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Dre Okorley's Blog
|In and Out of Hardcore Feature #1: Chris Wrenn, Bridge 9 Records
Hardcore is constantly changing. Some bands revisit the past, some are influenced by the past and make it into their own thing, and some bands are totally outside of the box. It's usually a response to what came before it. In Boston, the early '90s saw slow, metal influenced bands. The mid/late '90s saw posi-hardcore bands like Ten Yard Fight and In My Eyes starting in response to it. The early 2000's saw bands like American Nightmare turn dark and more poetic lyrically, and then the mid 2000's saw bands like Have Heart form as a response to all of the negativity and emotion. It's a constant cycle.
- Chris Wrenn
"I usually get into the office around 11am these days. It used to be 8am or earlier but I have an almost two-year old daughter now so I take her out every morning to go to the playground, run around and hang out. First task at the office is whatever I didn't finish the night before - usually a design project (a promo poster, stickers, prepping artwork for vinyl repressings, etc...) or researching places to make new things. Seth (B9's label manager) usually has either a verbal or written list to give me of things he needs taken care of, and we go back and forth through the day to get everything done."
Apart from the daily grind at the office, Chris stays fairly quiet behind the scenes. The history behind how and when the label started, however, isn't far removed from that of AbsolutePunk. Like AP founder Jason Tate, the idea of Bridge 9 (hereonafter B9) came about when Chris was just a young kid. He takes a minute to think about how far back it's been.
"Hmmm. I wanna say my sophomore year in college…when I was 19?" He pauses again for a moment to think, then says: "No. I was going into my sophomore year. All of my friends interacted with hardcore and were in bands. Some kids did distros or fanzines. Everyone was invested on some level. But as for me, I acted as the spectator of it all."
His music tastes varied, and he would attend numerous metal and ska shows in the early 90s including Spring Heeled Jack. But his preference to make a mark in hardcore above other genres was unwavered, as he always felt a greater bond to that scene.
"Even though I found out about Black Flag, Cro-Mags, and Misfits because metal bands promoted them in their records, they didn't really speak to me the way hardcore bands did. They seemed to be the "piss off your parents" kind of stuff. But with hardcore, I started to interpret the message and I found it more relevant to my life. I wanted to keep myself connected somehow."
At this point in his life, Chris was preparing to leave for college but he didn't want to leave his hometown. He started to think of ideas that would not only allow him to be around his friends and family, but also keep himself connected to the hardcore punk scene.
"I didn't want to just disappear off to school without something keeping me invested in coming back to my hometown. I just wanted to keep the dialogue going, and that's when I decided to put out a record. I called up someone with mutual friends who ran a label and probably asked him a bunch of dumb questions." He laughs. "He was very insightful and helpful. That's where I got my start."
While some people have been able to start their own labels, not many of them can say they've given rise to some of the greatest hardcore punk bands of our generation. But in Chris's case, it was all about timing.
"I was in the right place at the right time, you know? I mean, look at Jordan Cooper of Revelation Records. He was in Connecticut going to New York right when the mid-to-late 80s boom happened in New York hardcore, and he was just the guy that everyone put out records with. He happened to be in the right place at the right time. I started the label in 1995, then put out the first record in '96. At that time, I only put out 1-2 records each year. It was very, very hobbyist. Whenever I got around to it was when it happened."
"All of a sudden it was 1999. I started what I called the Boston Hardcore Fact Sheet. What its purpose was…well, the only way you could move forward was to get to know other people and create opportunities. So I knew that if I wanted to get someone to talk to me, then I could meet people and establish myself in a city like that. So, I started it off really simple. I took a page and folded it in half, then again into smaller parts like a newsletter. I would do an interview with a band on the front with 20 questions. In the middle went all the news that I heard was going on. The back of it had shows happening in the next month. I did this every month for a year out of my apartment. I would design it on my computer at home then head over to Tower Records after hours and use their photocopier to make 500-1000 copies. I'd then go to shows and hand them out. As people left, I stood by the door and I'd hand them to every single kid. Then I'd bring little boxes with the sheet printed on them. I was helping people. I would just go up to them and say, 'Hey, I heard you're in a band, can I ask you 20 questions about it?' Even though it was kinda a small thing, it just gave people a reason to approach me, and me, them.
There's so much that goes into the stuff that we've done and that we do now. I would say that one of the hardest parts of my job is when a band misses their potential. Especially when you see a small and local band play in South Korea, that is just incredible…chances are that it may not happen again. Take a band like Crime in Stereo. They were a band that just couldn't get past bullshit. I mean, Verse was another one, you know? They had so much going for them in 2008 and they could've been as big as Have Heart and could've really done some cool stuff. But there were a lot of internal things that really kept the band from moving forward. Thankfully, they performed last year and I think there's still potential there. It's just difficult when you know a band is a good, and you know that they can do so much cool stuff. But they just can't seem to get out of their own way. To get five people on the same schedule, the same page...it's tough. Hey, let's get five people who all have busy lives to meet a few hours a week! It's very difficult. I've never tried to start a band myself, and that's why I started this label. I'm not an instrumental person. I never wanted the spotlight."
But what about artists who actually want a little bit of spotlight on the label? Surely, there is a make-or-break checklist that Chris goes through when choosing bands to represent the label. One can get curious about a few things in this regard...Had he ever come across a band live he'd never heard before, that immediately caught his interest?
"Well, when we're considering a band, we obviously have to like their music first. It sounds like a crazy idea for a record label. But the truth is, a lot of labels out there don't care about the music, only how many records they can sell. As an independent label, we have a limited amount of resources and we want to work with the bands we love and think represent us. Then we have to make sure they're going to work hard. Many bands won't even play shows and it's hard for us to push them. We want to sell records, but we want to do so if the band is going to stay relevant and push themselves. If we have a few good choices in front of us, we pick the band that's going to work the hardest. I heard a band online recently called Nervous Impulse. They're older guys, so they can't tour nor do much else. But I didn't care, I wanted them on our label. In this particular case, it's a 'we can do it just because we want to' sort of thing.
I went on the first American Nightmare European tour in 2001, and this new British band called Sworn In played it. I picked up their demo at the show, got home, and called them up and said I wanted to do something with them at the label. It was their first show ever, and the funny thing was that they knew I was the founder of B9 and that I was going to be there…so they were completely freaking out, hoping they wouldn't mess up. But I loved every bit of it."
The buzz surrounding Have Heart came somewhat as a shock, because not only did people hear about them from hardcore kids, but from kids who weren't in the scene at all, as well. Have Heart's impact on multiple communities was truly palpable, and they had done it in a way that some had never witnessed before.
There were literally two bands on our roster that kids connected with on an emotional and lyrical level: American Nightmare and Have Heart. It's actually kind of funny, because Have Heart formed as a reaction to American Nightmare, who formed as a reaction to the posi-straightedge scene that Boston had - Ten Yard Fight, for example. It was dark, and there was no collegiate font or football humor. It was just very, very straightforward. Fast forward to ten years later, and we get Have Heart. They didn't like all the black t-shirts and the emotional lyrics. Pat wanted something that went back to the posi-stuff before American Nightmare, so he started Have Heart. Both bands still had crossover that kids connected with emotionally through the lyrics.
The response has traversed scenes for both the bands. If you like Have Heart, good chance you'd be into a bunch of our bands. The average AbsolutePunk follower might be into Have Heart. But that's as far as it goes, you know, for hardcore. I've learned to never say never now, but I don't think Have Heart would ever reform. If they did, it would be for a cause that somebody needed money to be raised for, and they knew they could raise an incredible amount of money to help support it. Or like if a friend was really sick or something. We've been working on the Have Heart DVD as of now which will someday see the light. Pat had been working on it since he was in college, but, we don't have an exact schedule for it yet. Most bands don't do what Have Heart did. The last show they played in Bedford, Massachusetts raised $12,000. All that money got donated to a women's shelter. And as far as their releases are concerned, we've never done a formal reissue because we've never really liked a lot of press."
There are record labels which have come and gone. There are pioneer names such as Dischord which kickstarted the DIY hardcore punk scene in 1980s D.C. and show know signs of disappearing anytime soon. Did B9 seek business inspiration from Dischord?
"We certainly did. The typical deal that you got as a band through bigger labels after Dischord was: 'Hey, we're gonna give a dollar for every record you sell.' And a lot of bands accepted that deal, you know? Give me my dollar for each one. It's interest in demand and they're selling it. Let's say 10 years after the fact, the label isn't taking out ads and they're not promoting the record anymore. Now it's just a catalog piece. So they're selling it for $10, and it's costing them $1 to manufacture that CD. So they're making $9 from it, while the band is only making $1. Dischord said alright, we'll do the 50-50 profit split. If we spend $10,000 making a record, then we're gonna sell however many we need to in order to make the profit back. Once they made their money back, they evenly split the profit. So for every $10 CD they sell, instead of keeping $9, they decide to the band should get $4.50, and they will also get $4.50. It's a more artist friendly arrangement which is something we adopted from their influence, and even from Revelation Records. Their focus on collectibles and vinyl and doing cool pressings. B9 makes large format posters for our bands and we sell them online, because I was so excited about what Revelation did in the 80s. No one was doing that five years ago. So it was really important for me to revive that aspect of what Revelation started. It's a weird feeling to find that we've put out more records than Revelation and Dischord at this point."
Even though starting the label wasn't exactly a cakewalk for Chris, he always felt that self-perseverance was the key to longevity.
"As you long as you believe in what you're doing and persevere, then people no longer have a reason to talk badly about you." He stops to recall how many times other labels had been putting out records since before B9's inception and had fizzled out. "I never really thought about hanging it up. Most of the big labels from the 90s like Trustkill, Ferret…they're all gone. There's similar labels like Victory and what have you still doing things, but yeah. I had no idea we'd make it this far. It just continued on because I always presevered. We had years that were very difficult and key bands break up. So many setbacks. But we figured out a way to make it work. And as I said before, people can't ignore you. You have to keep doing what you love."
And when Chris reaches an age when B9 has to be passed into someone else's care?
"Man, I can't even imagine not running B9 anymore," he says, taking a deep breath. "There's no ending in sight. Everyone at the label is equally important and has a purpose. Even going back to Have Heart, I signed them because my mailorder guy who was 19 had a demo of theirs and he put it on my desk. He said, 'Chris. You need to check this band out because they're awesome!' So I can't take credit for scouting out every band that may become the next big thing. I trusted someone and listened to their opinion. I listened to the demo and said how great it was and that we wanted them to represent the label. Even now, I'm still very, very involved in the day-to-day of everything at B9. We even have a new label manager, Seth of Topshelf Records. He's in the driver's seat for a lot of things at the label now. The last four or five bands we signed he brought them to the table. As long as we continue to have people involved in the label that are excited and going to shows, I think we can continue to remain relevant and true to our history, while still moving forward."
|Tags: chris wrenn, bridge 9 records, in and out of hardcore
|My Most Anticipated of 2012
|Here's what I'm looking forward to in 2012:|
2. Kendrick Lamar
3. Fallen From The Sky
4. Wu-Tang Clan
5. No Trigger
6. Five Iron Frenzy
7. Trash Talk
9. The Menzingers
11. ASAP Rocky
12. Craig Finn
14. Title Fight
|The Best of 2011
|This year was tough, and the following music got me through it.You can click here to listen to new music and read more.|
1. The Roots - undun.
2. Frank Turner - England Keep My Bones
3. Fucked Up - David Comes To Life
4. The Weeknd - House of Balloons
5. Young Statues - Young Statues
6. Aficionado - Aficionado
7. Trap Them - Darker Handcraft
8. Raekwon - Shaolin vs Wu Tang
9. I Am The Avalanche - Avalanche United
10. White Lies - Ritual
Best newest discoveries: The Front Bottoms, ASAP Rocky, The Men, Misser.
|Tags: the roots, fucked up, frank turner, the weeknd, young statues, aficionado, eoty, 2011