BY ANY OTHER NAME
Cold Lunch Recordings gets dirty looking for Nashville’s next great rock bands
"Have you ever looked it up in the dictionary? Specifically, the Urban Dictionary?” asks Gary Branigan. He’s not smiling through his reddish-gray beard, but his tone smirks.
“It’s a gross, lewd sex act — disgusting,” says Caroline Bowman, sitting across the booth.
It’s Friday, 1 p.m., at Drifters in 5 Points, which is holding two-thirds of Cold Lunch Recordings’ owners. (The missing piece, Taylor Jones, is touring with his band, Sad Baxter.) But a problem emerges: As the two tell their label’s origin story, they can’t seem to remember exactly what the name meant.
“I think there’s something with glass,” Bowman says. Branigan dismisses it. “That’s a Hot Carl,” he says, scrolling down his phone.
“Oh, wait, here we go,” he mumbles, and reads. “I think that’s the one.” Bowman, slightly sickened, thinks so, too.
So what is a Cold Lunch? In the murkier corners of the Internet … you probably don’t want to know. In East Nashville, it’s a 2-year-old fledgling rock label and the 2.0 version of the shuttered Palaver Records, once home to the now legendary Buffalo Clover (read: early Margo Price) and many, many others. CLR is three calculating music businesspeople and five interns releasing records by local bands they love, only partially disguising their earnestness behind a beard of sophomoric sex jokes.
Palaver Records was a mess, Branigan openly admits. Started after the New York native failed to find a job as a sound engineer, the then-24-year-old started his own label as a fuck-you to the country music houses that didn’t want him. He drew an equally ill-fitting group of musicians. As the now-33-year-old Branigan says, “[Margo Price and her husband, Jeremy] were the kids that would go down to Music Row and sing protest songs against the big machine. They encouraged us to keep moving.”
Branigan was working at a manic pace, throwing a weekly show at FooBar in East Nashville (since rebranded as The Cobra) to fund Palaver’s releases. But the shows were scattershot in genre and success. Sometimes they’d sell out. One time three people showed up. It was electric and always on the verge of disaster. And like a moth to a flame, Bowman, a misty-eyed, recent college grad from Alabama, was drawn into the fold.
“In my mind, a record label, regardless of size, was a certain thing,” the 28-year-old Bowman says. “It wasn’t like that at all. It was me, in a coffee shop, with some dudes that I didn’t know.”
Bowman didn’t have an affinity for one particular thing. She had talent in many, acting as photographer, PR rep, scout, and a few other roles. She also offered focus, and in 2015 she held an intervention of sorts with Branigan to hone his shotgun-style band selection to something they all loved: the nascent rock scene. Launching in February 2016 at The 5 Spot, CLR introduced itself with local rockers Goth Babe, Quichenight, The JAG, and Lasso Spells. It’s only grown since.
“[CLR] finds these bands, these people who are great and have a voice, and they put them in front of people,” says Liz Cooper, of Liz Cooper & the Stampede, whose band has played four or five of the label’s shows. “They’re active in making something that’s a little different.”
The label will curate between 50 and 75 shows this year, including its first-ever destination festival (late September’s BobFest, in Adams, Tennessee). But Cold Lunch is more controlled, even as the official voice is more irreverent and obscene than ever. Got something to offer? Send them an email. It’s firstname.lastname@example.org.