Adding to the Stash

Secret Stash Records succeeds through offering the unknown.

Adding to the Stash

Image by Erin Westover

by Andrew Penkalski

What: Peña CD Release Show

When: Oct. 29

Where: The Cedar Cultural Center

416 Cedar Ave S


Eric Foss and Cory Wong, the leading figureheads behind Minneapolis-based label Secret Stash Records, arenâÄôt really in the business of working with bands. They arenâÄôt trying to find the newest noise. Rather, Wong and Foss are in the business of preservation.

Secret Stash Records carries out a documentarian role serving some of the globeâÄôs more bizarre and esoteric subgenres. Since the labelâÄôs 2009 beginnings, they have put together eight odd compilations, each with a varied scope that may land anywhere between Soviet funk, âÄô70s adult film scoring or reggae blues.

âÄúWeâÄôre just always looking for new projects âÄî something really unique to get into,âÄù said Foss, who functions as director of sales for the label. âÄúWe figure thatâÄôs the only way we can be competitive.âÄù

It is both a humbling and financially sensible approach in an industry hemorrhaging money through artists and repertoire development that ultimately leads nowhere. That isnâÄôt to say, however, co-owners Foss and Wong are only smart businessmen.

âÄúWe can just bring high-quality, unique products to market,âÄù Foss said. âÄúIt just so happens that its music that we love and care about.âÄù

Their stylistic conservation project has also been growing increasingly more hands-on. Back in April, Foss and Wong spent a week in Lima, Peru cultivating a localized Afro-Peruvian sound for their latest collection. The project would ultimately be known as Peña, a Peruvian term applied to the small cafes and bars where this sort of South American blend of blues percussion and folk is performed.

âÄúThis thing was 100 percent organic,âÄù Foss said. âÄúWe went down there, and in one week we were able to get enough players. We recorded 50 tracks in a week.âÄù

The two describe the trip in a way that can really only be interpreted as guerilla production and recording. Foss and Wong arrived with bare bones equipment, little to no Peruvian contacts and seven days to make a record. By the third day of the trip, they still had little to show for it, Foss said.

âÄúAs far as an engineer and a producer it was a learning thing for me,âÄù Wong said, âÄúbecause so much of it was making do with what we had in the field.âÄù

Peña undeniably marks some significant new territory for Foss and Wong. While the labelâÄôs earlier roles were largely curator, the two have opened a door in which they function more so as conductors conjuring various aural traditions.

Moreover, the reality that this Twin Cities record label, which self-assembles and distributes from a two-room suite on Lake Street and Lyndale Avenue, has come to carry some of the most obscure international samplings is all the more surprising.

âÄúFor me itâÄôs smart business,âÄù Foss said. âÄúOther people donâÄôt have [this music.] ItâÄôs not like weâÄôre going to get out-marketed.âÄù

This is a conjecture that is hard to argue against. It has not been uncommon for them to entertain daily calls from customers abroad. After all, even funk-loving, aged cool kids from the Eastern Block still need their relative nostalgia.

âÄúOur brand is almost like a series to people,âÄù Foss said. âÄúThey find a couple that they like. They keep buying. We like having that connection with people.âÄù

For a business so small, Foss and Wong sure have a big fat vision. So far, the two seem to be succeeding. Because while nine out of 10 people may have no interest in hard-to-find Detroit gospel funk cuts, the one that does wonâÄôt be able to find it anywhere else.