Ann Arbor's Quite Scientific label looks back at its beginnings and readies a relaunch
The Quite Scientific record label began out of failure.
In 2005, Justin Spindler and brothers Brian and Jeremy Peters had the idea to shed more light on their local Lansing music scene. Justin and Brian gathered songs for a compilation album that they’d release under a yet-to-be-determined name, and in the process, they met members of the band Canada.
Canada had self-released the How Dare You EP and had the song "Hexenhaus" on another compilation, which is what caught the ear of Justin and Brian. They were so impressed with that tune they struck a deal with the band to release a full album.
The compilation record never came together, but Canada's debut album did.
Brian Peters recorded, engineered, and mixed what became This Cursed House in his bedroom/living room in Lansing during the fall and winter of 2005 using a soundboard used to mix portions of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
“I bought it from a studio in Kentucky,” says Brian. “It was used by a studio that Industrial Light & Magic outsourced work to. It made for a good thing to catch people’s attention in the press release.”
With a real-life album in the works, Justin and Brian brought Jeremy into the mix.
“I had zero experience doing this,” Brian says. "I had a background in recording, which I did a lot of for our original bands. Justin had moved to New York City and was working in press and radio, so we had the promotion and radio side covered. We needed someone who understood distribution. Jeremy had been at [Ann Arbor-launched indie label Ghostly International] for a year or two and was then just building Ghostly’s publishing company, Ghostly Songs, and we wanted him to be part of this and help get a distribution deal going.”
Now it was time for a name.
“The name came up off the cuff,” says Brian. “I thought the phrase Quite Scientific had a nice ring to it. I came up with it while sitting on my porch. I liked how it could be shortened nicely to QuiSci like Sub Pop [from the fanzine Subterranean Pop]."
He pieced the logo together and all of sudden Quite Scientific was a thing.
Canada’s This Cursed House came out in summer 2006 and was a college radio sensation. It was the most-added album in college radio for June 20, 2006, and later climbed to #13 on the College Music Journal Radio Top 200. Canada hit the road to perform in the Pygmalion Festival in Champaign-Urbana, the CMJ Music Marathon in New York City, and SXSW in Austin, and the band became an indie hit, even appearing on the cover of CMJ that summer, sitting on the edge of the bandshell in West Park.
“It should only be a matter of time before Canada gets some more recognition, as This Cursed House is one of the most memorable debuts of 2006,” wrote Obscure Sound. (AADL cardholders can download it here.)
Brian was a manager at Qdoba at the time and none of the three partners were pulling in gobs of money during their day jobs. But they were all investing a lot of their own money into QuiSci projects and incurring sizeable debt. The label released its second album, a rock opera by The Dead Bodies, before meeting Ann Arbor singer-songwriter named Chris Bathgate.
“We didn’t know Chris at all before we sat down for a meeting at Cafe Ambrosia and it went really well,” says Brian.
Bathgate had already self-released a number in EPs and two full albums and was named Real Detroit’s Best Solo Artist in Michigan in 2006, so it was kind of a big deal for QuiSci to land the up-and-coming talent.
Designed and partially mixed by Brian again, Quite Scientific released A Cork Tale Wake in the summer of 2007 and that’s when things started paying for themselves. (AADL cardholders download.)
Bathgate was a hit domestically and internationally. He toured Europe, was a two-time Starbucks Pick of the Week (where the franchise offered little cards at the checkout with free downloads of music singles), and helped turn Quite Scientific into a living, breathing thing.
“We turned this from a hobby into a business,” Brian says.
Michigan folk trio Frontier Ruckus released its much-lauded first album, The Orion Songbook, with Quite Scientific in 2008 (AADL cardholders download). It was a time when the label and its artists began seeing their first tastes of licensing money.
Ypsilanti's Lighting Love released November Birthday in 2009 and were part of a national ad campaign to launch the Chevy Cruze, with the trio driving to Las Vegas and playing shows along the way until the group arrived in Sin City for a battle of the bands. (AADL cardholders download.)
A few releases later, Quite Scientific met Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. Not the son of the son of the NASCAR legend, but the Michigan indie-pop band who have since changed its name to JR JR to avoid just this kind of confusion.
Members of Quite Scientific were aware of JR JR from the musicians' previous bands, but what kickstarted the relationship was a show at the Elbow Room in Ypsilanti. Brian and Jeremy, who now both worked for Ghostly International, were invited to the show as a QuiSci tryout of sorts even though at this point JR JR had recorded just two songs and only had one live show on its resume. But Brian and Jeremy loved the group.
“Danny [Zott] and Josh [Epstein [of JR JR] invited us to have dinner at Josh’s place and they prepared us this lovely meal and pitched themselves to us,” Brian says.
Quite Scientific and JR JR struck a deal and then things got really wild, really fast. JR JR’s Horsepower EP was released in the summer of 2010 and Warner Bros. Records immediately swooped in and scooped up the band. Warner bought the contract from Quite Scientific and signed JR JR to a multi-album deal.
The Flint-based artist named Tunde Olaniran opened for JR JR, which notified QuiSci about how amazing he was. Brain and Jeremy came to a show and watched Olaniran captivate the crowd, became smitten, and QuiSci has released several of his recordings. (AADL cardholders download.)
Jeremy first saw the Grand Rapids band Stepdad at SXSW and came back raving to his label mates, and Quite Scientific rereleased Stepdad's Ordinaire EP in 2011 (AADL cardholders download). The four-track collection featured songs that appeared on TV, in film, and in the incredibly popular EA Sports video game FIFA 13.
This now Ann Arbor-based label was getting a prolific amount of their artists’ work into the world.
QuiSci-released music is regularly featured in Adult Swim bumpers. Olaniran’s music was used as part of Apple’s iPhone 8 launch campaign. Bathgate has had songs featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Medora by local filmmaker Davey Rothbart. You’ll hear Quite Scientific artists on The Mindy Project, Weeds, Overwatch League, Private Practice, Parenthood, Gossip Girl, Motorolla ads, and even The Pauly D Project.
Even with Quite Scientific's success, the label went on a long hiatus after its last release, Bathgate’s 10th album, Dizzy Seas, in 2017. Justin, Jeremy, and Brian's lives steered them in different directions, and then the pandemic hit.
But a West Michigan trio got things rolling again.
Just as JR JR recommended Tunde Olaniran, he paid it forward and told the label about Lipstick Jodi. The Grand Rapids band sent QuiSci a copy of their self-released Good Not Great EP, which was catchy and poppy and arrived at the perfect time.
"My first listen of Lipstick Jodi was just fun," says Brian. "[The music] wasn't heavy or methodic—it was airy and joyful. Given the past year, I think we could all use a bit more fun and joy in our lives. The same goes for QuiSci as a business—and I think Lipstick Jodi was that perfect spark to reignite the flame."
Now, the label is ready to get back to work.
Lipstick Jodi worked hard during the pandemic getting together a full album of songs, and a year after signing to QuiSci, More Like Me comes out on June 4.
"Hopefully they'll be able to start playing live again later this year," Brian says. "Chris Bathgate will be releasing new material at the end of the year. We've also had calls with [Detroit quartet] FAWNN and Stepdad about their return as well. It's an exciting time with a lot on the horizon."
Rich Retyi is the marketing and communications director for AADL.
You can stream/download Quite Scientific’s catalog from AADL if you're a cardholder.