RIVALRY RECORDS // KYLE
0. How?d you end up starting a record label? You had a name change awhile back, right? What happened?

My buddy, Zach Harlan, and I started a record label because it seemed like there was a lot going on here on the West Coast that people didn't know about - a lot of good bands that needed some help. Zach was going to college in Portland, there was this band THE PHYSICAL CHALLENGE that was really good. We felt they were overlooked because of their "joke" name and the fact that they were geographically isolated (from Portland) and didn't have any "ex-members of" or anything like that. We wanted to help them out, to give them a voice - so we started a little DIY label, pressed up 500 cds, and figured that we'd do a record here and there for bands such as the Phys who needed help. That's always been kind of the "mission statement" of our label - to give a voice to those out there that deserve to be heard, despite their "popularity" status or whatever is "cool" these days in hardcore. Things went really well, and we've been able to continue working with all kinds of great bands that we think are the best of the best, many of whom were counted out, disregarded, and/or mis-treated elsewhere. We're really proud of what we've created and the family-oriented label we have here - it really is a home, not some cheesy "so and so has joined the Rivalry family". It is a real family atmosphere where we take care of our own,, both on a "label to band" level, as well as a "band to band" level with all of the bands on the label taking the other bands on the label under their wings. As for the name change: Yeah, there was a hip hop label that had the name Rival Records. We researched it before we adopted the name - they hadn't put out a record since the late 90's, their trademark had expired with the US patent office, and their website hadn't been updated since the last time they put out a record. The label was totally defunct. About a year or two into our label's existance, we get an email from "Rival Records" from Ohio, saying the name is his and he wants to pick up his label again. To make a long story short, we amicably decided that we would just change OUR name since he wouldn't back down on it Even though we probably COULD have won a "court battle", there was no way that our label name was worth $10,000+ to us (that's just the cost of getting in the DOOR of a federal court, these days). There was no way we could even afford $1,000, much less $10,000. So it wasn't a huge deal - we changed our label name just slightly, and the other "Rival Records" was cool with that. It was a huge hassle, we had to change everything, but things are OK now.

1. It seems as though many hardcore labels have found it necessary to adopt a specific niche or sub-genre specialization in this current period in the history of hardcore and punk. Has Rivalry felt such pressure? How, in your own words, do you define Rivalry?s place along the hardcore/punk stratum?

Honestly, I feel no pressure whatsoever. At this stage in the game, this label is not my full-time job, I don't do this label for a living. I have a regular full-time day job like everybody else (in addition to my label). The label *IS* something that I pretty much do "full-time" based on the number of hours I put in, but it's not something I do to make my living, do you know what I mean? Because of that, I don't feel any pressures at all to put out a certain "niche" of hardcore, or a certain thing that will "sell well". I simply put out bands I love. Not bands I "like". Bands I LOVE. And because of that, you don't see me releasing a TON of records each year, because I only want to put my heart and soul into the ones that I actually back 100%. I wouldn't want to put out something that I didn't stand behind 100%. I want to be able to say "this is one of my favorite bands in the whole world, hands down." That is the only reason I put out records. So with that said, it's really a lot simpler than "niches" or "sub-genres" or "Rivalry's place in hardcore" - it's very, very simple: I put out records I love. So if that band is a really HARD hardcore band, I'll do that. If that band is a really melodic hardcore band, I'll do that. If that band is a really awesome metal band that I love, then I'd do that. If they're a great street punk band that I dig, I'll do that. I've seen lots of people categorize Rivalry as a having a "sound" - namely, a "melodic hardcore" sound. I think that's bullshit. Yeah, we've put out GO IT ALONE, VERSE, and ANOTHER BREATH which have some melody in there. But what about ALLEGIANCE or MORE TO PRIDE? What about IN CONTROL and TIME FOR LIVING? Those bands have very little melody (in the case of Allegiance and More To Pride, almost zero). I think it's just that the ones who are most nationally known are probably GO IT ALONE and VERSE, so people assume that "melodic hardcore" is all I'm doing - but if they dig a little deeper, they'll realize that argument doesn't have a leg to stand on.

2. Many, if not all, of the bands on Rivalry seem to align themselves with a sound and ethos that reflects a love of classic straight edge hardcore. Can it be said that Rivalry is a straight edge label?

No, I wouldn't really say that at all. I happen to be straight edge, yes. ALLEGIANCE, THE FIRST STEP, and VERSE do happen to be pretty clearly straight edge bands. Others are not (ANOTHER BREATH, KILLING THE DREAM, IN CONTROL, THE PHYSICAL CHALLENGE). Others, like GO IT ALONE, may be pretty much made of straight edge members, but don't really have lyrics about it, etc. I wouldn't say straight edge is much of a true thread at this label at all. Surely, it's important on a personal level for those of us involved, but it really has no bearing on what I do or don't do with the label as far as choosing bands or what the label is about. If by the term "straight edge hardcore" you really mean more of a "sound" that we all seem to love - well, yeah, I mean, I think it's clear that me and the guys in THE FIRST STEP clearly love some "straight edge hardcore", that's for sure. So in that case, yes, I think it's a fair statement that myself, TFS guys, VERSE guys, GO IT ALONE guys, and pretty much most hardcore kids liking the style of music that I'm releasing are pretty into a lot of the old Revelation Records type releases, yeah. But, we're also into a lot of different stuff too, and so I don't think it's fair to say that I typically put out ONLY "straight edge hardcore" type releases.

3. Are the founders of the label still straight edge? If so, how long have you been edge? With the passage of time, have you found it necessary to re-define the personal significance of the straight edge lifestyle so that it retains relevance in your lives? If so, how and to what degree?

I am still straightedge, Zach is not. I've been straightedge for 8 years. Over time, I suppose a lot of things change, but for me, not much has changed as far as having to re-define what straightedge means to me. It's certainly still relevant in my life, it's still very important to me to keep my mind clear and keep my body free of addictions. It's especially important for me because of some addictive tendencies that I do have. Straightedge isn't for everyone, nor do I identify with it as much of a "movement" like other people might. It's just a deeply personal thing, and I think it's very, VERY important for certain people to maintain it, while for others, it's sometimes not important at all that they maintain sobriety. There have actually been circumstances where I've seen straightedge be MORE damaging to an individual than the substances they were trying to stay away from - almost a drug in and of itself. I've seen those people return to the "non-straightedge" lifestyle and be happier, and much more balanced. So, it is really a very personal thing to me, it's not for everyone. However, I must say that I do share a particular view with the guys in GO IT ALONE about the political aspect of straightedge - and Lucase from GIA could dictate it far more eloquently than myself. But there is MUCH to be said for being straightedge as a personal political rebellion against the tobacco and alcohol industries, amongst other things. Those are horrible corporations that suck the life out of people throughout the world each day, and they don't deserve our time, our money, or our fucking lungs. Like I said, I'm not going to get on a soap box. But I did want to mention that, because from that aspect, I DO feel that there is value for EVERYONE to at least be mindful of that issue and understand where straightedge is coming from. Sadly, I don't think many straightedge kids ever even identify with this piece of it at all. For most people, straightedge is at the very most, a personal choice to stay away from addiction. And at the very least, something simply done to fit in with the "cool" crowd for a couple of years. And that can be very disappointing and disheartening. It's really too bad...

4. Can you trace the beginnings of the label, including the impetus behind its inception and the initial processes that went into starting the fledgling endeavor that became Rivalry?

Oops, I think I pretty much went into all of that in the very first question. Sorry about that! Refer to the first question for the answers to this one.

5. What are the greatest challenges you have faced in setting up and running a label like Rivalry?

Honestly, the greatest challenges are always just the little "growth spurts" that a label goes through. Simply, logistical stuff, that doesn't turn out to be all that simple. Things like running out of warehouse space as you put out more releases, trying to keep more merchandise in stock, actually DESIGNING new merchandise for bands all the time, maintaining a somewhat efficient mail order through my website as orders increase monthly, just things like that. Luckily, I think I've handled it pretty well for the most part, but you never know when one of these little growth spurts will hit and you're caught off guard. Also, trying to keep up on where bands are touring, sending out promo packs and onesheets to each club/venue. A lot of things like that, when you first reach that "point" where it's necessary to do that sort of thing, can be a real shellshock and it's hard to keep up when you're trying to manage the regular "day to day" stuff, as well as prepare and change to handle the future stuff as well.

6. How do you go about selecting new bands for the label?s roster?

We choose bands based on a few things: 1. As I stated before, we have to LOVE the band's music. 2. We care a LOT about what the band is saying, and what the band stands for. Creative thought, positive thought, good socio/political commentary, original emotional thought, just ORIGINAL thought - all of those things are signs of a head-strong band that we're looking for. I'm not saying we're looking for 8 bands that are all saying "George Bush doesn't like black people" (hahaha), I'm saying we're looking for some good, original thought - and hopefully it's positive and thought-provoking enough to actually make a small difference internally with someone out there. It doesn't HAVE to be political in nature at all (though that is often very impressive if done well!) - there are a lot of bands out there that do some things creatively that aren't necessarily making social commentary. For example, a band like BLACKLISTED - that kid George writes some clever, creative, introspective lyrics that I can relate to. Those seem to stand out to me a little bit. I really like that band! And I wouldn't classify them as political or anything at all! Ok, so #3: we're looking for hard working bands that show a true DIY work ethic, are involved in their local scenes, and are willing to tour and get their music/message out there. And 4: It really helps if we just tend to really LIKE the guys in the band!! We have to communicate with them so much, we end up spending a lot of time together in person or on the phone or on the internet, and I want to build relationships with people who I enjoy spending time with! That seems like a no-brainer, but seriously, there's almost nothing more important than just "clicking" with your bands.

7. How do you view the current state of hardcore? Does the inherent divisiveness and polarization (straight edge, emo, crust, metal-core) between ?sub-genres? have any effect on the label itself? If so, to what degree?

Well, I think we all see that "hardcore" is at it's "biggest" it's ever been right now. However, that's true and not-so-true. There's lots of "mall hardcore" type stuff out there, that is really so far removed from DIY hardcore punk that it's just not hardcore at all anymore. I'm not going to sit here and name names, but there is a lot of bullshit being billed as "hardcore" out there that has NOTHING to do with the punk roots that hardcore was founded on. It's glamour, it's popularity, it's bullshit, and I want no part of it. It's so packaged, so commercial. But, at the heart of hardcore punk, there's the real deal DIY shit that's always been, and that I truly believe will always be here. So I don't want to sound like one of those who says "hardcore is dead", or "hardcore is lame now man, I can't identify with any of the new bands." I don't feel that way at all! I feel like "they" have "their hardcore" and I have MINE. And I won't let that shit ruin it for me. There are TONS of great bands, and tons of legitimate DIY kids who work hard to maintain this community. And I think, for better or worse, that has really remained the same for the most. As far as the whole "mall hardcore" thing goes... It's so "easy" to be into hardcore now, and I think that's taken away some of the "unity" that people love to preach about - or maybe more simply, just the sense of community, that's what I really mean. For example, 10 years ago when I would see kids in California with STRIFE, IGNITE, or hell, even DK or Misfits shirts that I'd never seen before, I'd always go up and introduce myself at the very minimum - often times I'd invite them to go get lunch or something, or exchange phone numbers, whatever. But now, that's "normal" for me to see, almost everywhere I go, and it's not even special anymore. I'm not sure what I'm really trying to propose here about what that necessarily means for the current state of hardcore - but I can tell you it just feels a lot "colder" and I feel a lot more removed sometimes. I still love the music, maybe more than I ever have actually! But sometimes I *do* feel polarized and I feel like I'm in my own little bubble because I do feel like there's a lot of division. But you know what? It's always been that way - it's ALWAYS been divided. I hate it when people try to say "oh, hardcore is so divided now" or "hardcore sucks now, I don't like any of the bands". Honestly, not a TON has changed, but people's perspectives DO change, and I hate it when people can't recognize that and try to "blame" it on hardcore for "changing". But I do think it's "bigger" now, so it's not so much the divisions that I'm talking about here, what I'm really talking about is simply that hardcore sometimes just doesn't feel as "special" as it used to. And a lot of that is probably just my perception of things as I get older, and certainly not that hardcore has truly changed. So I try to make sure and recognize that, to make sure that I'm not just some jaded old bastard saying "oh hardcore sucks now". No it doesn't - hardcore rules. It's very, very similar to how it always was. It has all the same shitty things, BUT it also has all of the same great things it always had, you just have to look for them. And I just have to continue to remember that and surround myself with the parts of it that I've always found so endearing about hardcore and punk. You asked if all of this has an effect on the label? I'd say "not much". But if I had to say it did have an effect, I'd say that the biggest effect is that it makes me work HARDER to continue to do something meaningful, to maintain those things that I hold so dear. I don't want everything we've all worked for to be devoured by the bullshit that has become mainstream "hardcore" music. So maybe some 14 year old kid somewhere will latch onto something like the new VERSE record or the next GO IT ALONE record, and maybe the lyrics will inspire him enough to get more involved. And maybe in 10 years he'll be doing a record label putting out something equally (or probably moreso!) inspiring that myself in the older generation and the next younger generation can have to appreciate. I guess that is what keeps me going - the promise of continuing a tradition that was handed down to me by the INDECISION's and the NEW AGE's of my time, and in turn who got their inspiration from the REVELATION's and the EQUAL VISION's.

8. In recent years, there have been unfortunate trends among certain prominent hardcore labels that have filled their rosters with glossy, marketable pop acts posing as hardcore bands. Although it is safe to say that Rivalry has not been guilty of this indiscretion, does this prominent trend affect the manner in which a modern hardcore label must be run?

Wow, I think I jumped ahead again. That is exactly what I was talking about in the question before. I guess I'll add to that: I'm not into the era of this "mainstream hardcore" that poses as something it's not at all. It has little or nothing to do with punk and DIY work ethic. Some might say this "trend" would affect the manner in which a label has to be run to "compete" with that stuff. But that couldn't be further from the truth, at least for what I'm trying to do. I'm in no way trying to "compete" with anyone. In fact, if a label is doing something I respect, I'm all about trying to communicate and befriend them, if they are willing. This is not about competition. Bands and labels need to continue to work together, to network, to keep this shit going. And hey, if a label isn't doing something I respect, well then... They can do their thing, and I'll continue to do mine, in the only way I know how - just sincere, honest, DIY hardcore punk. I really want nothing to do with that commercialized hardcore, and it's really not going to affect me much, other than make me work harder to maintain something that I think is legitimate and important.

9. Allegiance, a prominent band on the label?s roster, play straight edge hardcore and hail from California?s East Bay, an area that for years has been more closely associated with the DIY punk scene than a youth crew scene of any sort. With what mindset did the label set out to work with Allegiance? For those out East who are unfamiliar with the locale, please discuss the bay area straight edge hardcore scene in particular? is it thriving?

ALLEGIANCE is made up of members I've known since the very, very early years of my involvement in hardcore, and they're all some of my best friends. I've known all of those guys forever... I think I speak for both the band and the label when I say that all of us wouldn't have it any other way than to be working together! We're all part of one big family, as I was saying before. John, the singer of Allegiance, actually lives with me. He's one of my best friends. He helps out at the label - he helps with artwork, and advertisements. He compiled and edited the Rivalry Showcase #2 DVD that just came out. He helps with mail order and pre orders when I need help. Ross and Duane, the guitarists, they're both old friends and they're always there for me, to help if I need it. And especially in the case of Duane, just provide with some extra support when needed when I'm having a hard time dealing with someone, haha. He has no problem telling someone what he thinks about them and he is always there to back me up. I really trust all of those guys, and they're such an important part of what my label is all about. But anyway, on to the rest of the question - yeah the East Bay scene here in CA has typically not had a huge "youth crew" presence, as you put it. Although, I must say, I don't think ALLEGIANCE is all that "youth crew" at all, but that's for another discussion. Hahah. Of course there was UNIT PRIDE a long time ago, and there was Eric's other bands of REDEMPTION 87 and NERVE AGENTS, but yeah, not exactly a huge "youth crew" scene here. It's definitely always been centered around DIY hardcore punk at 924 Gilman St. There's been lots of bands here and there that a lot of people never know about, so there's always been all kinds of hardcore going on here. That's one thing about this scnee - it's only recently that ANY hardcore bands have gotten any notoriety on a national level. Before a few years ago, it was very, very rare for ANY local band to get noticed on a national level, despite the fact that we have one of THE BEST, if not THE best, scenes in all of the nation. Ask any band that tours, I think they'll say the Bay Area in CA is top notch. But anyway, our scene is really tight knit, and because of that I think a lot of kids didn't necessarily network outside of our own little scene here, so I think we were kind of isolated for a long time. That's not true anymore! We've got LIGHTS OUT, ALLEGIANCE, LIFE LONG TRAGEDY, HOODS (who have been around for 10+ years, and are still doing it!), KILLING THE DREAM, OUR TURN (RIP) and many, many others who have gained notoriety on a national level... They're doing U.S. tours and even European Tours. Word is finally getting out, and it's really awesome.

10. One of the more impressive bands playing straight forward melodic hardcore of late has been Go It Alone ?how has working with the band proven? Thus far a full length and split with Blue Monday has been released by Rivalry?what is in the works for Go It Alone in the future?

GO IT ALONE, like ALLEGIANCE, is another band that we teamed up with mostly due to the fact we had built strong friendships over the years prior to them starting a band. Lucas, their drummer, and myself are really close friends of about 5 or 6 years now. GIA and most notably Lucas have overcome a ton of shit to get where they are today. We've always been there to support each other and make it through some really tough shit. Working with them is like clock-work - Lucas and I work well together and just plain get shit DONE. In my opinion, they're one of THE single best bands out there in the whole world right now, and I think people are really starting to recognize them as a really strong band that has a lot to offer. They're all heavily involved in their local scene of Vancouver, BC (Canada), as well as the whole Northwest scene in general, and are sincere, honest, DIY punk dudes who have their heads screwed on straight. I love those guys. As for their records - they've done really well, and they continue to tour their assess off in support of their "THE ONLY BLOOD BETWEEN US" LP and now the split 7"/CD with BLUE MONDAY. Up next for them, I believe, will be another full length CD/LP, probably sometime in 2007. They're spending a lot of 2006 touring - with two full U.S. tours (one in May, one in July), and a 5 week European tour with ALLEGIANCE in June. They're basically on the road non-stop from May 1 to August 31. They're touring machines. After that, hopefully they can sit down and work on a new record. Though, Mark is always writing a ton of shit, so I wouldn't be surprised if we have a new CD/LP from them sooner rather than later, and you can bet your ass it's gonna be dope!

11. The First Step is another highly lauded straight edge outfit that will have a new full length out on Rivalry shortly?.when is their full length coming out? Does it mark an accentuation of, or deviation from, the youth crew sound they have championed thus far?

THE FIRST STEP "What We Know" CD/LP comes out May 23rd, 2006. (Street date for bigger chains is June 27th, but most independent record stores can order direct from Revelation Distribution on the release date of May 23rd). Their new LP is awesome! It certainly is still the TFS we're used to - urgent, intense, straight forward "youth crew" style hardcore. But now they've got a lot more old D.C. and Orange County hardcore flavor in there - some MINOR THREAT type riffs, some BAD BRAINS bouncing bass, some melodic UNIFORM CHOICE style vocals. There's a lot of stuff going on with this LP, and I think it's a lot more mature and it's really going to be a record held up as a "classic straight edge hardcore" record in the next 5-10 years. I honestly do believe that. They're also already trying to get together and write some new songs, since they did record this record almost 1 year ago! They're itching to do some new stuff, so it would be sweet to see maybe another new TFS record not too far down the line. No more of this waiting 3 years or whatever for another record! haha

12. For those interested in starting a hardcore/punk label of their own, how would you advise going about taking the necessary steps to do so? What is the nature of the work and expenditure of time necessary in taking steps to set up such an operation?

Honestly, just put your heart and soul into it. Do everything you can, expend every cent that you're willing to, just bust your ass. Find a band, preferrably some guys you know and trust and put your heart into that band. Don't hold back. Get them in a good studio, get them recorded, find someone do do some slick artwork, and get that record out. Bust your ass by sending out tons of promos, give away free copies if you think the person might not buy it but you think they would like it. Just get your name and the band's name out there as much as possible, it'll pay off in the end, trust me. Then maybe you can get picked up by some distributors and they can help you get your name out even more. It's all a snowball effect that you just need to get rolling, and the only way to do that is with hard HARD work. No one is going to hand anything to you, so if you don't have the work ethic, don't even bother. You'll lose a LOT of money at first, but hopefully after 4 or 5 records, it starts to balance out where like the 4th record pays for the 5th. And then the 5th pays for the 6th and so on. You're never gonna make a killing on hardcore, so if you're looking to make money, go do something else. If you break even, you're a success. Strive for that - strive to break even doing something you absolutely love. If you don't absolutely love it - move on, put your energy elsewhere into something you do love. Depending on how far you want to take your label, it's as little as 5 hours per week, up to 40-50 hours per week. Expect to lose LOTS of sleep when you're in the middle of trying to get a record out, and expect to lose LOTS of money while trying to keep your releases in press after paying for all of the recording costs up front, etc. Just do it at the level that's comfortable for you. Be careful not to take on too much and water your releases down or burn yourself out. Do it at a level where you can put your ALL into it so that you're producing something that you can be proud of. At the end of the day, you should just be proud of what you were able to accomplish - that's a success.

13. What are some of the upcoming label-related projects you are most excited about?

Up next for us is the VERSE "From Anger And Rage" CD/LP and the ANOTHER BREATH "Mill City" CD/LP. ANOTHER BREATH is just finishing up at GOD CITY STUDIOS with Kurt Ballou (Converge), and VERSE enters ATOMIC STUDIOS in April. Both should be out this summer sometime, just in time for the bands to do full U.S. tours in support of the record. Both are going to be killer, you can trust me on that one! I seriously can't wait for these. I've read lyrics and heard rough copies of songs from both, and I think they're going to really turn some heads.

14. Where do you see the future of hardcore and punk in a decade?

Oh man, I'm not a prophet! I think more and more facades of hardcore will be deemed "hardcore" by the mainstream, and things will continue to get "bigger", but as I said above, that's true and not-so-true. The real deal DIY hardcore punk will stay intact as long as we all insist upon keeping it here, and I really do believe that. I don't think the legitimate hardcore punk has a place in the mainstream world, so I don't see the true underground shit ever getting exploited or disappearing. There will always be resistance. I'll bet things really aren't all THAT different in 10 years. Yeah, we probably won't be using CDs much, it'll all be digital media of some kind, and various things will be different, but I do think the values, ideas, and hopefully even the VENUES like 924 Gilman St. will still be intact. Hell, I hope I'm still here putting out records, that would be sweet! I'll be here as long as kids allow me to be. I realize the only reason I'm here is because kids are into the things that I'm doing and continue to support me. I know that I'm nothing without them, and I'll never lose sight of that.

15. Any closing thoughts or comments?

Hmm, I always try to throw in something that I've been thinking about lately for these "closing" sort of questions. This time, I think I'll throw this in: Every once in a while, I try to take a step back and evaluate things on a case-by-case, or scenario basis. I think too often, ESPECIALLY in hardcore, we get into this way of thinking of the world as "black and white" or "do and don't" and very rarely is the world like that. There's almost always grey area. It's not always "YES OR NO". Sometimes the right answer really is "Maybe" or "I'm not sure yet". In this hardcore scene of extremes, I try to remember that it's perfectly OK for me to be not too sure about something just yet - in fact, many times it's a hell of a lot better for me just to sit and think about it for a while. I wish more people would use their heads sometimes! That's it. Thanks for the interview!

 

 

 

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