Noepe is the Wampanoag word for the Island of Martha’s Vineyard, and it is 25-year-old West Tisbury resident Colin Ruel’s aim that the name will soon become synonymous with his start-up music production company, Noepe Productions.
Sipping whiskey from a beige coffee cup at a picnic table outside his temporary summer home in West Tisbury, Mr. Ruel, a singer-songwriter and guitar player, describes Noepe Productions as a “music club” that he conceived as a means to organize and promote Vineyard artists. Though still in drawing-board stages, the Noepe concept is not only a production and promotion company for musicians, he explains, but a brand name for Vineyard artists of many talents, including writing, painting and graphic design.
“There are a lot of people just creating here,” said Mr. Ruel, dressed in a rumpled baby blue and black-checkered flannel shirt. “I love music and I love art and I want to ...let the cream rise to the top and just spread it,” he said.
Noepe Productions is a nonprofit organization (though not yet registered as one), partially funded by a $1,300 reimbursement grant Mr. Ruel received from the Martha’s Vineyard Cultural Council. Mr. Ruel hopes the grant money and the profits from the label’s first album will pay for the production of a second album, which will fund a third, and so on. While he has yet to decide on how to split profits between Noepe and its artists, Mr. Ruel said fairness is the principle that will guide company-client relations. The artists, not he, will maintain ownership of their creations. The goal, he said, is to preserve Vineyard music.
Noepe is a springboard label for its musicians who, Mr. Ruel hopes, will tour off-Island and get noticed and signed by larger, more established labels. “I think [Vineyard musicians] sometimes lose sight of how good they are here and the quality of the talent here,” Mr. Ruel said. “[But] it’s a big jump to do this off-Island. You really have to put yourself into it.”
Mr. Ruel describes the Vineyard music style as both distinctive and boundless. It’s bold and experimental — a sound laced with nuggets of acoustic rock, folk and 60s noise music traditions.
“The people who are good on the Island, are they just big fish in a small pond or are they actually good?” mused Mr. Ruel, a cigarette tucked between his lips. “I think they’re actually good.”
One Islander who has made an impact on the larger music scene is acoustic-rocker Willy Mason. He was discovered when his music, broadcast on a Martha’s Vineyard radio station, impressed a colleague of musician Conor Oberst. A pioneer of the local music scene, Mr. Mason has toured across the United States and Europe, sharing a stage with acts like Iggy Pop and Damien Rice.
Some local musicians measure their musical worth in the shadow of Mr. Mason’s celebrity, Mr. Ruel said. “I’ve come to see it’s more about the art than success,” he said.
Though he is experienced in music making and tour booking and promotion, Mr. Ruel admits that he’s along for the ride, learning music management one day at a time. Filtering through libraries of music and art on his white Mac laptop, he says he thinks Noepe Productions will take off because he is a doer as much as a dreamer.
Mr. Ruel expects to release the first Noepe-backed album, a compilation of songs written, strummed and sung by 21-year-old Edgartown native Adam Howell, in early July. Mr. Howell’s innovative album, Foxes Have Holes, fuses funk and folk sounds in a 10-track assortment of vocal and instrumental songs about hardships, relationships and the discovery of beauty.
Mr. Howell’s technical precision and deft guitar playing and picking lured Mr. Ruel to choose him as Noepe’s first musical representative. The album, spiced with ragtime and acoustic influences, features Island musicians Nina Violet on strings, Sam Mason on drums and Mr. Ruel on accordion and lap steel guitar.
“There’s a lot of people that play out [on the Island] and are really good and there are a lot of people who don’t and are really good, and Colin is good at finding those people and helping them to get appreciated,” said Mr. Howell, who taught himself to play guitar five years ago.
Mr. Ruel calls the small but rich culture of music on the Vineyard “incestuous.” Often, he said, he feels trapped here. Yet it’s this very quality of a close-knit artistic community that has enabled him to stretch little more than one thousand dollars in grant money into the beginnings of a well-connected local label.
The album came to fruition with the help of numerous Island musicians who donated their time and talents to the making of Howell’s CD. Willy Mason volunteered his equipment and Matthew Cullen engineered the album for a greatly discounted price. “You can make things happen fast here,” Mr. Ruel said of the connectedness of Vineyard musicians.
Mr. Ruel plans to launch Foxes Have Holes with an on-Island release party in early July. The album will be sold on compact disc by Mr. Howell, Mr. Ruel and at Aboveground Records.
“With the Internet, we don’t need the big companies,” Mr. Ruel explains. “You can promote yourself. It’s actually great in some ways. It’s kind of a bummer because people can’t just make it and get a big check ... People are going to start having to do more work. The artists are going to have to do everything themselves.”
Though he plans and promotes shows incessantly, Mr. Ruel only performs once every few months. As the founder of Noepe Productions, he will continue to play at a similar frequency while funneling the majority of his efforts toward molding the careers of Noepe artists.
On Sunday, Mr. Ruel will launch Noepe Productions with a show featuring Boston’s Tony the Bookie Orchestra and Vineyard artists Constant Smiles, Jemima James, Chris Menne and himself at the Katharine Cornell Theatre. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. with a $6 cover charge at the door.
To learn more about Noepe Productions and to preview Adam Howell’s song Down from the Mountains, visit the Web site at myspace.com/noeperecords.