Houstonian Tales: Jessica Baldauf
Jessica Baldauf. Photo: Os Galindo
The greatest part of living in an undiscovered gem like our city is that all of the people who move here are from various walks of life. A couple of years ago I caught a now defunct band where I knew everyone in it except for one person. I remember asking a friend who the brunette girl was, and they said, “oh that’s Jessica, you have to meet her.” Since then I’ve gotten to watch as Jessica Baldauf has created her own cassette tape label with Miss Champagne, she’s helped throw shows, and she’s joined the band Rose Ette while expressing a love for her new found home of Houston. It’s such an amazing ride to see someone who start repping the H as soon as she got here, making me feel like she’s a great example of what makes this the best city in the United States and possibly the world. I sat down with her to talk about where she’s from, what she’s done, and what she has coming up.
Free Press Houston: You aren’t from Houston and came here from Portland. Were you born there, and how long have you lived here in Houston?
Jessica Baldauf: I was born in Tacoma, Washington, which is about half an hour south of Seattle. I’ve been living in Houston for three and a half years.
FPH: You were in plenty of bands when you lived outside of Houston, most notably Orca Team. For people who haven’t been musicians living in another city, can you explain the difference between the music scene in Portland and the music scene in Houston?
Baldauf: The main difference I’ve noticed is in the ethos of each city. When I lived in Portland, there was very punk understanding of music. The emphasis was on the process over the product. Worrying about if you were talented enough to be in a band wasn’t something people really thought about. This meant that nearly everyone in their 20’s and most in their 30’s were involved in the music scene in some capacity. In fact, it was common for people to say, “That’s cool you’re in a band, what else do you do?”
FPH: Orca Team ran a good while, you toured and had what appeared to be a good amount of success as a band. Was there a reason that all ended and what facilitated your move to Houston of all places?
Baldauf: Orca Team ended for all of the usual reasons that bands end. The biggest reason was we were toured out. Which funny enough led to my move to Houston. In 2012, we decided to play New York Popfest, despite it not being the most financially responsible decision, in order to let off some steam before embarking on roughly four months of intense touring. We ended up playing with Wild Moccasins and I really bonded with John Baldwin, who is now the talent buyer at Walter’s and owns Deep End Records. I was ready to leave the Northwest and knew I needed to check out Houston. Six months later, I came to visit for the first time and fell in love.
FPH: Since getting to Houston, you played in a number of groups including The Lories and The Motion, and now you’re in Rose Ette. Had you planned on playing with anyone when you moved here?
Baldauf: No. I had a feeling it would all fall into place.
FPH: You have a day job with a large corporation and you own the cassette tape label Miss Champagne, what made you decide to start a tape based record label? How do you manage playing in a band, running a label and holding down an adult job?
Baldauf: When I first thought about starting a label a few years ago, it felt natural to start with tapes. They are analog, relatively cheap to produce, extremely malleable. More so, tapes have been with me throughout every part of my life. From recording songs off KEXP to feeling so cool because I finally got one of Nathan Howdeshell’s mysterious mix tapes to recording on a four track to tape trading with touring bands. When you feel this much passion for something, finding the time isn’t super difficult.
FPH: You’ve released albums for The Wiggins, Rose Ette, and Buoyant Spirit. How do you decide who you’ll release a cassette for and have you gotten to the stage where you’re getting approached by bands with unsolicited demos?
Baldauf: There is no real hard and fast process. My main criteria is if I like the music and think the band won’t break up before the tape arrives. So far, I’ve worked with friends and friends of friends. But I’ve definitely been approached by people I don’t know and it has made me appreciate how many talented bands there are here.
FPH: As far as labels go, you limit the number of cassettes per release, correct? Do you see a time when you’ll ever do second and third pressings of a release or will it always be a limited run and that’s it?
Baldauf: I limit the number based on what’s right for the release. It’s tempting to say I would never do a second or third pressing, but I can’t imagine standing in the way of anyone hearing the bands on the label. I can say I would make sure there are significant differences between the releases for the true collectors.
FPH: On the Miss Champagne website, there’s a link to buy a cassette player that takes a person to Ebay rather than a shop with new players. Was there a reason that you set that up that way, or was it just the easiest route for people to get a player?
Baldauf: It’s honestly just the easiest route. I’m not really in the business of endorsing any brand or type of tape player.
FPH: In the past year I’ve seen you drop DJ sets around town, is that something you see yourself adding to your mix of skills as an artist?
Baldauf: Definitely. It’s very fun and I always enjoy exposing people to music I love.
FPH: You really hit the ground running so to speak since moving here, the label is on the rise and since joining Rose Ette after you released their album, they’re started to really gel as a band. Do you see Houston as home now? Did you ever see yourself doing all of this in as oppressive as a place as the southern United States?
Baldauf: Houston is without a doubt my home. I’ve felt like that since I first stepped foot in this city. That’s one of the reasons I started the label. Few people outside of Houston like this city and ever fewer are aware of what’s going on here. For example, as I was leaving Seattle I grabbed a cup of coffee at one of my usual spots. The barista asked me what I was up to and I excitedly told her I was moving to Houston. She then looked at me with an intense amount of disappointment and asked solemnly, “Why?” I want to change that. I want to show everyone I know, from the Northwest and from touring, all of the mind blowing things that are going on here.
The coolest part about Baldauf is that after thanking me for putting her in contact with a band that she inquired about working with, is that she boldly stated “I feel like I can never express how much I love this city, enough.” You can grab the current Miss Champagne releases at Deep End Records, or from the Miss Champagne Records website. You can catch her play with Rose Ette on September 17th for the black kite album release party at Walters. The all ages show has doors at 8 pm and will also feature sets from MOUTHING and DJ Alexo, with tickets for $10.