Talking vinyl with Justin Schwier of Underground Communiqué
Contributed by Ben_Conoley, Posted by Vinyl File

You're the lucky reader of the seventh edition of the Vinyl File. This column aims to keep you informed with upcoming releases as well as spotlighting interesting releases, your favorite band's own collections and labels with an history of vinyl releases worth talking about. As always, Vinyl File is brought to you by Ben Conoley.

This week's Vinyl File Spotlight features an interview with Justin Schwier founder of the Underground Communiqué label. Also below you'll find a list of some great upcoming vinyl releases from bands like the the Bled, This is Hell, Cancer Bats, Liars, Jason Webley and more.

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This week Vinyl File is pleased to bring you an interview with Justin Schwier, founder of Underground Communiqé Records. Justin has released fantastic albums from the likes of O Pioneers!!!, J Church and more. Read on to find out more about Justin and his label.

Tell me a little bit about your label and what you do.

The label was born out of a radio show I used to help run on the local community station WLUW. Initially the show was called Government Music, and I ran a short lived label aptly named that as well. I ended up taking over the radio show after that label folded and it sort of evolved from where it was when I started, so I changed the name. I came up with Underground Communiqué because, that's what the show was, literallyâ?¦it's also partly named after the Strike song "Communiqué." I knew I wanted to start another label and wanted both to have the same name, so I thought the name to be suitable for both projects, plus it does have a certain ring to it.

Contrary to, well, not popular belief, but general assumptions, I don't run the label as a job. I'm actually a Union Painter for Painter's Local 147 in Chicago, I work at a hotel and do the label after in my spare time after work and on the weekends. The label is only me. Chris from Shot Baker designs all my ads and flyers, my friend Bud hosts my websiteâ?¦

Were you into vinyl at all before you started Underground Communiqé Records?

Absolutely, I was raised on vinyl; I fall into that last generation gap of children that still from a very young age only knew vinyl and cassettes. I have a lot of memories sitting around listening to records with my Dad, but once I got into punk rock and hardcore as a teenager and a lot of bands I got into only had 7"'s so that was the startâ?¦then it just grew from thereâ?¦

What is it about vinyl that turns your crank?

I've had a lot of conversations with people about thisâ?¦there's something about having a physical object that you have to pay attention to, that you have to go through steps to get to it, to physically setting the needle on the record and being there to stop it and flip it overâ?¦something with that process makes the music more personal to me.

What made you decide to start up Underground Communiqué? Well, before I started UCR, I ran a label with another Justin called Government Music. We only did four releases(the Ambition Mission Discography, a Supersleuth Live CD, the Killing Tree demo CD and co-released the first Mexican Cheerleader CD with HeWhoCorrupts, Inc) and we stopped because we essentially ran out of money. I got laid off from my job and things sort of fell apart, it wasn't fair to have one person paying for everything in a partnership. About a year or so down the road, I had a more secure job and Mexican Cheerleader needed someone to do their next record so I stepped up, then things just fell into place from there. Haunted Life had a CD they wanted released, then Shot Baker asked me to do their first recordâ?¦the momentum just builds on it's own, for me at least. There are always bands out there that I think people should at least have the chance for people to discover; whether or not they'll buy the record isn't a deciding factor for me.

Were you hesitant at all to start a label when the majors are crying for mercy?

No, because essentially the majors have priced themselves out of business. When you're charging people $15-$19 for a CD that only costs, maybe $1 to produce, no wonder people have turned to downloading music illegally. Besides that, the overall quality of major label music has declined so much that no one who actually likes music wants to buy that shit anymore.

There will always be support for independent bands and labels. Always. The Do It Yourself ethos is not ever going to go away, there will always be people creating viable music outside mainstream cultureâ?¦and there will always be people who'll actually want to own records.

What about investing in vinyl as a format to release on?

I feel as though people who buy vinyl appreciate music on a different level, not more than anyone who doesn't buy vinyl, but differently. It's that you have this unique disc that is slightly archaic, but sounds better than any CD (to me at least, let's leave that debate for another day). There's more love and care put into them. Plus, more times than not, with colored vinyl, they're each unique in some way, and I've always liked that idea that even though the music is the same on all of them, the actual disc is unique for every single record. But at the same time records that are all one color, even black records, are beautiful to me too. I have more fun doing vinyl releases, which is why I've started to do more and more. I get more satisfaction

What are some records you've released on vinyl that you are particularly proud of?

Well, I hate to be cliché, but they all mean different things to me. The J Church /Minority Blues Band split was my first vinyl release, and they look awesome but also at the same time I'm thinking 'holy shit, I got to put out a J Church record!' Plus that record was with Minority Blues Band from Japan, I thought it was really an honor to do a record for them as well. The second split I did is with this great band Sound on Sound who I've liked for a long time. I've done two splits for J Church and I'm still in awe.

The Shot Baker / Vacation Bible School split is awesome because it was born out of a show the two bands played together where VBS covered the Vindictives and the Shot Baker guys freaked out and that night they started talking about covering them too then somebody suggested doing a 7" of Vindictives songs and next thing I knew I was getting handed the masters and we had them made up! This record was all about the joy of getting to work with friends.

The x ONE WAY x record was my first LP and that means a lot to me for that reason alone. Plus, of the story behind getting to do this is great, in all it's ironic glory: somebody posted a link to their myspace page on a message board and after checking the songs out I laughed harder than any other joke band I had heard in a long while. So their site said they needed a label, so I emailed them and offered to put something out for them. They said they had someone that was going to do it, but thanks for asking, then like two weeks later they wrote me back and said the other guy backed out, would I still be interested in doing their record? So I said yeah, then they said, ok our album has 40 songs on it, is that ok? (I'm laughing thinking about it!) That's how I knew this one was going to be amazing. I've become fairly good friends with Bill, who I still haven't met yetâ?¦ One of these days. This record still cracks me up.

The Few and the Proud was a fucking amazing band and it meant a lot to me to get to do this. Sadly, they didn't 100% capture how fucking amazing they were live in the studio. The recording is great, but this band was really all about the live delivery, Bernie's dialogue between songs, plus every member would get soo worked up, wow. I wish everyone could have seen them play. I was really inspired by this band.

The O Pioneers LP was something that Eric called me about a few weeks after we had met at a show I helped put on in Chicago. We had totally hit it off amazingly well with Eric and Jeff(we bonded talking about his RFTC shirt). I couldn't believe itâ?¦the music, the message. It's not often you see a completely unfamiliar band and just 'get it' instantly. They're all around great people and this great passionate band. They've become some of my best friends since meeting them (and Aaron from Team Science). The simple act of helping put on one show went and changed my entire lifeâ?¦pretty awesome things have come out of knowing these guys.

The HeWhoCorrupts Discographer 2xLP is great because I've wanted to do something for that band for so long. I've been a fan for a long time and I sort of still am "in the band" as a security guard for the singer / CEO when they play live from time to time. Their ideas are pure genius. Plus to get the opportunity to do a double LP is sooo great. Justin from Forge Again did all the work on this, he deserves all the credit.

The Four Star Alarm 7" is great because they're this rad band from Chicago. I've known Jeff Dean for a good long time too. He called me up and said, 'hey we have this Sugar cover and a new song we recorded on a radio show, I want to do a 1 sided 7" and have a etched drawing on the B side, you wanna put it out?' I said 'ok, I love Sugar, I think your band is awesomeâ?¦let's go!' And here it is. That one will be out in distros soon. The etched drawing on the B-side is intense; they had some friend at a laser plant laser etch the lacquer plate!

The Shot Baker Awake LP is so rad. It's beautiful! How I did it was great! The band had re-recorded their album for the second pressing of the CD, so I conspired with Chris, their drummer, and got it done on vinyl as well as on CD, then brought them test pressings to band practice and sprung it on them, the look the other three guys gave me was priceless. I think they almost cried, I certainly derailed practice that day. Then I brought them the finished product while they were recording their new record. They were so excited! Besides that, this band is one of my favorite bands ever, when they were talking about releasing it originally, I never asked if I could do it because I thought they were too good to be on the label! Then one day Tony was like "Why don't you put our record out?" and after a long debate I agreed.

What records do you have planned that you're looking forward to?

Oh man, soo many amazing things! I'm co releasing the new Black Cross LP with a label from Quebec called Tuned to You. Pierre-Luc and I have become somewhat fast friends; it's been a whirlwind since the band asked us to do it. We're doing it on money green vinyl and pink slip pink vinyl too! (We haven't revealed that info to anybody else, we all agreed to save that info for release via this interview!)

I'm going to do a New Bruises 7" which is just on the brink of being ready to go to press, Bill from xONE WAYx mastered the songs and the masters are en route via the mail. This one is a co release with Team Science, which is the best Texas label run by a guy named Danger!

I'm going to be releasing two Methadones LPs!! "Career Objective" first and "Not Economically Viable" maybe in the spring. This one goes without explanation on how thrilled I am!

I just worked out the details to re-release the Bhopal Stiffs discography on vinyl. It'll be a co-release with Lengu Armada! (holy shit, right?) This was the band that Larry and Steve from Pegboy were in back in the mid-late 80's. We're going to go berzerk and redo the artwork and include a lot of flyers, set lists all the lyrics and make a really cool booklet to go with it, really do it right this time, the art for the CD in 2000 was kind of rushed. The CD version was originally put out in 2000 on Harmless Records, which I will probably be repressing as well with in a year, whenever we get through the last few copies. It'll have the updated art too. The LP is probably going to come with the CD, because we're looking to only do the studio songs on the vinyl and the live songs will only be on the CD version.

Sometime soon, the new Shot Baker LP is going to be ready for pressing, Riot Fest Records is doing the CD version. Their new record is incredible, people will not be disappointed!

Do you collect any other bands or labels?

Band-wise, There's definitely bands I have most everything, but I don't obsess and have every color they records came on. I don't care about that aspect, I'm ok with having a single copy. I think I have every version of both Jud Jud Records(not counting test pressings). I figure if you're gonna have everything, it might as well be from one of the most ridiculous bands ever. Other than that, The only records I have on multiple colors are records I've seen used and bought knowing that I'll run into somebody who's going to want it and I'll just give it to them.

Labelwise, I I kind of passively collect Wreck-Age Records stuff, they put out a lot of 90s New York/Long Island hardcore bands I like a lot. I have a lot of No Idea releases, it's kind of hard not to though. I have everything Harmless Records ever did except for one 7"(My Foolish Halo), but Scott is one of my best friends so he has given me a few here and there to fill the gaps of stuff I hadn't bought to he's given me some rarer colors too and a few test pressings.

What release that's not available on vinyl would you like to see printed?

This is really a tough question because there are so many bands I'd like to work with and tons of records that are completely amazing that haven't come out on vinyl.

I'd want to do the Handsome full length on vinyl. I actually emailed Jeremy Chatelain about doing a discography, to get that back in print, but I'd probably have to buy the master from Epic, I don't even know how the hell I could do that, but I'd do that no matter the cost. Their full length is one of my all time favorite records.

I'd love to see Quicksand's Slip back in print, I see Manic Compression' from time to time. They also have their unreleased third LP that sort of got converted into Rival Schools material. Walter call me! Fireside's Do Not Tailgate album completely destroys me, brilliant record that is hard to find. I'd love to do the Black Train Jack albums, do a triple LP set, both albums, and then all the b-sides and comp songs (a fantastic New York hardcore band that doesn't sound like anyone else, pre-Arsons, Grey Area, Kill Your Idols, Nine Lives + ex Warzone, Token Entry, John Henry). I'd really like to do a Chumbawamba record, I know a lot of people don't like them because all they know is "Tubthumping" but those are people that have never given them a chance. I have even emailed them a couple times and they've never repliedâ?¦ha!

Channels' full length on Dischord is another one. Janet told me it's one song too long for a LP. I told them when I win the lottery I'll do a double 10" or maybe a LP with a 7" for the last song. Fantastic record if you haven't checked it out yet. I'd also like to go back and do some of Underground Communiqué's CD back catalog on vinyl, could you imagine the Report Suspicious Activity artwork as an LP sleeve?! All of the Mexican Cheerleader covers would be insane too!

Are there any records you really want but have been hesitant to shell out big bucks for? Well, I'd love to get the Busted at Oz comp, which is an old live LP compilation of Chicago bands that has a few otherwise-unreleased Naked Raygun recordings from the short time they had a keyboard player among some other cool Chicago bands like DA & Strike Under that time has forgotten. The Face to Face Econolive 10" is something that has eluded me for years. I don't have any of the original Bhopal Stiffs vinyl. I still need the Dillinger Four Mutant Pop 7", those are the only few that come to mind right now, but all it would take is for me to walk into a record store to be reminded of a good 20 or 30 more.

What's your most prized record?

Probably my Alkaline Trio Sundials 7" because of how I obtained it, I can't really say cause it might get the person in trouble with a friend, trust me, it's a good story though, but certainly not prized because it goes for lots of money on eBay. My Joe Strummer Earthquake Weather LP is tied for number one.

Besides the obvious, what sets vinyl apart from other formats?

I think Aaron danger said it best: "Not everyone cares about them. They mean more to people than CDs, and MP3s", that's really how I feel too. I saw a great quote the other day that applies as well: "You can't put your arms around an mp3." Damn. Paraphrasing Johny Thunders is one thing, but that rings pretty fucking true in my book.

You got Mitch Clem to do up the covers for the O Pioneers record - how did that come about? Their next version of it was the Black Metal cover. What made you incorporate covers different from the CD version into your release of the album?

Ok, the Mitch thing was this: Originally we intended to get real covers made up with the CD artwork, but I was arguing with the pressing plant over a botched LP cover project and the argument took so long that the band initially just was going to make 50 for a record release / temporary cover, until I smoothed things over with them. So, Eric called me about ideas for the limited cover and I had this little drawing from a previous tour that they had given me in Chicago. It was a drawing Mitch had made while on tour with OP!!! of a preacher wagging his finger saying "Damn Those O Pioneers!!!", so I said "hey, you remember that Damn Those O Pioneers!!! drawing you gave me that Mitch drew? Let's use that, but blow it up to LP size!" so Eric called Mitch and he said he'd just re-draw it, but he didn't 100% remember what it originally looked like, so he drew it way more awesome, and that became the cover. So, I then ended up flying down to Houston for the record release show/Aaron Danger's birthday party to surprise the band and hang out for a weekend. So after I got there they still needed to screen the covers for the show that night so he burned the screen with the song titles on the back, but he messed up and burned the screen with the song titles backwards, so we left them cause we thought it was funnyâ?¦It was a pretty amazing weekend. Chuck Ragan played Aaron's birthday party!

The Black Metal covers came up later: Eric called me and said, hey, let's just screen all of the covers, it'll be a lot cheaper, my friend drew up this amazing black metal logo for us, we're just going to use thatâ?¦black ink on black paper, it's gonna rule. I couldn't argue that! The inserts for that are on red paper and there is a secret message in the liner notes, see if you can find it!