Bryon Dudley is a man of many talents and he’s applied them in myriad ways relating to the state’s music scene over the past couple decades. In no particular order: He’s a musician, playing and releasing music with a wide range of acts including Strong Like Bear; he’s the owner/operator of a recording studio called The Spacement; he’s one of the co-founders of Nova Labs, a record label that has released over 150 titles since kicking off a decade ago; he’s a long-time organizer of the Maximum Ames Music Festival; and he’s a writer, who’s covered the scene for outlets including Iowa Public Radio, Iowa Informer, and Little Village. (The list actually does go on from there!) For this edition of Making a Scene, Bryon shared a few thoughts on the scene in Ames, some background on his own music, and his ongoing work with Nova Labs and The Spacement.
villin: I’m curious to learn a little about The Spacement. You have so many interesting musical tentacles dancing around you at all times, it seems, but would you say The Spacement is your main focus, musically speaking?
Bryon Dudley: It sort of depends, I’d say there have definitely been times where that was my main focus for sure. The studio started out as just a place for me to make demos, and I sort of fell into being a studio. For a while I took it really seriously, and it was my main job, but that’s fluctuated over time. These days I’m backing off from studio work a little and trying to work on more of my own musical projects. But I also have a good clientele built up of people who have become friends, and I’d never turn down working with a lot of those people. It doesn’t feel like work at that point!
villin: Jordan Mayland was kind enough to let me listen to an archived version of the interview you did together on his podcast, where you discussed the transition of the Maximum Ames Festival from its creator to the team that ran with the baton. What is it about the festival that’s so vital for not merely Ames’ scene, but the state’s?
Bryon Dudley: The Maximum Ames Music Festival is really integrated into the culture of Ames and beyond. The people who created it really tapped into a need in Ames, and it just became a staple. I’d always been involved from the start, but usually helping out running sound or something. When I had to start talking to venues and potential sponsors and things after the baton was passed, I was pretty worried about it, I hadn’t done much of that before. But so many here in Ames believe in the festival that it sold itself. Which not only made my job easier, but really drove home to me how much people at the local business level loved what MAMF represents. And we’d see artist applicants from several states away, so culturally that feels like MAMF is on radars outside of Iowa, which brings art and new creative ideas to our state, new audiences, on and on. I firmly believe cultural events like this are vital to even just the basic concept of community, from city to state and beyond.
villin: Which are some of your favorite live moments from years gone by with the festival, and are there any bands that haven’t played it yet that you’d like to see perform?
Bryon Dudley: So many great moments for me! Getting to see the Zombies, and Jeff Mangum, and Meat Puppets! I was like five feet away from Meat Puppets and I was so stoked. In general, whatever the last show of the fest is on Sunday night at Deano’s (which is now The Angry Irishmen) was always the big one. And it was always Iowa bands that played it, so seeing Iowa bands just bring the thunder to a packed room was always a treat. I have a mental wish list of bigger acts I’d love to see play the fest, but wow are those acts expensive. That’s tough to do on a DIY fest budget. I always wanted to get House Of Large Sizes, I thought that’d be a great fit. Or a Frankenixon reunion – I know they had a Des Moines reunion show once, but having them play MAMF would be super cool, they were one of my favorite Iowa bands.
villin: Ames seems like a unique scene due in part to the constant turnover of its young people with the university there. Given the long relationship you’ve had with the city, are there any changes you can think of that could help strengthen it or improve it in some way?
Bryon Dudley: I think you’ve put your finger right on it there. The down side is when a young band just starts to develop and gain a following, they end up graduating and moving away, and that’s it. The up side is a steady steam of creativity, which is nice.
I think if we had a legit mid-size venue in the campus area of Ames, one that had some touring bands but also had local shows, that would plant more of a seed in student minds that might inspire them to make music and/or form bands. And I think that the cross-pollination of other local scenes, with other Iowa bands playing there, would be healthy for the scene, which might make it easier for musicians to make at least a little bit of a living off of their music. That would, in my mind, encourage bands that are doing well to maybe stick around at least a little longer.
villin: Being on the outskirts of various different music scenes over the years, I’ve often had thoughts of helping release records or start a small label, but you have done the deal for a decade with Nova Labs. Back in 2014 you connected with Little Village for an article recapping your first year in business. In that interview you talked about finding a balance of sustainability as an independent label, and spoke of a hope that you’d be able to make that work with time. On two sides of the coin, what have been some of the most rewarding aspects of running the label, and what were its greatest challenges?
Bryon Dudley: The most rewarding part was for sure the people. I made a lot of friends while working on the label, people who are still like family to me. Musicians, artists, other technical people, and most of all the people who would come to the Nova Labs shows and come to the merch booth to buy stuff, and then gush about the bands on the stage. That is such a great feeling, to put some art out there and have people get it! What more can you ask for really? Most of the challenges were just the dull business stuff. I’m not a great businessman, and figuring out a lot of that stuff was probably harder for me than it would be for someone more business-oriented. I’m happy to report that we were sustainable – we never really lost money on the label, it was just always breaking even. It was more of a non-profit in a lot of ways.
villin: In December an update was posted to Facebook announcing that Nova Labs’ online store was soon to be coming down and there haven’t been any updates to the page since then. What’s the status of the label?
Bryon Dudley: I’ve also let the website go in the meantime. We’ve been primarily a CD-based label, and people stopped buying CDs, so the money just wasn’t there to pay things like website fees and domain names fees and all of that. I did make a go of pushing the digital store, but I wasn’t seeing much in sales there. One day I looked through the releases, and realized that very, very few of the artists on the site were active, and nearly all of the bands had broken up, in some cases years ago. I thought about completely just shuttering it, but I still use it to put out my own stuff, and when friends occasionally will want discs made, those end up being Nova Labs releases. I don’t market it or push it as a record label anymore, though, it’s become a sheer vanity label sort of thing. We put together a Nova Labs themed fest called the Uncertainty Festival, which ran for three years. The pandemic wiped out year four, and I haven’t decided whether to bring that back or not. And I put together a show in Ames called Nostalgia In Reverse that went over pretty well, so maybe Nova Labs will just become a booking entity or something?
villin: This is hard because there are bound to be many deserving releases left out, but which of its albums comprise the Nova Labs Mount Rushmore for you?
Bryon Dudley: That is a tough one for sure, it’s like picking a favorite child hahaha. I loved Unwavery’s Boone, ca. 1995 a lot. Artificial Flavor: The Flavor Basket Anthology, for sure. Doctor Murdock’s A Man On Earth From Mercury, which is great and was probably our biggest seller. Holly & The Night Owls’ self-titled is one of my favorite records, and not just with an Iowa music qualifier. We did a reissue of Great Big Freak’s Deeelish, a rock/hip-hop album from the early ’90s that I think was way ahead of the curve. Jordan Mayland & The Thermal Detonators’ This Mess. Annaliberra’s Moon Bath. I could go on and on, I’m really proud of everything we’ve put out! I still listen to all of them, rotating them into my listening patterns, and they hold up pretty well, I think.
villin: You’ve been in a huge number of bands over the years, and many of them have some really outstanding names. While listening to your interview on the Indie Music Room Podcast I heard you mention Mother’s Other Lover. What is the favorite band name that you’ve been a part of and are there any good ones that got left on the drawing room floor?
Bryon Dudley: Wow, you did your homework for sure! Mother’s Other Lover was the first band I was ever in, with my wife Rachel and a couple other friends. We had one called Amazing Gravy that I liked. We did a one-off noise show once with Rachel, Dylan Boyle, and myself called Molotov Cockring, and I think that’s probably my favorite band name of all time hahaha.
villin: In those same interviews you mentioned living both in Germany and Atlanta, I believe. What was it that led you there and then why did you find it important to return to Iowa?
Bryon Dudley: Rachel and I had just graduated from college, and wanted to get out of Iowa. So we moved to Atlanta for work. Rachel got a good job, and after a while they wanted to promote her, but the company was a German company, and it was required that she move there. We went for it, and loved it, but my mom ended up passing away while we were there, and when I came back during that time I saw friends and family, and got really homesick for Iowa. I did not think that would happen! But I realized how important your people are.