Instead of interviewing a band, the .Org's Jesse decided that Seventh Rule founders Scott and Cara Flaster deserved to have their voices heard as well. This interview was composed through a series of e-mails.
Jesse has provided the site with reviews for The Scar Is Our Watermark from Thoughts of Ionesco, Breathe FIre from Raise the Red Lantern, and The Unquiet Sky from Indian, City Of The Stars from Akimbo: all released through the label.
How did you get started? What inspired you to start a label?
C: We were influenced by what was going on around us. Heavy music was changing, we felt there was a need for a label in Chicago to put out all of the heavier bands that were popping up. Chicago had the indie labels, the punk labels, the hip hop labels, the hardcore and grindcore labels. But no label to put out bands that were more rock influenced, the bands with riffs so to speak, so thatâs where we came in.
S: I felt that all the heavy labels were located on the coasts, with Hydrahead and Relapse on the East Coast, and Century Media and Southern Lord on the West Coast. Every single band came through Chicago, so why not form a heavy label with a home base of Chicago. Sure there were other labels here… but we wanted to be focused and not too eclectic. I can't see us ever putting out a power pop record. But going on… Sweet Cobra had just started to play shows and we were really impressed every time we saw them. This was the Fall of 2003… They had this sound that was heavy with a groove like Sabbath and Neurosis, but then had this distortion dirtiness much like Black Flag and Unsane. It worked amazing. We approached them about doing a record, they were stoked on our ideas, and six months later the "PRAISE" album was released as SRULE01. We are now hitting our Eighth full release and I can safely say that our releases still groove heavy with gobs of distortion…
What sort of business goes into starting a small label? What does a small label actually do, besides adding a decal to the back of a CD?
C: Scott and I both have backgrounds in the biz from all sides, so I think having that knowledge to start was good. From day one you need money and contacts, contacts, CONTACTS. Um, we do A HELL of a lot more than stick a label on the back of a CD! We do everything a major label does and more, we just don't see the same volume or money. We also don't steal from our bands! And there only two of us doing it, ALL OF IT - Our responsibilities include every aspect of releasing an album and supporting a band -- going to shows constantly (every night of the week sometimes) checking out bands / trends in music, pay for and arrange recording / mastering sessions, assist with layout and artwork for CD/LP inserts, write band bios, work with CD / LP plant for pressing, purchase supplies for mailings, print mailing labels, package CDs, mail promos, send e-mails to press contacts, set up interviews for bands, coordinate photo / video shoots, constantly search for new contacts, solicit distros for orders, shipping orders out for mailorders and distributors all over the world, do follow ups with press people through e-mail etc., post on music boards / forums online, assist bands with setting up shows and tours etc., manage / design the website, design / print flyers, posters and pins and get drunk with the right people and be at the right place at the right time. And about a million other things that I can't think of right now.
Is it worth it?
S: I enjoy it most of the time. You really have to enjoy seeing a project to completion, and it can feel pretty good when things turn out great. Yet, there is no flash and glamour on this side of the business, it's dirty and shitty, but I love doing it. As much as you have given me room here to bitch about what isn't worth it and what sucks about the biz, I am going to refrain from saying anything negative. The day we don't want to deal with it anymore we will stop. I WILL SAY that there are a bunch of people that I would love to shove into a rocket and shoot it into the sun.
C: Yes and no. It depends on how you measure success, for me it changes daily! At the end of the day you rarely break even, and it's frustrating when you go through all of that hard work and magazines and local publications in your own town don't review your records, or one of your bands breaks up or decides not to tour. When I go to see one of our bands play and I realize it's a room full of people I don't know, to me it's worth it. Not to say that our bands couldn't have existed without our help, but it scares me to think that these bands might not have records out right now if it wasn't for us. When we get mailorders from Argentina, Norway and Japan it really makes me stop and think about what we're actually doing. It's not about fame and fortune, its about connecting with people and giving them what they want.
What background do you have in the music biz?
C: Worked for labels, band management and publicity, managed record store, promoted shows, worked for my college radio station of course, - and tons of smaller DIY stuff that seems irrelevant now but I guess in some way every little bit gets you somewhere.
S: This is the first record label I have worked for, but I did own a record store in Michigan! I have been playing in bands and working at DIY clubs for the last ten years and dealing with Indie labels. I have been treated very good at times, but I have also been screwed over. I try to take the good and bad of those relationships and apply it to Seventh Rule. So some where between owning a record store and working at Fireside Bowl, lies the learning curve…
How do you pick the bands you want to put out on your label?
C (joint answer): Seventh Rule in many ways is an exhibition of the kind of music we both love. (We never sign bands we don't like as part of a business deal or a way for us to make money, we will never understand these indie label moguls that never even go check out the bands on their own label.) But we do take the business questions into consideration - like checking references - do they tour, are they nice guys, do people like them, do they self promote, are they well connected? All of those things play a part.
Seventh Rule just released a sort of collection of songs and a DVD from Thoughts of Ionesco. How did that come about?
S: Since the time they broke up in 99, I still have conversations with people on the subject matter that if IONESCO still existed they would destroy all this faux metal that you see on the new generation of "Headbanger's Ball." When they were at their best, they were way ahead of their time and I constantly felt my personal health was in danger at their shows… IONESCO's "…And Then There Was Motion" and "Skin Historic" were some of the finest albums to come out of Michigan. I saw that they had both gone out of print and were remaining on ITUNES only. I got in contact with Sean from IONESCO and we just started talking about how awesome it would be for those records to be physically reissued. When the records were originally released, they were never properly mastered and some of the recordings sounded thin. This was a perfect chance to make that change. It seemed that instead of reissuing, a better idea would be to release a definitive collection of songs. That's the CD. The DVD started out as two videos that were going to be on an enhanced CD. Sean and I just started bouncing ideas off each other, people were interviewed and out all of a sudden the "For An End" documentary existed. Sean did all the editing himself and I am pretty stoked on the final product.
C: Scott -- do you really want to say 'faux metal that you see on the new generation of Headbanger's Ball' ? Could be controversial…its not ALL faux metal, just 99.9% of it is.
S: Ok, change it to:
"if IONESCO still existed they would destroy 99.9% of all this faux metal that you see on the new generation of "Headbanger's Ball."
Yeah, I saw a Judas Priest video on that for their new album when I was flipping through channels one night. What're your goals for the label?
S: Wow, goals and Judas Priest in the same question! I would definitely love to be able to release an LP version to every release we do. I guess that is a financial goal?
C: I think the ultimate goal is to stay true while keeping our heads above water. We just want to put out records and we want people to buy them. As long as that keeps happening, we'll be in business.
If you could pick any band right now that you'd absolutely love to release an album by, who would it be?
S: I would love to put out a Split LP with Hank Williams III and Assjack. Except it would be a double groove on each side with the tracks running next to each other. That would be amazing.
C: I would choose High on Fire or Mono. Both bands maybe very different sound wise, but both captivate their fans and are absolutely majestic.
A few questions - who does your distribution? How did you get hooked up with them? Any advice for new labels looking for distribution?
S: We have been pretty lucky with distribution. It's been a mix of distributors soliciting us, and sometimes us bugging the hell out of a distributor to carry our releases. There are some good ones, and there are some that won't pay you until you let them return the releases that don't sell. It's all business, so no surprises. I would advise that when you are starting out, there is such a thing as too many distributors.
What was it like signing Akimbo only to see them get picked up by Alternative Tentacles?
C: When one of the bands you work with is picked up by a label like A.T., it's like the biggest compliment in the world. Especially since it's a label that's still keeping it real, not some stupid major label. With Akimbo, we knew that it was just a one off thing with the vinyl release of Elephantine and the City of the Stars CD, we never work with bands thinking that they're going to be with us forever. We hope they branch out and have more opportunities and that we can help them along the way.
S: We were actually in Seattle at the time when they told us. I believe the conversation went "Hey Jello asked us to do the next Akimbo album on AT, but we got you on the list for the Neurosis show tomorrow night!" I was and am still pretty stoked for them. Alternative Tentacles have always went against the trends and left others going, "Why are they putting that band out?" Jello has a good ear for that. Years later, the bands are legends…
Do you regret anything about the label? Do you wish you could change something?
C: I regret that there are so many people out there who don't have a clue about what we're doing and how amazing our bands are. With all of the crappy new metal bands out there, and all of these pseudo / wannabe underground heavy bands, and major labels posing as indie labels with alias names with thousands of dollars behind them…fuck…it's like there is no underground anymore. I just wish that we had a little more money and a little more power to get our bands the recognition they deserve. The bands on Seventh Rule are FUCKING REAL. They are the bands that these other bands are trying to be. I also wish that more booking agents out there would take a chance on our bands. They do fine booking themselves, but they deserve better, I regret that we can't reach in our pockets and give that to them.
S: No regrets here. Throwing some hindsight in the mix, I think when some of our bands approached us about doing a record I should have said "Ok, go play 30 days on the road, then we can talk." When you are a growing label you are always willing to take chances because you have nothing to lose. I was really worried about the INDIAN record. I was worried that it was going to get lumped in with the Stoner Rock genre. I didnt want to be a Stoner Rock label, basically because I prefer whiskey over weed and already own the essential Black Sabbath sounding records I need, which are performed by… Black Sabbath.So I was worried that we would end up with this swampy doom record, but Sanford (Volume Recording ) didn't let that happen. The record came out amazing! It is probably my favorite record that we have done, strictly on the fact that I didn' t know what to expect on first listen, and I can still listen to it and pickup something I didn't hear within it before.
What are your upcoming plans?
C: Right now we're re-vamping, re-grouping, re-organizing. We have a lot of ideas up our sleeves about how we want to operate, and operation changes at this stage are very necessary. We can't give out too much info right now, we just need to do more. We just want to keep this thing alive for as long as we possibly can.
S: New INDIAN record next year for sure, might even do a vinyl only release. A couple other surprises up our sleeves too…
What's your take on the current state of the major label music industry and words like "emo" getting introduced into the mainstream vernacular?
C: Well, I use "emo" to describe most things I hate so that doesn't bother me really. But my favorite is when a corporate label describes one of their bands as "indie" - WTF? And "alternative" - what the hell is alternative now in the year 2006? But being a huge hardcore and metal fan when I was younger (10+ years ago before the term "metal-core" existed) it totally creeps me out. It makes me even more nervous now that "prog-metal" "doom" and "stoner rock" are terms starting to appear in the mainstream. Corporate labels pick up on everything "cool" and "underground" eventually and exploit it. Nothing is sacred anymore. I just wish corporate labels would stick to what they do best, like pop and r&b and stay away from more extreme or cultural forms of music like metal, punk, country, rap, and hardcore. They are ruining genres of music and putting indie labels out of business. In my opinion, mainstream music is at its absolute worst right now. Have you turned on the radio lately? It's like they take something original and good and make it awful.
S: In the mid-nineties, I saw what major label involvement did to indie bands such as Jawbreaker, Seaweed, and Jawbox. Having enough time in the studio allowed these bands to arguably make the best records they ever did. Funny enough, it was the last records they ever made.