Musicians Selling Trees In Greenpoint

12.22.11 Maud Deitch

Group Tightener records’ Jamie Granato and Sam Hockley-Smith are not native New Yorkers, but to see them now, you’d never know it. Hockley-Smith spends his days as an editor of The Fader, while Granato fills his days, like so many other creative people in this city, with all things freelance.

We caught up with Granato in Greenpoint on an unseasonably warm December day, where he was posted up at McGolrick Trees, the Christmas tree stand that has been his source of holiday income for the past few years.

The stand was started as a part-movie set, part-quick-cash-fix project for one of Granato’s friends. Charlie Poekel, founder of music blog Chocolate Bobka, employed all of his musician friends to work it, rotating them through 12-hour shifts on the corner of Henry and Nassau. Equipped with a trailer that includes a tape deck, space heater and plastic containers to pee in (the trailer’s bathroom is busted), Granato, along with members of the bands Woodsmen, Pure X and the founders of Underwater Peoples records, sell trees 24 hours, 7 days a week through the holiday season.

The New York City Christmas tree stand is unlike those in other cities. They spring up after Thanksgiving like weeds, and come in a couple of different iterations. From the outside the deli stand to the artisanal, lumberjacks in from Vermont with organic trees and maple syrup stand, most stands have a story, and many New Yorkers see where they got their tree as a source of pride.

For many Greenpoint residents, getting their tree from the McGolrick stand has become more of an event than just pick-up and go. Granato and his cohorts make wreaths themselves, know all the trees intimately, and counsel people on what to purchase. They get everyone from drunken 20-somethings on their way home from the bar to families with little kids enjoying their first Christmas, and they take seriously the job of making sure everyone gets the right tree.

Much like the rag-tag group of people that make up the loyal Mcgolrick Trees staff, Group Tightener records have put out releases from bands ranging from the sweet and nostalgic to the spaced-out and ambient. With an auspicious beginning—the label released one of the first 7-inches from Best Coast—Group Tightener has grown into a label known for putting out unique, independent-minded artists, and for being independent-minded itself.

Since that first 7-inch the label has released records from Cloud Nothings, Alex Bleeker, Expensive Looks, Dead Gaze and others, and are moving into the realm of full-lengths and full-on, traditional release plans. The growth of the label seems nearly organic; not too fast, and not too slow, proving Granato and Hockley-Smith not only have vision but also to have minds for business.

Back at the McGolrick Trees, Granato sits in the trailer amid piles of notebooks, novels and cassette tapes, bringing to mind fantasies of chilly nights staying up far too late, watching the trees and amusing one’s self. The trees lean against the building housing the run down and unfortunately closed Sunview Luncheonette. The woman who owns the building, a small, elderly Greek woman, gives McGolrick trees permission to set up shop against the side-wall, and, Granato says, will occasionally venture out with hot chocolate or coffee for the chilly boys at the stand.

As he tells me this, he laughs, and you can tell that the stand is more than just a way to make some fast cash before heading back to his home-state Washington for the holidays. It’s become a fixture in the slow and sometimes painful evolution of a neighborhood trying to preserve its old history while new residents are creating new histories within it, which is no small feat these days. Just like building a successful record label from a rooftop idea to full release is not an undertaking for the faint of heart, creating your own business from scratch and making it matter is something many attempt but most fail in succeeding.

To celebrate another successful year on their corner in Greenpoint, McGolrick Trees has released a Christmas compilation, featuring new takes on classic holiday songs from some of the bands represented within its staff. The compilation can be streamed on Soundcloud, purchased from the stand, and downloaded for free.

(Picture/Edit: Joseph Schulhoff/ANIMALNewYork)