A brief history of Robert Pollard’s Rockathon Records

Rockathon Records made big news a couple weeks ago, when they announced their move to downtown Dayton from their previous location on Stanley Avenue.

Recently, I had a chance to sit down to discuss the move with Matt Davis and Kevin Poindexter of Rockathon, learning a little more about their motivation to relocate and what the future holds for this Dayton-based label.

So, why did they move?

Standing outside, Matt Davis pointed out the buildings surrounding Rockathon's new World Headquarters and explained what developers had in mind for each location: shops, restaurants, living spaces, and best of all - a new music venue.

"When we heard about all of the development coming to this area, we wanted to be a part of it, too," said Davis.

He said that while the previous location had all of the things they needed – like parking, nearby access to the post office, etc. – it lacked the energy of the revitalized downtown area. Plus, after six years at the former Stanley Avenue location, they had totally outgrown the little office and were in need of more room to stay organized and efficient.

Rockathon Records is the independent label behind the many projects and collaborations of local musician and artist Robert Pollard – yes, the same Pollard of Guided by Voices, Circus Devils and Boston Spaceships, to name a few.

Pollard created the label in the 1990s to release the Guided by Voices album Propeller. However, when Matador signed the band in the mid-'90s, Rockathon remained in the background, serving primarily as the merchandising arm of GBV. In 2009, Pollard wanted to consolidate operations of all his label entities.  Mike Lipps joined Davis and Poindexter as the third partner, and Rockathon was reborn on January 1, 2010.

What's the benefit of Pollard having his own record label? They handle all of the work of putting out the album, freeing Pollard to do what he does best: create. When he decides he wants to put out an album, he lets Rockathon know and they spring into action scheduling recording time at the studio, informing the vinyl and cd manufacturing companies of the project timeline, preparing the album art for print, working with their distribution partner to tee up retail and digital sales, and taking care of countless other details.

For many artists, one album every two years is about as much as can be expected. For a prolific artist like Pollard, Rockathon produced five albums, nine singles, a 100-song box set, two t-shirt designs and a book of collage art in 2015 alone – and it was supposed to be a “light year.” Of course, releasing albums is what a record label does, so 20 projects might not sound like a ton of work. But everyone at Rockathon has other full-time jobs. When the clock strikes 5 p.m., most people head home for the night, but this is when the Rockathon-ers roll up their sleeves to pick, pack, and ship your orders, plan the next release, and crunch numbers. Why put the extra time in to support someone else's creative work?

"It's a privilege," said Poindexter. "He's an unbelievable artist. For me it's like if the Beatles asked for help with their label."

In the last six years, the web order side of Rockathon sold close to 50,000 items, shipping roughly 4000 orders per year to 36 countries as well as every state in the US – “except for Wyoming,” said Davis. “Get off your ass, Wyoming!"

Rockathon currently sells over 200 items (which makes around 7.89 x 10374 possible combinations!). When asked if they are considering opening up the place for retail sales, it's not likely to be anytime soon.

"It's not impossible, just improbable," said Davis.

In the meantime, it seems as though there is no shortage of work to do keeping up with the creative genius of Robert Pollard. The Rockathon crew adhere to the motto "Keep it in Motion" – and thanks to their new digs, they'll be able to do just that for years to come.

For more information on the Robert Pollard universe, visit the Guided by Voices Database.

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