Have you ever met someone whose life you wish you could steal? That's how we feel about Dan Treiber, owner of Crafty Records, purveyor of fine knick knacks at Brooklyn Flea and creator of the Love Letter vending machine. Though the City Island native may argue it's tough work, we can't think of better ways to spend time than hanging out with talented musicians and sifting through attics estate sales for tiny treasures. We talked to the Renaissance man about the state of the music business, looking for anything worth selling, and why there's nowhere else he'd rather come home to.
When we first met you at Brooklyn Flea, we thought you were all about the Dan's Parents' House stand and the love letters project. And then we go and look you up, and you have a record label. In your own words, what exactly do you do? Reasonable question. I run Crafty Records, that's sort of my flagship. It's an independent record label that's been around for 12-13 years. We're based out of New York, but we tour around the country. So that's where I was when you contacted me last week. I was in Florida. And so the record label is about putting out music by people who I think should have their stuff out. It's more of a co-op than a record label because it's me and a couple of my friends. We work with the producers. And that's run out of City Island in the Bronx, where I live, which is the house where I grew up in.
Where the story changes, is I got married two years ago and bought the house, and we just needed some extra money for stuff, so we started selling stuff from the attic. Which started Dan's Parents' House, which is the business where I sell vintage toys. So I did that for a while, and they sort of helped fund each other. In theory I could live off the record label, but that doesn't happen, so I have the other business. And then we did some letter writing projects with Crafty Records a while ago, so that fed into the Love Letter Machine. That was long-winded.
Considering how the music business has been changing, and how it's easier than ever for someone to be self-produced and to get their stuff on the internet: What would you say your role is as a record label now, and how has that role changed? It's changed because people don't buy physical formats any more. Ten years ago when I started the label selling a CD was a big deal, because not that many people had CDs. So it was impressive to have a professional looking package, shrink wrapped, and very pro. All of that made a difference ten years ago. And if you had a photocopied insert or a screen-printed one, ten years go it was because you couldn't figure out how to make a professional CD. The advantage of ten years later is that now it's recycled back into things made by hand. So you do a lot of handmade packaging, we do screenprinting on shirts, it's all custom made stuff. So as a record label, it's about getting the musicians to do the things they're supposed to do. And so we work together on that.
How long have you been involved with Brooklyn Flea? Is that how Dan's Parents' House started? Dan's Parents' House started at Brooklyn Flea, yeah. We started that last April, so we did that season, and it's been amazing. It's been the first viable, profitable thing I've done. I mean, I love the record label but it's rough. It's a lot of work for very little pay, and Brooklyn Flea has been phenomenal. They do a great job with press, and so they get people there, and if there are people there, then I can sell things.
Are you still selling the stuff you've found in your parents' attic? Did they just have a monster collection of old toys and comics and glasses? We had kind of everything growing up. For better or for worse, we got what we asked for. So we weren't spoiled in the "gimme, gimme, gimme!" sense, but we were really fortunate. If we wanted the Star Wars action figure, my mom would buy it five months in advance, because God forbid it's run out and she wouldn't get it. So we did have a lot of stuff. My parents were the first people in that generation to have a house. So not only was it their stuff in the attic, it was their friends' stuff. People stored things up there. Nobody ever did anything with it, so when we bought the house we spent a couple years cleaning it out, and we realized that there was some pretty good stuff in there, and it's a way to generate some money to pay for the mortgage. And it's enjoyable. I'd rather somebody walk into the booth and be amazed by something, have it bring up some childhood memory, than to having it stored away somewhere. So I'm totally okay with getting rid of that stuff. It's almost the same as the love letter project because it's about interaction. I think everything I do, including the label, it's about exchanging ideas.
Is there anything that's been sad to part with, or that you've refused to part with? Yeah, I have a handful of things. It's irrelevant but in 1988 they made these things called Food Fighters, like a hamburger or french fries. They were really short-lived, but I kept them, because that was my favorite, and we have a handful of packaged Star Wars figures, so we keep those. But everything else is up for grabs.
Where do you find stuff that you don't get out of your parents' attic? Anywhere outside of New York City is a good place to go. And this is where it's become, unintentionally, a really positive thing. When I tour with the record label, which is what I used to do anyway, we go look for things. So we'll play a show at night, but if we get into town early we'll go to secondhand shops, go to antique marts, try to find the people in the town who know the people who have the stuff. We just did two weeks with a band called Crazy in The Brain, and they did a lot of shopping. It's good.
On top of all this you have your love letters project. How did that one start? That started with me, which was that I grew up writing letters, I had pen pals, I'd write letters to my girlfriend, back and forth. And when I got married, I had this weird thing, where I had these letters that were important to me historically, but I didn't want to keep them around out of respect to everybody else in my life now. And I've always had a thing for vending machines. We had done a couple custom vending machines before that. I did one with pins cut out of old magazines, so they were capsule machines, but they'd have one of a kind things that would come out of it, and I had a few other ones with machines that were completely covered and random objects came out of the machine.
So one day I wanted to figure out what to do with the letters and I didn't want to throw them out, because they have an importance, so I put my love letters in a capsule machine. This was the first one. We put it in a bar, and people loved it, and it was really sort of this neat thing where people didn't know if they were real or what it was, and we basically sold all of them. I got the idea that this is a fascinating project. I had another one that I had at the outdoor Brooklyn Flea. It was a capsule machine with different letters in it, and the one that took off, that I feel made this into a viable project, was the sticker machine. There's something about that particular machine that I think it's the perfect method. You put the money in, and it's like a lever. And that's the thing. Not only is it a handwritten letter with all this historical information, it's a low-tech machine that you can put money in and physically get it. It's almost the same concept as getting a letter in the mail. It's coming out of this other thing.
Where do you find the other letters? The one we got was from San Francisco in the 50s, and the guy was writing his girlfriend, he was stationed in Hawaii. It was really awesome! He was writing, "I love you. I hope your hip is feeling okay!" Who are these people? A lot of them come from estates. When people die, people go into those houses and clear out the stuff. Every once in a while people find letters and stuff that they don't know what to do with, and they get thrown out all the time. I've put out a word to people that I know that do these things, so any time there's letters or personal material like that, and if people want to claim it, that's great. There's a lot of unclaimed stuff around, so I'll get a phone call and somebody will say, "Hey, I've got this pile of letters." So I'm hoping to get some press for the project, plus by getting those machines out there there'll be more people that have letters that want them somewhere. And that's where I get the newer ones. They're from people like me that have their letters that didn't know what to do with them.
Are you set on having them be love letters? Would you be fine with having them be any sort of correspondence? I think so. I mean, I think the love letters people can relate to, but yes, ultimately I would take any letter people want to read. There's a bit of voyeurism involved. There's a sense of historical importance with the love letters, but yeah, at this point any letter would be good. Then we can do slightly different machines and explain it a little differently.
You grew up in City Island. What made you want to stay in New York after growing up? It was weird, I never wanted to stay in City Island. I mean, as a kid I was the first one to say "I'm going to move to Manhattan! I'm going to get out of here!" or whatever. I grew up in City Island and then I went to college in Pennsylvania. And then a traveled for a little bit, and then I moved back to not knowing what to do at first, and then once I started traveling with the record label, I sort of realized that I loved traveling, and I love coming home to New York, and I love the energy of what's going on here. And on City Island, I have a backyard and a beach at the end of my block. You can't beat that. So we get by. It's a struggle with the house, but it's good. I like leaving and I like coming home. And it's a great community. It's a little small town. I can park my minivan in front of my house. It's safe. It's supportive. People look out for one another, and I definitely like that. And I can just hop in the van and come to Manhattan. Or Brooklyn, these days, in a half hour.
What would you say is your favorite part about New York? I mean, I think it's a little cliche, but I like leaving New York, but that you don't have to. Every band I've ever wanted to see comes to New York. Everybody, any community, any traveling art show will be here. So for me, it's a matter of that. Everybody comes through here, and I think the other part of New York is that because it's difficult, people have to work harder, and people who have to work harder do more. There are towns that are really easy to live in, but nothing really happens because it's so easy. And it's almost like the struggle of being here is the same thing that produces such good things.
Is there anything else you want to say about what you do or what you hope to do in the future? I don't know. I mean, I guess the only other thing is, I don't know the right way to phrase it, but I'd love the love letter machines to get out there. It took a while to perfect the machine, to get it to work properly, but we have five or six of those machines, and I'd just love to get them out there. To get the feedback, to get the conversation started, and go from there.