Thursday, June 25, 2015

Interview with Andrew McQuiston of Hydrogen Man Records and Dying

I'm always on the lookout for bands and labels that are doing things in a d.i.y. fashion, and a couple years ago I started hearing about this label Hydrogen Man Records from Philly, who seemed to have an affinity for 90's style straight edge bands. That's of course right up my alley, so when my band was getting ready to figure out how to release our last record, I sent the songs to Andrew, and to my great surprise, he was on board to help with the project. 

I had a chance to meet him last Spring when we did a weekend run to Philly and back, but as he booked the show, I didn't have all that much of a chance to chat it up with him, so I've been curious to pick his brain and get to know him a little better ever since. 

Anyway, his label has been on quite the hot streak, releasing or co-releasing stuff from Capacities, Jungbluth, Counter, Of Feather and Bone, and many more. For those unfamiliar, read on and learn about one of the best d.i.y. labels going.

I'm always curious to hear about people's background, so tell me a little bit about your family and where you grew up. Also, were art and music emphasized within your family as you were coming up, or did you start to gravitate towards that stuff on your own later in your life?

I grew up in Paoli, Pennsylvania, which is about 40 minutes west of Philadelphia.

Art and music were definitely always emphasized. My sisters and I all had to take piano lessons when we were little, and then encouraged to learn another instrument in elementary school (I learned trumpet and then started playing bass in middle school). I wouldn't describe either of my parents as very artistic, but my mom’s two brothers were both into painting and drawing when they were younger and my dad has a cousin who is a sculpture artist, so it was definitely something that they supported when I showed interest. But I think they also just raised us to be very well rounded people and growing up always encouraged my sisters and I to try new things. I ended up going to art school for graphic design and I can't say I would've done that had it been for their support. I remember peers of mine having their parents really be all about them going to a "good school" to get the best boring job they could and mine both knew I wanted to do something art related and just let that happen.

In terms of getting into punk and hardcore, what were some of the first bands you got into/shows you went to, and at what point would you say punk and hc started to become an important part of your life and identity?

I started getting interested in punk and hardcore when I was around 13. My best friend’s older sister introduced us to a lot of bands to check out. Minor Threat was probably the first and most influential on each of us. We both learned new instruments and started a band. Our demo tape was four songs, two of which were Minor Threat covers. I remember mostly only going to locals punk shows in the suburbs of Philadelphia until I was in high school and my parents would let me take the train into the city, so I don't really have any notable early shows besides some bands no one has ever heard that were from my area.

You did that band Bearings for quite a while who had more of an indie punk sound, and you guys released several records and toured quite a bit. What were the highlights and lowlights of that project and what would you say you learned from that band in terms of how you approach things?

Bearings was a really cool band for me. It started as a punk band with my friend John from college and a couple of friends he had done a straight edge hardcore band with. I think they wanted a break from hardcore so Bearings started out trying to sound like Jawbreaker/Small Brown Bike and just more straight forward punk. We ended up doing a lot of east coast and mid-west touring as well as a full US tour, a handful of shows in Canada, and a 10 day tour in the UK. I got to see a lot of places I hadn't been before, meet a lot of cool people, and eat vegan food at a bunch of the spots across the country I probably wouldn't have gone to before. Highest point - touring the UK. Lowest point - touring the UK (we lost a lot of money while over there - our van broke down on the first day, we mailed the majority of our merch over and it didn't show up until halfway through the tour, had a show fall through, etc.)

Your current musical project is called Dying, and you guys have done a tape or two, the split with Less Life and the split with Woodwork. Give us some background on the did you go from doing Bearings to doing something much more aggressive like Dying? Also, what's up next for you when it comes to writing, recording, touring, etc.?

This band was a project I had thought about doing for a while but it just had never really come to fruition. It actually formed out of meeting a couple friends who had only recently moved to Philly and only one of the original three other members on the demo are still in the band with me. Our guitarist, Andreas, had just moved into town from Cincinnati and had asked me about starting a vegan straight edge band, influenced by Unbroken, Catharsis, and Undying. Unbroken is one of my favorite bands and I was looking to do a new band so it kind of just worked out in terms of timing I guess. We got a practice space, wrote a demo, and our first show ended up being the first night of a four day weekend tour with Cloud Rat.

As far as what's up next, I'm not really 100% sure. Our van died and we've had a lot of bad band luck over the past year. Our vocalist is about to move to New Haven, CT to attend Yale's MFA sculpture program, so at the moment we are kind of taking things slow and will likely take a break from it. It's a drag but when doing a band becomes too much of a chore I think everyone begins to lose interest very quickly. We released a four song EP called "Broken" on Hydrogen Man in March that I think is some of my favorite material we have. It's pretty different than the demo, but I feel like represents us as people and as a band much more accurately.

With Dying slowing down, do you have plans to start up anything new musically, and if so, what might that sound like? With your wide array of interests in music, visual arts, politics, etc. what artists, writers, etc. are inspiring you these days that people should check out?

There was brief talks of doing something that would be somewhat of a continuation of Dying, with almost the same line up, but I don't know if that will actually pan out. I've also been talking to a couple friends about doing some kind of post-punk band. To be honest though I'm not really too worried about starting another band right away. I love playing music but I'm actually looking forward to dedicating more of my time to the label and personal projects.

In terms of what's been inspiring me lately, I'm drawing a blank so I think it might be easier to just list the handful of books / magazines on my night stand. They are mostly design related, with the exception of Lefebvre, but you can definitely argue some of what he said influenced art/design/architecture.

Printed Pages Magazine (

I'm curious to hear a little bit more of your take on the This is Hardcore Fest, which for a lot of more "mainstream" hardcore kids (for lack of a better word) has become sort of the defining fest in the country. When we played Philly back in May it kind of seemed like you had mixed feelings on what it does or does not contribute to the scene locally.

I actually think TIH is a pretty cool thing and it's something especially unique to Philadelphia (which might make me a little bias on my opinion on it versus other hardcore fest). I tend to only actually want to see a handful of the bands that play, but overall they always have a pretty wild line up with a wide range of bands, which I think makes it easy for people to get excited about.

Personally, I'm not really a big fan of fests, and this is mostly because of how crowded and overwhelming they can be. I would describe myself as more of an introvert and a huge show space like a fest can feel a lot less intimate. I prefer a regular 3-4 band show, but see the appeal of being able to come and see a ton of bands from all over the world at once. This is especially true for people from other countries who might not have a chance to see their favorite bands in their city.

Talk a little bit about your label Hydrogen Man Records. What was the impetus to start releasing records and what would you say is the central focus or main goal of the label?

I started Hydrogen Man Records in October, 2009 with a central focus on wanting to release material from punk and hardcore bands that were more socially conscious and politically motivated and who had a strong DIY work ethic. My first release was for a band called Bankrobber from Denver, Colorado, who I actually had met and played a show with the band I did prior to Bearings. Coincidentally, that same night I also met one of the guys in Of Feather and Bone, who I recently released a one sided LP for, when we got food after our show. I didn't realize he was in OFAB until I saw them play and recognized a tattoo of his, which I thought was kind of cool connection.

If you could release something for one current band you've never worked with, who would it be and why?

Ha, this is an interesting question. I'm not even really sure. There are a lot of really cool bands out there that I would be excited to work on a release with. I generally try to know someone in every band I work with personally, or at least know them through a friend, so that might limit me slightly.

You definitely embrace a very strong d.i.y. ethic and a lot of the bands you've worked with seem to have more of a socio-political slant. How important is that element to you and from your vantage point, are people in hardcore and punk receptive enough to social, political, and economic issues?

All my projects have always been very DIY and I think it's made a lot of what I've done much more rewarding. I've done the majority of booking for the bands I've been in that toured, I've screen printed and hand assembled most of my labels releases, I've printed a bunch of shirts and duplicated cassettes. Basically, every release I've done has had my direct involvement in its production and I find that to be a really great aspect of this label.

I think DIY an important element, but primarily just because I think it grounds people. When you work towards a project rather than just have it be handed to you, it really makes you more appreciative of the end result. And I think that's important in punk and hardcore. It's important for people to realize the amount of work that goes into a band or booking a show or putting out a record.

In terms of people being receptive to politics and social / economic issues, I really don't have a clear answer for this. I like to think most of my peers are relatively on the same level as me, meaning they oppose things like sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. But then I always get bleak reminders that we're all human and we are all capable of really terrible things, and those things are not excluded from the punk and hardcore scenes. This isn't a bubble and it would be naive to think people are always going to be on the same page as you.

The label and its artists seem to be getting some cool opportunities lately; Of Feather played the A389 bash and have been hitting the road hard, Falter seems to be getting out there a good bit, I know Counter is doing a run this summer....what's next for Hydrogen Man and where do you hope to see things moving going forward?

A lot of cool stuff is happening with various bands I've worked with and I think it's great. Of Feather and Bone is doing a ton of touring and has a new LP coming out relatively soon. I can't really speak to the new record yet since it hasn't been officially announced, but the label doing it is definitely a perfect fit for them and I'm really looking forward to it. Falter is working on a new EP that will be coming out on Hydrogen Man in the Fall most likely - I actually just saw some ideas for the art for this today and it looks great. I'm excited to be doing another release for them and I know they have plans to do some more touring in the near future as well.

Other stuff coming up includes a split for +HIRS+ from Philadelphia. It's still in the early stages, but I think there will be a cassette and 7" version available on both Hydrogen Man and another label. I'm also working on putting together a benefit compilation for this Fall that will hopefully raise some money for an animal rights organization. I did a similar comp in 2012 for Chenoa Manor Animal Sanctuary outside Philadelphia. I am hoping this one will have a lot of unreleased and new material from a collection of really cool bands, both on the label and friends of the label.

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