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Interview: Independent Punk and Hardcore Labels

Originally Published: Thursday, March 17, 2005
Compiled by Sarah De Borre with help from Geoff Silverman

I spoke to two amazing people today, both whom inspired me, both whom made me think and feel something. It’s totally irrelevant who those people were, other than the fact that they’re both involved in music and they’re both passionate people. Reflecting on those conversations made me realize that essentially, the essence of this article is passion. Independent labels are born and run by passionate people. You don’t start a label to make money and become rich and famous, you do it because it’s something you’re passionate about. You do it for the love of the music, the bands and the scene that you’re involved in. Be it hardcore, punk, metal, hip hop, blues, reggae or whatever genre of music. It’s the burning desire and need to release “that” record by “that” band which you just know more than anything people need to hear. It’s about giving back to your community and exposing music that you feel is important, to a wider audience. As with anything these days I’m sure there’s the odd exception. Sure there are people out there that do things purely to rack up their “scene points” but more often than not those are the runts that don’t survive in the long run.

Rather than me tell you what I think about independent labels, I decided to let the people behind the labels speak for themselves. Here are ten independent hardcore/punk-rock labels that were started by, and are run by, people that are passionate about music.

At Dawn We Wage War

Your name: Matt Fox
Your position at the label: Slacker and Star Trek fan
A brief description of the label: At Dawn We Wage War originally started as Ides Of March and released a few CDs from bands we were friends with. Boy was that a disaster. We soon wised up, changed our name, and now offer a cosy home to Shai Hulud/Zombie Apocalypse related projects. Shai Hulud’s recent Comprehensive Retrospective CD was a co-release between Revelation Records and At Dawn We Wage War, and the upcoming DVD, Shai Hulud: Pray Not A Fallen Banner will be exclusively released by ADWWW.
Current roster includes: Shai Hulud and Zombie Apocalypse
Your web address: www.atdawnwewgewar.com
Check that for a site that hasn’t been updated in over a year. We’re getting to it. Maybe.
City where you are based: Poughkeepsie, NY

How long have you been running your label?
Technically since 1999, but let’s say since 2004 as our new modus operandi consists of making smart decisions. Well, we’re gong to try anyway.

What do you look for in the bands that you sign and how do you go about signing your bands?
We have to be a part of them and we argue with ourselves for hours until we force ourselves to sign with us. Then we resent ourselves and ask us to re-negotiate our contract. We usually decline and subsequently beat the crap out of ourselves. Following this is a nice dinner (which we refuse to pay for), make up sex, and a contract re-negotiation. We’re softies.

How many records do you put out a year?
We aim to put out two releases this year. Feeling saucy.

How many people do you employ?
None. It’s just two Matt’s fumbling about

Do you run the label full time?
We run it into the ground full time—does that count?

What was your reason for starting your label?
To be quite honest, I don’t remember. Now, it’s just to have control over own projects.

In your mind, why and how are independent labels important to the greater music community?
In theory, independent labels bring a freshness and integrity to the music community. When an independent label is truly serving its purpose the result is, more often than not, potent. And regardless of how good or poor a particular release is thought to be, it is at the least sincere and released with heart—for all the reasons something should be released. This of course is all in theory.

Blackout

Your name: Bill Wilson
Your position at the label: Head Chef and Bottle Washer
A brief description of the label: NYC hardcore punk label.
Current roster includes: Crime in Stereo, the Commercials, the Escaped, the Banner.
Your web address: www.blackoutrecords.com
City where you are based: NYC
Contact info email: [email protected]

How long have you been running your label?
Since 1989.

What do you look for in the bands that you sign and how do you go about signing your bands?
Most of the bands I sign I find through other bands on the label as an extension of the “family”. In the beginning, most of the bands were my very close friends.

How many records do you put out a year?
Five to ten

How many people do you employ?
The biggest staff we ever had was six people; currently we are all doing it part time

Do you run the label full time?
Did for quite a while, but I grew tired of eating Ramen and financial worries.

What was your reason for starting your label?
Nobody was putting out the records I wanted to hear in hardcore. Most were trendy “youth crew” bands back then.

In your mind, why and how are independent labels important to the greater music community?
The indies are the place where a genuine creative vision happens and where the bands can grow creatively. Majors do not do thi

Bridge Nine Records

Your name: Chris Wrenn
Your position at the label: Owner/President
A brief description of the label: Bridge Nine is a Boston based hardcore label that puts out CD and vinyl releases for both established and up-and-coming bands alike.
Current roster includes: Champion, Stand & Fight, Outbreak, Some Kind Of Hate, Slapshot, For the Worse, Anger Regiment, the Distance and a ton more.
Your web address: www.bridge9.com
City where you are based: Salem, MA

How long have you been running your label?
As of 2005 it’s been ten years!

What do you look for in the bands that you sign and how do you go about signing your bands?
I look for bands that represent what I enjoyed in hardcore growing up: fun, fast, straightforward hardcore music. I want to work with good people, so I factor in a lot of things besides the music when deciding to work with a band.

How many records do you put out a year?
About ten or so.

How many people do you employ?
Four: Max does marketing and promotion, Mike does our website and manufacturing, Jeff does graphic design and manufacturing, Aaron does distro and mail-order. We also have a silk-screening company that does our shirts, as well as shirts for other bands, and two people currently work doing that: Kevin1 and Kevin2. I do a little of everything and anything else that needs to get done.

Do you run the label full time?
Yes, if you consider 14-plus hours a day full time!

What was your reason for starting your label?
When the label started I was living up in Vermont which is a much more rural state than the one I grew up in. The scene there was smaller so I thought it would keep me more motivated to go to shows and stay involved in hardcore if I had my own project. I was never in a band but I was always a self-starter, so doing a label (or in the beginning, just putting out a 7” or two) seemed like it would make sense.
In your mind, why and how are independent labels important to the greater music community?
Independent labels take chances on bands that majors would never touch. They fill all the little niches in music. Independent labels oftentimes put more heart into their music, so you get more creative packaging, and music that takes chances. 

G7 Welcoming Committee Records

Your name: Derek
Your position at the label: Collective member
A brief description of the label: G7 Welcoming Committee Records is an independent, collectively owned label started by the members of Propagandhi in 1997. We release passionate music of all genres that opposes capitalism and the status quo.
Current roster includes: Clann Zú, Greg MacPherson, Propagandhi, Hiretsukan, Mico and GFK.
Your web address: www.g7welcomingcommittee.com
City where you are based: Winnipeg, MB, Canada
Contact info email:[email protected]

How long have you been running your label?
Eight years.

What do you look for in the bands that you sign and how do you go about signing your bands?
Various ways, often from hearing about them through our other bands or people we know around the world. Sometimes when they send us their CDs. As for type of bands, we look for bands that are passionate about what they do, have no illusions of grandeur, and have a radical view on the shit-heap we call the “world”.

How many records do you put out a year?
Generally four to six.

How many people do you employ?
We are anywhere between two and four at various times.

Do you run the label full time?
I am a full time member, yes.

What was your reason for starting your label?
To be an antidote to the utter shit that passed for “independent music”. To be a label that placed radical politics as the mission, as opposed to entrepreneurial adventure and “benevolent” capitalism.

In your mind, why and how are independent labels important to the greater music community?
It used to be that independent labels were the only labels putting out new and interesting, challenging and relevant music. Unfortunately many of them now put out bands that merely aspire to the mainstream, looking to get their songs on ads for shoes and step up to the majors after they get a “hot profile”.
In the long run, independent bands, not independent music will be the most important part of the music community.

Jade Tree

Your name: Darren Walters
Your position at the label: Co-owner and Label Manager
A brief description of the label: Jade Tree releases quality music regardless of genre or trends and has been doing so for 15 years.
Current roster includes: Pedro the Lion, Strike Anywhere, Paint It Black, Statistics, From Ashes Rise, Breather Resist, Ester Drang, and the Loved Ones among others.
Your web address: www.jadetree.com
City where you are based: Wilmington, Delaware USA
Contact info email:[email protected]

How long have you been running your label?
The label is currently celebrating its 15th year.

What do you look for in the bands that you sign and how do you go about signing your bands?
A band that is willing to work hard and who has something original and inspiring to say with their music.

How many records do you put out a year?
It all depends on the year. In 2004 we released ten records, in 2005 we’ve already got half of that ready to go.

How many people do you employ?
Six.

Do you run the label full time?
Yes.

What was your reason for starting your label?
To release records regardless of geographical, ideological, or genre restrictions and without following any trends. Jade Tree is always looking to grow first and foremost and to constantly challenge its fans.

In your mind, why and how are independent labels important to the greater music community?
Because if they are doing their job, they will be releasing great music that might otherwise be ignored by the mainstream.

Trustkill Records

Your name: Josh Grabelle
Your position at the label: President/CEO
A brief description of the label: Hard rock label.
Current roster includes: Bedlight For Blue Eyes, Bleeding Through, Eighteen Visions, Fight Paris, Hopesfall, It Dies Today, Most Precious Blood, Nora, Open Hand, Poison The Well, Roses Are Red, Terror, Throwdown, Walls Of Jericho.
Your web address: www.trustkill.com
City where you are based: Tinton Falls, NJ
Contact info email:[email protected]

How long have you been running your label?
Ten years.

What do you look for in the bands that you sign and how do you go about signing your bands?
I look for something different and total commitment to performing music as a lifestyle. Great music, great lyrics, and great vocals are what are important, and the band has to be committed—that is really it. If the music moves me, then I am interested.

How many records do you put out a year?
Anywhere from eight to 12 records a year.

How many people do you employ?
Two.

Do you run the label full time?
Yes.

What was your reason for starting your label?
I didn’t have a reason; I started it as a hobby—something just for fun and to meet people, something to pass the time while I was in college, that was it. It wasn’t until a few years later, when I had a few bands that people cared about, that I actually thought about doing it for real.

In your mind, why and how are independent labels important to the greater music community?
Bands need an outlet to express themselves where they don’t feel so restricted, and that is what indie labels offer, as well as great promotion and marketing past the first week of sales.

Resist Records

Your name: Graham Nixon
Your position at the label: Owner / Manager
A brief description of the label: Resist specializes in hardcore and punk music, having released up to 40 releases.
Current roster includes: Irrelevant, Parkway Drive, Last Nerve, Taking Sides, I Killed The Prom Queen, Forza Liandri, and The Dead Walk.
Your web address: www.resistrecords.com
City where you are based: Sydney
Contact info email:[email protected]

How long have you been running your label?
Resist has been operating now for seven years.

What do you look for in the bands that you sign and how do you go about signing your bands?
The majority of bands are not contracted to the label, however contracts can be made if need be, and obviously in some cases this is best. Most bands verbally agree to work with the label, and we do this on a release-to-release basis. As for what we look for in a band—I try and work with bands that are willing to tour, can play well live as well as in the studio, as well as bands that support other local bands, not just their own.

How many records do you put out a year?
Each year this varies, 2005 is our busiest yet, with eight releases already planned for this year.

How many people do you employ?
Apart from myself we have a few others who work for us—not on a full time basis, most of them part time.

Do you run the label full time?
Yes.

What was your reason for starting your label?
At the time there were very few labels that were releasing hardcore and punk releases on a level of that from the US. Many local releases lacked good recordings and design—not that that’s a bad thing—however when the label started, I wanted every release to look and sound good. There were also very few labels releasing local bands, the only options for bands were to sign to bigger labels and as this wasn’t an option for many bands, it made sense to start the label up.

In your mind, why and how are independent labels important to the greater music community?
In a perfect world every band would be signed to a label and have major push. However in reality for every ten bands, maybe only three will ever get to release an album on a reputable label. With major label schedules they are unable to release new bands on a steady basis, therefore if there were not independent labels many bands would never get to release a record. Independents work with grassroots bands on a grassroots level, not rock stars that have a million dollars in a budget to record a clip or have a major marketing campaign. Without independent labels, some of your favourite bands would never have had an opportunity to release their music at all.


State of Mind Recordings

Your name:  James Cooper      
Your position at the label: Owner
A brief description of the label: We are a Long Island-based hardcore, punk, screamo record label.
Current roster includes: Instilled, Dead Hearts, No Roses, This is Hell, Blood Red, With Resistance and Sea of Thousand.
Your web address: www.stateofmindrecordings.com ;     
City where you are based: Port Jefferson, NY (Long Island)      
Contact info email:[email protected]

How long have you been running your label?
A little over a year, but I have wanted to do a label since I first got into hardcore.

What do you look for in the bands that you sign and how do you go about signing your bands?
Our main thing about the bands we sign is touring. We take a good long look into every band we sign, we ask around about them, we go and see them live and we ask them a bunch of questions. We really want to become friends with all of our bands, we feel that it’s easier to get stuff done that way.

How many records do you put out a year?
We have only been around a year, but in 2004 we put out ten. We’d love to do that again this year but we’ll see.

How many people do you employ?
It’s just Dave and myself

Do you run the label full time?
That’s the only way to run it

What was your reason for starting your label?
To do something for the scene, to give something back. I have always wanted to do “something for the scene” but can’t sing and can’t play anything. So I figured—Why not start a label and put out records, if I am not gonna be in a band writing them.

In your mind, why and how are independent labels important to the greater music community?
In my mind I feel independent labels are very important to help the music community. Mainly because we can work more one-on-one with a lot of our bands. We aren’t Roadrunner putting out 20 albums a year and having 50 bands on our roster, not that there is anything wrong with that. I just think it helps the bands out a lot more when it’s more one-on-one.

Immigrant Sun

Your name: Sean Mallinson
Your position at the label: Co-owner/everything. There are only two of us here.
A brief description of the label: A smallish, independent label with a varied array of artists, from singer-songwriter acts to punk rock to metallic hardcore and grindcore.
Current roster includes: Circles Over Sidelights, Die Young, Monty Love, the Killing Gift, Amanda Rogers, Slingshot Dakota, TwentyInchBurial, the Wage Of Sin, With Resistance
Your web address: www.immigrantsun.com
City where you are based: Brooklyn, NY
Contact info email:[email protected]

How long have you been doing your label?
Eight and a half years.
What do you look for in the bands that you sign and how do you go about signing your bands?
We look for artists that produce quality music and have the ability and drive to push themselves and us to the maximum of their/our potential. As far as signing goes, it happens all different ways—demos we get in the mail, referrals from other bands of ours, artists that we pursue.

How many records do you put out a year?
It depends on the year, but usually somewhere around six to ten.

How many people do you employ?
Employ? We’re not making any money here. There are two of us who do this at a break even/loss level pretty much.

Do you run the label full time?
Nope. I’m a freelance graphic designer and Pat’s a bike messenger/student.

What was your reason for starting your label?
To help Pat out.

In your mind, why and how are independent labels important to the greater music community?
Without independent labels, the music scene wouldn’t be where it is. They provide capital and support for new and emerging artists to hopefully grow and proliferate. Without the labels, there wouldn’t be a music community.


1917 Records

Your name: Sean Riley
Your position at the label: Co-founder
Current roster includes: Donnybrook, Guns Up!, Snake Eyes, Life or Death
Your web address: www.1917records.com
City where you are based: El Segundo, CA
Contact info email:[email protected]

How long have you been running your label? 
The label has been running for a little over a year and a half, and so far we’ve had a great time doing it. Hopefully this is just the beginning…

What do you look for in the bands that you sign and how do you go about signing your bands?
First and foremost, we have to be into the band musically. I couldn’t imagine putting in long hours and a great deal of time and effort into something we didn’t back 100 percent. Beyond that, we look for bands that are hard working, dedicated and enthusiastic about their music.

How many records do you put out a year?
Well, we have five out at this point, so I guess two and a half would technically be correct but that should start to snowball in the near future, so you’ll see that number continue to grow.

How many people do you employ?
Currently, I handle most of the day-to-day ops, and Calvin expertly handles the mail order side of things. Bo, the other founder, screens the shirts.

Do you run the label full time?
Well, I think I put a “full time” amount of work in, but I still have a “real” job that I go to every day, but it sure would be nice to do the label exclusively. Truthfully, I don’t think I would ever consider it a “job”! I’ve never gotten up and dreaded doing work for the label.

What was your reason for starting your label?
It had been an idea of mine and Bo’s for a few years, but being teenagers at the time, neither of us had real the true desire to get things going. We just wanted to “give back” if you will, even if not directly, to the style of music we were into growing up. In mid-2003, we had the opportunity to put out the Donnybrook EP, and just sort of ran with it from there. It’s taken us to the Guns Up! MCD, which we’re so happy with…unrelated to the music even. It’s introduced me to some people who I’d call some of my really good friends. I’ve forged some very meaningful relationships through the label. That excites me to no end.

In your mind, why and how are independent labels important to the greater music community?
I don’t want to speak for anyone else, but the bottom line as far as 1917 is concerned, is that we’re just putting out music that we feel should be heard. Nothing more, nothing less.

Mother, wife, small business owner. www.justbuttons.org

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