When Adam Alive put out The Copyrightsâ Button Smasher 7-inch in 2004, he wasnât sure his label, Itâs Alive Records, would make it to a second release. He wasnât even sure heâd be able to clear his closet of the 300 records he pressed. Fast forward to 2014 and the label is celebrating its tenth anniversary and closing in on 100 releases, with a catalog that boasts releases from pop-punk bigwigs like Teenage Bottlerocket, The Dopamines and House Boat. Punknews copy editor Adam Eisenberg rang up Adam Alive to look back on ten years of running a label, discuss the joys of helping a band hit it big and find out how an errant stage diver almost put Itâs Alive Records out of commission.
When you started Itâs Alive Records ten years ago, did you think it would still be around ten years later?
No, not at all. I didnât even know if Iâd last ten weeks. I just wanted to do a record and I guess my favorite format - it sounds kind of silly - but itâs always been the 7-inch record. So I wanted to do one even at that point for a really long, and finally I just had the guts and desire to do it, and I figured it would look better if there was a record label name on there, so I just had to think of something. I limited myself to any kind of Ramones reference, so Itâs Alive Records was born. I didnât even know if Iâd do a second one, but the first one went well and it was a lot of fun and I just never could stop, so Iâm still doing it.
What was that first 7-inch?
It was The Copyrightsâ Button Smasher. The Copyrights had their first album come out, I believe it was in 2003, on Insubordination Records and I heard of them -- I was familiar with that label for a long time - then I heard them and I loved that band. I thought this would be a rad band to do this, they donât have any vinyl out, they donât have any singles. Very shortly after that album came out, or very shortly after I heard it, they were on tour in California, so I went and saw them. I didnât know any of the guys or anything, but they were just an awesome band, so after seeing them I hit them up like, "Hey, would you guys want to do a 7-inch?" And they were into it, so thatâs how it started.
What led you to do another 7-inch after that?
Youâve got to think, ten years ago, vinyl wasnât what it is now. At the time, very few bands and labels were doing 7-inches. The more established labels that had been around were still doing it, but there werenât really any small, indie, DIY bedroom labels that were doing it. But I grew up on those labels and those releases, so I did the one, and all of my friends and acquaintances who had record labels, they were all telling me, "Oh, vinyl, I hope you have a lot of closet space, youâre never gonna sell this stuff." They were all doing CDs at the time. So I did it, I think I pressed 300 copies in the first pressing, and by way of the Pop Punk Message Bored and Interpunk I sold out of it, I believe it was a matter of months. I was like, "Oh wow, that went well," and all of my record label buddies were like, "Howâd you do that?" I donât know, I pressed a record by a great band and I guess it was just done right.
Before I did a second record I did a second pressing, then I was just looking around for pop-punk bands that donât have any singles out. It was actually Chris from Insubordination Records, the same guy who put out that Copyrights album, who said, "Hey, have you heard of this band Teenage Bottlerocket?" It was just a conversation we were having. So I checked them out and they were playing in Hollywood that week to like, two people at some sushi bar, so I hit them up and they were like "Yeah, weâd love to do it." So it was a split 7-inch with them and this band called The Prototypes from Spain. After that, obviously what happened to Teenage Bottlerocket right around then, 2005, they started blowing up. I had a really good experience with those first two records, so more came. They werenât all of that same level as The Copyrights or Teenage Bottlerocket as far as how popular the bands got, but I had fun.
Can you reflect a bit on what youâre most proud of after ten years running a label?
Thatâs tough. I love doing stuff with bands - a lot of the bands I was first asking to doing record for were kind of unknown, at least at the time. Then, after you get a little more established as a label, you can ask established bands, but I really like putting out a record by an otherwise unknown band and watching them get a fan base, and do things with their band. Thatâs probably what Iâm most proud of. Itâs obviously not just the record that did it, itâs the band and the music, but they go on tour, they have something to sell, something people can take home with them, something they can share. I mean, you can share MP3s and you can share word of mouth, but itâs all part of it. I know when Iâm into a band I like there to be actual records. I think itâs cool just to be part of that.
Where do you see the label in another ten years?
[Laughs] Hopefully out of debt for once. I donât know. I didnât have plans when I started it. I wasnât thinking ten years down the line and to be honest, Iâm still not. I just do it a couple of records at a time. I donât really see myself ever ending it. I donât know what happen for me to say, "Iâm done, Iâm just not going to do this anymore." I just hope, kind of, more of the same, but it would be awesome to do the same thing but on a bigger level. Iâm not trying to live off the label, although that would be incredible, Iâve never had an delusions about what running a record label in this day and age would be like as far as making money. Just to keep doing it, and to want to keep doing it, Iâd be happy enough with that.
Something happened to you at Awesome Fest in 2012 that had a pretty significant effect on your life and on the label. Can you talk about that?
Iâm one of the organizers of Awesome Fest, I donât really make that super-known, but for the past five years Iâve been part of a group of five or six people who do that. Getting there is always an issue. Iâm always bringing records and guitars and all sorts of stuff for bands. The first day of Awesome Fest 6 in 2012 it was the same thing, I was getting into town late, just from running all sorts of errands and doing all sorts of crap to get the thing to happen. I got there, it was a couple of bands into the night, the Sass Dragons were playing, and I love the Sass Dragons. I just went right down to the stage, and there wasnât a ton of people lined up yet, but I swear, they were like, one chord into one song and someone just comes flying off the stage backwards, ass first, and just sat right on my head. I didnât see any of this though, so I didnât get my hands up. I was totally unprepared. All I know is someone landed directly on my head and perfectly compressed my neck and my spine straight down. I felt this huge electric shock go from neck out my ass. It was the whole length of my spine, and Iâd never felt anything like that before. I was like, "Oh, shit!" So I take a step back and I get away from the crowd and I just twist my neck and rotate my neck and Iâm expecting to hear some crunching and cracking but I felt fine. I thought, "Oh, Iâm ok." I wasnât.
I didnât feel any of the effects until a week later. Literally seven days later I woke up in a puddle of sweat and in the worst pain Iâve ever been in, and my whole left shoulder and arm all the way down to my fingers was on fire. It turns out, my T6 and T7 vertebrae just got totally compressed and the intravertebral disc thatâs in between there like padding just got smashed, and it I guess it just took a week for the casing to finally rip, so all of the fluid thatâs in there was leaking out, then my body was sending fluid there, and all of that fluid pinched the nerve, and it just happened to be the nerve that goes down my arm and my shoulder and it took the doctors and everybody like a week to figure it out. They were asking me, "Were you in a car accident or something?" I had no recollection of the person landing on my head because it was a week later. It seemed like if I would have been hurt it would have been then, but that wasnât the case. Yeah, I was really messed up and it took about a year and a half before all the problems associated with that finally have gone away. I still get a little tinging now and then, but more or less I think Iâm finally better.
Thatâs like the nightmare scenario for people who stand up front at shows.
Yeah, it is. I have no hard feelings for whoever it was who did. Iâm sometimes that person. But I am of the opinion that thereâs a right way and a wrong way to do it. I think you should look and see where youâre going so you can see that people see that youâre coming. At least that much of a courtesy is awesome. I mean, if it doesnât happen it doesnât happen, so thatâs just the risk. Had I been looking in that direction I guess I would have been fine. Like I said, I had just literally walked into the club and I was probably looking around seeing who was there and where Iâm at and someone landed on my head. I should have just been paying more attention I guess.
Did you ever think that situation would spell the end for the label?
I didnât think, "Oh, thatâs it, Iâm done," but it was a bummer because I had a lot of releases lined up at that point that had already been sitting for a while, and when Awesome Fest comes around, those last couple of months leading up to Awesome Fest itâs really hard to have time to do anything else with the label, so those records were already in my mind kind of delayed at that point. It had built up, because it was four releases, then it was eight releases because the first four didnât come out, so it was like a traffic jam in the record release superhighway.
I couldnât type on a computer, I couldnât use my left arm, sitting in certain positions just hurt, I wasnât going to be able to be packing records. I made the commitments to the bands and they all knew what happened, and everyone was understanding, more so than I expected. It just took me a really long time to bounce back, but I didnât want to hand off those records because I wanted to release them, and if the bands were ok waiting - and they were - I was happy to do it. But yeah, I had this idea that by ten years itâd be crazy to have 100 releases out. This being our tenth year, weâre not gonna make it. Weâre up in the nineties. That one year, 2012, I only got three records out. Usually itâs anywhere from 8 to 12. I donât give myself any quotas to meet with records though, itâs whatever Iâm into, whatever I can do. Itâs alright though, ninety-something releases in ten years is still great. Itâs way more than I ever thought Iâd do.
Are you planning anything special to celebrate ten years?
Iâd love to, Iâve had plans, but no. I thought about a tour or maybe just showcases in a couple of spots, I donât know, I was gonna do that. Tony Weinbender at Fest has always been really awesome about asking me about bands that I think would be rad to have play, usually stuff on the label. No Idea is our distributor and heâs awesome about helping me out in that way and helping out the bands that could get on Fest that might otherwise not. So I thought maybe a showcase at Fest and a showcase at Ottawa Explosion and a showcase at Awesome Fest, I suppose itâs not too late, but thatâs a lot of time I donât really have to organize such a thing, but if the bands just wanted to do it, Iâd be all for backing it. I might do some sort of collection/compilation type of thing if time permits and if I can get that done by the end of the year.
What releases are in the pipeline for Itâs Alive this year?
For sure six albums, a couple of them are co-releases. Up next are albums from The Manges, theyâre from Italy, and The Mugwumps, from Austria. Iâm teaming up with Monster Zero Records who are operating out of Austria. Kevin from The Apers has been doing that label and Iâve known him for a really long time, so weâre doing those together. For bands from the states weâve got The Capitalist Kids from Austin, Texas, Hi Ho Silver, Away, theyâre a California band. Itâs a pretty horrible band name, but theyâre incredible, itâs one of the things Iâm most excited about releasing. Itâs the same thing I was telling you about. Itâs an unknown band I just hope they can get a bunch of fans with a record being out there. Thereâs Hospital Job, which Luke, heâs the drummer and principal songwriter in The Copyrights. Heâs got another band called Hospital Job thatâs awesome, Iâve got their album coming out. The Creeps, from Ottawa, who I love, who are one of my very favorite bands, their new album is incredible. Those are all going to be out in the next two months or so.
Beyond that I have a few 7-inches already committed to, a bunch of other records that are talked about. Who knows, maybe I will get to 100 by the end of the year.