Good Night Gold Dust singer talks production, Kickstarter and creating a music venue
Colin Scharf from the Mankato-based band Good Night Gold Dust spoke in a music industry class Tuesday, Jan. 22 at Minnesota State University, Mankato where he discussed the struggles and success of being an independent musician in Mankato.
Formed in 2010, Good Night Gold Dust fully embraced being an independent band. They self-produced their first two albums and worked with Minneapolis producer Brett Bullion for their self-titled studio album.
“Working with Brett was a super leg up,” Scharf said. “His name on our stuff really amplified our signal.”
But production alone doesn’t make a good album. Gold Dust impressed Bullion with their demo. Their years of playing shows in the Twin Cities, perfecting their unique, ethereal, indie-rock sound paid off. Bullion helped them brilliantly showcase their sound.
“I guess it just became what the band sounded like, you know? Gold Dust went from being a self-produced, bang-around, folky rock band to slick, polished studio,” he said.
Producing a record, however, is only the first step. Being an independent musician also means doing all of the marketing, publishing and distribution by yourself. But Scharf’s intense love for music makes it worth it.
“You work. You do all that work, you do all that stuff yourself. And it’s exhausting, but when I’m not playing music, when I’m not working at music, I get really depressed. I get really sad. And then I go, ‘What’s missing? Oh yeah, music. I have to do something with music.’ So, it keeps me kind of alive,” he said.
Scharf also talked about their Kickstarter campaign for their newest album, “It Could Have Been You,” and the skills that helped with its success.
“Learn how to film, learn how to record, learn how to write a script if you don’t already do that stuff,” he said. “Just speaking personally, I grew up having my hand in all these little arenas. I’m not great at any of these things, but I can do them.”
The campaign’s odd video featured Scharf dressed up in a lobster costume busking around town in an attempt to fund the album.
“A friend of mine gave me a lobster costume for my birthday a couple years ago, and it just sort of sat in a box,” he said. “And I thought, ‘I’ve got it! I know what we can do for our Kickstarter video! It’s the rock lobster!’”
“So, the rock lobster marches around town, he’s got his guitar. He’s trying to make money for the band. It was kind of a gag. The video was a gag. And eventually it turns out that the rock lobster, people keep making fun of him, he doesn’t get any money. So then, it cuts to Gold Dust going, ‘We need your help!’ I thought it was hilarious,” he laughed.
Alongside his band, Scharf and his wife Laura have turned their house into a music venue called “The Gold Mine,” hosting living-room shows for local and regional acts.
In its early days, Good Night Gold Dust played primarily at two venues: The RedSky Lounge and the Sugar Room. Scharf said playing at these venues taught Gold Dust how to be a band.
But after both venues closed, Scharf wanted to create his own venue that felt more like home.
“So, Laura and I said, ‘Screw it. We’re going to take this into our own hands. We’re going to open our living room to host shows.’ As a way to, one: maintain relevancy through the greaterregional area for Good Night Gold Dust, but also two: because we love music,” he said.
Since the Gold Mine’s opening in 2015, they have hosted around 30 shows, featuring great Minnesota artists including Chris Koza, Field Report, Communist Daughter, Mike Munson, Charlie Parr and Chastity Brown.
“When Chastity Brown played, MPR did a photo spread,” he said. “But then Jay Gabler from The Current reached out and he said, ‘Hey, we’re doing an article about small, independent listening rooms around the state, can we do the Gold Mine?’ and I said, ‘Well, yeah!’”
Since starting Good Night Gold Dust, Scharf has found success for himself not just in performing, but in many facets of the industry. His variety of skills and willingness to try new things has helped him find stability.
“You kind of look back at all the little things. I don’t consider myself just a singer-songwriter. I have all these other things that help me,” he said. “I’m giving back, and then I’m getting favors and helping people out. It’s just a very cyclic, karmic thing. It’s cool.”
Scharf’s career has been propelled by just trying things and reaching out to people, even if it seemed unlikely to work.
“Sometimes maybe you’re afraid. Don’t be afraid to ask. Just reach out,” he said. “They might not write back. You might get an email from their booker or manager that’s, like, all lowercase, no punctuation and very terse. But then you might get a really happy one. It might work out.”
Feature photo courtesy of Good Night Gold Dust.