By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Sep 04, 2008 at 5:25 AM

Less than three years have passed since we last chatted with Snapdragon Records founder and president Kristan Harris, but much has changed with the Milwaukee company.

From its humble beginnings in New Berlin, the label approaches it seventh birthday no longer a struggling one-man show, but as a music community with a lot of local love and a growing national reach.

The evolution has allowed Harris, 29, to quit his day job with Best Buy's Geek Squad, relocate to Milwaukee proper and focus on how to merge his newfound national attention with hometown talent.

Though he's kept a keen ear to the pop punk / emo scene since working with the now defunct Welton in 2002, signing Pennsylvania outfit A Farewell Rescue in early '07 was a major milestone for Harris. Teaming up with Minneapolis-based film director Justin Staggs, who has done videos for Against Me! and NOFX, they shot and released a video for A Farewell Rescue's single "Pretty, Cut & Dry" off the forthcoming "Never Meet Your Heroes," out Sept. 16.

"It was a surprise hit," says Harris. "Hip Video Promo gave it a big push and soon it was picked up by MTV2, Fuse on Demand and it was seen in over 500 retail chains like Journeys."

It was a big enough success to catch the attention of Missi Callazzo, president of Megaforce Records, who saw Snapdragon as a good fit for MRI Associated Labels, a sister company under the Megaforce umbrella specializing in independent and artist-run labels. Although Megaforce has been traditionally known for its metal associations to bands like Metallica and Anthrax, MRI encompasses a broader range of genres and has releases albums from bands like Fiery Furnaces and Andrew Bird.

"(Missi) really liked what we were doing and saw a lot of potential," Harris says. "She feels that we can really compete with the bigger names out there. I wouldn't want to work with someone who didn't believe in us; I'd rather do it myself. She's real passionate and it's something that she loves to do."

Callazzo has since connected Snapdragon with Sony's RED Distribution, which handles releases for bands like Radiohead, Matisyahu and the Drive-By Truckers.

"RED only takes on clients who do $500,000 or more in revenue, which obviously we don't do, but the nice thing about working with MRI is that is works with several labels that do equal to that or more so they are able to distribute us," Harris says.

"What we're seeing right now is the independent record label craze: national major labels buying up indie labels because they're realizing that if they can own five indie labels with bands that are selling 40,000 to 100,000 units and aren't on Limewire or sites like that, they are making more money than if two big artists are selling millions."

Harris says the pace at which his label is growing is allowing him to compete with Victory Records, Fearless Records and other mid-sized indies in the punk / emo / hardcore scene. This spring he picked up 12 Summers Old from Belleville, Ill. (hometown of Uncle Tupelo, which spun off Son Volt and Wilco), whose new album "This Could Get Dangerous" comes out Oct. 28, and Tempe, Ariz.'s GHOST!

Now, he's hoping to add a few Milwaukee bands to the roster.

"I'm just trying to make Milwaukee a better scene," he says. "My dream is to have a Milwaukee show and have 1,000 kids there, supporting not just my acts, but local acts and have a thriving venue and local community.

He's starting with the popular annual Snapdragon Fest, Sept. 19-21 at the Miramar Theatre, where he's been booking shows for owner Bill Stace for about three years. The three-day all-ages music festival features Snapdragon bands 12 Summers Old and A Farewell Rescue, as well as Eyes to the Sky, Breathe Electric, With Hours Waiting, Gabriel Hunter, Saved By Stereo and tons more.

Tickets are $8 at the door, or $15 for the three-day pass.

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”