Music » Interview

Long Rangers

Range Life Records is Lawrence's premier wacky collective.



Click above to listen to "Timeshaker," recorded by White Flight and remixed by 1,000,000 Light Years.

Justin Roelofs (aka White Flight, aka Tito Tyson Tatarino Thoroughgood) has a challenge for you: "Work on relaxing your asshole all day long for one day, I dare you," he says. "And if you're going to invest your Andrew Jacksons in something," he adds, "I would suggest powerful crystals."

No doubt the zany musician (formerly of Lawrence band the Anniversary) also hopes that you invest your green in Range Life Records, his new label and Lawrence's latest wave-making artistic project. Because, in contrast to most of the creative energy that's been brewed in Lawrence over the past 20 years, Range Life is not likely to fizzle out or move to Portland, Oregon, anytime soon. The label's pioneering manager, Zach Hangauer, 29, and his gang have long-range vision — lots of it.

It's more or less a rule in the creative world that anything good must combine ingenuity, poverty and a romantic dose of spontaneity. Range Life is no exception. Climbing over boxes of CDs, a globe, a collection of empty milk jugs and power strips sprouting tangles of cords, Hangauer makes himself comfortable on a vintage black-vinyl sofa. "I'm sort of a failed artist myself," he says.

On the walls of his apartment, which doubles as the Range Life HQ, are his not-so-failed collages, some combining pictures of Osama bin Laden with images from Playboy and National Geographic. "I lived in L.A. for four years trying to write screenplays but ended up just waiting tables," he says. Before that, Hangauer lived in Lawrence, 30 miles from the Overland Park neighborhood where he grew up with high school buddy Roelofs. "This whole thing came about because I heard some of the new music Justin was making and got really excited," he explains. "I wanted to invest in that, and I had a little extra money after L.A. So we started Range Life."

That was August 2004. Over the next year, while Roelofs recorded what would become his first album, White Flight, Hangauer spent his time and pennies designing a slick Web site, marketing the fledgling company and getting other area artists on board. Things started to come together. Hangauer quietly planted Roelofs MP3s on the Web site; a rough mix of the album leaked.

Word spread.

Range Life videographer Brendan Costello, for instance, said he first heard Roelofs' music in a friend's car. Costello asked Hangauer if he could make a music video to accompany Roelofs' song, "Pastora Divine." More than enough quality footage was shot, and some of it was used in the three different music videos available on the Range Life Web site, including a "Making of White Flight" production.

Design artist Jeff Isom had a similar experience. While visiting one of Hangauer's younger brothers (Isom was living in New York City at the time), he caught wind of the Range Life idea and, in a moment of inspiration, doodled a logo on a napkin. The napkin stayed buried in a sofa crack for weeks until the elder Hangauer discovered it, asked his brother who made it and invited Isom to move back to Lawrence and work for Range Life. Isom, who says he saw "all kinds of talent in Lawrence," jumped at the chance.

Range Life aims to influence Lawrence, a town that Hangauer calls "the heart of the heart of America." He says everyone knows Lawrence is full of "fermenting creative energy." But, he adds, "Nobody seems to be able to push the Sisyphus boulder over the hill."

Despite a few nearly major successes — the Get Up Kids, Ghosty — Hangauer wonders why there hasn't been more enduring success for artists in Lawrence. "Maybe it's a lack of perspective or an unwillingness to commit to the long term," he says. "Or maybe creating a viable business is difficult for artists."

Hangauer uses the word artist here intentionally. The company's mission, he says, is to engage a variety of artists — not just musicians — in the Lawrence area. Hangauer, for instance, hopes to post more creative videos and shorts on the Web site soon, along with the work of area visual artists, graphic designers and writers.

Range Life is also looking at the national scene, which makes cyberspace pretty important for these self-starters.

"Technology has changed music-making," Hangauer says. "It's a new age. Anyone with a computer has the tools to create groundbreaking music from his or her bedroom.

"We want to take that certain, intoxicating high that pop creates and apply it to new musical modes," Hangauer continues.

"I see it as a revision of popular musical structure," Costello says. "I think this frees pop music from needing to have the standard verse-chorus-bridge song structure. I feel like post-pop can appropriate the catchy hooks and beats popular music does so well."

All this heady talk shouldn't obscure the fact that Range Life is a working record label. In the past several months, Range Life has released Roelofs' debut, White Flight, and 1,000,000 Light Years, a CD of sleek electronica by Hangauer's brother, Patrick Hangauer. Light Years is a solid ambient collection reminiscent of Sigur Ros or Boards of Canada.

On the other hand, White Flight — like Roelofs — is a whole other slice of bologna.

Roelofs is known around Lawrence for his less than mainstream views on a range of subjects, such as the true nature of time ("The illusion that's draped over everyone's eyes is that there is time") and the real purpose of the artist ("the transmission of pure energy"). His worldview hinges on music's awesome potential. "There are so many possibilities, and sound exploration is a huge gateway into the other realities," Roelofs says.

White Flight, full of strange, alluring dissonance, leaps from one beat-laden track to the next, spraying lyrics that philosophize, lambaste, coax and inspire. Roelofs deftly blends his own spontaneous curiosity with a technical mastery that makes for music that will resonate far beyond Massachusetts Street or, for that matter, Kansas.

Costello is candid about where he hopes Range Life will fit into the future of Lawrence music and art. "I would hope that wherever it goes, Range Life remains a platform for all types of artists to gain some much needed exposure," he says. "It would be nice to start seeing more local acts withstand the test of time and go on to have long-term careers in the music industry."

If not, there's always the powerful crystal business.

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