It started out as a school assignment. A college career-culminating, year-ending senior project stood in between Emily Hakes, 21, a senior Music Industry major Drexel University, and graduation. Stepping up to the challenge, she vowed to stay away from subject matters that were "lame or easy," she said.
The second part came from a place of endearment. She thought of her friend James — he has cerebral palsy — and his support of her and classmate Eric Osman's, 22, joint record label, Lame-O Records. Both Hakes and Osman wanted a way to show their appreciation.
That platform, the project, a fondness for charity and ties to the Philadelphia community lead the two to what seemed like a natural decision: utilizing their own label to release a split, featuring hand-selected bands, with all proceeds going to charity — the Philadelphia chapter of United Cerebral Palsy, serving Delaware Valley residents with disabilities.
That six-song split, Strength in Weakness, released physically on vinyl and digitally Tuesday, Feb. 3 (though all the physical copies were quickly spoken for through pre-orders), sees tracks from local punk and indie bands Spraynard, The Weaks, Modern Baseball, Marietta, Hurry and Beach Slang. Though the underlying commonality of all bands hailing from the City of Brotherly love wasn't initially intentional.
"We started with Modern Baseball because they're the first band we managed," Hakes said of Lame-O, which Osman founded in November 2012 upon managing Modern Baseball. "From there we came up with a list of bands we'd like to work with and reached out to them."
But as life would have it, touring and other scheduling conflicts got in the way and the group that may have been on the project's initial wish list was eventually pared down to batch of local bands.
"Anybody who had time to record a song over the summer, we brought them in," Hakes continued. "We initially thought to do some international bands … Might as well keep it Philly based."
In keeping Philadelphia the project's central locale, all six of the contributing bands were geographically able to devote time to tracking their portion of the compilation at a recording studio on-campus at Drexel — a somewhat unique experience for a release of this nature.
"It felt like a really family oriented thing," said Pat Graham of Spraynard, who through touring with Modern Baseball were brought to Lame-O's attention. "It wasn't a 'Send us your track whenever you can.' That part of it was really cool."
Matt Scottoline of Hurry, a friend of both Hakes and Osman, also found the process a welcome change. "When splits like this happen, the bands will email over some song they had, like some b-side and they'll all get thrown together," he said.
"Being in the same studio space and having the same engineers on everything, I was curious to hear how everything sounded together," Scottoline continued. "You have a controlled setting. The variables are just the bands."
Even with the varied sounds from each of the bands — Modern Baseball with their emo punk punch to the fuzz power pop from Hurry — the thematic current of overcoming some hardship or struggle runs deep through each of the six respective songs, which in turn ended up being another happy accident.
"I remember us saying vaguely we wanted more serious songs on there," Hakes said.
"No one really was like 'Oh I'm going to do a serious song on this because Eric and Emily want me to that,'" Osman clarified.
It just kind of … happened.
"It came natural to us to write about overcoming certain emotions or whatever," said Graham of "Haulin' Oats," the just over 90-second "what am I doing with my life" lament from Spraynard. "It's a part of life and that's what we tend to write about it."
What you get is a handful of new material, each with its own interesting back story, from six non-collaborative entities that make a powerful impact each in their own right. Hurry's "Shake It Off" for example — not a cover of Taylor Swift's mega-hit of the same name — was a way for Scottoline to get back on the songwriting horse after the release of Hurry's debut in October, turned into a coincidental moment for potential confusion.
"I never thought in a thousand years I'd title a song something, then two months later so would the biggest song in the world," he said.
Or Spraynard's track, also a foray back into new material after a hiatus. "We didn't really have new material until that song," Graham revealed. "It was cool to have a reason to write a new song. As we've been writing it's been way easier to be in a band."
Despite the compelling factors that drove each songwriter to that place of creativity, it was the split's charitable roots that made it hard to resist wanting to be involved.
"We're excited to write music in the first place, so anything with a benefit we're open to," Graham mentioned. "It'd be hard to come up with a cause that we don't agree with."
Now, back to the school project. Osman decided to cash in on the momentum of the compilation for his own academics and added another layer to the charitable affair: release shows. With a lineup of Modern Baseball, Spraynard, The Weaks, Marietta and Hurry, the (sold out) performances will take place at both the First Unitarian Church on Saturday, Feb. 16 and Brooklyn's Saint Vitus the day following. All proceeds from ticket sales will, again, go to United Cerebral Palsy.
"The Church is like our hometown spot," Osman said. "It's kind of really cool that we're putting on a show there with that money going to charity too."
For the pair, that's where it all starts and ends — the charity. Having taken a tour of the Philly branch of United Cerebral Palsy and being able to see firsthand where their hard-earned dollars will benefit makes the process all the more worthwhile. And even though Lame-O Records hasn't seen a release of this magnitude quite yet, they're hoping things will only but continue on this trajectory.
Having noted outsiders mentioning "'you raised all this money for charity and you haven't even made this kind of money on the records you've put out'" Osman says "No, not yet." Though putting time and effort into a worthy cause that's won over many. "It's really cool. I think everyone's been super supportive. It's a general good thing to do I think."
Strength in Weakness is available digitally via Bandcamp.