Misra's Early History
An Account by Misra Partner and Co-Founder Timothy Bracy
The meticulously plotted architecture behind the Misra juggernaut was no accident—it was the careful melding of diverse business philosophies coupled with good old American elbow grease. I vividly recall in the summer of 1999, as we plotted the first blueprint for our stakeholders. Phil Waldorf was making a careful study of Lee Iacocca’s classic memoir “Lead, Follow or Get Out Of The Way”. Phil believed strongly that strict adherence to Iacocca’s “Follow The Market” mantra would position Misra advantageously in the buy/sell spectrum. Michael Bracy (always the maverick) disagreed, and instead endorsed the quick-strike approach of his long time hero Jack Welch. Like the former GE executive, Mike held the view that “shareholder value is a result, not a strategy.” The three of us argued these points for what seemed like a joyous eternity, laughing and backslapping over cognac and Cubans in some of the finest salons in midtown Manhattan. In the end, it was obvious they were both right, and in 1999 Misra finally barnstormed a gob smacked business community with release number one: Bablicon’s improvised free jazz mindfuck “In A Different City”.
It’s fun to reflect on those giddy, heady early days, when several of the greatest young business minds of our generation gathered with the simple mission of enslaving the global consumer base. When Zachary Gresham presented his 8-point bulletin memo concerning the release of the Summer Hymns classic psych-pop freakout “Voice Brother, Sister”, even a wool-dyed supply-sider like myself had to admit I was impressed. Gresham was working in new paradigms for a new millennium.
Unsurprisingly, industry commentators took note: “Summer Hymns’ music is characterized by plucky banjo motifs, layered instrumental textures, dramatic dynamics changes, furious percussion,” wrote Pitchfork in their 8.8 review of the release. We were on the driving range when we got that news. Michael was so pleased that he hooked a six iron directly into Phil’s larynx. We all laughed and backslapped after that while Phil muttered “I can’t wait to get out of this fucking company!” And we all laughed and backslapped again.
I don’t want to say that things came easy, because what is easy, really? We were in the boardroom constantly, crunching the numbers, running the metrics. It didn’t feel like work, because we loved to do what we did: dominate. Phil discovered a band called Destroyer and suggested we partner with its main principle, a Canadian called Daniel Bejar. The resulting release “Streethawk: A Seduction” was an immediate classic. The business community trembled: How was Misra doing it?? How????
The hits kept coming. Strategic commodity enterprises were struck with Jenny Toomey, Great Lake Swimmers, Shearwater, Centro-Matic, Phosphorescent and The Mendoza Line. Reviews were rapturous, revenues a golden tide. Did we celebrate a little too much? Were we excessive? I guess that in the fugue of that halcyon moment we may have lapsed a time or two. The Faberge sculpture of the Misra logo, placed in the front foyer of the Gramercy Park manse that doubled as our playpen and headquarters, now seems a bit of a relic of its time. But from the top of the world it’s hard to see the ground. We were so sky high. We were Chuck Yaeger, breaking the sound barrier. We were space cowboys in a music machine, riding to the moon and beyond on the back of a giant swan called Misra.
I distinctly recollect the discussion Michael and I had the day that Phil told us he was leaving to start Dead Oceans. He told me the news, and then we both said: “uh-oh”. It was one of those synergistic things- a brother on brother moment- you just know what the other is thinking. We decamped with Cousin Nicklaus after that on a ‘Partner’s Retreat’ to the Catskills, which involved vast amounts of rueful merriment: quail chasing, back-slapping, snooker and speaking in patrician accents.
By the end of the retreat, we recognized that we were, to use the business lingo, positively fucked. Phil possessed most of the day-to-day knowledge of how to run the label, most of the band relationships, and our entire cache of high end sparkling wines. Common corporate dictates hold that this is the moment at which the sensible investor disbands their company, changes their mailing address to a Romanian suburb, and disappears into permanent hiding.
For reasons that remain unclear, we did not do this. Maybe it was because we had too much gumption. Maybe it was the skiing accident. Business is funny that way- it’s not always apparent exactly why oxygen isn’t reaching the brain.
What we did know is that it was going to take some significant balance of time to reinvent Misra without Phil’s participation. Focus and survey groups helped us to pinpoint that number at anywhere between 3 and 200 years. We decided the risk was worth it. That was the summer of Avian Flu pandemic. We didn’t start it- but we did start Misra.