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It Could Go Off For Like... No Reason
Live Shots: Mayhem Festival
08/08/12 at 01:28 PM by Jason Gardner
I was fortunate enough to take some pictures at this year's Rockstar Energy Mayhem Festival. Click below to find some shots of Slipknot, As I Lay Dying and The Devil Wears Prada.

The Devil Wears Prada

As I Lay Dying

Slipknot
Tags: photos, the devil wears prada, as i lay dying, slipknot
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Opening Remarks: Periphery II
06/20/12 at 09:28 PM by Jason Gardner
So for the first time with a new record, I am going to give my thoughts before I give my thoughts. Expect a full review of Periphery II, but in the mean time consider this a taste of that.

The sheer size of this album is kind of daunting during even a casual listen. That kind of twists my thoughts on trying to come back to this once I put it down post review. Sure, there is a ton of cool stuff going on throughout this album. Spencer's vocals are up a notch or two. The layering of sounds is still great. The production is solid... probably beyond solid. This is the start of a new wave for Periphery. I would say this is probably 75% progressive rock based with a little bit of djent thrown in – but don't get bummed out by that. There's something very engaging about this record in the layers of vocals, impressive drumming and triple guitars. I wasn't really sure what to expect from this record considering my knowledge of the band outside of Periphery, but after a couple listens I can hear a true progression for the band.

The question is whether or not the fans will accept it.
Tags: periphery
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From the Basement to Your Stereo
06/14/12 at 11:47 AM by Jason Gardner



From the Basement to Your Stereo
The Story About a Songwriter Named Koji
By Jason Gardner
Photo Courtesy of Erin McConnell / Run For Cover Records


One of the more rewarding experiences of music is being able to enjoy said music, whether it is metal, indie or pop, in the company of others who share at least one similarity in taste – otherwise known as a very blatant description of going to a concert. But not every band will play the massive arenas and amphitheaters usually reserved for radio chart toppers and reassembled acts of yesteryear. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though. As you dive further into the sphere of music, the settings become much more intimate and defined in the sense of a community – all the way down to the still very occurring house, hall and basement shows. Many of the bands touring the shit out of the landscape know that fact better than anyone – anything different than that would seem foreign and challenging.

This is the path of one Andrew Shiraki, better known by his middle and stage name of Koji, a songwriter who residents in the ever-rising music state of Pennsylvania. Though he has been touring hard in the time he’s gone by this moniker, both solo and with various incarnations of a live band, his recent spot as support for the much more known act Never Shout Never was a very different experience for a person I’ve only seen play in organized school lobbies, coffeehouses and at points quite recently – fans’ living rooms.

“I haven’t played in clubs alot,” says Shiraki as we chat about the recently ended Never Shout Never Tour. “I’ve always done DIY stuff, like basement shows or fire hall shows and stuff. To be playing for a brand new audience with sold out crowds every night was a really exciting experience.”

It was a learning experience too according to Shiraki, who points out humbly, “I had a lot to learn and I took a lot away from the talented dudes in Never Shout Never.” It is a common theme in interacting with Shiraki, whether he’s talking about being able to be a part of that tour or his inspiration from the enthusiasm and drive of a band like Code Orange Kids – there is an overwhelming element of honesty and positivity to be taken away from a conversation with the glasses-doning man simply known to many as Koji.

“I’m a songwriter and I go see Code Orange Kids to get inspired about my set because they just go so hard and they’re so real [...] People might be surprised because I’m a huge Lagwagon fan and Code Orange Kids is my favorite band right now [laughs].”

Yet, even in his reflection upon recent touring though, the deflection of defeat is ever apparent in his words. “I think a lot of people were confused as to like why I took the tour because it’s kind of outside of the sort of DIY, punk-sphere. And a lot of people make generalizations about people who listen to different types of music and what I found is the audience I played for wasn’t necessarily like... not that they wouldn’t respond to the punk speech or those ideals, but they just had never heard that stuff before.”

But in retrospect, Shiraki and his touring crew had almost every reason to be deflated by recent events. Just before starting the tour, Shiraki was robbed of his guitar and merchandise, prompting him to open up a Kickstarter in order to try and keep what he says was his biggest tour to date from derailing before it even started.

“I set up the Kickstarter to basically give my friends and people I personally know, if they’re in a position to, an opportunity to support me,” says Shiraki. The Kickstarter, according to Shiraki, was funded nearly overnight and ended up near 200% funded by its end. “That said very loudly to me that it’s not just friends and family that support me, it’s really the music community. The fact that everyone’s been so gracious in supporting people that have been victims of burglary or people that run into other types of issues on the road, whether it’s a new transmission or something worse. Like it’s really amazing that we’re part of something were we come together in someone’s time of need. For everything that we as musicians give, it’s really affirming and great to know people care about us on a human level and it’s not just the music. People really see us as human beings out here, working really hard. And they support us when they can.”

The tour went on though, but prior to Shiraki taking a step into a new spotlight on this tour, he went back to continue his work on something rather important to him that he says reminds him where he came from. Filmed literally in living rooms jam-packed with seated guests, Shiraki commenced recordings for Spring Song Vol. 2, the next part in his attempt since signing to Run For Cover Records to “have this piece to remind me forever of who I am and where I come from.”

“For the longest time I was totally DIY, always self-released. Printed my own merch, did everything myself. When I went and took that next step and started working with other people, it was important to me to have this document of where I’m coming from, which is straight out of the living rooms, basements and fire halls.”

But the purpose of this project is not one-dimensional – much like the exposure of listeners at the Never Shout Never shows to the very much present aspect of activism in Shiraki’s life, the Spring Song series also sets out to expose and remind us of the ever-present community supporting artists by putting on these types of shows.

“I wanted to show people that all over the world people are making music happen whether or not there is an all-ages club in your town. If that’s not the case, you can take music, just like you can take your life, into your own hands and make something happen with very little or nothing. That’s again the power of music, just being able to show people that you can really do something about your life and how you’re living. That’s what this whole series is about.”

---------

The crazy thing is that we’re only half way through 2012, and it’s already shaping up to be the most exciting year so far for Shiraki. Case in point, he’ll be a part of the entire Vans Warped Tour this summer as a part of the Acoustic Basement – and its difficult to tell which one reason he’s most excited to be there, whether it be fostering his message of giving back and positivity, learning and spending time with other non-profits that are a part of the tour or just being able to see Title Fight everyday.

“It’s really exciting to be able to take a positive message and share it and carry it on. I feel like we’re going to be able to reach a lot of new people on Warped Tour just like we did with the Never Shout Never tour. I just love the group of non-profits that they have on the tour. A lot of folks are friends of mine and people that I’ve supported for a long time. It’ll be really cool to dialogue and spend one on one time with people who are coming out to Warped tour to talk about important issues, kind of expanding all of our consciousness as a music community.” “

Shiraki has often taken the time he is on stage or hanging out before and after sets to speak with those looking to hold conversation, whether it is about causes Shiraki has supported – such as his work with Resolve and Invisible Children – or as our particular conversation dictated, Shiraki’s passion for coffee and tea.

“I’m not the person that hides in the green room, not that I usually have one. What I mean to say, is that I live for that community aspect. I think that a show is a spark for new ideas and creativity and action. A lot of really good ideas are born from just interacting with people and so from that, a lot of people leave, whether they want to start a band or they want to get involved with social justice causes, that’s something that happens every year at not just at Warped Tour but at every music show. Or every art event. That’s a spectacular thing to be a part of. I’m going to be out every day meeting with people just learning just as much as I’m sharing myself.”

Being a part of Warped is also partially special to Shiraki because of his background, growing up on bands like NOFX, Pennywise, Alkaline Trio and The Bouncing Souls – though the idea wasn’t necessarily a no-brainer. “I had my reservations because in recent years, sonically it’s been something that wasn’t really interesting to me. A lot of the bands and the culture behind them wasn’t really something that spoke to me. But, I grew up coming to Warped Tour [...] I lived to go to catch Warped Tour when I was 12 or whatever. I think for any kid that goes and experiences that environment, there’s that magic to it and you dream of being a part of something like that. It’s incredible to be on it this year. When they came to me and they were explaining who was going to be a part of it... Title Fight, A Loss for Words, a lot of people who are friends of mine that I respect very much, of course I want to be a part of it. Not only am I kind of achieving some sort of childhood dream, I’m able to do it with all my friends. That’s a gift.”

Also on Shiraki’s itinerary is a third trip to perform at The Fest, the annual punk rock gathering in Gainesville, Florida. Besides playing with a brand new backing band this year, as compared to touring down to the event last year with Such Gold doing said duties, Shiraki considers it an honor to be invited to participate again this year.

“Fest is one of my favorite things I do every year, and this year I’m playing with a full band. We’re really kind of taking another step [...] The coolest thing about live music is being able to kind of breathe new life into old songs and do something different.”

It’s almost as if doing something new is really only second nature to Shiraki at this point, whether it be writing music or where he’s touring this time around. One thing is certain though – it doesn’t seem like there’s anything that is going to stop him.

“I think it’s important to challenge yourself and to be open to new experiences. That’s the best way to learn – to go outside of your comfort zone.”


Koji and CoffeeIf you chose to donate to the Koji Kickstarter, you probably saw one of the rewards for donating a certain amount was to have Shiraki personally make you coffee. “I feel like this an awesome time for specialty coffee and I’m glad to be experiencing it right now. And I’m stoked to be able to share that with some of my Kickstarter backers.” Coffee, and by extension tea, is a particular passion for this guy, as he was taught by a friend on how to practically be a barista.

“I come from the Northeast. That’s the land of Dunkin Donuts. I love bad coffee. I love it. I love coffee. I’m not a coffee snob. I love bad gas station coffee just as much as I love the sludgy, homemade French press. I have a passion for all of it. I like coffee nearly as much as I like listening to records with my friends. When I come home, I have a cup of coffee or go to a shop and have a cup with friends and catch up.”

In fact, Shiraki will go as far to suggest that for as much as we consider music to be a DIY affair at times, coffee and tea runs under much of the same ideals. “Coffee is DIY as fuck. As far as like the little guy goes, there are people that are hustling just as hard as bands. So support your local shop and investigate. And if you don’t like coffee, tea is really fucking cool too. Shout out to Random Tea Room, the illest tea house in Philly. In Pennsylvania. In the Northeast. I’ll go as far as to say that.”

So for a small, but certainly passionate list, here a few roasters recommended by Shiraki if you’re looking for some truly great coffee.

Mad Cap - Grand Rapids, MI

Ritual - San Francisco, CA

Little Amps - Harrisburg, PA
Tags: feature, koji, code orange kids, lagwagon, coffee, fest, warped tour
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Age is Just a Number
05/16/12 at 03:20 PM by Jason Gardner

Age is Just a Number
A Tale of Nostalgia and Hope for the Future featuring Code Orange Kids
By Jason Gardner
Photos courtesy of Topshelf Records and Deathwish Inc.

If you’re anywhere past the age of high school or perhaps even more so your college years – like I am – hearing the music of your younger years can often trigger a predetermined cycle of memories and emotions that harken back to your earlier days as an angsty youth desperately searching for meaning and direction in your life. It would be difficult to pinpoint this exactly for everyone, but let me put it in perspective from my eyes – terribly singing Sum 41’s hit “Fat Lip” at karaoke the other night reminded me just how far removed I am from that song’s heyday back in 2001. Please note, that was my sophomore year of high school.

Oddly enough, a band such as the hardcore foursome better known as Code Orange Kids strikes a similar retrieval of thoughts and questions about my teenage years. Most importantly – what the fuck was I doing with my life that these kids seem to have it so figured out? Out of high school, collectively still teenagers and recently signed to highly touted independent label Deathwish Inc., the band, made up of drummer/vocalist Jami Morgan, guitarists/vocalists Reba Meyers and Eric Balderose and bassist Joe Goldman, have already made quite a name for themselves with a vicious live set and a hefty handful of feverishly abrasive tracks over their various releases – including their Cycles EP and most recently a split with Full of Hell via Topshelf Records. Totally locked in on their own brand of heaviness, the band has logged miles upon miles touring including a recently wrapped support slot for Touche Amore and Defeater. It’s certainly a sight to see live – on top of the band slinging guitars, knocking over micstands in mid-jump and stomping the stage like a trio of Godzillas – the varying vocals of the collective members and pure energy poured out in their set is both exhaustive and engaging to even those unfamiliar with the band.

But as impressive as our first glimpses into the brand of gritty screamo-spiked hardcore have been, the remainder of 2012 might simply enough hold the key to unlocking the full picture for this band with their debut LP set to come out later this year on Deathwish. The experience up to this point is tough for the band to put into words.

“It’s really crazy,” admits drummer and vocalist Morgan over the phone as we chat about how the deal with Deathwish came about. While Morgan said the band talked to several labels, of which seemed to be great in the band’s eyes, the influence of Deathwish on the Kids’ musical and mental outlooks steered them towards a deal with the undoubtedly well-regarded label. “My friend Clayton [Stevens] from Touche Amore called me and and was like ‘Hey, I was talking to Deathwish and they’re going to offer you a deal.’ We were really excited. That label is part of the reason that we’re a band. There’s so many bands on that label that have shaped the way we think musically and about everything.”

That bond between Morgan and Stevens extended through to the duo behind Deathwish – Jacob Bannon and Tre McCarthy – not only in that they were interested in what Code Orange Kids were doing, but that they too saw something special about this band.

“I got a text one night from Clayton from Touche Amore demanding that we work with [Code Orange Kids],” recalls Tre McCarthy of Deathwish. “I told him that they were already on my radar. I believe a typical snarky exchange followed, something like, ‘Get them off your radar and on the label!’, ‘Don't tell me what to do, or else I won't, and then it will be your fault!’”

“But listening to them, or watching videos,” says McCarthy, “didn't hold a candle to the first time I saw them live in a 200 square foot space in Allston[, MA].”

Bannon’s tale tells a similar connection of interest between him and McCarthy after Converge shared the stage with Code Orange Kids at a show in Braddock, Pennsylvania. While perhaps not as struck with the group’s younger standing as others, Bannon sees something different in the approach to art that this group of Pittsburgh natives take in their music.

“I was much younger than them when I started Converge, so I relate to their position. Youth isn't exclusive to them as there have been relevant bands as young or younger creating music for decades in punk and hardcore. In fact some of the most influential hardcore [and] metal releases to this day were written by people around their age. A lot of what Code Orange Kids collectively have reminds me of the natural drive I have towards art and music as well. It's a collection of qualities that are tough to describe, but I get excited when I see these qualities in newer bands.”

The extending hand of Deathwish to Code Orange Kids was quite difficult to sink in, as Morgan admits to “being pretty floored” over the offer to join the Deathwish family.

“At the age we’re at, all the people who are working at Deathwish have known these guys forever,” says Morgan. “We’ve had interactions with those people, but when we signed we didn’t know anyone. So when we went to just go meet them, it was really cool. Now, they’re just really great dudes. Jacob Bannon is a huge influence on us, the art and the music in Converge. It’s really cool to some extent to have the approval of those people. I mean if we didn’t have their approval we’d still do exactly what we do. But, it’s cool to see Jacob Bannon chiming in on issues relating our band.”

That sense of family has fostered itself even early on as the band meets and interacts with bands both in and out of the Deathwish family. Morgan is reflective both of Touche Amore’s support during their touring with them, including loaning equipment, offering advice and just being around to hang out. On the flip, fellow Deathwish band Birds in Row, touring outside of their native country of France, bunked up in a van with Code Orange Kids to create a very packed, yet incredibly tight-knit atmosphere for this tour. Yet, the influence of every person they’ve met so far as part of the family has definitely given Morgan and the rest of the band a valuable lesson.

“All the bands, they’ve just wanted to help us out and treated us with respect even though as far as respect we don’t even deserve [it] at this point,” says Morgan. “They treat us that way and it helps us to know to treat people and bands with respect all the time.”

Though certainly a high point to start off 2012 with the signing, the year otherwise has been anything but quiet for the band. Besides their seemingly non-stop touring, the quartet most recently put out a split with a particular band that Code Orange Kids has looked up to and respected for a long time according to Morgan. “Full of Hell played in Pittsburgh when we first started as a band,” begins the tale of the split put out by Topshelf Records last month. The friendship between the two groups progressed as Full of Hell would return again and again to play Pittsburgh, leading to a particularly strong bond between Morgan and Full of Hell’s vocalist Dylan Walker. “Just talking about the ideas behind our bands,” says Morgan of the weekly phone calls that would occur between the two. “It’s not conceptual in any way, shape or form, but about how there’s an idea and a theme and things we want to come across about our bands. It’s not just like playing this loud music, like the art and the music and the lyrics. We realized our ideas are really similar, even though it’s a totally different angle.”

But the biggest thing on the band’s plate right now is their Deathwish debut, which Morgan says for the most part is already written and ready to be fine tuned, more than likely as you read this article. As far as where they’ll go for the LP, connecting and bringing things full-circle seems to be the plan this time around. “We’re gonna record in June and it should be really fun. We’re touching on a lot of different things. The record’s probably going to be about ten songs and it’s going to have a mix of everything that we’ve done. The heavy stuff and the dark stuff, the punk stuff. [...] Lyrically, it kind of ties into everything else in a way that, it’s about me. I write all the lyrics. I come up with the ideas behind it. It’s all things I struggle with basically. I struggle with some depression and stuff like that and it’s the way I’ve always been able to deal with it by writing about it. We kind of have some themes that have been going through our 7”s and our tapes that hopefully will come full circle with the record and then we can do something else. It’ll be the same thing, but maybe do something else with the content after that. But it ties into everything.”

With the music done, at least for the most part, the band also already has Converge guitarist and production stalwart Kurt Ballou on deck to engineer their upcoming record. “I figured we’d get some shit like, ‘All the Deathwish bands do that,’ but I just didn’t give a shit. If we can do this, let’s do it,” says Morgan. “I want to be able to experience cool things in my life and that’s definitely one of them. We didn’t overthink it too much, but I think it’s going to be really cool. [...] I don’t think our record is going to come out sounding like anybody else, no matter who records it.”

The plan, according to Morgan, is for the record to hit sometime in the Fall, but between now and then the band has plans to tour Europe with Defeater and hit a few festivals in the midst of all that – as well as put out another song as part of a four-way split some time this summer. Code Orange Kids is no exception to the road though, as the gig life has kept them busy this time around since December – a reflection of their work ethic and punk roots.

“I don’t think that bands should be internet bands though. They gotta hit the road and get in the car. We used to tour in a truck. You’re never gonna get anybody’s respect unless you do that. That’s how you connect with people, that’s at least what I think hardcore punk and all that shit’s about. Anybody who doesn’t agree with it just doesn’t know. Even the bands that have done this forever still do it, and they do it for different reasons. But like, it’s something thats kind of addictive about it and you love it. But it gets hard sometimes. We’ve been touring basically since like December and it’s [...] May now. A lot of bands do that and it’s been tough and everything, but it’s so worth it to see your band grow and that you had a part in going somewhere and doing your thing the best that you could do it.”

Morgan says the plan is to go a little easier this summer though, “so we don’t totally burn ourselves out by the time next year comes around because we really want to hit it hard next year once the record comes out.” Apparently, their schedules aren’t quite packed enough to have the desire to say something like that about what their future might have in store.

Yet for a band this young, it doesn’t even seem like there’s any pressure or stress to consider for the band, whether it be a potentially daunting touring schedule or the anticipation of recording their first full-length. Even from the standpoint of their age, which Morgan admits he isn’t really sure about. “We’re just trying to take advantage of it,” suggests Morgan considering the youth of the band. Though others seem to be completely boggled by it considering the way the music industry has worked in recent years, Bannon and the rest of Deathwish couldn’t sound more in tune with what the band has planned in the immediate future – only a further symbol of the bonds formed and strengthened through the two’s now conjoined future.

“As with any band we work for here,” says Bannon, “I'm just grateful that they trust us to release and promote their art and music.”


Code Orange Kids Jami Morgan Answers Your Questions!Please note, some answers may have already been included in above story. Thank you for taking the time to submit these!

ChaplainTappman asked: What was it like getting your music featured on NPR?

I don’t know if it affects what we do, but it’s incredible to have this website that has all this history and different stuff behind it. It’s completely unrelated to what we do and the subculture of music we subscribe to and play. My mom was super stoked and that was really cool. She really likes This American Life. I guess, it’s all weird. Some people are gonna say we don’t deserve it. Maybe we don’t, I don’t know. It just happened. We’re just trying to have fun and work as hard as we possibly can to earn the really cool things that have been coming our way.

I am Mick asked for the band’s current thoughts on the scene in Pittsburgh.

I love Pittsburgh. I think Pittsburgh is one of the most misunderstood and greatest punk/hardcore scenes period, and we’ve seen a lot of them now. Nobody touches it. Without us Pittsburgh, without us playing shows to these people that were touring and encouraged us. Like put us on this show, put us on this show... we were bad. If they wouldn’t have did that and told us we were good, we wouldn’t have done anything. It would have been over so long ago. If it wasn’t for Pittsburgh, so many of our friends, who weren’t even our friends at the time, they just saw that we wanted to do it and cared and they supported us. There’s always going to be shitheads. I hate all the shitheads like on the internet that don’t go to shows and say stuff all the time. But the real core scene of Pittsburgh is something so great and I’ll represent forever. I just want to name off a couple Pittsburgh bands that are doing great things. Heartless, they’re on Southern Lord Records and they just put out a record called Hell is Other People. It’s my favorite hardcore record of the year. It’s awesome, not enough people listen to it. They tour their asses off. Run Forever is a band from Pittsburgh, they’re like a pop-folk band. They’re so fucking good. Old Accusers is like a mathy, Botch type band. There’s just seriously so many. Hounds of Hate. We all hang out all the time. It’s so tight knit and we all encourage each other to work hard. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

The goal is, Pittsburgh’s going on the map in 2012. Everybody’s got really great records coming out and we’re all going to help each other to make sure they are getting out there to kids and we’re going to do it. I hear a lot of kids saying there’s no bands in Pittsbrugh and Pittsburgh sucks. They’re looking in the wrong places. I’m not going to name specific venues or whatever, but if you’re going to clubs there’s great touring bands that come through there. But that’s not where our scene is. Mr. Roboto Project, the house shows, the different art spaces. That’s where you gotta go. Kids need to stop complaining and start working.

Hindenberg asked: It's clear that on the split you've continued the "roman numeral songs" that started on Embrace Me // Erase Me. Is there a theme that ties these two new songs to those three previous ones?

I don’t know if I’d call it a theme. So we did a demo and we used one word titles. I wanted it to be to the point. When we did Cycles, we did that again, but we used some parentheses and stuff. So I felt it would be cool if inbetween those quote, unquote hardcore releases or whatever, we did other stuff that we always care about equally like in splits or EPs or whatever with this Roman numeral thing. So we have more, like the split in the summer will have the next song on there. And they all kind of have a theme. We thought it would be cool if we could play all of those songs like in a row, but no one really cares that much yet. Hopefully if anybody cares enough we can do it sometime, but the Roman numeral thing helps kind of keep things organized and ties all of the themes together.

cubine asked: Mostly for Jami, but how difficult is it doing vocals and playing drums live? Have you pared down the amount of vocals you do now that the rest of the band does more screaming?

The songs for the full-length are a bit more difficult, it’s been taking a bit more practice, but on the record Reba does a song where she sings the whole thing, Eric does a song where he sings most of it. We’re kind of passing it all around. For me, I always did it. It’s just what I did. When we were playing at 13, 14 when we first started playing together, I wrote the lyrics and sang it. It just wasn’t weird to us. We had the shittiest shit ever and we were in my room, it’s like – this is what we do. Then we started thinking, I want to to do this and do it to the fullest extent. We pass stuff around and they have really cool voices I think and it kind of creates a dynamic in our band and I don’t think that will really change. It’s getting a little tougher sometimes because your body changes and it’s kind of hard. I think it’ll always be that way though. I really can’t give up vocals, even if it just me being selfish.

heynownow asked: Would you guys consider going butt for a bit and writing some wrestling theme songs?

Yes. We have a song on our demo called Violence. We’re trying to make it a wrestling theme song so bad, it’s about the only thing the song is good for. We’re all seriously huge WWE fans and me and Joe went to Wrestlemania this year in Miami. Eric wears a John Cena necklace about every single day. We love wrestling in all its different walks. If I can just get CM Punk’s fucking attention for once, then I’ll be happy. We can just quit, I don’t even care. We would love to have an entrance theme, I would write so many entrance themes. That’s the main thing I want to do. I wanna be a wrestler so god damn bad. But I never will. Somebody get that to the WWE and make it an entrance theme. It’s perfect.
Tags: feature, code orange kids, deathwish, topshelf, full of hell
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No Sleep Forever
04/05/12 at 11:23 AM by Jason Gardner

No Sleep Forever
The Story of Chris Hansen and the Rise of No Sleep Records

By Jason Gardner

There are many cliches that exist about the music industry, both inside and outside of the realm of bands, managers, merch folks and the like. Many of them revolve around aspects of touring, the rigors of ‘making it’, whatever that might mean in today’s environment, and the relationship any of those people might have with what we will simply refer to as ‘the label’. Stigmatized more and more as bands have re-aligned themselves post-major label stardom, or in some cases foregoing the standard band-label relationship altogether, the general idea of a label has changed considerably in recent years. But that hasn’t stopped Chris Hansen, owner of independent cult-label No Sleep Records, from putting his hat in the ring per se to take his stake in getting the music he loved, and still loves, out to the willing ears of listeners.

“Throughout my high school, and teen years, I was always interested in music, and always knew I wanted to be a part of it in some way,” says Hansen. There’s no ritzy tale of our meeting in a hip cafe or even joking about things over the phone – Hansen’s intense schedule of overseeing practically everything for No Sleep has left our conversations resorted to an email exchange. But even through the typed words Hansen sends back, his story still rings with profound drive and passion for the people depending on him most – his bands.

After following a path that led him through a intern position at Fearless Records and working mail-order its sister company Smartpunk, Hansen’s first full-on experience of label work started back in 2005 when he was a part of Revelation Records, doing much of the same work he had already been doing but at the same time learning the ins-and-outs of the label business. The next year, he eventually would move onto Trustkill Records – and in the process would spark the creation of what would end up becoming No Sleep Records.

“While driving from California to New Jersey for the new job, I stopped in Kansas City to see some friends, and while going to lunch with my friend Rick Robinett,” says Hansen. Robinett was aware of Hansen’s interest in starting a label, and showed him an EP from a band Robinett was working with at the time. That EP would end up being Our American Cousin’s How’s This For A Diploma, which he made his first release back in October of 2006. “So without Rick, and the Our American Cousin release, the chances are the label would have never gotten started.”

The releases would come a bit slow for Hansen, as he would use any money he could scrape together to put out bands on the label, all while working and learning at Trustkill. Even when it was his hobby, as Hansen says, “I put my all into it.” Roughly a year into the No Sleep moniker, Hansen would put out things here and there, but it would be what is listed in the No Sleep catalog as NSR005 that would arguably be his first eventually big find in a little pop-punk band from Pennsylvania.

“I had just given up on trying to be in a full-time band,” admits Dan Campbell, or as most people would refer to him, Soupy, of The Wonder Years. Campbell’s meeting of Hansen was seemingly accidental to say the least though. “I had just transferred into a four-year college. On one of the first days at this school, I reconnected with an old friend I used to skateboard with who also went there. His name was Chris and he had long hair, so later that week when I got a MySpace – yes, it was 2006 – friend request from a dude with long hair named Chris, I assumed it was my buddy,” jokes Campbell. Turns out, the exchange would lead to Campbell getting Hansen to check out The Wonder Years’ split with Bangarang. “He saw potential in what we considered us just screwing around and offered to put out our next record.”

Hansen would end up being laid off from Trustkill in 2008, resulting in him moving back out West to focus on No Sleep, with the occasional design job on the side. As No Sleep would grow, Hansen would put out releases by other small bands he was discovering, including La Dispute, Monument to Thieves and Double Vision.

“Chris approached us sometime after we released our first EP, my timeline is permanently blurry so the exact moment escapes me, and expressed interest in releasing whatever would end up following that particular EP,” reflects La Dispute vocalist Jordan Dreyer. Though the band had only ever discussed such things with people they had known closer to home in Michigan, Dreyer could tell Hansen wasn’t someone trying to take advantage of what La Dispute had built through the release of Vancouver and the touring that followed. “Through engaging in that dialogue, it became pretty apparent that Chris had his head and his heart in the right place in regards to his label and the bands he chose to work with, how he presented and supported them and the label and the like, and that was all we were really concerned with when it came to choosing partners artistically across the board, so we decided we'd give it a shot.”

But as far as origin stories go, Hansen’s devotion to the job at hand seems most prevalent in the backstory of a band that technically isn’t even a part of the No Sleep roster – Touche Amore.

“I first met Chris when he was working at Revelation Records,” says TA vocalist Jeremy Bolm about his history with Hansen. “My best friend Joey Cahill, owner of 6131 Records, was also working there at the time. I'd go visit Joey and get lunch
and Chris would come along.” At the time, Touche Amore had a demo on their hands and was looking to get it pressed – resulting in Hansen offering to release it for them. “Chris Hansen once drove to my mom’s house and we sat on the living room floor and put together the first Touche Amore 7”,” recalls Bolm. “It took a whole day, just the two of us working our asses off to make it possible.”

-----------------------------------

As the underground took more of a look towards what Hansen was doing with No Sleep – fostering bands essentially on his own and turning them into household names with those tuned to what was up and coming – the attention began to reap rewards for both Hansen and his bands. As both No Sleep and its bands were growing, Hansen was able to leave behind his storage unit setup to have his own office and warehouse to run No Sleep. Bands were getting bigger, with The Wonder Years making the jump to Hopeless Records after their release of The Upsides and La Dispute cracking the Billboard Top 200 with the release of Wildlife this past fall. But with the relative success Hansen has seen in the past few years, his mindset for how he does things hasn’t really changed all that much.

“From the inception of the label in 2006, until 2010, it was a completely one man run show,” says Hansen. “In 2010, [...] it was time to enlist help in various things that didn't need my hands on all the time, which helped me to focus on the things that do need my attention at all times. The only way I can actually "breathe" and have help is to have a small group of people helping me that are like-minded, and have those same beliefs – in the community and what No Sleep is all about – that I do.”

But the weight of doing everything himself certainly has reflected well upon the perception on the label in the eyes of the bands Hansen has worked with both past and present. “Chris being a one-man operation during our tenure at the label meant that nothing ever really got convoluted,” says Campbell. “If we discussed how something would look, that's how it looked because we planned it out with the label's marketing department – Chris, got it approved by the label's president and general manager – Chris and Chris, got it mocked up by the label's art department – Chris – and then had it sent out for printing by the director of operations – Chris [again].”

“Chris has never given us a hard time about the wild ideas we've had when it comes to packaging for releases. He just says, "Let’s do it." It may not be financially the best choice for him,” jokes Bolm, “but he's always willing to make it work. From what I've seen through our relationship, is that even though we're not a signed band to his label, he's always treated us as one of the family. That kind of mutual respect is worth a lot.”

When it comes to Hansen’s concern for any of the bands on his label though, Jon Simmons from Balance and Composure might sum it all up best. “Chris pretty much is only concerned with if the band is happy or not and thats the best scenario to be in when signing to a label.”

Even though he has put a lot on himself since day one, Hansen doesn’t seem likely to change his work ethic even since he has brought more people on to lend a hand – and with good reason. “While I do not think having a large crew is a bad thing, I feel that when a label has a lot of people doing various things it leads to a lot of complications and issues along the way. It's like the saying too many cooks in the kitchen or whatever – mistakes happen, things get ignored or forgotten because someone will think ‘someone else has it’. Having a small crew means that everyone is taken care of, and everyone knows what they are responsible for. In the end, I would rather have more work to do myself than worry about someone else handling it. Knowing that everyone is taken care of is more important than an onslaught of employees.”

That idea of support doesn’t just run through the interior of the No Sleep offices in California though. The community, or as Hansen sees it No Sleep’s extended family, goes much farther than what Hansen and the rest of his team do at the office. “I believe that if you are a part of a community, you need to do your part to make it a better community. No Sleep is a family, and everyone does their part not only for themselves, but for their “brothers” and “sisters” on the label. Bands should help each other out, should support each other in whatever way they can. And I am thankful that that is what has happened and is [still] happening with the community that No Sleep is.”

The tightly-knit community of No Sleep bands doesn’t suffer from any sort of changing of the guard as time has gone on either. It could only be argued that the quilt of bands, both past and present, have helped bolster a community supported with art, friendships and mutual respect from both sides of the stage.

“When you're passionate about something that you don't want obscured by the effects of other people's financial concerns,” declares Dreyer of the obvious financial strains facing smaller bands, “you do it in a way that takes them out of the equation. You build a network of friends and like-minded people. No Sleep works in large part with bands that understand that, and the community within is just another manifestation of that idea.”

“If it wasn't for No Sleep Records, we wouldn't have met La Dispute as early on as we did,” says Bolm of his first meeting with the Michigan-based post-hardcore group. “Their record came out shortly after our 7" and because we were label mates, I offered to help them out on their first west coast tour. We played together in LA and hit it off.” Bolm also recalls being helped out earlier in their career while on tour by a band called Former Thieves, who at the time were not a part of No Sleep. “I think the whole community is based off like-minded people all doing things for the right reasons and avoiding heads entering asses. It's inspiring and exciting to say the least when your friends do well, and I think everyone is just all rooting for one another.”

“It just made me feel like we were a part of something,” adds Simmons on the web of music his band is a huge part of. “We were exposed to many bands through No Sleep that we now love and if it wasn't for Chris we wouldn't know the[m].”

“There's something there that ties everyone together,” says Dreyer of the relationship among bands, and also between bands and Hansen. “Chris is on the same level as everyone, which I think adds to that sentiment. He's not a suit in some office or a faceless phone number. He's a regular dude who loves music and art and hanging out with friends.”

“It is an honor to have helped build so many friendships, and to honestly create an environment that bands enjoy,” says Hansen. “I love everyone on this label, and everyone loves everyone on the label. This is a family, and I hope that it always stays that way. You don't have to be blood to be family... yes I said that.”


What does this all mean for the listener though?

The varied line-up of No Sleep is arguably impossible to pin down to one particular genre, vibe or even age group. Recent releases from No Trigger and Xerxes further push the boundaries this label has never really followed, creating a palate of sounds for people to indulge in. And for the most part, people seem to be more than willing to check out, and ultimately support, bands just because they are a part of this label.



“It kind of works like Drive Thru used to,” reflects Simmons. “People were just so excited about all the new music they would give it all a chance and that's how I feel Chris's operation is because he is always looking for new bands – and it works.”

“People [are] referencing No Sleep as what a label should be, back to the days where you could count on a label for various releases and bands that you knew were of some sort of quality,” says Hansen. “Maybe not a band for your tastes, but you'd still check them out knowing the label it was attached to. As a kid this is what I did with such labels as Revelation, Jade Tree, Polyvinyl, Epitaph, Drive Thru and so on, so being named one of those kind of labels was an honor.”

“I think thats the sign that the label is doing something right,” says Bolm as he reminisces about the earlier days of Victory Records – a time where the label released Snapcase, Strife and Earth Crisis. “When I was a lot younger, before the internet was a source of music, the only way to find out about new bands was by looking at the thank you lists or by finding the roster of the label who released the CD you just bought.” This would lead to Bolm’s “accidently purchas[ing] Baby Gopal and Electric Frankenstein [laughs]”, but also led to him discovering bands such as Deadguy and Bloodlet.

“It wasn't point and click,” adds Campbell. “So yes, when I was younger, I would check out every band on every label because someone was giving that band a stamp of approval and I wanted new music. Today, it's different. I can find all the music I want on my own and most labels sign a lot of bands that I think are trash, which is why I think it's really significant that in 2012, No Sleep has that stigma where every new band they sign is worth checking out. A lot of people write good songs. Not everyone can do what it takes to get those good songs to connect with listeners. Chris finds bands that do have what it takes and helps them make it happen.”

The variation of sound between bands does cause for a bit of a mess when it comes to trying to define from an outsider’s standpoint what exactly Hansen is trying do with No Sleep. His passion though has fueled a demeanor that is honest and deliberate with his mission – to support those who truly embody a passion for music. “With the releases that have been released, and the releases that have yet to come the vision has always, and will always be the same – to release records from bands that truly love what they do, and create a record that they would listen to,” says Hansen. “While No Sleep is filled with artists of many genres, they are all of quality in their world, and are all bands I thoroughly enjoy. My hopes have been, and always will be, that it is okay to listen to more than one kind of music. You don't have to listen to the current trend of music just because your friends do or cause it looks like you are supposed to like it. Be yourself and listen to what makes your ears, mind and body happy.”

That being said, he has taken the connection between music and listener and taken it one step further in the idea of a community. After some started calling No Sleep a ‘cult’, Hansen took the label, literally, and turned it into something that helps that community idea flourish – with a year-long release subscription and branded label merchandise to boot. “With the subscription service and the "Cult" branding, I believe it helps to show people that they belong to something, that they are a part of something and are appreciated with everything they do,” says Hansen. “The punk community has been around for a long time and will continue to survive in some shape or form in our minds. No Sleep, being a part of this community, is required to do their own work to help keep it alive. We all want to belong to something right? We're all fuck ups on our own path, but we walk the path together in the end.”

Yet, whether people decide to take part in that extension of the label or not, Hansen knows that the ultimate manifestation of his ability to continue to do what he does, and allow bands to do what they do, is through the listener’s willingness to support the bands and the label in whatever way they can – and he is the first to express his gratitude for that support by doing whatever he can, whether it is taking on more work for his bands or doing something simple like tossing in free CDs for mail-orders that have been held up too long.

“I appreciate everything that you and others do for us, and I want to show that along the way however I can. Even the small things in life make someone smile, I believe. We appreciate everything that has happened for us, and we know that nothing that has happened for the label or our bands would have happened without you.”


-----------------------------------


So in the current age of musical saturation, high-tech hijacking and perhaps the diminishing role of the label in the future plans of some musicians, what does Hansen see as the driving force behind this entity that he has created?

“Working at various labels before I started No Sleep, I have seen the ups and downs of this industry, and sadly it is a dying industry. There are many aspects to what we do, and there are many different kinds of art that are involved. First, you have the music that the artists create. Second, you have the art that accompanies the body of music, and lastly you have the art that is the perception of the people that will hear what is created. I strongly believe that if we ever forget those aspects, then what we are doing is a pointless task. No matter how closer we get to a "digital" era, we should always maintain a sense of all aspects of art. If even one person wants a physical copy then it's worth making – at least that one person will see the full vision that the band had in mind when creating their current "masterpiece".

It hits everyone differently when the words ‘digital era’ are said. No Sleep fans might remember when Wildlife leaked a week or so before release, which Hansen sees more of a fact of our current lifestyle trends as opposed to anything else. “Think about this before you steal a record, or don't support a band or label you love. The year is 2012, the price of gas is $4.50 a gallon in California – the price you are paying for a record is still between $10-$20 as it has been for many many years.”

When it comes down to the bare honesty Hansen has in asking people to continue to support his label, his intentions are pure. As much as he is aware of the work he puts into the machine itself, he is as aware of the parts helping to keep it running – the bands creating the art and the people who put their part into supporting the music he has helped get out to the masses.

“You are why we do this, and you are a part of the same community that we are in. Help the community survive by not only attending a show but by purchasing some merchandise so bands can keep touring. Help labels to continue releasing quality music and order the releases you like on CD or vinyl. I hope that with 2012, and the years to come, we can continue to build in this community, and help our artists grow with us along the way. Every day this industry changes in some way. For example, our digital distributor just purchased our physical distributor, that says something. All we can do is to figure out what is needed to survive along the way. As long as we can keep the lights on, and continue doing what we do – we will.”
Tags: no sleep records, la dispute, touche amore, the wonder years, balance and composure
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Not Sure If Want
01/22/12 at 03:14 PM by Jason Gardner
I just read on twitter that apparently Soulja Boy and Childish Gambino are doing a song together. Not sure I really want to hear this or not.
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Most Anticipated for 2012
01/16/12 at 03:28 PM by Jason Gardner
In no particular order whatsoever... and probably off the top of my head....

Converge - All We Love We Leave Behind
TBA
Epitaph

I'm a bit of a Converge junkie (and I prefer You Fail Me over Jane Doe), so pretty much anything this band puts its hands on is gold to me. After the split with Dropdead gave us "Runaway" – which was a legit banger – it can only be seen where this LP will take us into the minds of metal's modern masters.

Every Time I Die - Ex Lives
March 6
Epitaph

It would take something drastic for me to not be excited over a new Every Time I Die record, but "Underwater Bimbos from Outer Space" is already high on the list of favorite jams from the Buffalo natives. Throw in the fact that we'll be seeing them on Warped Tour in support of this record, and it is easy to see what kind of year 2012 is already shaping up to be.

Native - TBA
TBA
Sargent House

After falling in love with this band and their last record Wrestling Moves after what seems to be half a dozen times of seeing them, word of a new record has rekindled the appeal of this four-piece for me. Definitely interested to see what this band has in store for us this time around.

Childish Gambino - TBA
TBA
TBA

It's just a mixtape, but my obsession with Camp and Gambino's EP is on such an unnecessary level that finding out about another release from him was a shoo-in for my list. The question is whether or not he can keep riding this wave of success – both on stage and on record – into what looks to be a successful headlining U.S. tour in the coming months.

Xerxes - Our Home is a Deathbed
March 13
No Sleep Records

First impressions go a long way. One of the new bands I took away from last year's Bledfest, one of the newest additions to No Sleep certainly has a great deal of buzz for their bombastic live sets. The first cuts from this record say that this one is gonna be a haymaker to the chin.

The Early November - TBA
Spring
Rise Records

The departure of this band was a bit anti-climatic for me. Though I only got a chance to see them twice, the reunion of sorts has re-kindled my enjoyment for their work, including the album that got me into this band – The Room's Too Cold. So many people are excited for this band to be back around, that fact alone is making this one of the more anticipated releases of the year.

letlive - TBA
Fall
Epitaph

After a buzz-building record in Fake History and a ridiculous live show, this is a band that seemingly is on the cusp of exploding this year. No pressure guys, but we're all watching you.

The Acacia Strain - TBA
TBA
Prosthetic

Word on the internet, of all places, is that The Acacia Strain have started putting the pieces together to record a new album this year. After 2010's Wormwood, which I felt was their strongest effort to date, this next record could be a tough follow-up for some. In any case, I expect to have plenty of blunt-force brutality in my ears once again.

Whitechapel - TBA
Summer
Metal Blade

Tucked away in their home studio for part of the winter, Whitechapel will emerge in the spring with a new record that will apparently forge new ground while molding everything musically about the band's past into one record. While I'm not sure what that will sound like exactly, I do know I am interested to hear the next chapter in this band's discography.
Tags: most anticipated, 2012, converge, every time i die, childish gambino, early november
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Hello!
01/12/12 at 10:09 PM by Jason Gardner
Hey everyone!

Just trying to get this whole thing started. It's been awhile since I've attempted to blog on a consistent basis, so mind the dust while I get all of the kinks worked out. I'll be sure to give better content once things are under control on my end, but realistically I'll do my best to post in this as much as I can find things to write about....
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