Mint 400, Sniffling Indie Kids Present Rock Fest

Indie rock scene veterans Neil Sabatino of the Mint 400 Records label and the band Fairmont and Frank DeFranco of the Sniffling Indie Kids label and the band NGHTCRWLRS have teamed on projects before, but their biggest to date is the 20-band, two-stage North Jersey Indie Rock Festival.
Taking place from 1 to 8 p.m. Sept. 10 at Cathedral Hall, a Jersey City church that the organizers helped convert into a brand new venue, the festival also will feature the state’s top rock journalists and other behind-the-scenesters, making it an excellent networking opportunity.
In addition to NIGHTCRWLRS and Fairmont, performing will be Mint 400 artists Ancient Babies, The Bitter Chills, The Clydes, The Maravines, Pixl-Visionary, Tri-State, Underlined Passages, Shane M. Vidaurri, and Young Legs, and Sniffling Indie artists CR & The Degenerates, dollys, Ken De Poto, LKFFCT,Quality Living, Rocky & The Chapter, Toy Cars, and YJY, plus Sink Tapes, who record for both labelsFood, drink and arts & crafts vendors also will be on hand.
After you enjoy the following chat with Sabatino and DeFranco, find out more at their projects at the following websites:
Q: Frank, you got the name Sniffling Indie Kids from the Hold Steady song ‘Positive Jam.’ How does the name reflect the label and its philosophy/approach to music and music business?
DeFranco: To be completely honest, Eric came up with the name, and I thought it sounded cool. Additionally, I really liked the idea of being able to say ‘SIK Records.’ Eric once summed it up pretty well in saying ‘take the music very seriously but don’t take yourself too seriously.’ I think there’s a lot to that. Way too many bands out there care about so many things that in the grand scheme are relatively insignificant. Like when someone is using the ‘Discover Weekly,’ feature on Spotify and they hear a random song they’ve never heard before that they love, do they love it because of the way the band looks and acts or do they love it because they heard a song that made them feel a certain way? 
Everything is about the music. Too many people take themselves as people way too seriously. We probably only get to live this life once, so we may as well enjoy it. We want to put out records by people who are having fun doing this thing that we ourselves are in love with — writing tunes and sharing them with people.
Q: Neil, you started Mint 400 Records in 2007. What made you want to do that? What void was there in 2007 that you felt you needed to fill, does that void still exist, and has that void gotten better or worse in the past nine years?
Sabatino: I was in the band Fairmont at that point for about six years and got tired of working with small record labels in a system that seemed antiquated. We’d spend all the money the label gave us, we’d make CDs, hire a publicist, tour relentlessly, and then by the end of the year, pay back the record label, and then start the cycle over again the following year. I felt like I needed more control over the situation and wanted to be in charge of every aspect of my releases. We got a digital distribution deal and started bugging them about helping out our friends bands through our account.
My cousin at the time had started a band called Theodore Grimm. They needed a demo done quickly, and I helped produce it and burn a few hundred copies to give away. That was the first official thing I think we gave away that had the Mint 400 logo on it that wasn’t Fairmont. Originally, I just wanted to say that we were on a label, and we made up a name and carried out the image of it being a real label. Then we just kept meeting cool bands online and at shows and wanted to help them all out. I had a very bad experience with a former label and wanted to be the exact opposite of them in every way. Everything just started to snowball and at first, all we could offer was digital distribution and sharing of our resources and that grew into being able to produce records, get licensing deals, and launch full campaigns behind each release.
The void I have always felt in the music industry was that good music sometimes gets ignored because the image to go along with it isn’t there. I have signed bands that only make records in their bedroom and never play a show. I have signed bands where everyone has found themselves married with children and working good day jobs. Does that mean they still can’t write a great record? Sometimes these bands come up with masterpieces because they aren’t being forced to write an album that is going to put food on their plate. My philosophy with the label is simple, if I like the music, I sign the band. I don’t care about any of the other stuff.
Q: Why did you create The North Jersey Indie Rock Festival, what impact do you hope it has, and how will it be different from other indie fests?
Sabatino: Speaking for myself, I feel our scene gets passed over a lot because of things happening in New Brunswick and Asbury Park. This fest is to represent what has been going on in North Jersey for quite some time. We have bands of all ages from 20-somethings to 40-somethings, and I think they all have a common strand in that each band has solid songwriting. I feel like our bands are all concerned with musicianship and writing great albums and leaving behind most of the other bull that is the music industry. We feel it’s important though for our bands to have the opportunity for this kind of showcase, and we have been neglected somewhat because we don’t bend to the norms of the music industry. While other bands are posing for photo shoots, making elaborate videos or schmoozing for press, you will find our bands hard at work making music. Maybe less people will find out about us that way but maybe it will be the right people who find us.
I think it’s really more of a ‘why not?’ type situation. Why not put these bands on one big show together? Why not work with Neil as we always do? That seems to work out well every time we do that. Why not give the bands who haven’t met each other on both our labels a chance to not just see each other, but more easily interact with one another, enriching communications? Instead of just bands, why not bring in all sorts of people involved in creative arts and give them a place to showcase what they do too? Why not give the people who have been covering what’s actually happening locally in the state of New Jersey a chance for people to put a name to their faces? Why not give North Jersey — and more specifically Jersey City — a place with rich diversity in musical talent, a chance to show the awesomeness it is home to? To me, it was pretty obvious we should try to pull something like this off. And who knows where we can take it to next, ya’ know?
Q: What are NGHTCRWLRS and Fairmont up to over the next few months as far as touring, recording, releasing songs and videos, and anything else?
DeFranco: NGHTCRWLRS recently finished recording our second album, ‘Raging Hot,’ which we are planning to release in November. We also recently shot a music video for its first single, which we intend on dropping sometime in September. We will be continuing with our out-of-state
Sabatino: As for Fairmont we are a five piece currently with two guitars, vibraphone, drums and bass, and we wrote a new album with this arrangement. We currently are tracking this fall with a winter release scheduled. We are averaging about an album every year or two right now ,which is all I could have ever asked for.
We also just finished up tracks for a tribute to Link Wray and for a tribute to Nirvana all due out this fall. Joining us for the time being is Matt Cheplic from the band The Bitter Chills, and it’s been a real privilege to have him involved as we work on our new record, ‘The Spring Widow.’ As well I am producing a bunch of material for the label, including the new Bitter Chills record, and I just finished up The Clydes’ ‘Comeback Charlie’ EP. A majority of the two tribute compilations I mentioned were produced in my basement recording studio. We’ve got a lot of exciting projects in the works from country albums to jazz albums and thrashy punk to indie rock. I’m just happy that music has remained such a big part of my life for the last two decades.
Bob Makin is the former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly, to which he has contributed for 28 years. He also is an entertainment writer for, part of the USA Today Network.