A Delicate Balance: Exigent Records Finds its Groove

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Owner/Founder: Colby Houghton Year Established: 2004
Current artists: Gaza, Prize Country, Loom, Bird Eater, Microtia, Gods Revolver, Medea, Diesto, Accidente, Top Dead Celebrity, Cosm, ESP, Ether, Pilot, Reviver and Bird Eater
Number of releases to date: 20
National Distribution? Yes. Through Sony Red
Is Roster Available on itunes? Yes
Number of albums sold to date: 8,000 +
Website: exigentrecords.com and myspace.com/ exigentrecords

Photo by Ruby Johnson

Colby Houghton, father of two and T-Mobile employee by day, is no stranger to the business behind owning a record label. Colby’s brainchild, Exigent Records, has seen substantial national success with GAZA, Loom, Prize Country and a gamut of successful and up-and-coming regional bands. What began as a helping hand to Houghton’s friends’ bands quickly grew into a healthy regional label with four years and 19 albums at its back. With around 15,000 albums sold to date, you could say Exigent is doing just fine. “When I was a teenager,” Colby recalls, “my dad told me: ‘You know, if you really want to rebel, if you really want to get to corporate America, you have to become corporate America and break it from the inside out.’” The essence of this advice––that it’s best to play by the rules, but only until you get what you want––lays the foundation for Exigent’s philosophy. “To me, it’s ultimately about the real value of music, the real value of art––doing things more for the art and music than for the business.”

Exigent Records has always had this admirable conviction. “[We’re always] looking at how we can do things differently and still be successful,” Houghton says. “Salt Lake’s an amazing place and I think, based on the culture here, that there’s a lot of untapped ambitions and amazing art and music, and any label looking to support that can always find it.” Colby isn’t in it for the money, and neither are his bands or fans. The mission statement on Exigent’s Myspace puts it best, asking its readers: “How do you currently support art? Your rebellion is confused by suburbs and downloads; but we fight for so much more––PUNK ROCK is a mentality––a movement of influence – a state of mind. Not your haircut.”

Maybe you can build a record label with nice ideas alone, but you can’t keep one running that way, so Exigent’s release process has been “more traditional for the last few years, just to get the exposure.” And they got it: “I mean, there was a year’s time there where I put out like twelve records. You have to build credibility somewhere,” Houghton says, “and now that we have that credibility, I can turn around and say, ‘Okay, well the focus hasn’t changed, but now we have the leeway to do it in a more creative way.’”

Steering away from mainstream record label practices has always been Exigent’s mantra. The most notable step in this direction is a number of limited-edition vinyl releases, printed at about 200 copies each, that are set to drop within the year, including Ether’s first cut in over six years. While far from bankable in a strictly commercial sense, vinyl records are something “that people are super interested in,” Houghton says. The appeal of these collectibles is their artistic content, both visual and auditory, and just the way one feels in your hands––it’s a physical presence that music is losing in our digital world. Houghton’s also looking into some digital-only releases for www.exigentrecords.com, which already streams every Exigent album for free.

Exigent is known for its diverse roster of genre-defying artists, and they plan on pushing their own boundaries even further with upcoming releases. “ I’ve been working with COSM, and an artist who goes by ESP. They’ve both been in the works for over a year and they’ll finally drop next year. They both delve into a sort of dark hiphop, which will be a huge switch for the label.” Also on the horizon is volume two of the label’s compilation CD The Sound of Colors Breathing. The compilations are one track from each of a selection of Exigent bands and Houghton’s aiming for a spring ’09 release.

With bands from so many different genres of rock music, and two hiphop artists on their way, Exigent is definitely an eclectic label. How to draw the line is an easy decision for Houghton: “In terms of limiting myself to a genre: not going to happen. Do I think ‘country’ is going to work on the label? No, not going to work. However, am I going to restrict that opportunity if it somehow made sense? Absolutely not.”

“The one thing I’m really proud of with Exigent is that no [two] bands on Exigent are the same, [yet] every single Exigent band goes together,” Houghton says. It’s a delicate balance, really: teetering between uniformity, mainstream business, anarchy and penniless bohemian ideals, hoping to land on creative substance and remain a label that can afford to stick to its maxims. The future of Exigent definitely looks bright, in a dark, heavy, thrashing sort of way.

Exigent Records
EXIG-001: Gaza – East – CDR (2004)
EXIG-002: Day Of Less – Day Of Less – East – CDR (2005)
EXIG-003: Novelists – So Be It – CDR (2006)
EXIG-004: Lost In The Fire – Lost In The Fire – CDR (2006)
EXIG-005: Sweet Jesus – Sweet Jesus – CDR (2006)
EXIG-006: Glacial – Glacial – CDR (2006)
EXIG-007: Prize Country - Lottery Of Recognition – CDR (2007)
EXIG-008: Loom – Angler – CDR (2007)
EXIG-009: Bird Eater – Utah – CDR (2007)
EXIG-010: XUR/Mich!gan - By The Beard Of Zeus – CDR (2007)
EXIG-011: Microtia – Distance Is Oval – CDR (2007)
EXIG-012: Gods Revolver – Little Black Horse... – CDR (2007)
EXIG-013: Medea – We Alone Define Our Distance – CDR (2007)
EXIG-014: Loom/Prize Country – Clutches 10”LP/CD Edition of 500 (2008)
EXIG-015: Top Dead Celebrity – Top Dead Celebrity – CDR (2008)
EXIG-016: Diesto – Isle Of Marauder – CDR (2008)
EXIG-017: Accidente – Exotic Payday – CDR (2008)
EXIG-018: Reviver – Versificator – CDR (2008/2009)
EXIG-019: Pilot This Plane Down – Glory Of The World – CDR (2008/2009)
EXIG-020: Pilot This Plane Down – AIRS – CDR (Remaster; Digital) (2008)