Through Mean World Records, co-founder and bassist Hunter Bates hoped to transport the warm (some would say humid) energy of Jackson, Mississippi's close-knit DIY music scene 1,200 miles to the heart of the Mile High City.
Bates grew up hopping between bands in Jackson, plucking his electric bass on dimly lit stages at the back of cozy local venues. In every group, he dove into community outreach and tackled the seemingly dull marketing and management tasks his bandmates avoided, a selfless move that revealed his natural affinity and a hidden passion for the work.
"I'll put the shows together and I'll do the merch inventory and deal with the money," Bates says. "I don't know why, but I was just like, 'This feels like my thing.' I think a lot of that was that I'm a bass player first, so maybe [I wanted] to feel more important or something, but it turned into being very natural."
Breaking into Denver's music scene was difficult, to say the least. Bates wasn't performing much during his first few years in the city, and the pandemic quickly compounded his musical isolation. But in 2021, one of his friends from Mississippi, Jackson Maddox, moved to Denver and offered Bates a spot in his group, Magnolia Grove.
That's how Bates met Jason Kaplan and Jake DeMarco, two fellow musicians who quickly became fast friends. Although the three joined different groups after Magnolia Grove's lead singer relocated to Nashville, they still wanted to find a way to support each other and uphold the musical community they found.
The trio threw around the idea of starting a music label, and in August, Bates got to work. "I injured my knee pretty badly, so I was out of work and just stuck at home," he reflects. "That's really when I started waking up every day and just working at it and really building it from the ground up, because it was either that or lying in bed all day.
"It felt like a life change," he adds. "Like something that was supposed to happen. As much as it sucked to not be able to walk for a minute, it was definitely the perfect break that I needed to start doing the things I want to do."
Bates, Kaplan and DeMarco launched the label Mean World Records on September 25. The brand's roster currently includes up-and-coming DIY bands that Bates, Kaplan and DeMarco are a part of — Shady Oaks, the Losers Club, In Plain Air, the Study Abroad and Tarantula Bill.
The record label doesn't have a physical location (though that is a goal), and signed artists record at various studios, including Avalanche Recording Studios and Mighty Fine Productions.
But Mean World Records is also about empowering artists outside of the label, building a network of local groups that echo the DIY community that welcomed Bates in Jackson. He shares his management skills and passion for local artistry through services such as social media content creation, professional mixing and mastering, artist management consulting and booking outreach, helping talented groups score gigs and build a fan base.
The label also supports community venues. Mean World Records is collaborating with D3 Arts, a nonprofit venue that strengthens the cultural roots of the historically Latino Westwood neighborhood. The label designed Día de los Muertos stickers and is donating all of the sales profits to D3.
While the name "Mean World" sounds a bit intimidating, to Bates it symbolizes a musical community that defies the odds. "The state of the world in general — it's really shitty sometimes," Bates says. "And especially with art and creatives, there's always people that only want to get involved to make their money and profit off of artists and creatives. So the idea is that everything kind of sucks, but if we're building community and doing stuff together, it's going to be fine." Even the logo, a carefree whistling vinyl strolling around with two middle fingers held high, represents this mentality.
In Plain Air, Mean World's psychedelic rock trio formed by Ben Maillaro, Nate Tharp and DeMarco, releases its sophomore EP, Sunnyside, on December 8. The occasion will be marked by a celebratory pre-release show at the Mercury Cafe on Thursday, December 7. The performance will also feature Shady Oaks, Mr. Knobs and Valkin, who'll be spinning a late-night DJ set.
"A lot of shows that are booked around here...it's like every band for themselves, fighting over money. And it shouldn't be like that," Bates says. "It should be: Here are four bands that I really like. Let's all play a show together. Let's split everything equally. Let's just have fun."
In Plain Air's Sunnyside EP-release show, 8 p.m. Thursday, December 7, Mercury Cafe, 2199 California Street. Tickets are $15.