Monday, September 23, 2013

The Baker's Dozen #13...Evan Wivell from REACT! Records

As a straight edge kid, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for a good youth crew band…I mean, who doesn’t? However, as I’ve gotten older I must admit that the soft spot has gotten a little harder; it’s pretty easy for any band to throw on some X watches, play some completely generic, cookie-cutter spirit of 88 jams and immediately have a following (only to sell out 6 months or a year later). Seems too easy (and predictable) in most cases.

That said, I have been psyched on React Records from day one. Aram always struck me as an amazing guy; I absolutely loved both Champion and Betrayed, and what set React apart (aside from the crucial layouts and generally pretty legit bands) was the fact that there was always an insert with an essay in all their releases that encouraged compassion, critical thinking, etc.

Fast forward to about a year ago; the label was taken over by Evan Wivell from the ever-amazing Mindset. Being an old dude with a fam I haven’t had the chance to travel to any of the big fests to catch them (cough…come to Detroit!) but from photos and videos I’ve seen on the web as well as from people who have seen them, they are clearly the most explosively energetic band currently jamming the ‘core.

If you haven’t picked anything up from them over the last few years as the label has been picking up steam, here’s your wake-up call….this is the definitive straight edge label of our time.  

Describe how you stumbled into the punk and hardcore community. When did you know it was probably going to become a permanent fixture in your life?

With the exception of a few Green Day CDs I picked up in middle school, my first real introduction to punk was early in high school. I'm not really sure how or why, but at some point I stopped hanging out with the normal, boring, weekend party crowd and started driving to shows with Mike (who plays guitar in Mindset and has been my best friend for over 10 years) and his weirdo friends. Everything sorta spiraled out of control from there. I don't really remember what my perspective was at 16, but I'm still here and I'm not going anywhere.

What could have possibly prompted you to think it would be a good idea to start a money pit (record label)?

Good question! My story is unique considering I didn't actually start my label; I "inherited" it after it had already been established and operating fairly smoothly for a few years. I had been helping Aram (the guy who started REACT! Records) for a few months, initially with graphics and then eventually taking on more responsibility. I suppose I was being groomed for the role, but sometime towards the middle of 2012 he approached me about taking over ownership of the label. I had been involved for long enough to appreciate the financial reality of owning an essentially non-profit business, but running a label is so rewarding that I knew I would make it work one way or another. Deciding to take over the label was the product of my love for hardcore and my appreciation of what the label had done for me. I wanted to be the guy who kept the machine running.

When you consider signing/working with bands, how do you balance your own personal feelings towards the band and their music with what you see as the potential for the thing to actually sell a few copies and for you to recoup your money? Which generally takes precedence?

Without a doubt, my personal feeling towards a band takes precedence over any potential financial success. I only release records of bands I really care about and who I feel make a positive contribution to the legacy of the label and hardcore in general. I feel like my genuine enthusiasm for the band and the label's reputation for quality 'core will sell a few copies to people who understand and appreciate where we're coming from.

What gets you more stoked…..getting YOUR copies of a record in from the plant, or hearing the BANDS reaction to getting THEIR records from the plant?

I'm always very happy and very relieved when a completed project arrives at REACT! HQ, but there's nothing cooler than helping a band make a record a reality and having them be completely satisfied on the finished product. My relationship with REACT! had a huge impact on my life and being able to pass that down to other people, especially younger people, gets me fucking stoked.

In your experiences, what are the best places to press vinyl/get your jackets and inserts printed, and what are the worst places? Why?

Honestly I don't have a ton of experience with different pressing plants or printers. REACT! brokers all of our projects through a company called SAMO, and they've been incredibly helpful and dependable project after project. We press everything through Rainbo, and the quality of their vinyl is really great.

Your fairy god mother grants your wish and you get to put out a split with any two bands on the planet. Who shares the wax and why?

I've been dreaming of a WarXGames and Peace split 12". War and Peace. Get it? I think the idea speaks for itself.

Talk about the most frustrating and the most rewarding things about running a label.

Frustrating: Relying on people who don't share your passion/vision, being in debt. 
Rewarding: Approving test presses, having an idea grow into a tangible artifact.

For people who are considering jumping in and starting a label, what’s the one essential piece of advice you would give them?

Get a credit card. Really, my advice would be that you shouldn't start a label unless you're really committed to it, don't make promises you can't keep, and never lose sight of what is important: releasing good music from good bands. But seriously, get a credit card.

Talk a little bit about the changing of the guard at REACT! with Aram handing the label over to you. Was it a sudden decision or an idea that was floated and then gradually became a reality?

Like I mentioned earlier, I had been involved at different levels with the label for awhile before I took control. It was more of a slow transition, which was definitely a wise decision on Aram's part. There is a lot involved with running a label, with running a small business, and it’s not something I could have jumped into in one day. Long story short, I began helping out with different tasks, was eventually approached about taking over and given some time to think about it, and slowly took responsibility of the day to day operation of the label. I took ownership on October 1st of 2012, so almost exactly one year ago. 

One of my favorite things about how the label has operated in the past is that while fast, 80's inspired, youth crew hardcore has always been the heart of the label, there have also been sort of "left field" bands like Damages, Skin Like Iron and even Give & Remission to mix things up a bit. Going forward, do you intend to keep throwing in different flavors here and there or will the focus be more on youth crew oriented bands?

My focus is definitely on releasing records from the "classic" REACT! style hardcore band, although I've always appreciated the weirder releases that Aram dropped from time to time. I am very cognizant of the label's reputation, and it’s something I intend to maintain. However, I think the more unexpected releases strengthen the label's catalog. While Aram and I both find ourselves grounded in classic 80's hardcore, we obviously enjoy a wide range of musical styles. I would say that while Aram's taste leaned towards post-hardcore (Damages, Fell to Low), mine leans towards punk (WarXGames, Suspect). I consider the Angel Du$t 7" to be a bit of a departure from the norm, and I don't think many people saw that one coming.

One of the things that I personally lament the most about hardcore over the last decade or so but I'd say the past 5 years in particular is that there seems to have been a shift away from bands spreading a message of positivity and/or critical thinking to a whole slew of bands that seem to be nothing more than postured evil..... who can be more negative, more grim, etc. I'm curious what you think can be done (if anything) to shift that perspective a little bit towards something that emphasizes hardcore and punk as a space for progressive ideas, personal growth, etc.

I definitely agree with that observation, and I would consider running a record label that emphasizes positivity and substance to be a fairly substantial effort towards shifting the paradigm. The most I can do is promote the things I'm into, to help create music that I like and that adds something to the conversation. Regardless of what’s trendy at the moment, there will always be labels that stay true to the original ideals that make hardcore different than other genres of music.

Obviously you love every record you put out or you wouldn’t spend thousands of dollars on them, but let’s be real here; what’s the one record from your catalog that you listen to the most/that has the most value for you and why?

This probably sounds arrogant, but the most important record I've released is of my own band, MINDSET. Our LP, “Leave No Doubt”, was the first record I released as the owner of the label and being able to have complete control in the writing, design, production, and distribution of a record, from conception to birth, has been a dream of mine since I discovered punk. A close second is the new Caught In A Crowd 7", still in production, which is one of the first records of a band that has given me as much satisfaction as one of my own. They were the first band I signed when I took over, and watching that bands growth has been incredible. I see a lot of parallels between them now and the early days of MINDSET, and I know how awesome it was to be in their shoes.

On the theme “Baker’s Dozen”, what do you have cooking for the rest of 2013 and into early 2014? Give us a virtual taste of what we can expect from you.

Wrapping up 2013, we've got the much anticipated PRAISE LP (FFO: Turning Point, Dag Nasty, Verbal Assault), a 12" EP from So Cal’s SUSPECT (members of Tear It Up, Deep Sleep, Knife Fight), and a compilation 7" featuring 6 of today's coolest young and up-and-coming straight edge bands. This is the first public announcement of that comp, keep your ear to the ground for more info coming soon. 2014 is going to be a crazy year for REACT!, we've got lots of LP's and a mess of new signings, and more of what people have come to expect from REACT! Records.

Bedroom Finger-Pointing:
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