Photo of
Photo By Paul Moffett
Bryan Puckett

Bryan Puckett Shows His Heart, One Band at a Time

Kevin Gibson

Bryan Puckett comes across as an affable guy with a cheeky sense of humor. And while he will off-handedly tell you about his myriad health problems, from diabetes to being born with a heart that's undersized, one never gets the feeling that he's filled with bitterness or even self-pity.

Why? Because chances are a big that part of the conversation is also going to be about music, and that's what keeps him smiling these days. The founder and owner of Little Heart Records (yes, that name is no coincidence) gets his greatest joy in life from helping musicians get their music out there.

It's almost hard to believe he tried to kill himself twice when he was in college. Fortunately, after his failed attempts, music saved him, so now he's giving back.

Photo By Paul Moffett

Photo By Paul Moffett

Photo By Paul Moffett

Photo By Paul Moffett

Photo By Paul Moffett

Photo By Paul Moffett

"That was a time when I started really going heavily to shows," he said of the aftermath of his suicide attempts. "Not a weekend went by that I wasn't somewhere" checking out a band.

Those suicide attempts were in 1999, and he said by 2001 he had "finally really snapped out of it" in part due to his growing love of music. Specifically, a band out of Long Island called Movie Life helped pick him up.

"The things they talked about" in their songs, Puckett said, "I guess I didn't feel like I was alone anymore. That was the moment when I realized just how powerful music can be."

Puckett actually started listening to punk music in the early 1990s when he was still a kid. This is when Green Day brought pop-punk to the mainstream. That ultimately led him to "real" punk music, if you will.

"Nobody is born listening to Black Flag," he said dryly. "You sort of have to listen to the mall punk first."

And now his musical scope is far reaching; while many might say Little Heart is a punk label, Puckett isn't going to turn any band away if he thinks it deserves a chance to be heard. In fact, his connection with Movie Life is part of what drives him when it comes to working with bands via his label.

"A lot of that came down to just wanting to be able to put out music that I thought other people would connect with," he said. "For me and putting out records, it isn't about putting out a record that's going to be a hit, but rather records that are going to connect with people."

GOOD COMES FROM BAD

Puckett started Little Heart Records in 2005, shortly after the breakup of a relationship he thought was going to last a lifetime. Instead of a wife, however, he ended up with an engagement ring. He could sink back into a depression, or he could turn it into something good. So he pawned the ring and used that and money he had saved to start a music label.

"I said, 'I think I'm done with women; I don't want to deal with this at all, so I'm going to use this money for something good.'"

It's actually got more of a back story than that; he was publishing a music webzine at the time, writing about bands and their releases.

"Sometimes I would be kind of a jerk in the reviews," he said. "I wasn't trying to disrespect their art or anything, but I ended up not liking who I was when I was writing reviews."

While talking to friends who were working on music projects, Puckett decided he could help. That's really why Little Heart came to be.

"There are so many talented people out there who don't know how to organize themselves," Puckett said. "People who can play an instrument, but don't know how to get themselves in front of people. I can make that happen."

For a second time, Puckett turned a negative into a positive, and now he has more than 20 bands on the Little Heart roster, as well as representing catalogs for bands that aren't around any longer. He also has launched a sub-label called Little Hearts Records Group that he describes as "kind of a marriage of DIY work ethic and label buying power."

Puckett said this is ideal for a band that isn't ready to trust the business side of music but who want to get music recorded and into the ears of listeners.

This group is made up of "bands we like, bands we endorse, but we're only handling distribution," he said. "They can get what they need through us, but they are still funding their own projects. That program has had lot of growth just over the last year. For a lot of young bands, who can argue that being able to get shorter runs of CDs at lower prices isn't advantageous, if they don't want to be with a label?"

Like most involved in music, Puckett has seen the shift in which fewer people are actually paying for music these days. Not surprisingly, he has an interesting perspective on it.

"All these artists right now are coming out against Spotify," he said. "When you really think about how much somebody listens to a song when they buy a CD, the payouts aren't lower, the payouts are just coming to you up front. If they come back for more listens (online), you get more money out of it.

"I get the people who are complaining that it's owned by major labels and that they get the money for advertising. It's just a different way of monetizing something. Even if you think Spotify is the devil, it is the lesser devil than everybody trying to steal your stuff" by downloading it free.

But like with any businessman, Puckett has figured out the way to keep things moving along, and that way at the moment is merchandising. He said people are buying things like t-shirts, beer koozies and posters "stuff I didn't think would sell very well. They want music to be this free side thing."

Kevin Fletcher of the band Uh Huh Baby Yeah said Little Heart Records has been a great label for his band.

"Before we signed to Little Heart, we were doing everything on our own without much of a plan," he said. "We just knew we wanted to play music. Once we brought Little Heart on board, Puckett kind of shed some light in a few areas we hadn't really taken into consideration. He's helped us to put together marketing plans and goals."

He also said Little Heart has been a financial ally, by not "raping artists of their money." He said the label will pay for merch for the band up front and allow them to pay it back as they sell it.

"This has been a huge benefit of working with them," Fletcher said. "Plus, Puckett is just a really cool dude."

Another strategy Puckett has brought to bands like Uh Huh Baby Yeah is to keep cranking out musical product so that there isn't a lag. Traditionally, with old-school labels, an artist would be on a two-year album cycle. It's different now, especially with the punk fans.

The strategy there is to do an EP, follow it with a digital-only single, then a 7-inch split-single on vinyl with another band followed by another EP. "You've just done the two-year album cycle, and you're never out of the public eye. We'll do a full-length if the band wants to do a full-length artistically, but you don't want to have that down time. Always give people something new."

And with that formula, "People who don't steal your music … still have something to buy. You can do the vinyl collectible stuff like the different colors it's about giving them multiple opportunities."

Even when talking business, Puckett's wry sense of humor never goes away. At one point, he spoke of wanting to start sub-labels that, like Little Heart, refer to his health problems.

"I'd like start a rap label and call it Dia-Beats," he said. "Also, I've developed a nerve thing called neuropathy, and I think that would be a great name for a metal label."

END OF THE BEGINNING

In truth, Puckett's doctors have told him that due to his heart condition, he'll be lucky to see the age of 40. He's in his early 30s now. Does he ever feel pressure from such a - for lack of a better term - deadline?

"The closer I get to 40, the less I talk about it," he said. "I've got pretty badly controlled diabetes, the heart problem, neuropathy, a blood pressure problem … I'm a ball of health problems just duct-taped together. But every day I get up and it's time to do what I do.

"I don't want to make people think I'm a ticking time bomb, but a lot of times I feel like I've got one shot, you know? So I've got to make it count."

That's a long way from the college kid who was ready to call it quits. In true Puckett form, he can tell that story now and make it sound like any other funny college prank.

"I over-shot myself with insulin," he said, "and my plan was to die in my dorm room at Western. When I came to, there were cops everywhere and they were looking for drugs in my room instead of tending to my diabetic seizure."

That's not the funny part. Apparently, Puckett was not quite altogether lucid when he "came to." What happened next? "I bit a cop," he said.

The back story is that the cop worked on campus directing traffic, and as soon as he met Puckett he told him he looked like the lead singer of Barenaked Ladies.

"I had grudge against him for that," Puckett admitted. "He was an obnoxious jerk. So I bit a cop and didn't let go. I don't remember physically biting him; I've been told about biting him. I was pretty much in rabid frothing dog mode."

The next day, Puckett tried to kill himself again. This time, when his roommate found him, "he was all calm about it, and said, 'Puckett is being diabetic again.'

"It was about five years before I told him I did that on purpose. I didn't want people to know I was sad. But I thought everybody got that way, so I thought there was no reason to share it."

These days, the depression is gone and Puckett is rabid about music and all the bands he's helping instead of being rabid about dying or biting police officers.

He gleams when talking about bands such as Mercy Academy, Your Favorite Hero, On My Honor and others. In fact, 2013 promises to be the busiest yet at Little Heart Records.

"This year we are going to put out more records than we have any other year," Puckett said. "Looking at our schedule going forward, we're going to put out over 25 releases."

For a guy with such a little heart, that's a pretty big schedule of helping others.

"He brings heart and passion back into the music industry," Fletcher said. "He legitimately just wants to help the bands he likes. I see him bend over backwards for all of his acts on a daily basis. He's just a guy you'd definitely want on your side."

For Puckett, it's about helping the bands, along with the potential of helping the people who might hear one of those bands and connect with them like he connected with Movie Life. It was a defining thing for him, and helped get him to where he is now. Perhaps that legacy could be passed on.

"I'm not shooting to save the world," Puckett said, "but you never know what a record is going to mean to somebody."