Whether it’s your workplace, the classroom, the playground or whatever social situation you can imagine, there is always that quiet achiever up the back that goes about their business yet always finishes with the best result. Red Scare Industries constantly puts out one quality release after another. All without the big marketing budgets, the worldwide distribution channels and all the other bells and whistles that it’s larger counterparts have. The difference with Red Scare is that the bands on their roster aren’t the big names that’ll make a million bucks but they’re the bands that are just as great, they work just as hard and deserve all the help that this small independent label can muster for them.
DyingScene is totally stoked to get to know the label a little better through our label spotlight series. We spoke to owner, Tobias Jeg who runs the label with a little help from Brendan Kelly of The Lawrence Arms. We talked a little about the history of the label, the effort involved for both bands and owners and not starting your own DIY label. You can read the full interview here.
Who and what are Red Scare?
Who? Damn. Well, it’s mostly just me. My name is Tobias Jeg. Hi. I get some help and guidance from my pal Brendan Kelly of The Lawrence Arms. He likes to lend a hand when it comes to creative stuff or band relations, but I’m the asshole that gets stuck ordering CDs and faxing shit. I guess my wife Katie also contributes quite a bit by virtue of the fact that she feeds all the bands alcohol at her bar and tolerates them sleeping on our floor.
As for what, I guess Red Scare is an independent record label that deals primarily with punk rock. The Red Scare Family consists of a buncha bands: The Falcon, The Copyrights, The Menzingers, Teenage Bottlerocket, Elway, The Sidekicks…I could go on and on.
What are you currently working on?
Good of you to ask! We have new releases from newish bands like The Heat Tape and The Reaganomics. It’s always fun to develop new bands and help them share their music with the world, and because these two latest bands are relatively new, we’ve got a lot of work to do to get their music out there, but it’s a super fun challenge. In addition those young bands, there’s new music from Elway and The Holy Mess that’ll be out this Spring too.
We also have something coming from Teenage Bottlerocket coming out in March. It’s a re-issue of all their early stuff and gathered in one nice package. That’ll be a cool release that will make Red Scare nerds and pop punk fans happy.
What are you currently listening to?
As lame as it sounds, I mostly listen to Red Scare releases! It’s honestly the stuff I get the most excited about. So in addition to the new Reaganomics, The Heat Tape, Teenage Bottlerocket, and The Brokedowns, I am also digging some Kid Cudi, The Holy Mess, Nothington demos, the new Chixdiggit!, and Justin Townes Earle. Just saw him the other night and I can’t get enough of it. Actually, I probably shouldn’t mention this, but for some reason I’ve lately been un-ironically enjoying old Whitney Houston and Cyndi Lauper and Janet Jackson. How ’bout that?!?
When did you get started?
It was in 2004. That was a pretty crazy time too because I was still working full-time at Fat Wreck and was also very involved in all the Rock Against Bush stuff we were doing at the time. I don’t really know how I managed to do all that shit AND manage to get Red Scare off the ground.
Well, a couple reasons. I had brought a couple bands to the Fat roster, The Lawrence Arms and Against Me! and there were still other good bands out there I wanted to work with. Fat wasn’t interested in doing anything with bands like Enemy You and Teenage Bottlerocket, but I knew their stuff was great and thought the world would enjoy those records. It’s kinda silly to think about it: I was already doing so much punk rock stuff with my job and going to shows and writing for zines, but I just HAD to invite more of that into my life and start my own label! I’m really glad I did because it’s been a great way for me to stay involved and make some contributions to the punk community.
What bands are on your roster? (Current and previous)
I just took another look at the Red Scare catalog and we have worked with 20 different bands at this point. Too many to list, so go see for yourself here.
What releases have you been responsible for?
All of ‘em, pretty much! There’s a couple that are strictly re-issues like the old stuff from The Lillingtons and Sicko, but even we’re responsible for digging those records up and making them available. But really, I would credit the bands for being “responsible for” their releases. I mean we bankroll the recording, handle mastering and production, distribute, promote, etc etc, but the bands are the ones out there sleeping on floors and toiling away on the songs.
Of those, which is your favourite? Or a top three?
Goddammit, why does everyone try and do this to me?! I think our “biggest” record was The Falcon Unicornography so I’m fond of that one. I think there’s also three major records that marked a significant “breakout” for their respective bands: Teenage Bottlerocket Total, Cobra Skulls Sitting Army, and The Menzingers Chamberlain Waits. I’m really proud of those releases because of what the band and the label accomplished together. But to be honest, I like them all and my favorite changes all the time. And I’m not just saying that to be diplomatic!
What are the challenges and pitfalls as a small label?
There are PLENTY of challenges, let me tell ya. Limited resources and the fact that nobody really gives a fuck about small bands and small labels. It’s both funny and sad to see so many people blow you off when you try and tell them about something that you KNOW is truly great; then see the same people be totally on board months or a year down the road when the band inevitably gets popular. I guess you can take satisfaction in the “I told ya so” factor, but it gets annoying after a while to have to constantly fight this uphill battle to get these bands the exposure they deserve. That shit’ll never change though because everyone in the scene and the industry seems to pride themselves on being some kind of gatekeeper. Fuck ‘em.
As for pitfalls, I think you just need to be super frugal with everything otherwise you will get into trouble, as we’ve seen with other labels. We don’t have an office or employees, and that’s just gonna have to be the model for small indie-punk labels. Another thing I think helps us is that we don’t put out too many records and we really try and focus our efforts on releases that matter. Quality over quantity, basically. We’re seeing a lot of labels shit out tons of new releases and new bands and it doesn’t do anybody any good. So that’s another example of how you can over-extend your operations and fuck yourself.
What are the perks of running your own label?
I’ve made a lot of friends all over the world through the music. I’ve had so many fun times going out to shows, hanging out, travelling, etc. Without sounding like too much of a hippie, it’s great to be a part of the punk community where you can show up in some new place and the people there are super welcoming. Whether it was Arkansas or Belfast, I’ve had the privilege to enjoy some of the best hospitality and it’s because we simply share a love for the music. That’s pretty cool.
I guess it’s also a perk to get to hear new music first from the bands and helping them get their music out to the world and seeing bands grow is probably the most rewarding thing for me. I’m really the biggest fan for all these bands and I get super stoked to see my friends enjoy any kind of success. And I gotta say, lately we’ve done pretty well and I’ve been uncharacteristically optimistic about the state of affairs.
What does it take for a band to get signed to Red Scare?
It goes without saying that the music comes first, but it helps if you have your shit together. We bust on ass on the bands we work with and it’s nice if a band can meet us half way and be serious about band operations. It’s mostly simple shit: answer your phone, do the interviews, take some decent promo pics, send me your tour dates, etc. I hate to keep citing Teenage Bottlerocket and Cobra Skulls, but those bands have gotten this far because they’re on their shit and don’t flake on band business. We also kinda fancy this label as a family, so it’s good if we’re dealing with cool people. We just met The Holy Mess recently and had a blast hanging out with those dudes. We love their tunes and they were the coolest guys, so that’s an example of a band we’d like to work with.
If you could sign one band to the label, from any point in history, who would that be and why?
Hmmm…maybe Propagandhi? I pick them because I think they’re the most relevant band of my generation. Then again, if I were to hypothetically “sign” Propagandhi it would change the course of history and possibly fuck with a lot of perfect records. Who else…Randy is amazing. Probably the most under-appreciated band in the entire genre. I really wish I coulda put out the last Nothington record because that thing was great and it deserved some more love. That’s a pretty open-ended question, man! I would maybe say The Smiths, but you know those guys were a complete pain in the dick to work with…ya know what, I’m gonna stick with the bands we have. I’m perfectly happy with all them.
A lot of Red Scare bands keep getting poached by some larger labels. How does affect you?
I don’t think poaching is the right term. I mean, I’ve personally helped all these bands move on to bigger labels. Like I said earlier, we want our friends to be successful. We’re good at developing bands and part of that is being aware that at some point a band might need to be on a real label that has a real publicist and and can offer up big recording advances. I’m fine with that, but we keep doing our little thing and I think we do a fine job of it.
Because a lot of your bands move on are you continually looking for bands you like or are they more bands that cross your path?
Not so much. There’s times I think to myself that I am done adding bands to the roster but I always come across something that excites me and compels me to keep it going. But like I said earlier, it’s a fun challenge to take an unknown band and help them grow, so I’ll keep taking on projects if I REALLY believe in it.
If you weren’t running Red Scare, what else would you be doing?
Is this like the “What do you wanna be when you grow up?” question? Truth is, I don’t do Red Scare full time. I also work in the front office for a professional sports team in Chicago. Some sellout jock shit, huh? In a perfect world I’d like to get on with a team out in Seattle so I can finally be a little closer to my family back in the Northwest. But I guess if I hadn’t gone down this career path I would’ve went to law school and probably have some money but be completely miserable.
If you could give one piece of advice to anyone wanting to start their own DIY label, what would that be?
That’s easy: don’t do it. Seriously. There’s too many labels and too many bands. Start a booking agency instead because there’s a shortage of those and live music is way more viable than selling music, which is basically free nowadays. Encouraging someone to start a label is like telling someone to buy swampland and open up Blockbuster on it. And once it’s up and running, build a MySpace page for it.
What are 3 things that the world should know about Red Scare?
I got the floor, huh? Since I just spent the last four days crunching numbers doing royalties, I think it’s important to know that Red Scare pays our bands royalties for record sales. Sadly, that is something that is not the norm in this day and age, even among much bigger record labels that have a staff and accountants. Red Scare artists aren’t getting filthy rich by any means, but whether they get a few hundred bucks or thousands of dollars, it always comes as a big relief to bands. I’m pretty happy that we have been able to make some good money for our bands. And to that point, I guess the second thing I’d like people to know about Red Scare is that we do pay our bands, and so that people who actually PAY for music are really helping our efforts and that support hasn’t gone unnoticed. Whether you buy music from iTunes, Interpunk, or at your local record store it genuinely helps us to keep these musical ventures alive. I take a small amount of personal pride when I pay for shows, music, merch, or whatever because I know my money is going towards something I believe in. I think the arts in general are under-supported in our society and it blows me away that people will put hundreds of dollars towards gadgetry without a second thought, but they get up on arms about a few bucks towards a band. And I guess that leads me to the third thing: Red Scare puts profits back into the punk scene. We support great zines like Razorcake by taking out ads, we bankroll recordings, help out bands with various expenses…shit like that. Hopefully people can appreciate that.
Any last words?
Shoot, thanks giving us the opportunity to talk about the label. I’m really grateful that people out there continue to support the Red Scare family and without the fans we wouldn’t be able to bring people this music. I’m stoked that anybody out there gives a fuck, so thanks! I mean it.
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