We checked in with Vique Simba (Pirates Press Records) and Justin Smith (Vitriol Records)on how they spent 2020, what they learned, and their thoughts and hopes for what 2021 will hold, as part of our New Year’s Evolutions Series!

Vique Simba – Pirates Press Records

My name is Vique Martin and I was fortunate enough to be working remotely from a home office before the pandemic hit. I work for Pirates Press Records, and when things went nuts I was waist deep in merchandise ordering for all our bands with US tours booked around Punk Rock Bowling. 

My year took a majorly different route from the expected release schedule and supporting all our bands on their tours, to helping them navigate this incredibly rough time and working on projects I didn’t imagine I’d have time to see into fruition. If our bands had been on tour, I’d never have had the time to get the four out of print Aggrolites LPs and the box set into the world!  

Aggrolites 6 LPs

That’s something I was really proud to see happen in 2020.  

We continued to release everything that we had in the pipeline, knowing that now, more than ever, people need positive things in their lives – and new music is DEFINITELY something that helped me get through all the difficult times. And still does. I loved watching so many artists doing the live streams of acoustic performances, especially Andy from The Drowns.  

As well as working full time at PPR I started making masks at the end of last April, so I was working 40 hours a week and making masks 40 hours a week. I was falling into bed exhausted, but that was so much better for me than scrolling or watching news and stressing. I made almost 3000 masks, many repurposing tour leftovers and sun-damaged t-shirt stock from PPR bands. I made so many Barstool Preachers and Cock Sparrer masks it was ridiculous! I charged $10 for them and half of the money went to charity. I think I raised about 5k to various amazing causes like food banks, LGBTQ+ safe spaces, doctors without borders, local animal charities, and BLM social justice groups. After the selling of them subsided I carried on sewing and donated hundreds of masks to facilities that still needed them, along with groups that distributed them amongst the houseless. It felt great to be doing something productive with my time and knowing that my fabric hoarding had been for the greater good!  

These pictures are from a time which I think back to as “normal” – the end of the tour three days before Christmas 2019 – with Barstool Preachers, The Bronx, Strike Anywhere and Bouncing Souls.  

One day we’ll be able to do things like this again. And it will be a thousand times sweeter due to our time of isolation and distance. I look forward to this immensely, but I know I’m one of the lucky ones in our music community in the meantime, and I greatly appreciate that more than I can put into words.  

Images courtesy of Vique Simba.

Justin Smith – Vitriol Records

Credit: Joshua Sharp

You probably already know Justin Smith from Graf Orlock and Ghostlimb, and his label Vitriol Records, but with more time on his hands he started another new band, SWEAT.

This year has been a punisher indeed, but hopefully there is some silver lining to it. Clearly any sign of touring or things connected to it have been tabled for the foreseeable future, which is a stab to the jugular for anyone in bands or working in that industry.  

The goal then has to be finding a way to remain connected to music and new ways to be creatively productive. For me this meant writing and recording a full-length in process now with my new band SWEAT.  

We put out a 7” EP in April on my label Vitriol Records right as the shit hit the proverbial fan. For this new LP we will be working with a larger label and it will be interesting to see where it goes. New combinations of people and projects are already coming out to see what ways one can bolster some efficacy in the DIY world in lieu of self-destructing.  

My other band Graf Orlock recorded and played a “virtual show” of sorts at the beginning of January. This is a far cry from a typical year or touring, but finding a way to do ANYTHING with it is gratifying.  

Beyond the inherent struggles that come with a shuttered economy, I try to positively see this as the first period in the last 20 years that I have uninterrupted time to focus on music and not play (which is still the pay off, I think). A strange predicament but hopefully something constructive can come out of it.  

In terms of labor, I am a history professor at a college in California and our whole system got hammer smashed in March, sending almost all of us to distance education and resulting in quite a few people quitting altogether. This in itself was not that much of an issue in the short term, but as things become more protracted and there is no end in sight it gets harder to boil down a pretty social job to a screen and a litany of email complaints.  

For me this means new kinds of hustles, doing more for my own releases (ongoing since 2009), distroing records for friends’ bands/labels and basically becoming a mailing machine. Removing typical work travel time allows for lots of reading, riffing, better learning recording systems and generally hanging out with dogs all day. This also provides time for doing something outside and a chance to get all of my broken equipment fixed after years of putting it off.  

2021 has started off rough but if we can get to the point where SOME of this is under control, perhaps there will be shows within the year. This pandemic has created a time where people have to adapt with flexibility, to do things differently and in many cases find new way to survive. It is not the same formula that worked before and it isn’t going to be this in the future either. The world is in flux and endlessly difficult for a lot of people. We have to support each other through mutual aid and find out how to get to the next thing.  

Follow Pirates Press Records on Facebook here and Vitriol Records here.

Read the rest of our New Year’s Evolutions posts here!


Pop-culture journo: currently blabbing-on at Horror Geek Life & New Noise Magazine. Punk rock fangrrrl, horror nerd, lipstick lover & pizza aficionado. Be Excellent to Each Other.

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