First off, congratulations on the 10-year anniversary of the label. How do you feel knowing you’ve been able to keep a record label thriving during a time when album sales have dropped as dramatically as they have in that time span? (Granted, punk rock has never been all that concerned with album sales, but the decline of the record industry must have affected the label during its infancy.)
Well shucks, thanks! I’m glad that there’s people out there that enjoy this music as much as I do. You’re right, when you put out punk records you can’t define success with album sales or publicity. I’ve made it work because I have another job and I run the label outta my small apartment. No employees or other crazy overhead, so we keep it pretty lean and mean.
How have you seen the relationship between label and artist change (if at all) over Red Scare’s existence? Or, going even further back, since your time working with Fat Wreck Chords?
Hmmm, that’s interesting. It’s always been the same for us because I’m personally friends with all our bands. And I think Fat Wreck had a similar family vibe to it too, so I would have to credit them for that. I mean, you don’t put out punk records to get wealthy, so you may as well get rich in friends and experiences. Every once in a while a band will come along and get a manager, and that can complicate things because there’s suddenly another agenda in the mix. It’s fine for bands to have managers and all that, it’s just a more business-first approach, which isn’t the standard for Red Scare bands. I don’t know if that answers your question, but not a lot has changed in the relationship department. We’re all pretty much friends!
What’s the process like discovering/signing new bands? I’ve always been curious about this side of the record label business.
It’s definitely a “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” sorta thing. Bands that are ready to step up and work with a label and tour, etc etc, usually make their presence known. I’ll hear about them from other folks or pick up on it. It’s important that we like their songs, but they also have to be cool people who we would like to work with. That’s just us though, there’s lotsa labels and lotsa outlets to be heard, so there’s plenty of different ways to share your music. We just choose the family approach.
What attracted you to bringing Red Scare over to Chicago?
I was ready to move out of San Francisco. It was becoming harder to do punk rock stuff in a city that has crazy expenses like SF. I also started working with a lot more Midwest bands, and I felt it would do us all good if I was in the trenches. I could have never imagined how well our bands would be received in Chicago and around the Midwest. The people in the punk scene have really embraced Red Scare and made it their own. I don’t think we could’ve done that anywhere else, so I’m super grateful to any of these people that keep coming out to the shows.
I’ve read in past interviews that Brendan Kelly was largely instrumental in getting Red Scare started. Not to take away from your own individual success and ambition, but where do you think you and/or Red Scare would be if it weren’t for that friendship with Brendan?
He absolutely was involved from the beginning and still continues to do his thing. I’m the poor asshole that has to shlep boxes and fax documents, but bands look to him for creative counsel. He’s a respected songwriter and someone who lived on the road for a decade, so he know his shit.
Over the last couple of years, I took a break from ska and punk and got involved with the Chicago hip hop scene, and I’ve noticed a growing number of rappers wear their punk influences on their sleeves, whether it’s through lyrical references, live performances, or just the general DIY nature of their releases. Are you familiar with the scene, and if so, have you picked up on any of this?
That’s awesome! I listen to hip hop and see 2 or 3 hip hop shows a year, but I’m super ignorant of the underground scene in Chicago. I think the last show I was at was Immortal Technique and I didn’t pick up on any of what you’re talking about, but I wish punk and hip hop would cross over more. Both communities share a lot of the same values. If you know of someone great, send ’em my way!