Banter Media and Lefse Records

Posted on June 3, 2010 – 7:40 AM | by OldManFoster
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By Troy Mighty   photo by Scott Duncan

Sacramento is a land of opportunity. It’s a place where anyone with the will to get  something done can generally succeed. Within its quiet façade, Sacramento has fostered the birth of many a creative endeavor, be it clothing boutique, a restaurant, an art gallery, a theatrical project… the list goes on. Our humble city is bursting at the seams with possibility!

Such possibility is exactly what Matt Halverson saw when he began coming to Midtown last year to visit his girlfriend who had recently relocated from San Francisco. Halverson was taken with Midtown area immediately, and more, he saw an opportunity.  For nearly six years Halverson had been running Banter Media, a small music promotions company, with his longtime friend Tyler Stover.  Both worked day jobs while maintaining their passion and involvement in the music around them.  In Midtown, Halverson saw a way out of the grind.

“Tyler visited with me, and I said ‘Look around, we can get an office and really turn this into a full-time job.’ He agreed on the spot and moved up”.

The two were actually returning to Sacramento.  Both Halverson and Stover grew up in Fair Oaks and graduated from Bella Vista High School. Best friends then, they went to separate colleges but stayed in touch. It was not long before the two made plans to begin their first label, Banter Records.

“Tyler came out to New York while I was interning at Ace Fu Records, and we decided we’d start the label together,” Halverson recalls. “We moved to San Diego because that was where he found a job utilizing his Masters degree.”

“We began the label there with two friend’s bands. No luck with distro. No luck with anything at all, except local success. We had no idea what we were doing, and used the little I had learned as an intern as a jumping point.”

Not satisfied with keeping their label strictly local, they began branching into more managerial aspects of the music business.   “The main hurdle was getting the national press to listen to what we were putting out,” says Halverson of these early ventures.

They persevered with the bands they were promoting, adding the Banter Media moniker, to better define their growing intentions. A dedicated Halverson moved to San Francisco with Banter artist The Traditionist, who had a decent amount of fans in the bay and connections with bigger artists and recording studios.

Stover eventually made his way to SF as well; soon the two decided to head to Sacramento and the opportunities they saw here. They found an office on 22nd street and moved in last October, hiring a couple of staffers, and preparing to make a real job out of the small label and promotions company they’d been building.

The new digs for Banter called for new beginnings. While scouring the internet for sounds, Halverson’s jaw dropped over the two songs posted on the myspace page of a mop-haired kid from Brooklyn who called himself Neon Indian.

Halverson contacted Alan Palomo, the guy behind Neon Indian, about releasing a record. He learned that the two songs he’d been jamming to were about all that existed, but within weeks, Palomo delivered Psychic Chasms, the album that became the first release from Banter’s brand new side-project, Lefse Records.

“To me, Neon Indian was a new sound. It was exciting. Lo-Fi but super poppy, and I loved his voice”, Halverson remembers. “Banter was sort of in limbo as a label. That is the number one reason we started Lefse, along with the fact that Neon Indian was completely different than the acts we previously worked with. We wanted a fresh start.”

Psychic Chasms sounds like exactly that; it’s the soundtrack to cruising the beach at sunset, with twenty of your best friends, and healthy amounts of your favorite party drug. Palomo’s lazy but lovely vocals and equally smooth synths weave together to create a sound that is part New Order and part Ariel Pink, with some Daft Punk and even Men at Work thrown in. The album is infectious and feels surprisingly new, in an age when so little can.

Lefse Records has quickly built an international roster of fourteen bands (largely due to Halverson’ myspace browsings) including the Lo-Fi R&B sounds of Germany’s How To Dress Well and Brooklyn’s Animal Collective-esque Keepaway.

Getting the press to pay attention is no problem now. gave Psychic Chasms its Best New Music award, and continues to stoke the flames of Neon Indian’s doings. Keepaway, and their stunning “Baby Style” EP that Lefse released in May, is also fit to get a ton of Pitchfork applause.

An enthusiastic kid called MK is one of the dozen interns at Banter Media. He came to Halverson one day with the idea of starting another subsidiary label, this one focused on digital releases from strange and wonderful instrumental bands. It was agreed, and Waaga Records was born last December. MK’s taken this on, along with management of Mount Shout, one the most exciting female voices in Midtown.

Some of the ten bands on Waaga’s roster will be joining Lefse and LA-based Manimal Vinyl this October for a CMJ showcase. Halverson is planning a Lefse Records showcase at next year’s SXSW festival. There’s even a third subsidiary label in the works, to be run by Halverson’s father Mark, who once held long-term tenure at SN&R.

The umbrella of Banter Media continues to grow. While Halverson’s busy signing and promoting bands, Stover’s taken much of the managing work, reaching beyond what they’re releasing to include producers and other labels’ bands, including Midtown’s own psychedelic sweethearts, the Ganglians. Banter got them signed with Australian label Pop Frenzy, and they’ll soon be headed down under to see what’s smoked there.

Banter Media has come to the heart of Midtown, and grown into a fruitful tree.  Halverson and Stover offer an inspiring example of the opportunities our little town has to offer – for those who look to see.

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