Last Friday evening, in a downtown swarming with Cinco de Mayo celebrations and springtime Art Walk crowds, local promoter and musician Tyson Ballew played guitar to a hodgepodge of friends and window shoppers at Crazy Daisy’s secondhand store, as he often does. His band, Old Shoes, is just Ballew with an occasional guest musician, and, as with most of his shows, this one took place in the shadows of the mainstream downtown scene.
Ballew has been promoting shows and sporadically releasing tracks on his DIY record label for years—both here in Missoula and in his native Great Falls—but only now is he looking to nudge his name out there more boldly: On Friday, May 12, he’s releasing a rock compilation on his newly renamed label, Tummy Rock Records, and putting on a two-day music festival to celebrate it all.
“In high school I was putting out tapes and CD-Rs under this really sarcastic name for my label, which was Poser Punk Records,” Ballew says. “I put out 13 tapes and a lot of my friends’ bands, [but] in the last three years nothing’s been going on with the label. You don’t want to listen to lo-fi high-school bands who are no longer around.”
Ballew’s idea for the name Tummy Rock Records sprouted from his former residence, the Funny Tummy House—so named by its occupants because of their poor eating habits—where, last summer, he regularly hosted live music. The shows were eventually closed down by the Fire Marshal for code violations, but at their height Ballew celebrated the spirit of the house shows with the release of a compilation called The Smallest World in the World. The 34-song cassette included tracks by various Montana bands then-new and old, including blasts from the past like Missoula’s The Sputniks and Ballew’s former Great Falls band, The Raincoat Mafia.
His newer compilation, We Like to Kick Ass, is one Ballew sheepishly admits he’s been working on for two years. Being on CD, it’ll appear less immediately antiquated than the charmingly cobbled-together cassette, and this time Ballew has stretched beyond the Treasure State with an array of melodic solo acts, pop punk and grungy rock bands from as far away as Los Angeles, Milwaukee and Austin, in addition to the usual local fare. The change is aptly symbolic of Ballew’s new direction.
“The point of this comp,” he says, “is to promote music and take the label—which was this hobby from high school—and make it a more serious thing.”
The two-day music festival, aptly titled Tummy Fest, will showcase bands featured on the compilation, like former Missoula dwellers The Quiet Ones (now in Seattle) and Bellingham band Racetrack. Also included will be local acts like Purrbot and Helmet Tag who frequent The Loft and other regular Ballew venues. (See below for a complete lineup.)
Ballew is self-effacing in describing himself as a music promoter. He’s certain some people in the music scene find him irritating and pushy. Even with his step up just weeks ago from assistant director to music co-director of UM’s KBGA college radio station, he portrays himself fairly accurately as a small-time promoter in a relatively small-time city. It’s easy, therefore, for Ballew and his shows to get lost in the shuffle.
“Right now it feels like there are too many cooks in the kitchen,” he says of the local scene. “There are so many people putting on shows right now, it’s a nightmare.” Which is why Ballew says he’s inclined to pursue other projects in the meantime, promoting shows casually and without competitive intent. He’s excited about future Funny Tummy projects—a tribute record, for instance, to his old residence—and has moved past the more sardonic attitude that launched Poser Punk Records.
“I was really opinionated and thought I was really cool,” he says, laughing about his first attempt at a label, “which was completely and utterly wrong…I’ve moved on.”