I guess everyone into good and honest Hardcore is aware of Livewire Records, one of the most sincere and best Hardcore labels around these days. Livewire is a classic Hardcore label in my opinion. Here's some words that come to my mind when I think about Livewire: Dedication, honesty, great music and bands, merchandise, first press coloured vinyl, run by great people. So it was a great opportunity when to do an interview with Pete Russo, one of the guys behind Livewire Records. Before we get to the interview, I wanna thank Pete for his fast, lengthy and - most importantly - interesting answers. Furthermore, I wanna thank Ed McKirdy for also answering (and for Hands Tied, one of my favourite old school Hardcore bands ever) and Tim McMahon (reasons see Ed). Let's go:
Hey Pete, how are you doing? It's really cool for me to do an interview with you as Livewire Records is one of the best and probably most sincere labels out there in my eyes! Do you have any introduction to start this interview off with?
Hey Stefan... I guess I'd like to start by saying thank you for the opportunity. Those are some pretty kind words, I hope we can live up to them. So yeah, my name is Pete and I basically handle all the operations for Livewire, and countless other activities like sorting Mouthpiece shorts, making sure The First Step packed their merch the night before a show, and scheming with Geoff TDT.
Even though I think that might be a bit boring for you I nevertheless think it would be interesting how everything started with LWR? What was the idea behind the label in the first place? You told me before that every band and every member of your bands is a good friend, so was that the intention behind starting a label, to release all your friend's music?
Ed McKirdy (Prohibition, The Suppression Swing, Hands Tied, Face The Enemy, Je Suis, Triple Threat) actually began the label when he moved to Southern California sometime around 1998. Local favorites and close friends, Eleven Thirty-Four had been asked to play a reunion show in an effort to raise money for a friend who had come on some hard times. Before breaking up, Eleven Thirty-Four had recorded 3 new songs that were far and away the band’s best material. With the show only weeks away, Ed asked them if he could release these songs as a very limited edition 7” to be sold at their show. After a handful of releases by bands like The Third Degree and John Henry Holiday, Ed moved to Brooklyn, NY, where he now lives. I actually live in Washington, DC, so there's quite a distance between us, but we manage to make it work. Every band that calls LIVEWIRE home has some close connection to either Ed or I. A real connection and good working-relationship are very important things to us, and having been, or becoming friends with a band, really just makes a huge difference. It's often misperceived an "exclusion," but that couldn't be further from the truth... The proof is the vast number of kids, here and abroad that are into what we do, and vice versa. We've made so many friends through the label, it's honestly the most rewarding part of it all. There's so many labels out there that have done what we're doing, so it's really nothing new; just look at late-80's Revelation Records, early-Dischord Records, even Saddle Creek Records or K Records... All great labels comprised of friends helping friends realize their own vision.
How many people are currently working at LWR? How did you get in touch with all those people? I guess they're friends of yours, too?
There's quite a few individuals who help us out on a regular basis... We all kind of share the workload of different responsibilities, but in particular, Tim McMahon, Vikki Agovino, Brian "Gordo" Jordan, Jeff Simms, Traci McMahon, Brian Froustet, Geoff TDT, Joe Nelson, Pablito at Everlclear Records, the list goes on... But for the most part, those are the people who really just above and beyond the call of duty when Ed and I need a hand. I'm sure I'm forgetting someone too, my apologies...
I could imagine that it is pretty difficult making a living from running LWR, so do you have other jobs as well, are you studying etc.? How do you manage all the work with the label?
LWR never intended to be some sort of livable-wage for any of us, we all have a lot of other goals in life, aside from music, so it would be difficult to focus on just LWR anyhow. Ed is in graduate school right now at the School of Visual Arts in NYC for graphic design. I'm a double-major in graphic design and studio art at American University in Washington, DC. I also do a lot of freelance and odd-jobs for friends and artists in the area. Scheduling is probably the hardest aspect of running a record label. Somehow, we make it work.
I read on the LWR board a post from Ed (or Pete?) that the TFS / DC European tour was hard to book, so do you also do the whole booking for your bands on your own? Or do you just book the US shows and work with a European booker?
That tour in particular was a REAL difficult one to book... This dude, Bert, from Silverstar Tours approached us and was taking care of everything, it was almost too good to be true, and well... He inevitably bailed on everything and left TFS/DC with a bunch of shows, half a booked tour, a crazy schedule... These nice folks in England, who were already handling the shows in the UK, ended up lending a hand and organizing the rest of the tour, for which all of us are eternally grateful. In the end, both bands had an awesome time and the response was more than I honestly think any of us would have even hoped for. All our bands primarily take care of booking their own shows. None of our bands are what I would consider "full-time bands," so it's easiest to manage schedules, etc if each band handles their own shows.
TFS and DC are all sXe (and as I am sXe, too, I think that's pretty cool, haha), so would you only sign bands for LWR who are sXe or is that not important for you if a band is sXe or not?
Almost everyone involved with LWR is vegetarian and straight edge, but it's neither a prerequisite, nor necessary for a band to be straight edge to be apart of LWR. With LWR, if you're sincere about what you do, no matter what you do, and are willing to work hard, then that's all we ask. It's certainly cool to hear from new bands who claim each lifestyle, but I can speak for everyone when I say that we embrace all walks of life.
Jeff Terranova from Smorgasbord told me that the fact that more and more people download music from the internet made it harder for him to keep the label going. What's your opinion concerning these issues, are you affected by these things as well? I often have the impression that Hardcore labels aren't so much affected by downloads because the records come with a great layout and the music's great, too, so people wanna have an original copy. What's your opinion?
Well, I think there's a case to be made for each side... A lot of labels, K Records for instance, are embracing the MP3 craze. If you email them, they'll send you an MP3 from any release you want. Team Love Records offers complete downloads of all their releases, with no catch. With the underground, it's always been about "quality over quantity." And I think if you put a lot of time and effort into your layouts, design and packaging, you're bound to reach kids who will inevitably cherish your hard work, the same as you. The only labels that I think are really being hit hard by MP3 downloading are major labels. I know that I personally buy a ton more records now than I ever have, purely because the internet allows you to evaluate and experience a band before you invest in them. It's just another test to see who's really worth it out there, basically. And if you care about something, then you should support it. A kid who downloads all our releases and considers themselves a "supporter" is not someone I want owning our hard work anyhow. Someone like that doesn't deserve to own our releases. This is just history repeating; people freaked out when recordable cassettes hit the market, too. I don't worry about it, is what I'm saying, basically.
How did you manage to put out a record in the first place? I guess there are so many things that you have to have an eye on, so where did you learn that from? Did you ask other labels how they are handling things?
With everything you do in life, it's trial and error. You learn by doing. That's the only honest answer. Because once you think you've got something figured out, you hit another wall just around the bend, and you just continue to deal with it and learn from it. With records in particular, a lot of it has to do with observation. You see how other labels operate, the kind of promotion they believe in, even the prices they set... There are, without a doubt, 4-5 record labels' websites I check out on a daily basis, just to keep up to speed on everything. Keeping your ear to the ground is really important. Time and effort ar the most important aspects of releasing a record, that shines through, and people will value it. There's no set of rules or guide to learn that from.
As you said all the bands on LWR are friends of yours I could imagine that there are no real contracts with them? How do you handle that? And how about the recording sessions, do you pay for them and then hope to get the money back from the sales of the records?
Well, actually, we do have contracts in most circumstances. It's not about having someone by the tail if there's an argument, but just about having a clear game plan, organized and plain-to-see on paper. It's just easiest this way because we are all busy, we all have tons of things going on all the time, and if I'm making dinner with my girlfriend I probably don't want to be explaining to Izzy what percentage of a t-shirt sale TFS receives. It's not about being impersonal whatsoever, it's quite the opposite. It's more about sticking to a game plan, setting your goals, and working hard for everyone involved. With recordings, merchandise, CD sales... everything; we firmly believe in the 50/50 profit share. LWR pays for everything up front, no matter what a band chooses to do, as long as they're willing to work hard in return. After all expenses are repaid, we split all profits right down the middle. We've always operated this way and it's worked out great for LWR and the bands. I can't imagine doing it any differently.
Talking about sales figures, how many copies do you approximately sell by each record you release and which record sold the most until now? I could imagine that would be TFS, right?
TFS is probably the top-seller. The "Open Hearts..." CD is in it's third-press now. As far as numbers, I don't really want to discuss that. If people want something, we'll have it for them. Simple supply and demand.
How is it to work with Matt from Running Like Thieves who was in the legendary Bold? Isn't it like a dream come true to work with someone who was in one of the most popular sXe Hardcore bands at the time and how did you get in touch with him?
Matt is an awesome guy. One of the most down-to-earth, affable guys you'd ever want to meet. From what I can recall, Tim and Ed had heard about his new band, Running Like Thieves, a few years back... They simply approached him and wanted to know if he was looking to release a record... The rest kind of just fell into place. He's another example of the friendships we've made through the label. I mean, we're probably the biggest bunch of BOLD fans on earth, but it's totally casual and fun just hanging out with him in K-Town, sharing a meal or talking music. It hit me a few years ago when he asked "So what did you get for Christmas?" I was like, wow. We're all just hanging out. Just like any group of friends would...
And what about the Insted live record that's coming out in the near future on Livewire, how did that happen? I was totally psyched when I heard that an Insted live record is on the way as they only played shows in the US, and to hear that it's coming out on one of my favourite labels made things even better, haha. I guess you must be pretty psyched, too, to release something from the mighty Insted?
INSTED asked TFS to play the east coast dates, and I mean, it doesn't take a rocket surgeon to understand how incredibly excited we all were. We'd worked really hard to make sure the shows were promoted well and that kids knew how important this really was to all of us. When those guys came over, it was just magic. Everyone instantly got along and had a good time. Rich from INSTED offered us the chance to do the vinyl-version of Indecision's upcoming "Live at CBGB's" CD. We're incredibly excited for this release... It's the perfect way to document one of the best weekends I can even remember.
On the "Who we are" page on your website I saw that both you and Ed played in a couple of Hardcore bands in the past, and one of the most prominent is surely Hands Tied. I was (and still am!) totally into that band, so I was pretty bummed when they split up. Hey Ed, what was the reason for that? I mean Tim is involved with LWR, too, so why didn't you go on with Hands Tied, hehe? Are there any unreleased Hands Tied songs?
ED: Hey man...thanks for the kind words about Hands Tied. When Hands Tied returned from our tour in Europe (which was AWESOME for us) we just sort of ran into a wall. Not to mention that the Hands Tied vision became blurred for certain members so we just decided it would make more sense to put the band to rest before things got too out of hand. There are about six or seven Hands Tied songs which were written but were never recorded; they were set to be released on a Hands Tied LP called "Gagged And Bound" which would come out on Equal Vision. Sadly these songs have yet to see the light of day and most likely never will (Aaaaahhh, come on, I love Hands Tied, so I'd love to hear these songs, and I don't think I'm the only one... - Stefan). But...Tim and I are at it again with a new band called Triple Threat. If you were into Hands Tied maybe you would dig Triple Threat. We don't sound the same but we are definitely still hardcore and definitely still straight edge. Thanx again!
Talking about Tim McMahon, is he the main man behind Double Cross design or are you also involved?
Tim is, indeed, the main man behind Double Cross. It began as a concept for a zine, which will hopefully surface again one day. He had all these ideas floating around for t-shirts, etc. We all put a helping hand in, but it was definitely Tim's project. Here's what he has to say:
"I remember the first time I saw the ads for those Stepforward Records "Drug Free Youth" shirts, I just thought they were the coolest things. I also remember seeing Chris Daily of Smorgasbord selling Smorgasbord Straight Edge shirts in the parking lot of City Gardens. It was probably a Chain Of Strength show, I remember loads of people piling up at Chris's trunk to buy the new Smorgasbord threads. Then there were those Positive Peer Pressure shirts, anybody around during the late 80's remembers those things. All of these shirt designs were simple and to the point, yet really cool looking and for the most part, remembered as classics even today. Fast forward to 16 years down the line and here you have a kid that's still impressed by those t shirt designs of yesterday. I think it was roughly 1996 when I first conceptualized the idea of starting Double Cross. Just like people who do bands are influenced by other bands, I was influenced by those Stepforward, Smorgasbord and Positive Peer Pressure shirts of the past. With Double Cross I wanted to create designs that would make statements, maintain a classic look and simply release some of my creativity. Finally with the help of Ed and Pete at Livewire Records and Per-Oskar from Norway's Damage Control, Double Cross has come to life."
How did you get involved in Hardcore and sXe and do you think that the old school youth crew sound will make a comeback? I really hope so, and with bands like TFS and their impact on the kids I think it could happen, what do you think?
Gordo had everything to do with me getting involved with hardcore and straight edge, and that is something I am eternally grateful to him for. We grew up in your typical suburban nightmare of a town, and bored kids find things to occupy their time... Some choose drugs or drinking, sports, art, whatever... We just happened to find hardcore and punk rock far more interesting.
What's your favourite label and why?
Oh, jeeze... That's a tough one. There are a few labels that I respect, for many different reasons. So I couldn't list one, but I definitely admire Bridge 9, Saddle Creek, Jade Tree, K Records, Malfunction, Tarantulas Records, Deathwish and more.
In each of your Top Ten lists I found Morrissey, and I thought that was kinda cool. I mean so many people in the Hardcore scene (including myself) are into Morrissey/The Smiths, so I'm curious what makes him so special for you and why do you think is he so popular in the Hardcore scene?
I think people who are naturally propelled towards good music will inevitably uncover and find new and interesting takes on the whole experience. I know Morrissey and The Smiths hold a lot of weight for everyone at LWR. Stephen TFS even has a Morrissey tattoo! Whether it was a love of music, some hard times we fell upon, or a simple recommendation, we all found Moz/Smiths unsurpassable in terms of their influence, endless creativity and emotional connection.
What do you think about reunions in the Hardcore scene like the Insted reunion shows or Youth of Today?
We all had fun, we all got to sing along to some of our favorite songs. Reunions aren't some new idea. I don't think a single year has passed where some band hasn't done a reunion set or two. No one is making money on any of this, that's just plain ignorance. The expense of a weekend of shows is far beyond what any of these guys were being paid. I think most kids were upset because they need a place to lay blame or point the finger, simply because of their dissatisfaction with hardcore, or their lives, otherwise.
How long do you think LWR will/can go on? Do you think that you will always be involved with the label or that someday the label could go on without you?
We would love to do this as long as possible. It is by far, the most rewarding and educating experience I've ever had. We're making plans already to ensure that even once we're all out of school or moving on to other things, that the label will survive. I don't see much changing in the future, however. You don't abandon the things you love.
What are your future plans with LWR? Which releases can we expect in the nearer future?
We just released TRIPLE THREAT's incredible debut 7-INCH/CDEP, "A New Chapter." If you haven't heard, it's a new band featuring Tim McMahon (Mouthpiece, Hands Tied, Face The Enemy), Ed McKirdy (Hands Tied, LWR), Aaron (The First Step, Reinforce), The Kreep (Eyeball) and Jason (Mouthpiece). They are just a great band, all around. Probably the best bunch of guys, amazing live show, powerful sound, and doing a kind of band none of them ever have before. Way more punk influenced, way more noisy, but still hardcore and still straight edge... The record will be out by the time kids read this, so check it out at www.livewire-records.com.
Here are a short list of projects we're currently working on...
THE FIRST STEP "What We Know" CD/LP
(Produced by Walter Schriefles)
MOUTHPIECE "Can't Kill What's Inside" CD/DVD Complete Discography
BOLD "Watch As Time Moves Past" Live LP/CD/DVD
INSTED "Live at CBGBs 2004" LP
THROUGH THE WIRE "TBA" CD/LP (feat. members of Tarantulas Records' THE STATIC AGE)
TRIPLE THREAT "TBA" CD/LP
PAGAN BABIES "Complete Discography" CD/LP
DAMAGE CONTROL "TBA" CDEP
I think we're at the end of this interview, hopefully you liked it and do you have anything to add? Thanks for taking the time answering my questions!
Thanks so much for the opportunity. I love zines (IMPACT, ahem) and consider them the most vital art of any scene... It's the only true documentation we have. No one else is going to write this history if we don't do it ourselves. Everyone should take a stab at it at least once. You've got nothing to lose. Aside from that, keep checking out www.livewire-records.com for updates and info on our bands and their new records. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have an questions or just want to say "Hi." Thanks again for the interview. Keep it together!