Label Spotlight: A389 Recordings

Interview with label owner Dom Romeo | By Alasdair Bulmer  |  Photo by Josh Sisk

As the tenth anniversary milestone of Baltimore’s finest noise-merchant A389 Recordings emerges on the horizon what better way to celebrate than the X Anniversary Bash this January, featuring a sizeable feast of hardcore heaviness not limited to the likes of Infest, Integrity, and Weekend Nachos?

Established by the ever-industrious Dom Romeo, A389’s reputation as quality purveyors of the finest hardcore, death, and doom has rightfully grown since the formative years centered around Dom’s own band, Slumlords. By the time Slumlords became Pulling Teeth the label was a bona fide name throughout the hardcore scene, ultimately creating opportunities for aspiring hardcore hopefuls.

With 2014 just around the corner, A389’s legacy is now set in stone. The commitment to DIY ethics is exemplary on all fronts, equally boasting heavyweight heroes Eyehategod and Integrity alongside more recent favorites Weekend Nachos, Gehenna, and Noisem on the alumni and roster.

Is it therefore safe to assume this past decade has been something of a success?

Mind-blowing and exhausting, (but) I’m incredibly proud of the label’s output and accomplishments over the past ten years and feel like it did a superb job of offering a diverse, interesting, and genuine catalog of music. As life gets more complicated, it becomes harder to accomplish everything I want to do in the time I wish to do it. But at the end of the day life is all about doing the best you can with what you have. I’m eternally grateful to everyone who supports A389 and to the bands that let me do records for them.

With such a demonstrably keen ear for killer sounds it’s not surprising to see so much support for A389 these last ten years. What bands and genres developed you into the connoisseur you are today and was this the catalyst for A389?

My passion for music dates back to being a child and my mom’s Elvis records. I grew up with 70’s rock and 80’s metal, and that’s still what I hold nearest and dearest. AC/DC is the reason I ever picked up a guitar, but I was always interested in all kinds of music as long as it was genuine and well presented. Discovering hardcore in my teenage years helped set the mold for what I’d accomplish later in life by teaching me that everyone is equal, and you can accomplish anything yourself if you’re willing to put in the work.

Were there any labels whose ethics and business model inspired the running of A389? How has this changed ten years down the road?

There were many labels who influenced me in various ways. I loved Back Ta Basics Records growing up for their bare-bones DIY approach. I admired Dark Empire/Holy Terror for being really elusive yet offering the coolest stuff; Plan 9 for having the coolest aesthetic; Victory Records (in the 1990s) for having an awesome and highly influential roster; and labels like Robotic Empire, Deathwish and Southern Lord for stepping up the game. Nowadays there are even current labels like Easyrider, Organized Crime and Third Man that continue to inspire. Everyone has had something cool to learn from, and I’m still learning this far into the game.

Albeit an on-going process of trial and error are there any specific markers on the A389 learning curve that count as a significant development?

Always trial and error, success and failure; it’s running smoother now than it ever has been, but there is still a ton of room for improvement mostly due to being understaffed. Thankfully there are a lot of people who will lend helping hands for free records and pizza. I sometimes wish I had enough income to hire a bunch of workers. This label could be a monster if that was the case. But unfortunately the records I release have a limited audience and I’m not interested in releasing stuff just because it will sell. A389 is eternally doomed (laughs).

You’re stranded on a desert island, which A389 releases would you want in your possession?

That’s like asking someone to pick their favorite child. I love them all for different reasons. It’s been an unbelievable honor to release records by some of my all-time favorite bands (Integrity, Ringworm, Eyehategod) but at the same time seeing bands like Full Of Hell and Noisem gain so much popularity is equally amazing. I do have a special place in my heart for Seven Sisters Of Sleep and Ilsa, combining horror and metal is the surest way to win me over.

We at New Noise are excited about the upcoming Tenth Anniversary Bash [details]! You must be pretty stoked, but is there anyone left unchecked on your wishlist?

The A389 Bash combines the label’s anniversary with my birthday, which falls around the same time. What ends up happening is a yearly showcase for the label bands alongside personal favorite and dream reunions. It’s not your typical fest in the sense of what’s popular in the hardcore scene these days. It’s just a weekend of bands that I love that seldom play together (if at all) combined with A389 bands.

My unattained wishlist is really narrow after this year. I still dream of Ned’s Atomic Dustbin coming over to play, Body Count headlining a day, and Deadguy reforming.

What’s next, can we expect another decade of A389?

I’m actually working on a few changes and collaborations for the New Year. Nothing I can divulge just yet but it could pan out to be interesting. Release-wise we have brand new Haymaker and Integrity 7″s coming out as well as new stuff by Noisem, Ilsa, The Bellicose Minds, Pharaoh, Sick/Tired, Sex Prisoner, Shin to Shin and tons more.

Maybe. Truth is I want to quit every day and retire on an island. Unfortunately I’m in debt to my ears and get bored easily. Plus I want my kids to see there’s more out there than grinding a 9-5 you don’t care about. We’ll see what happens.

Finally, do you have any advice for DIY label upstarts?
[If you] work hard you can achieve anything. Be sincere and you’ll always be taken seriously.

Check out some of A389’s jewels from their back catalog on the next page…

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