Pioneer Records to debut album for latest Pioneer Star

photo by Connor Hochbein
John Rushlander will relase his debut album “Grand Daddy Childs” at the
Break the Silence Against Sexual Violence concert Apr 7.

27-year-old war veteran and sports, arts and entertainment management (SAEM) major John Rushlander will release his three-track EP as Pioneer Records’ second Pioneer Star at a launch party Apr. 7.

Rushlander came to Point Park after serving four years in Iraq in the Army Infantry. Rushlander was new to the studio setting, having only previously done nonprofessional recordings and mostly performing live.

“It was totally new to me. I had never been in a legitimate recording studio, just recording in my buddy’s basement, garages and stuff like that,” Rushlander said.

A panel of students and professors sorted through the artists in an attempt to find the best fit for the second Pioneer Star.

“The number one thing on our list for what we’re looking for is raw talent, number two would be an open mind and number three would be that you can cater to an audience that we hope to present you to,” said Tyler McLaughlin, a senior SAEM major and one of the students who is involved with Pioneer Records.

The winner of the annual contest receives 300 copies of their original EP album, a music video and an album release party. Students execute the planning for the events, write-ups for the artist contracts and management of the social media accounts such as Facebook, Twitter pages and personal websites.

“It’s more than just being in a record label, part of it is the education process,” Point Park professor Ed Traversari said.

McLaughlin agreed, and cited the legal, marketing side of the process as the most valuable for the students involved.

“The joy of Pioneer Records is that us as students get to see what a startup takes and all the steps for how to start without feeling the burden of paying the bills,” McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin and Traversari both agreed that “raw talent” was what sold them on Rushlander.

“When we heard him, we all came to say this seems like the right guy,” Traversari said.

Pioneer Records was an idea fostered by students in the SAEM program. Traversari worked 37 years in the Pittsburgh concert industry before teaching and was inspired by the students of his “The Recording Industry” class, and the idea of Pioneer Records was born.

“I asked the students, ‘What else would you like out of this?’ and we started talking about what it is like to work for a record label, and I said ‘We could start a record label company here,’” Traversari said.

After receiving approval from the SAEM department head Steve Tanzilli, Traversari went on the hunt for a place to start up the record company. He found the perfect partnership with Jesse Naus, an adjunct professor at Point Park and owner and engineer of Red Caiman Media, which then became the studio students used to produce their work.

“My thinking was, he already has a wonderful studio, all the equipment, and he’s very knowledgeable because he’s also an engineer,” Traversari said.

However, in the future Traversari hopes the University will be able to acquire their own equipment and facilities.

“Someday we’d like to record here on campus, because we’d like to have our own studio here,” Traversari said.

The following summer, Pioneer Records began the search for their first artist.

“We decided we wanted to keep this to Point Park students, so in the summer, we submit an email to everybody saying if you are an artist, or if you know anybody that plays, please let them know that they can submit their tapes to us,” Traversari said.

Last year the label received almost 30 submissions. The first artist Pioneer Records signed was junior SAEM major Hannah Jenkins. Jenkins released her EP “Something Out of Nothing” in April of last year, and has since been playing at local events, such as the Strip District Music Fest, and local lounges, such as The Pittsburgh Diesel Club, even performing a spot on KDKA.

“It felt seamless for us because Hannah had been doing so well and we had been booking her shows even throughout the summer leading up to our [next] Pioneer Star,” McLaughlin said.

This past summer was another successful campaign with 30 other student artists submitting their work.

“We had a lot of good people to listen to, country singers, blues singers, rappers, everything,” Traversari said.

With individual artists, such as Jenkins and Rushlander, Pioneer Records brings in other musicians such as guitar players, drummers and keyboard players, as well as backup singers.

Being in the concert business for over three decades, Traversari had the chance to work closely with famous musicians such as Greg Joseph, from the rock band The Clarks, whom he reconnected with when working on Rushlander’s EP, leading Joseph to become Rushlander’s bass player.

 “They asked me if I was cool with Greg Joseph playing on the EP and I was like, ‘Hell yeah man, that’s awesome,’” Rushlander said.

Along with the live music, free food will also be available to students, catered by Hundred Wood. There will be a Stage AE ticket giveaway, merchandise stands for the acts, including Rushlander’s EP and Pioneer Record t-shirts. Point Park’s Title IX Coordinators will have a booth set up at the event too, offering students a relaxed environment to become educated on the serious subject of sexual abuse.

“We’re excited to partner with them because it’s a really important cause,” Angela Thomas, a senior SAEM major and intern at Pioneer Records, said.

This year’s release party, titled “Break The Silence Against Sexual Violence,” will be featuring not only Rushlander, but will include performances from Hannah Jenkins, Point Park alum David Wilson and up-and-coming Pittsburgh blues band “Commonheart.”

“They’re a very cool band on the rise here in Pittsburgh,” Rushlander said.

Another activity at the event will allow students to plant their own personal flower they can take home with them after the event.

“The goal of Pioneer Records as a whole is to plant this seed and watch it grow. We’ll give them the water and we’ll give them the nutrients, but at some point they become self-sufficient,” McLaughlin said.

The event is open to all Point Park students, April 7 from 6-8:30 p.m. in Village Park, with the Lawrence Hall Ballroom reserved for the performances in the event of rain.

“It’s two and a half hours of action-packed music, just a fun time,” Traversari said.