One night during a house party in his Decatur home several years ago, Richard Lenz said he passed an acoustic guitar to Nathan Beaver whom he’d never heard before and asked him to sing a song. By the time Beaver was done, the room was silent, and several people were wiping away tears.
“I thought, ‘This guy has it,’” Lenz said. “I felt like if he had some support he could be very successful.”
It wouldn’t be extreme to suggest without that moment, Red Eye Gravy Records wouldn’t exist. Fast forward to May 28: Beaver stood inside the lobby of Lenz, a Decatur marketing company owned by Richard Lenz, and serenaded an intimate group of friends and Lenz employees.
This time he had support: two layers of it. While Beaver was there celebrating the forthcoming release of his second album, Universal You, he was also there performing in honor of Red Eye Gravy Records. Beaver is the label’s first signed artist, and the label is backed by Lenz.
“We think Nathan is as good as anyone who has ever won American Idol, and he just needs a break,” Lenz said.
It’s that sort of break Lenz said he hopes to supply for at least a few more musicians as Red Eye Gravy grows. Lenz started his marketing company in 1992 in his basement and has since built a robust company that operates off the square in downtown Decatur. It’s well-known throughout the city with clients like the Decatur Book Festival, DeKalb Medical and Emory University.
Lenz said his business has grown every year since he started, and several years ago he thought about starting a label due to a deep, lifelong interest in music. And, lucky for him, he already had the marketing department squared away.
“It’s a calculated risk,” he said. “We have been examining this effort for many, many years.”
The company has sponsored musical events before, including a live performance by Patterson Hood of the Drive By Truckers at the 2008 Decatur Book Festival. Other events included a performance by Johnny Cash at Eddie’s Attic. So, Lenz decided to take the leap and has poured about $100,000 into the label, Lenz said.
Some of that money was used to pay for Beaver’s CD recording, production and release. Before, Beaver recorded and sold his own CDs and managed to sell about 1,000 of them, Lenz said. The singer/songwriter now lives in Nashville and said he’s strongly influenced by folk rock singer/songwriters like David Wilcox, Jeff Buckley, James Taylor and Ryan Adams.
“It’s just really hard to make it that way,” Lenz said.
So, for now, Red Eye Gravy will support Beaver by providing public relations, e-marketing and web support and design and production. The label will also provide the usual label services, including promotion, distribution, bookings and merchandising.
Lenz’s business has operated out of Decatur for more than a decade, and he said he hopes Red Eye Gravy can do the same.
“Red Eye Gravy is in Decatur, which is not a coincidence,” he said. “I believe Decatur could be seen as the hometown of the creative class of Atlanta, and so it is a perfect place to launch a music label that promotes great musical talent like Nathan.”