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Twin Towers

I Am the World Trade Center rises again.

Writing about band names is one of the great cliches in rock journalism. Every group with an off-kilter appellation has an allegedly amusing or revealing (and often lengthy) story about how its stage alias was invented, but the majority of these tales are about as fascinating as a day spent cleaning heavily mildewed bathroom tile with a worn-out toothbrush.

Sometimes, though, discussing an act's moniker is unavoidable -- as Dan Geller, half of the electro-pop duo dubbed I Am the World Trade Center, knows all too well.

Geller -- who's also the co-founder of the excellent indie label Kindercore, not to mention a biological engineer working for the University of Georgia -- understands why he and Center cohort/significant other Amy Dykes became the focus of items in Newsweek and other national publications after the New York landmark that inspired their handle collapsed last year. Likewise, he sees the news value in detailing the threatening messages and hate-filled e-mails sent to the twosome by ignorant Web surfers, who likely stumbled upon references to the outfit while searching the Internet for information about the attacks. (For some reason, he says, the worst of them came from Germany, not the U.S.) And he feels some obligation to explain why he and Dykes let their designation be shortened to I Am the World when their fine debut album, Out of the Loop, was issued overseas in late September, two months after its domestic release, but chose to stick the original tag on The Tight Connection, their brand-new, thoroughly enjoyable second disc.

"The company that was putting Loop out in England decided to be conservative," Geller notes. "But even in the beginning, there were people who were supportive of us and who didn't see the name as a bad thing. And one of them said to us that the world has a three-month memory and that we should wait three months to see what happened before we made a decision. And sure enough, after three months the responses were all really positive. So at the end of 2001, we decided to stay with it."

By doing so, Geller and Dykes guaranteed that name questions would keep coming despite the apolitical nature of their music. "We have points of view about politics and things like that," he allows, "but it's never been our intention to express them in the band. I love bands that do things like that, but that's not what we're trying to be. The whole point of this band is just to have fun, so it's really an ironic situation in many, many ways."

In the beginning -- or, to be more specific, in 1996 -- Geller didn't have to carry this kind of baggage. He was simply a bio-chemistry student at the University of Georgia in Athens who spent his off-hours performing with a group called Kincaid. "I had no musical background, and at that point in time, I barely knew how to play anything," he confesses.

Nonetheless, he and his mates, including future Kindercore colleague Ryan Lewis, were competent enough to record songs for a seven-inch single. Afterward, they realized that they needed someone to press and distribute the platter, and when no outside party volunteered, they chose to do it themselves.

"We started the label because it seemed like the thing to do," Geller asserts, laughing. "There was this record that needed to come out, so we made up the Kindercore name, because it gave it some legitimacy, and put it out. And I guess we were kind of good at it, because we sold all 500 of them we made. And then we made a compilation tape that did really well, and then an album, and it just kind of mushroomed from there."

Along the way, he says, "we created an infrastructure -- and it didn't take a genius to figure out that if you have an infrastructure, you can put out more records than just yours. And since we had all these friends who were in good bands and they were in similar situations to us, we thought, 'This could really be a scene, so let's see what we can do with it.' And we kind of rode that to where we are now."

Today, Kindercore is home to around a dozen mostly pop-oriented acts, and there's not a stiff in the bunch. The firm has maintained an impressively high level of quality throughout its existence, thanks to signees such as Call and Response, the Essex Green, the Real Tuesday Weld, Ashley Park and Denver's own Dressy Bessy, whose latest offering, SoundGoRound, is currently the label's biggest hit.

Of course, Kindercore's standard of success is far different from that of major labels. Geller says he's happy if a CD cracks the 5,000-unit barrier and is over the moon when a disc sells 20,000 copies or more. As a result, returns are modest -- but Geller makes sure they're distributed evenhandedly. Like most indies, "we do a profit split instead of royalties," he points out. "That means the label spends X amount of money on the band, and once that money comes back in, everything else gets split between the label and the band. So they don't make money unless we do, and vice versa. To me, that's the only way to do it if you think about it, because you need the band to work as hard as you do.

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