Though its owner lives in another state, an essential Chapel Hill label returns | Music Feature | Indy Week

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Though its owner lives in another state, an essential Chapel Hill label returns



Sitting in the shade outside of his bustling business, Sean McCrossin seems to be popular.

One of his neighbors drops by to complain about a pothole in their shared parking lot; won't McCrossin mention it to their landlord? A distributor he's worked with in the past says hello, gently mocking him when he doesn't recognize her. When he starts to answer one question, he's distracted by another wave of acquaintances, another happy salutation.

A decade ago, this scene could have played out at CD Alley, the store that has slung music on Chapel Hill's West Franklin Street since McCrossin opened it 16 years ago. But McCrossin sits instead in Columbia, South Carolina. He runs Drip Coffee and the Scoopy Doo Gelato Shop, twin businesses located in Five Points, a neighborhood at the doorstep of the University of South Carolina.

Nine years have passed since McCrossin sold CD Alley. At 49, he now operates two Columbia coffee shops. He's up at 5 a.m. most mornings and in bed by 9 p.m. most nights. Taking care of his 10-year-old daughter, Syda, dominates evenings he once spent seeing bands.

But he still loves music, having filled the back room in his Five Points coffee shop with shelves of records for sale. And a decade after it disappeared, he's reviving Sit-n-Spin, the label he started shortly before landing in Chapel Hill.

"Music was all encompassing in my life," McCrossin recalls. "I was around music. I was selling music. I was seeing shows. I was hanging out with my musician friends. It was all inclusive. It didn't seem like I was exerting a lot of energy into it."

During its initial nine-year run, Sit-n-Spin helped codify the brazenly off-kilter underground rock scene that still thrives in the Triangle. McCrossin released records by beloved bands like The Kingsbury Manx and North Elementary, the Comas and Sorry About Dresden. His last release was Slighter Awake, a hypnotic collection from Chapel Hill's Erie Choir.

Some of these bands still play. Some don't. But they all represented an era where Chapel Hill musicians explored an inherited indie rock legacy with many intriguing mutations.

Sit-n-Spin returns this week with a split 7-inch that pairs the cello-abetted spasms of Columbia's Can't Kids with two songs by Schooner, a band that rose from Chapel Hill more than a decade ago. This release builds on both McCrossin's past and present. To celebrate the single, for instance, cadres of longtime Sit-n-Spin acts and associates will play both Carrboro and Columbia. Schooner and Can't Kids will deliver a free daytime show at the Drip.

McCrossin speaks fondly of sitting in the car of Schooner frontman Reid Johnson at 3 a.m. years ago, listening to the singer's early recordings. And Johnson recalls frequent in-store performances at CD Alley.

"He documented that part of Chapel Hill's history well," offers Johnson, speaking to Sit-n-Spin's impressive back catalog. "We were just getting rolling around that time, but we're friends with a lot of those bands. It's great to see Sit-n-Spin start moving again and us be part of it."

Though McCrossin isn't shy about his nostalgia for Chapel Hill, he also heaps praise on his new home. He gushes about the two albums of Columbia's Can't Kids, saying they are among few recent records that have really knocked him back. The record cover—designed by Jordan Blackmon, guitarist for popular Columbia electropop exports Toro y Moi—is a nod to his current location, too.

He's here to stay. Releasing music by South Carolina musicians will be par for Sit-n-Spin's future course.

"The idea is to bridge my past with my present," McCrossin says. "It is about the music, ultimately. If I wasn't moved by a band, I wouldn't have made that bridge. Hopefully, these guys are making connections and can continue to keep doing what they're doing. It's about the survival of the music."

The idea of making inroads in the Triangle appeals to Can't Kids. In the past, they've opened a packed Toro y Moi show at Motorco but played for two people at The Cave. Perhaps this Sit-n-Spin push can close the gap.

"It's always been a wonderful music town," bassist Henry Thomas says. "It's got a lot of history."

McCrossin's next release will include HEAVEN, a shoegazing New York rock band led by Matt Sumrow, a former Chapel Hill resident who played with two bands that released records on Sit-n-Spin. McCrossin hints that another Columbia band, a member of which currently works behind the counter at Drip, might grab the other side—again, further connecting his new scene with his old one.

"Chapel Hill holds a special part of my heart, but if I went back there it would be different," he says. "Right now, I love what I do, and I'm happy to be a part of whatever's going on here."

Proper sittings

Rodeo Boy, And the Streets Did Shrink (1997)
Rodeo Boy inspired McCrossin to start releasing music in addition to selling it. Spinning this debut LP makes it easy to see why. With slacker riffs that become deceptively propulsive and mumbled verses that build into catchy choruses, this record seems as though it would be a surefire hit in today's crowded market of indie rock throwbacks.

North Elementary, Out of Phase (2003)
It's fun to go back and listen to North Elementary's earnest debut and appreciate how apparent John Harrison's essential gifts already were—prickly but sweet melodies, unguarded emotionalism, winking wordplay. In the decade-plus since, he has contorted those elements with psychedelic embellishments.

Erie Choir, Slighter Awake (2006)
From the bright build-up of acoustic instruments during "The Ballad of Erie Choir" to the economical application of buzzing distortion and swaying strings on "Lullaby for Jon Grives," the songs on Slighter Awake never get more than they need. The move keeps the focus squarely on Eric Roehrig's evocative songwriting and comfortably gruff croon.

Can't Kids/Schooner, 7" (2015)
Sit-n-Spin's newest release sets a high bar for the label's second life. From the angst of "Walmart Parking Lot" to the staggering desperation of "Pretty Sound Advice," Can't Kids distill their confounding powers into one side. Schooner deliver two tunes that flaunt their touch for smooth rock that incorporates subtle complexities.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Back on the tracks."

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