For the mini-orchestra Pink Martini, taking the slow but steady independent route has paid off during its 15-year career.
The group’s newest release, “Splendor in the Grass,” debuted during the week ended November 1 at No. 45 on the Billboard 200 and No. 10 on Top Independent Albums with 12,000 copies sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
With its own label, Heinz Records, and a dedicated team in its hometown of Portland, Oregon, the cinematic band of about a dozen musicians has built a following mostly through word-of-mouth — and everyone involved wouldn’t have it any other way.
“They really are kind of a mom-and-pop family operation where it’s just such a hard-core, loyal fan base,” manager Sam Feldman says. “It’s more bottom up than top down. We don’t do all this massive marketing that a lot of artists need and want.”
Even without extensive marketing, the group’s 2007 album, “Hey Eugene!,” debuted at No. 30 on the Billboard 200 and has sold 140,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Since then, Pink Martini has secured licensing deals with companies like Nike and Jeep and has had song placements in TV shows like “CSI: NY” and “Weeds.”
Most important in exposing the band to new audiences are its live shows, which are theatrical and include a variety of jazz, pop and classical styles. “When your band plays for a dozen years and keeps coming back to the same places, every time you would see twice as many people at the next show,” Heinz label manager Bill Tennant says.
For “Splendor,” Feldman says the group will tour extensively in Europe in November, New York in December, Australia in January and likely the rest of the United States in the spring and summer.
Many of Pink Martini’s past performances were done with symphonies and orchestras around the world, which founder/frontman Thomas Lauderdale says was an especially significant component of the group’s early success. “We were never the kind of band where you could pile into a van, get stoned and go on the road,” he says. “Symphonies had budgets to buy the whole band in and put them up. It made it possible for us to remain independent, and that became our tour support.”
Pink Martini found much of its success in Europe before the States. Its multilingual music is often considered European, but Lauderdale says he feels the group is more like the “ultimate American band.”
“America is the most heterogeneously populated country in the world,” he says. “And in that sense, this repertoire that we do sort of honors that real diversity, which I think is a more accurate representation of America.”
Lauderdale jokes that Pink Martini fans are the last standing buyers of physical albums. “There are really great groups out there, and they’re dealing with a younger population that doesn’t have that kind of sentimentality or even thought process about what it means to actually touch something,” he says. “But I’m a dinosaur. Hopefully our record-buying public is too.”