Daytrotter founder Sean Moeller is leaving the indie rock institution he started a decade ago that created an unlikely music destination out of his hometown Davenport, Iowa.
Moeller, who turns 38 next week, will retain a minority share in the company but he will no longer be involved in the day-to-day operations he describes as a “140-hour-a-week” job. Under Moeller’s helm, Daytrotter has hosted nearly 6,000 studio sessions for traveling bands — most of them in a small recording space above a pizzeria across the Mississippi River in downtown Rock Island, Illinois.
“It just felt like the time to do it,” he tells Billboard of his decision to exit. “10 years just felt OK.”
Since Moeller started Daytrotter in 2006, the sessions have become a rite of passage for aspiring bands and established favorites alike. Wilco, Mumford & Sons, Avett Brothers, Bon Iver, Alabama Shakes, Glen Campbell, Ed Sheehan, Tame Impala and many, many more, have all recorded sessions for Moeller and his team. The digital releases are always accompanied with stylized illustrations of the artists and passionate write ups.
Over the past decade, Daytrotter has been a Midwest landmark to the independent music scene. As Moeller points out, they were among the first and arguably the best to bring good sounding studio recordings to the internet with the intent of helping the artist gain exposure. In the process, the sessions developed a following that has musicians who join them today swooning over the performances they heard in high school however many years ago.
“We married up the internet with the studio and really great engineers and I think we kind of got the ball rolling on a lot of what’s happened over the last 10 years, as far as just other people getting into this side of the world,” says Moeller. “I don’t think anybody can kind of hold a candle to what I think is pretty solid work that we’ve done over 10 years.”
After carrying on mostly as a passion project, in 2008 Daytrotter earned financial legitimacy when Moeller partnered with the owner of Paste Magazine and Wolfgang’s Vault and began charging for subscriptions. Since, he has been able to continue building a culture around the company that he estimates has brought upwards of 20,000 people to the Quad Cities area.
“I don’t know what else I want to accomplish with it,” he says. “The training wheels came off a while ago and it’s like I’m still trying to be there for the bike. This can run. This runs. And, while it’s still fun, it’s almost like it got to be too easy. And not in a demeaning way, but it was… I want to figure out something else that can stimulate me.”
Last year, Daytrotter moved across the river to open a new studio facility in Davenport with an adjoining club. In the spring, they celebrated its 10 year anniversary with the Daytrotter Downs Festival. And, in a way, Moeller says he feels like he’s achieved what he’d set out to when he started the whole thing. Pridefully remarking on the neon sign that hangs outside the new studio and venue, Moeller says he feels like he’s “left a mark” with an idea that “10 years ago would have seemed like the craziest stupidest thing in the world that that could even exist.”
While Moeller says he’s mostly been playing a lot of golf since making the decision to leave Daytrotter, the father of four has been brainstorming to see what he can get passionate about again. The uncertainty of where he might land is part of the excitement.
“I kind of feel like I built a pretty sturdy thing and I’m proud as hell about it and I want to try to build another thing like it, you know?” he says. “Something completely different, something I haven’t even thought of yet. I don’t know what’s gonna happen, I think that’s the most exciting thing is that I could get a call tomorrow from someone who’s like, ‘Hey, did you ever think about doing this?’ And I could say, ‘No, but let’s do it!'”
Looking back, Moeller says early sessions with Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Sunset Rubdown were some of his all-time favorites, remembering the attention they received after getting written up on Pitchfork and watching the download numbers “rapidly ticking up.” There were those “super cool” Deerhunter sessions where band leader Bradford Cox basically rewrote four songs in their studio for a “marathon” four-hour session. And, of course, when a relatively unknown band called Vampire Weekend stopped by on their first tour, playing the pizza parlor below the studio.
“There were like 30 people there, they played a whole set, they only had like nine songs at that time,” says Moeller. “Everybody went crazy and the guy who owns the pizza parlor, our landlord, came out to me and was like, ‘Ask them to play some more, tell them I’ll give them a taco pizza.’ And so they played like the exact set again for a taco pizza.”
“They actually came back around a few months later just to hang out and have more pizza,” he adds. They’re far from the only ones.