelihood as the legacy can still be recounted among locals and artists alike.