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Features and Reviews OSU Daily O'Collegian vs. Yawn Records
9/13/2002John EstusMusic Man Plays On

John Estus Staff Writer

Turn on the radio. Yawn. Flip to MTV. Yawn. Watch the passion for any and all things music ooze from 32-year-old Joe Cinocca’s mouth and witness the king of Tulsa-based Yawn Records.

The one-time OSU student is burning with a rekindled flame to light a fire under his independent record label. “I’ve been reinspired by the music I put out,” Cinocca said. “My fire is back.”

He flashed back to 1995, a time when he was just another music fan with an opinion. But Cinocca, then an intern for Interscope Records, was not content to watch anymore. He wanted to make a difference. That’s what brought Yawn Records into his life.

“I would go club hopping on the weekends,” he said. His job was to check out Tulsa bands for reports to Interscope. “I had a three-song rule. I’d grab a beer and watch a band and after the third song, if I wasn’t moved or motivated or inspired or anything by the band, I’d move on to the next club.”

But cover bands ruled Tulsa and the picking was slim. “There wasn’t really anybody who blew me away,” Cinocca said. That would change.

“Jify Trip. I went to the show, and I saw this lead singer climbing on furniture and hanging from the ceilings and he was walking around in the crowd singing and just carrying on and going crazy,” he said. At that moment, he knew his mission.

“I came up with the idea that we should form a record label as a vehicle to promote the band because everybody else in town had their own way of promoting themselves that was only about themselves,” he said, explaining that most bands were on vanity labels. A vanity label promotes one artist only and is typically run by the artist.

“It was like a way of saying they were on a label but really weren’t,” he said. Cinocca proposed the idea as a “vehicle to learn more about the music industry. ... Yawn was my response to things going on statewide in the music scene. Not necessarily musicians, but attitudes, perceptions. “Yawn,” he announced, shrugging his shoulders. “You bore me.”

Interscope offered Cinocca a job in New York City, but he turned it down. “If I stayed in Tulsa, I could create my own label, I could call my own shots, I could make my mistakes and it wouldn’t kill me. And maybe I could do some good for some people in this neck of the woods,” he said. He would realize that “there are so many musicians in this town that are just gifted, it’s unreal.”

To fund Yawn Records, Cinocca worked as the manager of Tulsa’s CD Warehouse. “At one point, I was working three jobs just to pay for what I love to do at night.”

At CD Warehouse, Cinocca met a ska band called The Blue Collars. After selling more than 100 copies of The Blue Collars’ CD in a month, Cinocca was hooked.

“I wanted to work with this band to gain more knowledge,’” he said. With his increasing knowledge came distribution work with Admiral Twin, Royal Crush and Fanzine. At that point, Cinocca had moved on to a higher-paying job to fund Yawn’s growth.

In 2000, Yawn signed Tahlequah’s Rewake and Gore’s Formerly. “I gave Rewake encouragement and let them know that their music was valid and they’ve got to do everything they can to get their music heard,” he said.

Yawn released Rewake’s six-song live EP, “Foreign,” and its full-length debut CD, “Air Bubbles.” Yawn also scored a slot for Rewake at South by Southwest, the internationally renowned annual music conference in Austin, Texas.

Cinocca’s other venture, Omnizine, a music promotion network for the Southwest United States, led to the signing of Formerly and the release of the quartet’s EP, “Into Uncertainty.”

“I guess the things I’ve been known for are my compilations,” Cinocca said, moving to the subject that obviously brings him the most joy. Cinocca is out to help musicians, so it comes as no surprise that the big-hearted guru drools over the opportunity to hit multiple birds with one disc.

“Instead of working with one band and helping one band grow, let’s do something that has more of an impact,” he said. “I started working on Woo Hoo Bank Volume 1.”

Cinocca dodges the weighty caliber of the statement, quickly moving on to the story behind the popular compilation. Woo Hoo Bank Volume 1 dished out over 70 minutes of music from 19 world wide artists for only $5. The Woo Hoo Bank philosophy was “maximum value for minimum price.” People make mix CDs for their friends every day. Cinocca wanted to make one for the world.

“I wanted to send a signal the artists that I’m not this corporate evil monster that’s trying to rip them off and just exploit them and make an assload of money off their music,” he said. “It’s more important that the word gets out about these bands than me just making tons of money.”

A joint project with Tulsa’s Engine Shed Records followed: two 15-band Omnizine Sampler discs honing in on bands from the Omnizine region. Cinocca’s obsession with independent music magazines, “zines,” led to the signing of the Ed Kemper Trio, a maniacal rock outfit from Alabama. A contact with the publisher of Michigan’s Copper Press zine led to EK3 sending their demo to Yawn.

“I was blown away. This was just a demo. I was like ‘wow,’ ” he said. “I was kind of intimidated. I’d never worked with a band outside of Oklahoma before. Especially a band of this magnitude. ... They’re playing 80 to 100 dates in different towns every year.”

Cinocca put the trio through his “weed-out process.” “Every answer they had for me was exactly the answer I was looking to hear. ... I don’t really work with bands, I work with people,” he said.

Also on tap for Yawn in the near future are the releases of Jessi Canning and Nude Furniture, from Virginia and Tulsa, respectively, and more compilations.

“We’re getting submissions from Japan and England and all over the country that want Yawn to put out their album. It’s just really inspiring.” Cinocca is happiest when “you go to a town and you see a good quality show and it reaffirms your faith that original music and original thought really inspires people and motivates people.”

Yawn Records works like a good quality show. Joe Cinocca knows the show must go on.