I don’t remember exactly when I first started talking to Chuck and getting records from him to review, but the whole time it’s been a trip, with nothing but good stuff and good vibes, and I’ve reviewed and written about various bands repped by Beartrap since then like Lipona, Annabel, Shuteye Unison, Lanterns, and Static Radio NJ. And being a dork and interested in some of the non-band stuff that has to do with being in independent music, I figured it’d be cool to sit down and talk with someone who is in “the biz”, doing what he loves. So yeah…by the way, the cell phone call dropped twice, and I remembered to note it once in the transcription.
So give a brief introduction and a rundown of any crimes you might be guilty of in the state of Vermont.
(Laughs) First off I have never ever done anything illegal in the state of Vermont, or any other state for that matter, at least not that I’ve been caught for. As far as my introduction, in terms of Beartrap it started about 3 years ago, but before that I was working for Deep Elm Records, and that’s where I got my start doing the PR thing in general, it was just me and the owner running things and dong the publicity stuff and that’s where I learned a lot about what it takes to run an independent label and all that goes into it.
Have you ever been in a band, or have you always been in the “other side” of the industry, so to speak?
Other than playing the trumpet in high school band, no, never been a band.
I totally played trumpet when I was in high school too.
I played from when I was in 2nd grade until I think 11th grade, I never took it that seriously, it’s not like I tried to join a ska band or anything.
At least you did it, that’s something. No, I’ve never been in a band, it was weird ‘cause when I graduated college, I graduated with a degree in history and rhetoric and writing, which is basically a communications degree, I was kind of just weighing my options, living with my parents at the time, and was doing substitute teaching, waiting tables and stuff, just trying to make ends meet and looking for jobs. I was a fan of Deep Elm and some of the bands and I saw that they were hiring and I figured it’d be a good way to use a lot of the stuff I learned from my college classes but also work for a label I really like, and id always been into music and it was a cool job, but I never really expected to be where I am now. I think it’s worked out pretty well.
This is kind of a weird question, do you ever wonder about how the inherent difficulties of working in music and a label and PR and considering music and the way the industry is these days?
When I started, and even four five years ago, things were pretty good. Coming from Deep Elm’s perspective, we were doing pretty well, working with bands like The Appleseed Cast, Planes Mistaken For Stars, we had some really good bands. We’d actually make a little bit of money on those bigger bands and it allowed us to put money towards those smaller bands that we really liked but we knew probably wouldn’t sell a lot. At the very least we weren’t losing money. But then over the past couple of years you could definitely see in retail sales and overall, it just became harder to operate on a full-time basis.
People can down-play the role of filesharing, and illegal download, but I really think it has something too it. Maybe it’s not everything, and there are certain things you can do to adapt as a label, but you know obviously the rise of iTunes is nice, and I think it’s cool that vinyl is making a comeback and there’s a really cool aesthetic to vinyl, but it’s still not the same. People ask me about starting a label and I tell them, don’t do it unless its just a hobby for you and you really love the bands and you just want to do something to be involved, you know that you’re gonna lose money.
If you think you’re gonna make a career or a full-time job, just stop right there. There are very few labels that are still like that. Deep Elm is sort of a part-time thing right now, he hasn’t released anything new in like a year, he’s just content to sell a lot of the back catalogue and do stuff digitally. I haven’t seen Jade Tree do anything lately.
I was thinking specifically about them, compared to even a year or two ago.
Yeah, I think the Dischord people are re-releasing a lot of stuff on vinyl and re-mastering it, but I haven’t seen them put out a new record in a long time. It’s not what it used to be. Having said that though, if you wanna be involved with a label, right now me and some friends started that little vinyl label (Tiny Engines), we released that Look Mexico 7-inch that will probably never make anything on, we’ll maybe break even. Our goal was to maybe make a little bit on each release, we’re just gonna press a limited amount and hopefully sell through everything and put whatever we made from that release into a new release, try to make the packaging nicer, just focus on that. It’s a part-time hobby.
On the PR side, that’s me, I continue to do that like even though there’s a lot of labels that work full-time and need PR and even though they’re part-time, it’s nice for me, things haven’t slowed down this past year. It took about 6 months for Beartrap to build up, for me to let people know that I was starting my own company and establish myself and its been a constant stream of projects though, and even when it starts to seem a little slow, something always happens, something always comes my way, which is good.
I was gonna say that the bands that you work with seem to be picking up and getting more coverage, like Look Mexico especially, that’s a name I’m hearing and seeing a lot more but first from you.
My whole goal with Beartrap was that I wanted to work with bands that I love, and I wanted to work with more DIY bands from the punk community, bands that had a similar mindset that weren’t concerned with fame or fortune but were concerned with touring and establishing friendships, helping people out along the way. I saw that there were a lot of bands like that that just weren’t getting the attention I think that they deserved. So I realized I’ve been doing this for years and I have a lot of contacts, it’d be great to work with bands I love, and with members of bands that I love. A lot of it is about making new friends and helping those friends out for an affordable price but offer then a professional service at the same time. That was my thought going into it.
It seems to have paid off.
The one thing that I tell people too is that I honestly only work with bands that I like because I don’t think that I could push bands that I don’t like, and you know, and I think most people respect my taste in music. When they get a package from me there’s probably gonna be something they’re gonna give a chance, its hard to measure your results when you’re a PR company. I mean you can measure it by number of reviews but in general its more like an abstract concept where you’re trying to get the bands’ names out there, getting reviews, setting up album streams, sending mp3’s, sending out a press release when they’re going out on tour, there’s a lot to do and I do a little bit of it all.
In the meantime, I try to make Beartrap more like a community, I’m very open with the bands, I encourage them to touch base with me if they have any comments or questions, in a way it’s almost like I run Beartrap like a label. It’s not just me collecting a paycheck and mailing records for three months and then saying “see you later, guys!” I wanna continue to work with the same bands, because I really do like them.
It is almost like a label, and its interesting that you bring up personal friendships because to me, that whole part of Beartrap and Tiny Engines is that its you do this because you love it and because its about your friends. When I get a package from you, I know that it’s going to be really varied and that I know that there will be at least one thing in there that I really really like.
(at this point the phone call drops)
The call get dropped?
Yeah, you hear anything I said?
You were saying when you get a package it’s always varied.
Oh, then I said that there’s always at least one thing that I really like.
Most of it in general is in that punk and hardcore category, its not like I’m sending you some folk record, you know, or electronica, you basically know what’s going to be in there but certain people like certain kinds of punk or hardcore. I just try to work with stuff that appeals to me, stuff that I would buy, and obviously, the bands that try to follow that DIY ethic. I’ve had the chance to work with bands that were headed for bigger things and that’s not necessarily where I wanted to be, maybe some day but not now.
Is there anything that you see these days in the punk/DIY community that you really like? Something that’s making a comeback or is new but picking up steam?
I don’t know, one of the things I always liked about punk music and people that I knew in the scene was that they were always really nice people, very gracious. When they travel somewhere they’re all about meeting new people and experiencing new things, I know a lot of people like punk because it’s supposed to be about rebellion and all that, but I personally enjoy the sense of community that I’d see with these bands, and I try to encourage that and try to make friends.
Everyone has something special to bring to the table, maybe they have a screen-printing company or book shows in their town, I think this was away to utilize that and bring everyone together. In terms of something new? It’s hard for me to say, I’m like 33 now, I have a kid, I definitely don’t get out a lot to as many shows as I’d like, Charlotte (North Carolina) has never been that great in having a community, there are definitely some great people here.
I know you’ve mentioned that you like that vinyl’s making a comeback these days.
That is one thing that I was thinking about. You know, digital music is fine, I like that when a band talks to me and asks if they can send me their record I can say “well just send it to me digitally” and it’s easy, it makes it so convenient. At the same time you know, there’s just something missing, with the packaging and the artwork, there’s just something really cool about holding music in your hands. I feel like the artwork is part of the music as well, that definitely enhances the music, I know people, a lot of younger kids who grew up on mp3’s who don’t care, I like the artwork part of it.
I loved linear notes as a kid, they were my favorite part of albums.
Yeah, there’s just so much you can do. You see people putting out vinyl with crazy-ass packages and screen-printing and you can just see all the time and effort that goes into it. I feel like when a band releases a free digital release, to some extent it feels to me they’re lessening the music somehow. You see some bands that just want to release music digitally and not do anything else and to some extent I’m just not interested in those bands, if you’re just kind of a hobby band and you record stuff on your computer, that’s all well and fine and people can get free music, but there’s something to be said when a band gets artwork and screen-printing, you can tell when a band works hard and really cares about what they’re doing. I’m more interested in bands like that. The whole thing with vinyl fits with that.
And that’s not even mentioning the collectibility of it all, like we pressed a thousand of the Look Mexico 7-inch and I think that’s more than we should have pressed. I know a lot of people like to put vinyl up on e-bay, I’m not like that, I’m not collecting vinyl to make a profit off of it…
But there is something cool to pull something out of your collection that you know only 500 other people have, that’s kind of cool. It’s not the most important thing but to me it is.
I know. My girlfriend has a pink Minor Threat “Salad Days” 7-inch that I’m so jealous of, like you have no idea. On the other hand though I have that Papermoons 7-inch, and I’m not a huge vinyl guy, I came up on CD’s primarily but now I’m like I got to get my own record player so I can listen to records because they’re really cool.
Yeah, I like CD’s and the convenience of them, most cars have CD players. But like recently, like in the past few months, I started thinking I don’t listen to a lot of my CD’s any more like I’ll buy them, I’ll rip them onto my iPod, and that’s where I’ll listen to them so I figured why don’t I just start buying more vinyl instead. I have a record player, I can listen to them at home, and now most vinyl comes with free mp3’s, so you have that aspect of it.
Plus record players these days can rip and translate songs into digital mp3 format.
Yeah, exactly, we just got one of those for my dad for Christmas, he’d been hinting at one of those.
Yeah, those are really cool. Is there anything these days that you’re listening to a lot? You can totally pimp one of the bands you’re working with, I don’t care.
I know it sounds lame but honestly I listen to a lot of the bands that I work with, because its part of my job. I have to write bios and the news as well. I think the last time I bought stuff I bought the new Dillinger 4 record which I think sounds fucking awesome.
I heard it like once, it didn’t sound that great to me, guess its one of those records that needs multiple listens.
I really like stuff that’s really catchy and I think its one of their most catchy records, at least in my opinion. I mean Vs God is a great record, I really didn’t like that other one, what’s it called, Situationist Comedy?
See that’s my favorite record, I love it.
See that’s my least favorite one, but I really like the new one, I just sort of bought it one a whim, I just got the Lemuria 12-inch […] I’ve listened to that Look Mexico 7-inch so many times. In terms of the bands I work with, I really like the Tigers Jaw stuff…
That was a real surprise for me, I like that. It was really catchy.
Yeah for some reason that record sounded to me like it came out of the 90’s, I like that, I like bands like Chavez and Sugar, my collection is really diverse. I like the City Of Ships record, the Outclassed record…
I loved the Outclassed record, and I’ll tell you the Lipona stuff you send me, I’m in love with that band now.
Yeah that was a band that I liked it the first time I heard it and the more I listened to it the more I fell in love with it. Some stuff is just like that. That Living With Lions record is really good, the one that’s coming up is really cool […] I always get this question and I wonder “what the hell have I listened to recently?” it’s honestly a lot of Beartrap stuff. There’s a good record that Jumpstart Records is putting out by a band from Philadelphia called Lighten Up that’s just a really good hardcore record.
I love Lighten Up.
I got into them like a year and a half ago, they’re a phenomenal hardcore band.
Their full-length is awesome, have you heard any of it yet?
It’s really good.
I’ll just walk around the apartment incessantly saying “you gotta lighten up!” they’re one of my favorite bands.
Yeah, that’s one that I’m looking forward to. But yeah, that’s about.
Aright, that’s basically it. Thanks a lot for doing this.
No problem, happy to help out. Always nice to help contribute once in a while.