The Golden Dome Musicians' Collective keeps Montpelier rocking
Knayte Lander is perched on a barstool gazing out the large window in the front of the Three Penny Taproom in Montpelier. Outside it’s a dreary, rainy fall day in central Vermont. But inside, Lander displays a positively sunny disposition, and with good reason.
“There is a lot of great music happening in Montpelier,” he says. “And it’s coming from all different angles.”
Lander, 25, is the unofficial spokesperson for the Golden Dome Musicians' Collective , a close-knit group of young Montpelier musicians who have banded together to create and promote each other’s musical endeavors. The collective represents a striking range of bands and styles, from indie rock to hip-hop to freak folk to electro-pop and beyond. This Saturday, September 17, the GDMC and its label, State and Main Records , will offer Burlington-area audiences a taste of the music scene that’s flourishing in the state capital. Their showcase at the Monkey House in Winooski will feature a trio of GDMC bands: Sweet Hound , Sick Feelings  and First Crush .
Lander describes how the GDMC came together. He recalls sitting on the back porch of his Montpelier house with fellow musician Steven Lichti last summer, discussing the costs of recording and releasing records.
“We wondered why all of our friends, who are excellent musicians, had not gone through the steps to cut a record,” he says.
Lander and Lichti broke down the most basic costs of releasing an album, from recording, mixing and mastering to packaging and reproduction, and came up with a ballpark figure for small releases, roughly $300.
“We realized that if 20 people gave us, say, $15, we could make it happen,” he says.
Lander and Lichti put the word out around town that they were looking for like-minded musicians to join forces and form a working cooperative. A few small “getting-to-know-you” meetings to brainstorm ideas planted the early seeds of the Golden Dome Musicians’ Collective.
Those early sessions grew from a handful of participants to about 30 interested parties. As the concept began to coalesce and the details of how such a partnership would work became clearer, that number thinned to 15 or 20.
“After those first few meetings, some people decided they couldn’t commit, or just didn’t get what we were trying to do,” explains Lander.
The commitment is serious. The collective’s 16 current members pay monthly dues of $15, meet regularly, and are expected to take an active role in the organization’s operations and decision making.
The overarching goal of the collective — which is legally incorporated as a mutual-benefit nonprofit organization — is to pool resources, which can then be used to ease financial burdens that members otherwise would have to face alone. Financing albums was the impetus for creating the group and is the most visible use of the collective’s bankroll. But GDMC monies can be used for any costs associated with being a working musician, from buying guitar strings and printing show flyers to picking up a case of beer for band practice.
“The money is there for any of us to use, however we may need it,” explains Lander. He grins and adds, “And some of our best recordings happen after a few PBRs.”
So, how does it all work? As simply as possible.
To borrow money from the collective, a member must draft a proposal outlining in detail how he or she plans to use the money and, just as importantly, how it will be paid back. The collective then discusses the proposal, makes suggestions or adjustments, and votes on whether to divest funds.
Lander estimates the collective currently has about $3000 to play with. That’s not an insignificant sum, but neither is it an embarrassment of riches. As such, Lander says GDMC members rarely ask for large amounts and are sensitive to the overall needs of the group — almost to a fault.
“I don’t think we’re quite using the money to its fullest potential yet,” he says. “We have all been used to fending for ourselves for so long that we’re still learning how to use this apparatus. We’ve been playing it pretty safe so far.”
GDMC cofounder Theis Bergstrom agrees. “It’s taken some time to realize that there’s no reason I have to keep doing all of this stuff on my own,” he says.
To date, the GDMC has released four albums on State and Main, including an EP by First Crush — an acoustic indie-pop duo featuring GDMC cofounder Robyn Peirce and ex-collective member Scott Baker — and a full-length by Montpelier expat Dan Zura . The label has also released two compilation albums: a debut sampler and a download-only benefit comp for the Langdon Street Café, which closed in the spring. The collective has scheduled a fresh round of releases this fall, including ones from Lander’s Champagne Dynasty  and GDMC cofounder Jeff Thomson’s Lake Superior , as well as a First Crush full-length.
While the upcoming slate of projects is exciting for the GDMC, the collective’s members agree the Montpelier scene has drastically changed since Langdon Street Café closed. The downtown hotspot was not only Montpelier’s social and artistic hub but the birthplace of the collective — not to mention where most GDMC bands got their start.
“There are a lot of bands in Montpelier that formed and were designed specifically to play at Langdon Street,” says Thomson. “The great thing about that place was that you could be almost any kind of band, from an acoustic duo to a weird experimental-rock band, and it worked there.”
He adds that Montpelier has other good music venues, but none of them cater to the broad spectrum of acts that LSC did, and that’s an issue for the diverse GDMC.
“Certain places are good for certain bands, but not as good for others,” Thomson says.
Might that lead to the collective opening its own venue someday?
“Now, there’s an idea!” exclaims Lander.