Adam Alive (It's Alive Records)

When Adam Alive put out The Copyrights’ Button Smasher 7-inch in 2004, he wasn’t sure his label, It’s Alive Records, would make it to a second release. He wasn’t even sure he’d 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 It’s Alive Records out of commission.

When you started It’s Alive Records ten years ago, did you think it would still be around ten years later?

No, not at all. I didn’t even know if I’d last ten weeks. I just wanted to do a record and I guess my favorite format - it sounds kind of silly - but it’s 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 It’s Alive Records was born. I didn’t even know if I’d do a second one, but the first one went well and it was a lot of fun and I just never could stop, so I’m still doing it.

What was that first 7-inch?

It was The Copyrights’ 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 don’t have any vinyl out, they don’t 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 didn’t 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 that’s how it started.

What led you to do another 7-inch after that?

You’ve got to think, ten years ago, vinyl wasn’t 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 weren’t 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, you’re 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, "How’d you do that?" I don’t 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 don’t 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, we’d 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 weren’t 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 you’re most proud of after ten years running a label?

That’s 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. That’s probably what I’m most proud of. It’s obviously not just the record that did it, it’s 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 it’s all part of it. I know when I’m into a band I like there to be actual records. I think it’s 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 don’t know. I didn’t have plans when I started it. I wasn’t thinking ten years down the line and to be honest, I’m still not. I just do it a couple of records at a time. I don’t really see myself ever ending it. I don’t know what happen for me to say, "I’m done, I’m 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. I’m not trying to live off the label, although that would be incredible, I’ve 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, I’d 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?

I’m one of the organizers of Awesome Fest, I don’t really make that super-known, but for the past five years I’ve been part of a group of five or six people who do that. Getting there is always an issue. I’m 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 wasn’t 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 didn’t see any of this though, so I didn’t 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 I’d 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 I’m expecting to hear some crunching and cracking but I felt fine. I thought, "Oh, I’m ok." I wasn’t.

I didn’t 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 I’ve 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 that’s 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 that’s 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 wasn’t 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 I’m finally better.

That’s 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. I’m sometimes that person. But I am of the opinion that there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. I think you should look and see where you’re going so you can see that people see that you’re coming. At least that much of a courtesy is awesome. I mean, if it doesn’t happen it doesn’t happen, so that’s 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 I’m 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 didn’t think, "Oh, that’s it, I’m 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 it’s 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 didn’t come out, so it was like a traffic jam in the record release superhighway.

I couldn’t type on a computer, I couldn’t use my left arm, sitting in certain positions just hurt, I wasn’t 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 didn’t 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 it’d be crazy to have 100 releases out. This being our tenth year, we’re not gonna make it. We’re up in the nineties. That one year, 2012, I only got three records out. Usually it’s anywhere from 8 to 12. I don’t give myself any quotas to meet with records though, it’s whatever I’m into, whatever I can do. It’s alright though, ninety-something releases in ten years is still great. It’s way more than I ever thought I’d do.

Are you planning anything special to celebrate ten years?

I’d love to, I’ve had plans, but no. I thought about a tour or maybe just showcases in a couple of spots, I don’t 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 he’s 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 it’s not too late, but that’s a lot of time I don’t really have to organize such a thing, but if the bands just wanted to do it, I’d 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 It’s Alive this year?

For sure six albums, a couple of them are co-releases. Up next are albums from The Manges, they’re from Italy, and The Mugwumps, from Austria. I’m teaming up with Monster Zero Records who are operating out of Austria. Kevin from The Apers has been doing that label and I’ve known him for a really long time, so we’re doing those together. For bands from the states we’ve got The Capitalist Kids from Austin, Texas, Hi Ho Silver, Away, they’re a California band. It’s a pretty horrible band name, but they’re incredible, it’s one of the things I’m most excited about releasing. It’s the same thing I was telling you about. It’s an unknown band I just hope they can get a bunch of fans with a record being out there. There’s Hospital Job, which Luke, he’s the drummer and principal songwriter in The Copyrights. He’s got another band called Hospital Job that’s awesome, I’ve 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.