Scotty Heath of Tankcrimes Records (Part 2 of 2)
by Interviews

Scotty Heath is the CEO of circle pits, the supervisor of stage dives, the head honcho of headbanging. As the owner of Oakland’s Tankcrimes Records, Heath has made it his mission to noise up the punk scene by putting out metal records for tru-punx pogoers and to nasty up the metal scene by putting out punk records for trve-kvlt thrashers. He brought heavy metal cannibals Ghoul to the vegan bake sale. He brought political peace punks Dystopia to the heavy metal parking lot kegger. He also put out what might be Fucked Up’s best release ever.

Well, Heath is continuing his mission. On February 13, 2015, he’s bringing his legion of punk and metal warriors to the kids and staging the “Tankcrimes Takeover” of 924 Gilman where Ghoul, The Shrine, Born/Dead, Brainoil and Connoisseur will all share the same stage -- that is, if it isn’t wrecked during the night.

To learn about the label’s storied history, features editor John Gentile had an extended discussion with Heath. In this second of two parts, Heath talks about digital downloading, bands on the label and why you should say who you are when you are playing a show.

[Ed: You can find part one here.]

Where do you stand on illegal downloading?
I’m against it for me, only because I give a bunch of stuff away. I get bummed when a blog posts my stuff, because, I might even just give it to them or here’s a link to the Bandcamp and you can call it the official post or something like that.

I just don’t see it affecting me. I think the person that thinks they are entitled enough to upload someone’s stuff -- I don’t understand that person. What is in their personality to think that they are important or entitled enough to do that? It was a little different with Limewire and things like that, but we’re not file sharing anymore. You were in these communities. I was never into that, but I understand it. Even the name “file sharing” -- I don’t see that so much anymore. I don’t know of any super blogs where people get all their new music from.

Look at the blog “Terminal Escape,” that I like. He takes tapes a and takes the time to digitize them. That goes back to promoting the band. But, when someone takes a new full-length that is on a record label, or a band that people know, and you upload it the first day, you’re just kind of a dick.

But, I’m not mad at the person that downloads it. I don’t think you’re a dick. I’ve never had time to get mad at the changes in music because I’ve constantly been growing as things have changed. If I was a label in the '90s and had been putting out CDs, it may be different. I never had a boom. I never felt a loss when CDs died out. Then, when downloading became popular, I was in a genre that was selling 7-inches out of boxes at shows, so I wasn’t really affected by that either.

When I finally did get my music onto iTunes, I wasn’t seeing any money from that either. What is happening right now, purchasing mp3s is so dead. It might make a couple more years. When you are going to look at the history of format, paid mp3s are going to have the smallest fraction of time. Streaming is completely taking over iTunes.

I can actually watch a trend change through a source of income that we have. The example -- about two years ago we finally started getting a decent check for digital. It’s not a ton of money, but it was a nice chunk. Ghoul and Cannabis Corpse get checks from me for iTunes. Punk bands, not so much.

What I see now, that I actually have a revenue stream from downloads, each month my iTunes check is dropping like 15 percent, like it’s happening that fast, and the only thing that is keeping it up is that I’m adding more titles -- I add more songs and make more things available. But, I’m starting to make a decent Spotify check, and it’s growing. So, my iTunes is going down like 15 percent per month, but my Spotify's gaining like 15 percent per month. But, those numbers are different.

Let’s just call the iTunes check $1,000 and the Spotify check $100. When iTunes goes down to $900, Spotify will only go up to $110. I think by the end of 2015, they will meet each other.

There’s no real point to buying an mp3. You don’t really “get” anything.

Do you like Spotify? A lot of small labels feel as though Spotify is a group of investors, many being large labels, finding ways to circumvent standard royalty rates via private contract where small labels have no leverage.
This is where I come in as a small label. Whether I think I should be paid more or not, I am in no position to challenge a giant company that has people listening to my stuff. I tell my fans, if you use Spotify, please gobble up all my stuff and put it in your Spotify folder. That’s one of those things, I feel like you’re not going to win. You have to go forward with what people like.

I don’t use Spotify, but my roommate uses it all day long. My dad listens to Spotify all the time. He listens to rock music and smooth jazz. He is a Spotify user. What’s annoying about Spotify for me, is that if I’m losing $100 a month, there are some big labels losing huge amounts of money. That only became a revenue a few years ago.

Now, if you make a lot of money of iTunes and you are watching it fall 5-15 percent a month, that a huge hit. The problem is that Spotify doesn’t make any money. They lose money every month. Everyone is losing money and the company that is taking it is losing money too. You just can’t stop it.

If you’re not on Spotify, What do you see from the fans? They just say, “Oh, that sucks that I can’t find you on Spotify!” They don’t say, “That’s a good choice to not be on Spotfiy!”

Let’s talk about some of the bands on your label. Ghoul -- how have you avoided being eaten by these cannibals?
I’ve put out all their records with cash money, dude! Ghoul has a fan club called the Ghoul Lunatic’s Asylum. The upper echelon is the Ghouluminati. Only the band and myself are in. The reason that I’m in is because it cost me like 40 grand.

Ghoul is a thrash metal band. They call themselves splatterthrash. It’s on the punk end of thrash. They have surf elements of their stuff. If that doesn’t sound right, just give it a try.

They come from Creepsylvania and they are cannibals. In Creepsylanvia, moshing and skateboarding has been banned by the totalitarian government. Ghoul lives in the catacombs moshing and eating people. they have a robot enemy and a monkey friend that defeated the robot. Their manager is a guy called Mr. Fang who books them on steamers to go on tour. What they really are is a super-fun band. they play music that would be really good if it was guys playing camo shorts and death metal t-shirts, but they kick it up by having hoods and giant robots.

The obvious comparison is GWAR. After eight years, GWAR reached out to them and took them under their wing and took them on tour and showed them building techniques and kicked down old props.

How about Pete the Roadie and his band Kicker?
One thing you might not know about Pete is that Pete’s wife, Mrs. Roadie, is a tour manager. They roadie stuff together. They live at Roadie World. They are a rock and roll family. Here name is Paula.

Wait… it’s Pete and Paula?!
Yes! They met on a Spitboy/Neurosis tour, fell in love, got married and have been doing this all the while.

As for Kicker, they are as far as I know, the only, or one of the only, contemporary punk bands that has started in this generation of punk, that people have been around since the beginning, or at least the first and second wave of punk and hardcore, that started a new band, playing just punk -- no secret other micro-genres. I just think that is cool.

Pete gets a kick out of the fact that I was born in 1978 and he was already going to gigs before that. Pete is an original punk. He remembers what it was like before punk, hearing punk and then getting into punk.

It really is amazing how into punk Pete still is!
He’s very dedicated, very professional. It’s a line of work -- basically positions in the music industry that aren’t being in a band, has a high turnover. There are opportunists, there are people that take advantage, there’s people that take credit for things that isn’t there. There is a lot of ego, especially for people that aren’t bands.

It speaks numbers when someone is in a non-musical position can stay involve in the music industry while working for high-profile musicians who have every opportunity to get someone “better” than you at any point.

I mean, when you interviewed Pete for Punknews a few years ago, didn’t you think it was remarkable that he would give you zero dirt?

Yes, I did! He was like an attorney! He had a roadie-band confidentiality!
Exactly! It’s not him being a dick, or even being offended. He’s like, “I have the same answer since 1977. What happens on the road stays on the road.” To think that Roadie just called in the New Year for Neurosis’ last show of the year, but Roadie has been with them the whole time. He’s still with Jello Biafra. You know these people could find someone else.

I don’t know what Roadie gets paid, but it’s obviously fair because he’s an adult that lives off of work. There is no way that people like Neurosis or Biafra that couldn’t find someone on their 20s to do it for half of what they pay Roadie. But, you are invested in loyalty and longevity, so that speaks volumes. You can’t find a lot of labels that have been around 30 years that no one can speak shit on, or labels that have had the same bands for 20 years.

I put that on Roadie, for that relationship to endure. There’s something special about him that people want him to be around. It has to be something more than he is physically the best person for the job.

You made an allusion to OFF! earlier, and in fact, you have an OFF! connection. You put out records by The Shrine, who had some songs produced by Chuck Dukowksi, who was in Black Flag with Keith Morris of OFF!
The Shrine are a really unique band right now. No one knows who their peers are. They fit on a lot of bills because no one is playing that exact type of style. Nothing they do is completely example, but, they are on Teepee Records, which is a rock label -- but they’ll do tours with Earthless, or Red Fang, but they also did main support for bands like Municipal Waste and Ghoul. They were the only rock band that played my Brainsqueeze this year. They may have been one of the least known bands on the bill and I watched them win over a room of 1,000 people -- of a crowd there to see Ghoul and Municipal Waste.

They are also insanely DIY. They are on labels, but they book their own tours, they do their own mail order. they are super connected with their fans. They represent a nostalgic lifestyle. they are from Venice Beach so they really are a California band. They went to Japan and they said they saw tons of people in full on Dogtown, Suicidal get ups all eager to meet people from Venice -- like, actual people from Venice.

Let’s talk about Fucked Up. You put out the amazing, amazing Year of the Dragon 12-inch. I asked Damian of Fucked Up, “Do you guys really fight as much as you say, or is that for dramatic effect.” He said that they fight all the time. But then, I asked Mike of Fucked Up the same thing, and he said that they don’t really fight that much. Does the band really fight that much?
Well, one of the reasons that they say they bring me on tour with them is because everyone is more relaxed. I play this role when I go out with bands. I call it "Middle Brother." I did this with Municipal Waste, too. I play this middle role where I can get along with mom and dad and big brother and little brother. Everyone plays those roles.

As to actual fighting, there is not a lot of big, blowout fighting. But, I can tell you that because they are like a family and have been a band that long, there are definitely times where one comment or one remark can piss someone off for an entire day. there are times where people give each other the silent treatment. They’re still a band, so they are obviously not fighting that much. I do agree that it not only adds to the mystery of the band, though maybe they’re not that mysterious any more, but it’s part of their aesthetic. I think some tenseness and stress behind the scene fuels the awesomeness that they have.

Let’s talk about the underground punk and metal community. We first met at the Mob show in Oakland in 2012. Now, I’m biased here. I did a review of the show. In my review, I said that I wanted to review the opening bands, but couldn’t, because none of them said their names. All the punk rock kids attacked me for not knowing the opening bands, and said, “How can you write about punk if you don’t know the names of these bands?! You shouldn’t have done a review!” But, my counter argument is that I was trying to learn. So, is this reaction a needlessly xenophobic reaction, or is it a mechanism to protect the punk rock scene from abuse by outside forces? How guarded does the punk rock scene need to be?
I don’t think it needs to be guarded at all. I still think there can be a next Circle Jerks. I don’t mean to say that there can be a band that fills the shoes of the Circle Jerks or Dead Kennedys, but I think there is a contemporary punk band that can make that much of an impact. I didn’t always feel that way.

That’s what Felix Havoc used to tell his bands. When they went out on the road, he would say, there’s no reason you can’t be the next Circle Jerks. You have to play in front of people. You have to take the records out on the road. You have to work.

That’s why I don’t think that punk needs to be protected. There will always be different levels of punk. There is part of the punk scene going on here in the Bay that I am disassociated with because I don’t pay attention to every punk house that pops up before it is fleeting and goes to the next space.

You see, bands never don’t want people to come to shows. No band wants to have less fans. It’s always the fans of bands that don’t want people to know about their favorite band.

How come some bands don’t say their names on stage?
I think it’s lack of experience. You learn by going out on tour and playing with more experienced band. You can watch bands learn. When you see a really experienced punk or metal band, they definitely say who they are, or if they have merch. They say other things like, “Let’s see a pit!” There’s part of being a master of ceremonies that goes a long with being the frontperson in a band.

At that Mob show, I think I can remember maybe one of the opening bands. That might have been the biggest show that those bands ever played. They may have never played a show where they needed to share who they were to gain new fans. I think you get that through experience. If you watch a really good band, they’ll say thank you at the end of every song where it is not annoying, it’s just cool and you get it.

Ah! Unless the aesthetic is to not say anything at all on stage.
True! Here’s an example. The last tour that came through here was Mammoth Grinder and Cannabis Corpse. That’s a pretty punk tour for a metal show. Mammoth Grinder says nothing. They click off, they play for 19 minutes non-stop. A full barrage, hair whirling, non-stop smashing, and then they walk of stage to a feedback loop. On that tour, they were actually breaking down their equipment and people still weren’t sure if they were going to come back on a play more music.

But, they played in front of a giant banner that said “Mammoth Grinder.” Then, Cannabis Corpse gets up on stage and fires through everything just as fast, but between every song, Phil says, “Thank You!” “Thanks!” “Ok, this next song is about two kids who are smoking weed and the weed turns into a monster and comes up through the ring and spoils their brain and turns them into weed” and then clicks back in. That comes from experience. When you’re watching a band like that, they are able give you information and go into a song at the same time.

It’s that same kind of experience that allows Mammoth Grinder to not say a word, but still sell a shit-ton of merchandise. If you don’t have a banner and you don’t say anything, some guy might be in town from an Internet blog and want to write about you, but not write about you because he doesn’t know your name.

What’s next for Tankcrimes?
Here’s what’s up. I’m going to try to do a couple of big shows. Not festivals. I’m doing the Tankcrimes Takeover on February 13 at 924 Gilman with Ghoul, The Shrine, Born/Dead, Brainoil and Connoisseur. It’s a diverse, awesome lineup all under the banner of Tankcrimes. It’s going to be really cool.

Now, I stopped booking shows at 924 a couple of years ago because it is basically like making my bands taking a 50 percent pay cut. It’s just the way it works. I can do a show that sells alcohol and they take less at the door because they make it up in drinks. Also, a lot of my fans like to drink.

But, the thing about Gilman is similar to Maximum Rock n' Roll and it is all volunteer run. Both of those entities have had full staff changes, besides some of the staple people, but full leadership changes. What I’ve noticed at my shows is that there is a lack of teenagers coming out. The scene is getting older.

I know a lot kids aren’t allowed to Downtown Oakland. But, they’re allowed to go to North Berkeley. 924 Gilman is known as a safe space for all ages and certainly Bay Area parents know it as that. I’m bringing my show back to 924 Gilman in some hopes that I can get some kids to come out and get into my stuff.

This goes into what I’m doing for 2015. I didn’t get this involved in punk when I was going to big, rockstar-y, big ass, sold-out punk shows. That’s how I became a fan of punk. It wasn’t until I saw kids my age playing not that well and not that rehearsed but having fun. That’s when I got that empowerment and wanted to get more involved.

What I’ve realized that I’ve been throwing festivals that have been successful, but I’m not giving people and experience that was mine. I’m trying to give kids more of an experience that I had with this show.

I know these bands have been around a while. But, I’m trying to get these kids to come into Gilman. A teenager has to see another teenager playing in a band to feel empowered, pick it up and give it a try. It’s much more difficult to feel empowered when you see a band of dudes in their 30s on a four-foot stage when you are in a room with 1,000 fans.

I want to find a way to gets kids more involved. I haven’t wrapped my head all the way around it. I can’t take Tankcrimes bands and send them back to the basement. So, I’m starting with Gilman this year. We’ll see what happens.