SALT LAKE CITY — You may know them as the artists and producers of "Teach Me How to Jimmer," a hip-hop song that generated more than 1 million views on YouTube a year ago.
Feel Good Music Coalition, the independent label that released the song, has officially been on the Utah music scene since May 2010, appearing unofficially four years before that.
Like many other indie labels, Feel Good Music Coalition uses the Internet as its primary promotional tool, but the music it produces demonstrates a unique philosophy on media.
"We really stress no vulgar or explicit content," said Simeon Lawrence, the creator of Feel Good Music Coalition.
All artists associated with the label that were interviewed agreed: The label's chief goal is to create "real life" music that connects with people and leaves them better than they were before. Part of fulfilling that mission means following the rules against vulgarity and sexually explicit content. But mostly, it means writing about things people can relate to and benefit from.
"Kristy (Uzelac) is a cancer survivor. Definit (Sean Curran) was addicted to drugs and is clean now," Lawrence said, referring to two artists in Feel Good Music, "They have amazing stories people need to hear."
St. Louis-native Kristy Uzelac was diagnosed with skin cancer in 2000, when she was only 20 years old. Although she had been involved in music all her life, it wasn't until then that Uzelac started to learn guitar.
"It opened my eyes. I asked myself, 'Am I really doing what I want to do? Why wait?'" Uzelac said. "I got a guitar for Christmas from my brother who knew I wanted to play. It's what helped me get through the emotional battle of dealing with cancer and I knew this was my outlet for getting through anything in life. "
After Uzelac beat the cancer, she kept up the music. She met Lawrence years later when she was practicing a song with his roommate. Lawrence heard her singing and was impressed, so Uzelac invited him to her upcoming performance. Shortly thereafter he asked her to sing with him on his own CD. She's been a part of Feel Good Music ever since.
"I have an emotional attachment (to music). If I'm sad, I grab my guitar. If I'm happy, I grab my guitar," Uzelac said. "It's really about expressing myself. I want listeners to feel (my music). I'm putting my heart, everything, on paper."
When Sean Curran, whose stage name is "Definit," writes music, he is very candid about what his life was like when he was suffering from drug addiction and how he got clean.
"Originally when I started writing, it was about overcoming that kind of stuff and a lot of stories about the life I used to live and the life I changed into. Not from a point of glamorizing that life, because there was no glamor," Curran said. "It was painful, it was deadly; I hurt a lot of people. When I talk about it in my songs, it's not, 'Oh, that was fun,' it's 'I'm glad I'm not there anymore because it almost killed me.’"
Curran grew up in Orem, Utah, and got addicted to drugs in high school. He struggled with his addiction for years until finally overcoming it in 2004. He's now happily married and studying psychology at Utah Valley University with plans to work with youths or adults struggling with drug addiction. Because he is so open about his prior addiction, he’s met people looking for help or advice in their own struggles that he may not have met otherwise.
He has a special perspective on media values and the power of music, having been on both sides of the music influence.
"The message I try to carry — and I don't hide it from people — is people that come from a crazy past or addiction can grow and change out of that and turn their lives over to something more powerful than themselves," Curran said. "The problem is, the music (hip-hop) I really liked at a young age, I always claimed it didn't have an effect on me at the time — oh, this rap, these words, were talking about things I hadn't done yet like drugs and drinking. I didn't realize how much of an impact it was having on me until when I was a junior in high school. I remember trying specific drugs for the first time because rappers mentioned them in their songs."
Like most of the artists affiliated with Feel Good Music, Curran is very careful to keep the messages in his songs positive. It was he and his brother who actually came up with the idea and lyrics for "Teach Me How to Jimmer."
Steven "Santo" Guzman, born and raised in Salt Lake City and the youngest artist with the music label, has also made it his goal to write positive rap music. He likes hip-hop and Spanish music, the latter a legacy from his parents, who immigrated from Jalisco, Mexico. He came out with his first album in June 2012, a project two years in the making.
"Good music is not just hip-hop, not just rap music, not just whatever I like. It can be any genre, but to me, it has to have a conscious, aware, positive message or good intention behind the music," Guzman said. "I started making music and putting myself out there young, like 15. (My goal was) just to stand out and make people think, 'Oh, this kid isn't rapping about what the stereotype of rap is.’”
For Lawrence, the man behind Feel Good Music Coalition, the label is all about "real, heartfelt music (that) connects with people." His commitment to his religious beliefs — Lawrence is a practicing member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — also plays a part in why he feels so strongly about the label's mission.
"I feel personally responsible for the world we leave to this rising generation. ... I firmly believe that audio/visual stimuli free from vulgarity and sexual content has the potential to encourage positive behavior," Lawrence wrote in an email. "As an artist, I believe when music comes from a real place, the connection you make with the people is much more lasting and beneficial.'"
Lawrence was born in Liberia but grew up in Pennsylvania. His parents were introduced to the LDS Church in Rome after moving there to escape the aftermath of a government coup in 1980. They moved to Philadelphia when Lawrence was 4 years old. He served an LDS mission in Texas, where he met Chase Beecher and Arthur Hatton, a comedian and a writer, respectively, who later got involved in Feel Good Music.
Hatton, who created Linescratchers.com after his mission to highlight LDS artists who didn't necessarily make LDS music, commented on how technology has allowed Feel Good Music to compete with big music labels without having to conform its values to fit an image.Comment on this story
"In an age where the big labels are starting to come down, the music scene is really fragmented. There are so many different, small voices that it's really hard to say what values the media promotes," Hatton said. "Now nobody's trying to get on big labels; you can do your own thing."
Lawrence summed up his favorite part of Feel Good Music Coalition and why it's important to him.
"It's been awesome to watch it grow," he said. "I love the people around me in Feel Good Music. We have a tight-knit group. I definitely think artists should hold themselves accountable for what's in their music."