If you donít mind, letís go back in time. More specifically, to the early 80's when hardcore was fresh and submerging from the murky depths of the vaginal passage of birth. In the beginning, SST and Dischord were the majors of hardcore, but as time passed, so did their popularity in the hardcore kids eyes. Then labels like Revelation and Victory began putting out the records that the kids sought. As those labels have begun to move in other directions, we begin to wonder whatís going to take over. Bridge 9 is definitely one of the hugest labels, but their momentum seems to be slowing down. While everybody is down floorpunching, Rival Records out of the bay area in California sneaks out ninja style and decapitates everybody. Here we have an interview with label co-owner Kyle Whitlow giving some secret codes/easter eggs to the industry that is record labels. Click on, comrades, or ninjas will rock your world (in a bad way). And oh yeah, that was a very broad/vague synopsis of hardcore labels, so donít scold me on my historical inaccuracy, this time machine is hella wack. - Zed
ScenePointBlank: How did you get into starting a label? Being in a band before, why not do a new band, why a label? How has your perspective changed about labels while being in a band to actually running one?
Kyle Whitlow: Zach and I grew up together in a small town called Oroville, CA and have been best friends since we were 5 years old. We basically got into hardcore punk together and had always talked about how we would like to do a label someday. Eventually, Zach transfered to Portland St. for college and I moved to the SF Bay Area after I graduated college. My band, The Damage Done, was coming to a close, and I needed something to keep me involved. There was this band in Portland called the PHYSICAL CHALLENGE who was turning into a really awesome band, but not many people were taking notice. Zach proposed we start the label with a record for them, so we took off and ran with it. We contacted them in May of 2003, and a few months later, in July of 2003, RIVAL001 Physical Challenge - "Some Still Care" was in our hands. We started this label for two reasons, really: 1. we were sick of seeing good bands going un-noticed because they didn't have "ex-members-of" status or weren't the "cool" kids in their scene or were from an area of the country where straight up hardcore just doesn't really exist... We wanted to change that and help out bands that DESERVED to be heard. and 2. Zach and I are both getting a little older and tied down, and we can't do some of the things we used to do, namely drive hundreds of miles to see shows and/or play shows every weekend. So we wanted to do something that would allow us to give back to something that has given us so much over that last 7 or 8 years. I think that kind of explained the other part of your question - why not do another band... I work a full-time "career" type job, I've got a serious girlfriend, a dog, etc, and I just can't do a band at the level that I'd want to. I don't do things half-assed. I saw the label as something I could pour my time into, but wouldn't require a ton of traveling. Also, towards the end of The Damage Done, I really just decided that I didn't like singing in a band much anymore. I had developed a phobia of my own voice and it sometimes just made me sick to my stomach when I would even think about playing shows. It sounds retarded, but it's the 100% truth. I never had it before, but one day it just started and it was hard to shake. To this day, the thought of singing in a band just kind of makes me feel ill and I doubt I'll ever do it again. Part of it was that I just got burnt out really badly, too. Anyways, since I don't play any instruments, I don't see myself being in a band again. As far as my perspective changing about labels - I always knew it would be a ton of work, but now I truly realize what it means to REALLY run a record label. Putting out the actual record is the EASY part. Providing tour support for your bands,getting them solid shows, getting them good looking merch, advertising for their record, sending out HUNDREDS of promos to zines and college radio, continually trying to get better distribution, simply handling mail order - all of that stuff is what it REALLY means to run a label. And unfortunately, most kids just think "oh yeah, i'll throw down $1,500 and put out a record and start a label". And while that's awesome that kids are thinking that way, it just isn't enough if you want to really support your bands and allow them to tour and do the things that they want to do with their band. I don't think kids take into account the amount of time and energy spent on buying ads, designing ads, sending out promos, constantly trying to find new places to advertise and/or send promos to, etc. Basically, I realize now that most people don't have much of a clue of what it means to run a label, and with a little hard work, any kid can do it, but unfortunately most bands get screwed because dudes who decide they're going to "start a label" just arent' very on top of things - they're not organized at all.
ScenePointBlank: On your label you do both vinyl and CD, how do you determine when to do vinyl and when to do CD? When you do vinyl, how do you determine what colors to use, and other things like that?
Kyle Whitlow: The overly simplistic answer = We do CDs and vinyl when we want to. With our first 3 releases, it was done on a case by case basis - Physical Challenge and Time For Living were both "local" type hardcore bands that were fairly new to the hardcore world and we just wanted to get a release out there to show kids what was going on, rather than worry about different formats. No one knew if it would go over well or not. With The Damage Done's final EP, we were breaking up, so we just did a quick run of CDs so that the 400 kids that cared could pick up the last songs we wrote. Lately, we've been doing more vinyl because we're becoming a bit more established and the Killing The Dream and In Control records were a little easier to get out there, so we could afford to do vinyl and CDs. Unfortunately, most kids just buy a $3 or $4 slab of vinyl, and then burn the CD version that has extra songs. So, we've got this CD that costs $1 to make, and we've got this 7" that costs $2 to make, but the CD actually has more music on it... But no one buys the CD. We could sell a CDEP for $6 or $8 and make $5 or $7 on the CD to help recoup the $1,000 - $2,000 we spent on the recording of that record, or we could sell a 7" and make $1 or $2. With 7"s, you have to sell nearly every single copy of the 1st pressing of 1,000 just to break even, and it's too bad that kids don't understand how things work, because they don't care about picking up a CD when they could just burn it from a friend. I know that before I did the label I always figured, "Hey, I'm still supporting the band and label cause I'm buying the 7" and just burning it onto a different medium." But that's kind of a flawed argument since the CD does contain some extra stuff that you didn't pay for with your $3 or $4, and the even at $3 or $4, the band/label isn't getting much out of that. So a lot of smaller labels will find that when they DO vinyl, they sometimes are actually worse off than they were if it were only on CD because no one buys the CD version! Instead, they buy the vinyl because it's cheaper (but more expensive for the label), and the label just tries to squeak by and sell 1,000 copies of the 7" while the CDs just pretty much sit on the shelves. File sharing is killing hardcore and I wish kids would reaize that it's important to support underground music by actually buying stuff from bands that they really like. Otherwise I'm afraid a lot of labels will eventually just quit and give up. As for colored vinyl and all that you asked about - I don't know, we figure a color of vinyl that matches the layout looks nicer than black vinyl, so we just usually do something that we think that looks good. If black looks cool with the layout ,then we do some of that. We usually do 300 on one color and 700 on another, to reward the kids who pre-order from us with the 300 version. Ridiculous record collecting is another thing killing hardcore and I try not to contribute to that mentality if I can help it.
ScenePointBlank: Have any of your records gone OOP yet? If not, how close are you getting on some?
Kyle Whitlow: Nope, none have gone out of print. I'm not really getting close at all because I don't intend to stop pressing these records unless the bands break up or something. If what you really meant was if any of our records have run out and we've had to re-press it, yes... We've had to re-press the Physical Challenge CDs and are re-pressing the Killing The Dream CD right now.
ScenePointBlank: How did the signing of Go It Alone come about? How did the release of the split between Internal Affairs and Allegiance come about? Do you have anymore upcoming releases?
Kyle Whitlow: Lucas, the drummer of Go It Alone, has been one of my best friends for about 5 years and Zach and I love his band and what all of the dudes in his band stand for. They're all really honest hardcore punk kids that haven't forgotten that we are all supposed to STAND FOR SOMETHING in this world, and we're so happy that they call Rival home. Basically, we just told them we wanted them to be part of Rival with us and they decided it was a good fit for them... As for the Internal Affairs / Allegiance split - same type of thing. Corey from I.A. is a good friend of mine and John and Duane in Allegiance are some of my closest friends. Internal Affairs has been working with Malfunction Records and Allegiance is now part of the RIVAL roster, so we decided to do this split release with Malfunction Records. It makes it kind of hard with so many people involved (2 bands, 2 labels), but it's cool that a bunch of mutual friends can get together and do something like this. As for upcoming releases, we've got the debut EP from upstate NY's ANOTHER BREATH coming out in mid-May. They're an awesome group of guys playing in a great band that sounds like a mix of Suicide File, American Nightmare, Modern Life Is War, Strike Anywhere, and Kid Dynamite. So far they are pretty unknown in the national hardcore scene, and I'm shocked about that. I don't see how a band this good has gone un-noticed. We're hoping to change all that. After that EP comes out, we've got a full length CD/LP from GO IT ALONE in July, as well as a CD/LP full length from VERSE. Verse is a band from Providence, RI made up of Sean and Eric of What Feeds The Fire. Awesome stuff along the lines of WFTF but with a lot more melody. Their 4 song demo that came out last year is AWESOME and everyone should check that out. I can't wait to put out both of these full lengths! Then later in the summer and fall we have ALLEGIANCE's debut full length CD/LP and a full length from PHYSICAL CHALLENGE as well.... This year is a very busy year for us. Hopefully a new TIME FOR LIVING E.P. sometime later this year too!
ScenePointBlank: Why do you sign the bands you sign?
Kyle Whitlow: Typically, the reasons we put out the records are all fairly obvious. 1. We do records for bands that we really, REALLY like. 2. We're more likely to help out a band that we know personally, or a band that is made up of members that we really trust and see them as good people. 3. Time is a huge issue - it depends on what our schedule looks like right now, how many records we've already put out this year, how much time/money we can devote to a band, etc. And most importantly 4. We want to help out bands that for one reason or another, just aren't getting the attention that they deserve, and we want to help them get that attention. We want to help bands that work hard, who are full of good people playing good music. Like I said before, too many great bands get overlooked these days and it's really unfair because most often it's the kids that do the MOST for hardcore and help out the most people that get shit on and/or ignored.
ScenePointBlank: You recently had your first Rival Records showcase, how did that go?
Kyle Whitlow: Rival Records Showcase #1 was awesome. Everything ran smoothly an on-time, despite 9 bands playing on a Saturday night. It was awesome to have all of my friends there at once and see some of my favorite bands in hardcore. The vibe was awesome and there was no bullshit going on. I think everyone had a great time and it was a huge success. I'm hoping to do these things annually or bi-annually to give the bands exposure and give people something to do on a Saturday night, meanwhile helping out the label so that we can put out records for more bands.
ScenePointBlank: What does hardcore mean to you? How did you get into hardcore? What do you dislike about hardcore?
Kyle Whitlow: I'm in no position to say what hardcore is or isn't.... but what it means to me is being fucking pissed off about the state of affairs that the world is in today and wanting to make things fucking better. If all that means is making life easier for the people around me, then so be it. That alone is changing the world for the better. For me hardcore is just a state of mind to want to better yourself and better the world. It's not some holier than thou attitude with a bunch of stupid rules that "hardcore kids" should be following. It's about questioning why the fuck you're on this earth and making some decisions about that and running with it. For me, it's provided a tremendous amount of focus in my life and I don't know where I'd be without it. What hardcore isn't and should NOT be about is a fucking social scene on the internet and running your mouth about who is and isn't straightedge/christian/vegetarian or whatever the fuck you classify yourself as. The thing i dislike about hardcore the most is the highschool gossip scene, internet hardcore kids that don't go to shows and just run their mouths online, and then drop out in a couple of years and talk about how "lame" everything was. Put your money where your mouth is and run your mouth to someone's face if you've got a problem with them, tell a band you think they're full of shit right there when they're on stage if you don't like something they've done, or better yet - go out and do it BETTER and show people how it should be done. Hardcore doesnn't have the balls that is used to have, and it's time for people to put up or shut up. Delete your little myspace.com and friendster.com profiles and stop using hardcore as your little own personal livejournal where you can re-live highschool all over again. I also dislike how segmented hardcore is... Remember when it was called "hardcore punk"? Shit, there is and always will be little cliques of people, I know that, I'm not tryin to say it was ever perfect. But damn, it's gotten to the point where there's "metal kids", "youth crew kids", "kids who think they're hard", "crust punk kids", "grind kids", "pop punk kids", "emo kids"... You see what I'm saying? Just way to segmented and it's watering down anything and everything we're saying because at any given show, the band is just preaching to the choir because every single person there has heard the same thing 100 times before. We're not exchanging any information here.
ScenePointBlank: What's the most meaningful release you've done so far?
Kyle Whitlow: The final IN CONTROL record. That band is a dying breed, and I hate to see them go, but I'm glad we were the ones who got the chance to do their final record. Very few bands work hard and quit their full-time jobs every summer to go out on a treacherous 6 week tour where they sell a total of 150 CDs.... very few bands are willing to actual SAY something in their songs that might piss somebody off really badly. And very few bands actually bands actually work hard for reasons other than trying to "hyped" so they can get "signed" so that they can "get to the next level". I'm gonna miss IC, but I'm really glad I got to do that record. Check out that song KAYFABE MEMORIES on their record , it pretty much sums up what i'm trying to say.
ScenePointBlank: Any regrets in your record label career that you would go back and change?
Kyle Whitlow: Nope, so far so good. I do everything with 100% honesty and integrity and I'm not a person that ever has many regrets because I only do things that I can get up and look at myself in the mirror in the morning and say, "fuck it, you did your best." I make a lot of mistakes, but I rarely regret them because I thought that I was doing the right thing at the time.
ScenePointBlank: How do you explain your label to people who don't know anything about this type of sound (like distant relatives or something)?
Kyle Whitlow: People ask what kind of band i was in and what kind of music I put out. I just say "aggressive rock music", haha. It saves me a LOT of explaining.
ScenePointBlank: The majority of your bands are somewhat local, when do you think you'll sign your first east coast band? Is this on purpose, or because it's easier to approach these closer bands?
Kyle Whitlow: Haha, looks like you made these questions up sometime last week before our latest announcement. ANOTHER BREATH from New York and VERSE from Providence, RI are our first east coast bands. But yes, it's easier to put out records by local bands who I know personally and trust. Also, i see local bands a lot more and they grow on me, whereas I may be missing out on an east coast band who I thought was "OK" on first listen, but who puts on a hell of a live show and gets me pumped on their record.
ScenePointBlank: How did you get hooked up with INVISIBLE YOUTH?
Kyle Whitlow: I've seen the work they do and they do a great job so I sent them a package. They liked what they saw and decided to bring us on board. Things are getting to the point where it's hard to handle all of the send-outs that we do for promotion, and it's awesome to have a helping hand who can provide a little more sense of direction with the promotion side of things. Seriously, I can't stress to people how important to running a label that promotion and advertising is. Without that, your bands remain "local" bands and never get out there to people on the opposite coast. Invisible Youth does a great job of helping me out with this stuff.
ScenePointBlank: How has the internet contributed towards your label running process?
Kyle Whitlow: The internet makes it 500% easier for independent DIY labels to be able to do the the things that even mid-sized labels 10 years ago couldn't do. Before, you'd have to rent listening stations in stores and shit, which is SUPER expensive, but now with the web, kids can just hit up your site and download an mp3. Of course, this all comes at a price, and the very thing that's helping hardcore (the internet) is fucking killing it day by day. It's a paradoxical thing.... It's making hardcore much more accessible, and it's getting it closer and closer to the mall, which is a very scary thing. But yes, to answer your question, without www.RivalRecords.NET, it would make it extremely hard for me to get the word out about my new bands, what they sound like, and even where to buy the record.
ScenePointBlank: If you had one piece of advice for someone starting a label, what would it be?
Kyle Whitlow: Start off SMALL with a band you know and trust and support the FUCK out of them... Don't worry about "getting big" or any shit like that, just support the shit out of someone you know and trust. Help them get shows, help them with merch, put out their record, look into sending tons of free copies out to zines and radio stations - anything you can do to make kids know about your band. Believe me, it will all pay off in the long run when the band is able to tour and do the things that they want to do. Everyone involved will be much happier and you'll really feel like you've done something meaningful instead of just paid to get something pressed on CD, you know?
ScenePointBlank: Does the pressure of running a label ever get to be too much? What do you do to relieve pressure in these situations?
Kyle Whitlow: I'm a pretty stressed out guy. I work a 40-50 hour full time job, and do the label about 30 hours per week. Yes, i get very overwhelmed and become a cranky old man. The best thing for me in those situations are just to realize that I do all of this because I *want* to, and if this isn't something that i WANT to be doing anymore, than I should stop. That usually puts things in perspective and makes me realize how much I love my life and that I'm psyched that I get the opportunity to make the things happen that I make happen through RIVAL. My girlfriend and my dog help me out a lot in those situations, too. They're always nice things to come home to, things that make me realize that my life is very good.
ScenePointBlank: Any upcoming bands that you are not releasing that are worth checking out?
Kyle Whitlow: There are tons. Check out Cross The Line, Blue Monday, Think I Care, Lights Out, Our Turn, Hammertime, Right On, Blacklisted, Iron Boots, and tons more i'm forgetting.
ScenePointBlank: Any funny stories involving your label?
Kyle Whitlow: Honestly, I can't think of shit right now, I'm brain dead.
ScenePointBlank: Any last words?
Kyle Whitlow: Support your local hardcore scene. If you don't like how it's run, FIX IT.