Tag Archives: Lifetime

Interview with Darren Walters

I’m happy to post a selection from the ongoing email interview I’m having with one Darren Walters, co-founder of Jade Tree Records.

As a majority of my America Is Just A Word interviewees happen to be musicians, it’s great having Darren on board to give some perspective of the other goings on that helped transform emo through the decades. (Of course, an exception to all this is Ian MacKaye, who’s role as a musician and Dischord Records co-founder gives him a completely different perspective than most folks involved in the book.) When it comes to emo in the 90s, Jade Tree was one of the few places where things were really popping. The record label quickly rose to fame with The Promise Ring and continued to soldier on from there, releasing music from numerous indie emo “big names” (whatever that oxymoronic phrase means) such as Hot Water Music, Texas Is The Reason (a split with TPR), Lifetime, Jets To Brazil, Joan of Arc, Pedro The Lion, Cap’n Jazz (the label introduced many people to the band with their double-disc discography) and many a popular non-emo act such as Fucked Up and My Morning Jacket.

But, I’ll let Darren explain it all himself. Enjoy:

How’d you get into music and, more specifically, punk music?

Darren Walters: “A few things happened around the same time that finally got my fully into punk once and for all.
I had been into new wave, alternative and the like and eventually met a few people who were also into the same type of music, including punk.  In and around the same time, my best friend ended up being sent to military school where he became immersed in punk.  His friends at military school helped him stock up on great records which he brought home during his breaks and left with me.  Him and I quickly became 100% into punk rock in about 1985 or so and began going to shows and seeking out as much info as we could on punk rock and watching movies like Suburbia and Decline of the Western Civilization over and over again.

What was it like growing up in Wilmington?

DW: “Wilmington is at the northern tip of Delaware and the biggest city in the state.  Essentially, it is a suburb of Philadelphia as it is only about 25 minutes outside of the city.

It was-and is, for the most part, devoid of any culture during my childhood and continues to be so to this day.  It’s basically your typical American suburb and it’s the place that I still call home and have form most of my life.

Having spent most of my life here I’ve come to like it, which is interesting considering I spent those formative punk years trying to think of a way to get out.  Growing older and being able to leave, I got used to the idea of being in Delaware.  It also became advantageous for Jade Tree to remain in Delaware as it was inexpensive compared to cities like NY or SF where Tim and I had often discussed moving the label to (in fact, Tim lived in NYC for many years).”

On the Jade Tree site, it says that you and Tim were pretty involved in the DC punk community. Considering Delaware isn’t exactly a walk away from DC, how did you balance a life at home with going to shows and building on a community in DC?

DW: “I was involved in the DC scene in the sense that I was going to shows an awful lot in the MD/DC/VA area and Jade Tree worked with plenty of bands from there over the years.  DC was one of our support systems and one of our scenes and we of course looked up to many of the people involved in it both past and present.

It was easy enough to go back and forth from DE to DC.  Tim had grown up in DC and still had family there, I had a girlfriend there at one time, Jade Tree had bands there, tons of friends and so on.  It was just something that we did without thinking.  And it’s less than 2 hours away.  I used to be able to get to the Damnation house in an hour and 10 minutes on a good day. Granted, I was doing 90+ mph, but the point is that this was a drive that Tim and I made almost weekly, or at least monthly, for years.”

How did you and Tim meet?

DW: “My best friend growing up attended college in MD and met Tim at a show in DC.  They started a label called Axtion Packed together and that’s how I met Tim, through him.

Once my label, Hi-Impact, was beginning to fall apart, coincidentally so was AP, so Tim and I decided that perhaps it would be best if we combined forces to work on new label.”

What was it like being in high school and then college, trying to balance the life of a student and the work needed to run a label (be it Hi-Impact or Jade Tree) and a band as well?

DW: “It was crazy of course!  At times it would be fairly simple because there wouldn’t be much to do in the very beginning.  However, when there would be a new release in production or a record would need to be mailed out to radio or to all of the awaiting orders, it would take hours, if not days, to do so.  That could be intense.  Especially because for the first few Jade Tree releases, many of the records were put together by hand.  You can imagine how long it takes to hand assemble 4000+ 7″s & CDS for instance.  We would enlist every one we knew to come on over and enjoy free pizza, get the latest release and help us out.  It was a community thing and it helped Jade Tree get off its feet tremendously.”

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Delaware Are You: An America Is Just A Word Update

I’m excited to announce yet another contributor to America Is Just A Word. Darren Walters, co-owner of Jade Tree records, has given me the thumbs up for the interview process, and his voice will be more a welcome addition to the roster of interviewees. Although most of the first-person interviews I’m collecting will be musicians, Walters’ input is very much appreciated, especially as Jade Tree’s impact on the international emo scene is nothing but important. Since forming in 1990, the label has signed/released music from many an important emo act: The Promise Ring, Cap’n Jazz, Pedro The Lion, Hot Water Music, Texas Is The Reason, Jets To Brazil, Girls Against Boys, Joan Of Arc, Owls, Lifetime, Juno, and countless others have released music bearing the Jade Tree logo over the years.

Walters’ own experience will be able to shed some light on the impact of emo from its point of underground popularity through its watershed moment and to the present, how it affected Jade Tree, and how it affected those who were assigned to the term, including Jade Tree. It’ll be another great addition to the book, which is really beginning to accumulate a number of great contributors!

The Promise Ring – “Is This Thing On?” (video):

Don’t (Touch and) Go

From the looks of a post early in the day by Stereogum, one would have thought it was the end of the aural world for fans of underground music. Although the reports later in the day dismissed the rumors that Touch and Go Records was finished; instead, the still dreadful news that the label will no longer be able to distribute the collections of numerous smaller labels and will be letting go of  20-person staff. Here is label head Corey Rusk’s statement:

“It is with great sadness that we are reporting some major changes here at Touch and Go Records. Many of you may not be aware, but for nearly 2 decades, Touch and Go has provided manufacturing and distribution services for a select yet diverse group of other important independent record labels. Titles from these other labels populate the shelves of our warehouse alongside the titles on our own two labels, Touch and Go Records, and Quarterstick Records.

Unfortunately, as much as we love all of these labels, the current state of the economy has reached the point where we can no longer afford to continue this lesser known, yet important part of Touch and Go’s operations. Over the years, these labels have become part of our family, and it pains us to see them go. We wish them all the very best and we will be doing everything we can to help make the transition as easy as possible.

Touch and Go will be returning to its roots and focusing solely on being an independent record label. We’ll be busy for a few months working closely with the departing labels and scaling our company to an appropriate smaller size after their departure. It is the end of a grand chapter in Touch and Go’s history, but we also know that good things can come from new beginnings.”

This is a big news story in many circles, and not just music fans. Touch and Go will be known for its service of providing and fostering a wealth of great artists, be they Jesus Lizard, Butthole Surfers, Big Black, Slint, TV on the Radio, Ted Leo, Pinback, !!!, Polvo, Bedhead, Naked Raygun, The Meatmen, Yeah Yeah Yeahs…. the list could go on.

Touch and Go logo

Touch and Go logo

In many ways, Touch and Go is a representation of a narrative of a time since passed, having turned from a seminal hardcore zine into a full-fledged independent label breaking some of the hottest oddball bands from the 80s until today… it grew to a tremendous point for a small operation, and without the need for “world domination” ideals and hype-mongering use and abused by what is arguably the other “big” independent American label today, Sub Pop. Despite it’s operation, Touch and Go remained in a low-down mindset similar to Dischord that was more about fostering a community than forwarding some music revolution agenda… no wonder Ted Leo found it to be a great place to call home.

Today’s event is remarkable only because whatever the mish-mash of events – be it the recession or downloading, etc – this is the first big-name, independent label that’s been hit in ways that hasn’t been publicized… meanwhile, it’s nothing but Armageddon talk with the majors. But unlike the majors, Touch and Go isn’t primarily a business, in that it’s all about the benjamins… it still sticks to its guns and original notions of putting out music. The changes at the label seem to be on level with that occurring at newspapers nationally, though with potentially better prospects: during boom-times, these entities grew to enormous proportions to fill a potential want/need, but now that there is no necessary need or ability to cover it, they must withdraw from their growth a little and focus on regrouping and the very idea holding their entity together. In the case of newspapers, it’s keeping the public informed; in the case of Touch and Go, it’s keeping the public artistically and musically endowed.

Obviously, the big loss is to all those labels who no longer have the distribution network and base that Touch and Go has/had. In years past, this could (and did) kill off many a smaller label, as record stores were a predominant method of selling music. However, with the tight network of online sales, the decline of record stores… this part basically writes itself. Still, some of the smaller labels might be in harms way. Perhaps not Jade Tree, the emo label that came to fruition in the 90s and brought emo acts such as The Promise Ring (who inversely helped bring Jade Tree some cred, as an earlier post states), Cap’n Jazz, Lifetime, Jets to Brazil, Texas is the Reason, as well as other bands such as… My Morning Jacket. Perhaps other labels like Kill Rock Stars, Merge, and Drag City may survive on their own. But what about Flameshovel, home to post-emo-ers Maritime? How about Robcore, home to Rob Crow’s 5,031 side projects? What will they do? Perhaps Southern Records, the European label of independent choice that has been helping small time record labels (notably Dischord) with distribution in Europe, could pick up key missing pieces. At this point, it’s too soon to tell… but hopefully, something will come to fruition for these tiny labels.

TV on the Radio – “Dreams” (video):

Double Double

In one corner, weighing in at 6 members is The Mae Shi, with support from The Death Set, at Great Scott.

The Mae Shi live

The Mae Shi live

In the other, pulling together as a duo is No Age, with a little help from High Places and Abe Vigoda, at the Middle East Downstairs.

No Age

No Age

It is a challenge to behold… For music fans of Boston, tonight’s concert calendar will have a tough choice, but either event will provide a winner. This may be a match for an individual’s night, but it is no way a battle between acts. This cavalcade of musicians rolling through town represents some of the brightest acts from the three pivotal underground music communities today.

The Mae Shi, No Age, and Abe Vigoda mastered their craft and honed in on their acts out in LA. There, they (along with a multitude of other acts) formed a community dedicated to furthering the boundaries of art and punk. It’s a living, breathing unit that can be seen in the 40 Bands 80 Minutes documentary (it is what it says – 40 bands performing 2 minute songs in a sweaty LA venue) or on any regular evening at The Smell, the all ages venue that No Age placed smack dab on the cover of their 2007 album Weirdo Rippers. With the critical acclaim these three acts – alongside peers such as HEALTH and Mika Miko – have been receiving, the LA underground scene has once again been thrown into the national music limelight.

The Smell

The Smell

Although LA has received a considerable amount of attention, so has Brooklyn (home of High Places) and, more than any other area, Baltimore (home of The Death Set). Forever cast in the shadows of nearby, larger areas (Baltimore has DC, and although Brooklyn is a part of NYC, Manhattan has always dominated the other burroughs), these tiny, seemingly-culturally deprived areas have burst with creative ingenuity in all forms of the arts. Baltimore has built an insular community to match its small sized, and has since been propelled to the national level thanks in part to the Wham City collective and its unofficial head Dan Deacon; in little pockets of a city that most residents have either forgotten or never cared about, out came a sprawling arts basin that seems as communally inbred as it is creative. Venture north a number of hours and you hit Brooklyn, itself a sprawling mass of space that’s cheaper – and therefore, more attractive to aspiring artists looking to make it in the big city. Any busted-up storefront could easily be turned into an art gallery or performance space, and a good number of them art (at least in the Williamsburg area). Out of it has formed numerous art-punk acts as wide spread, yet communally linked; TV On The Radio, Battles, Parts & Labor, and a ton of others all call this place home.

Baltimores Video Hippos at Brooklyns Death by Audio

Baltimore's Video Hippos at Brooklyn's Death by Audio

Both Baltimore and Brooklyn offer scenes that are in close proximity to areas of cultural resonance, but their chance location has given both places an almost-secluded quality which has allowed these communities to prosper and trade ideas amongst one another without the eye of the mainstream music world staring down upon them. LA, though a mainstream cultural capital in its own respect, is so spread out that over the past few decades, it has allowed for numerous musically-based culture movements to spawn and spread out of little pockets in the vast city side and across the suburban sprawl. These communities are created and developed in the guise of complete creativity, without the influence and impact of commercial interest to hinder, attract, or distract anything or anyone from the ultimate goal of creation. These qualities are the typical stamp-of-approval for the development of underground art communities in the US; the resources are there in almost every location in America, but it takes a special formula of location, individuals, and atmosphere to make it work.

This is an important aspect of the development and continued thriving of emo as an underground cultural force. It’s still one that drives the many different voices of emo in its current underground status. True, emo has become a fashionable commodity, but it doesn’t mean that it hasn’t continued to thrive as an underground culture, one separate from its mainstream state. It’s the ideas of creativity and independence that the innovators of the culture imbued into its artistic essence that not only kept emo in the underground for so long (around 15-17 years, depending on when you choose to mark its beginning and entrance into the mainstream). When what became known as “emo” began in the ashes of DC’s hardcore scene, a good chunk of the punk music community scorned it as hardcore had yet to hit its dramatic fall on the national level. DC was (and in many ways, still is) ignored by the music industry as an important place, so emo transformed, unfettered by outsiders and made for the better by community members. As Fugazi became the scene’s main touring act and magnet, their sound became a beacon to anyone looking beyond the convention of punk and broadcast a vibrant and diverse aural image of emo around the world.

Fugazi

Fugazi

From there, communities outside of the insular DC scene began to form around the idea of emo. The strongest cross-state emo community to arise didn’t occur until the mid 90s. While connections formed among artists from different scenes (Sunny Day Real Estate and Shudder To Think as touring partners comes to mind), the mid 90s provided a time when scenes across the country formed their own little pockets and ideas of emo, yet would come together to share them. Outside of DC (which added Chisel and The Dismemberment Plan to their list), the East Coast had pockets of sound; NYC had Texas Is The Reason, New Jersey had Lifetime, Boston had Karate and Jejune (who later moved to California), and down in Florida (if you want to count it as the East Coast) there was Hot Water Music.

Mineral

Mineral

But the mid 90s and emo will forever be associated with the Mid-West, where the bands were as connected to their hometown scenes as they were with the rest of the middle-country-divide. Cap’n Jazz, The Promise Ring, Jimmy Eat World, Mineral, Christie Front Drive, Braid, The Get Up Kids, Boy’s Life, and dozens more upon hundreds of those which may never be heard by the masses have formed a dominant portrait of a land and time in the emo narrative. The places they came from are all different and so are their ideas, but they all came together to form a variety of sounds that continue to exist within popularized forms of emo today. Consider it the time of multiculturalism in underground American punk. While the national hardcore scene transformed local sounds into one big rule-based notion of musical defiance summarized in a minute and a half of screams and thrashing guitars, the mid 90s Mid-West emo scene allowed for individual pockets to develop their version of emo undeterred by outsiders all while coming together to form bonds and trade ideas to enhance their individual perspectives. This can be seen in everything from split singles on vinyl (such as the Jimmy Eat World/Christie Front Drive split that attracted the attention of Captiol Records) to a shared creation of lyrics (The Promise Ring’s “Picture Postcard” attributes some lyrical content to Braid’s Bob Nanna), to simple ties of friendship that extend past inter-state routes. Just as the movers and shakers of today’s underground music scenes breach state lines to form communities while continuing to build their local ones, emo became a strong presence throughout America before it became a mainstream phenomenon. Those connections kept it a living, moving center of a community, and that notion continues to drive like-minded individuals who operate under whatever label they choose to this very day.
No Age – Eraser

The Mae Shi – Vampire Beats (video):

Lawrence And Cambria

Lawrence of Arabia is one of those movies your told, nay instructed, to see if you enjoy film of the sort. I knew it was epic, but I had no idea how epic until the big, bold “Intermission” stood on screen about two and a half hours in. Planning an intermission in your film? Now that’s epic. All told, I walked into Coolidge Corner Theater around 7 and left after 11. And the movie was everything I thought it would be, and not quite what I expected. The cinematography was wonderful – big, sweeping shots of the desert right from the get-go. The acting wasn’t overwhelming, just was simply well done through and through. It wasn’t action-for-action shots throughout the three-plus hours, but the tension that built on the screen boiled over in every image, making the time pass by without a stir. And its connections to real-time concerns with what’s going on in the Middle East today was, well, more than simple good planning. Every detail was meticulously pondered over, and for an epic effect.

The real T.E. Lawrence

In the world of emo, nothing is more epic than New York’s Coheed & Cambria. It certainly helps that the world is of no concern to the band; their four concept albums span a web of narratives in an alternative universe created by frontman Claudio Sanchez and the group itself is named after the story’s two protagonists. Throw in Sanchez’s alien-like falsetto, the band’s taste for grand prog instrumentals that span into the double digits, and a narrative that transcends tales of love at its very best, and you’ve got something downright epic in the emo scene now over-run with three-chord pop-punk flavored anthems.

Coheed & Cambria share some similar stylistic elements to emo forefathers Sunny Day Real Estate (most notably the unheard of falsettos shared by their frontmen and the melding of progressive instrumentation), though Coheed is at an absolute extreme to Sunny Day. Coheed are otherworldly by comparison; their concern with matters of an alternative universe (one which Sanchez has plotted out in comic book form), their instrumentals run at sometimes-comical lengths and include too many time signature changes to account, and their musical aesthetics are more connected to the realm of New Jersey’s Lifetime than any DC Dischord act. It’s so absurd, yet so unrelentingly plausible and popular that it makes for the most epic sound in modern emo and on the top of the Billboard charts.

Coheed & Cambria

Personally, I’ve had a hard time getting into Coheed’s last two albums. For some reason, whatever I listen to just seems devoid of the same cathartic expression and passionate performance of Second Stage Turbine Blade and In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3. Sure, some of the lengthier tracks on Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV Vol 1 run the gamut of musical menageries, but at some point the album seemed too absurd for its own intentions. It’s an excellent case for and against the idea of epic. When it all comes together in a creative and ingenious manner (see “Everything Evil” off Second Stage) it works wonders. But too often the beast becomes to big for its own good, and end in and of itself that is impressive more for its size than content; it loses the fresh vigor and zeal that drove it to such a passionate beginning. Coheed is traveling a fine line between both worlds. It’s not quite Lawrence of Arabia, but thankfully nowhere near Epic Movie.

Coheed & Cambria – Devil In Jersey City