Even though he was working full-time for a punk rock indie label at the time, Tobias Jeg was still looking for new ways to pay back the music community that meant so much to him.
“What got me started was that I was really passionate about the underground music community. Still am!” says Jeg, who went on to found the label Red Scare Industry 15 years ago. “I still wanted to get involved and put my own stamp on things. There were bands that I tried getting signed to Fat (Wreck Chords, his employer at the time) and Epitaph, but had no takers, so I said fuck it and did it myself.”
It’s also important to mention that the early bands Jeg signed were also his friends, so that made it all the more fun and added the incentive of being able to help his buds. He eventually left his job at Fat and strike out on his own.
Over the past 15 years, he’s put out release by The Menzingers, Masked Intruder, Cobra Skulls, Teeenage Bottlerocket, The Falcon and a slew of others. In fact, the Falcon, a side project made up of members from Lawrence Arms, Alkaline Trio and Loved Ones, was also one of the first albums Red Scare released.
On the 15th anniversary of the label’s founding Jeg spoke about Red Scare’s history and what lies ahead.
What was the first band you started working with?
Going by the catalog numbers, the Falcon’s EP was the first, but the Enemy You record came out the same time. Maybe that’s what made me think I needed to start a label; I had two quality bands that were looking for a new label. We obviously got super lucky with those two initial acts. Enemy You was previously on Lookout/Panic Button and The Falcon had dudes from The Lawrence Arms, Rise Against, and Alkaline Trio. Man, I must have been WAY cooler 15 years ago to have those guys knockin’ on my door (laughs).
You’ve just hit the 15- year anniversary, what was the hardest lesson you learned along the way?
Wow. You know, there have been some hard lessons, but I don’t wanna sound jaded or spend too much energy on negative stuff. When your physical distro goes out of business and owes you five-figures, it can be a real drag. Vinyl costs and postal costs continue to go up, but people expect 1990’s pricing, etc. But those nuts and bolts things are inevitable in this biz, so you just have to be in a position to be able to endure those unexpected expenses. Knock on wood, but we’ve always been able to pay our bills and pay our bands, and the reason is because we spend within our means. I think one lesson I have learned from being around the scene is that the people with the biggest mouths are the most bullshit. Especially when it comes to the “hot topics” of the scene. For example, the people who are the most overzealous about safe spaces, almost always turn out to be the creeps and bullies around. So, we try and stay away from weird, judgmental dorks like that. Thems bad vibes!
You mentioned started out at Fat. Any lessons you picked up from (label founder) Fat Mike or some of the others at that label?
Yeah, I learned a ton from 2004 Fat Mike. This current Mike seems a little, uhhh, “thirsty” as the kids say, but 2004 Mike taught us all a lot about respecting the bands and working in their best interest. Back then, Mike was all about supporting the scene with your dollars. There was a lot more to go around back then, but it’s important to keep the money “in the family” by taking out ads with indie zines, making merch with homies from the punk world, etc. And of course, Fat has a reputation for paying bands, and that’s something of real importance to us.
Were there other labels you looked to for an example as to how to run – or not run – an indie label?
I love Asian Man Records because Mike (Park, label founder) has great politics and is frugal like me. I liked how Lookout was a very playful and irreverent label. I like Gunner Records in Germany because Gunnar is a good Leftist from my Mother’s hometown of Bremen and he always shows us a great time.
As for examples of how NOT to run a label… sure. There’s lotsa turkeys out there. I honestly don’t even have the time to pay attention to them. Cue Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next.”
There are obviously millions of stories of labels screwing over bands. Have you ever worked with bands that have taken advantage of you?
Ha, good question. Of course. There’s a couple dudes who think they’re pretty slick, but nothing too crazy. At the end of the day, I’m in touch with virtually all these people and we’re friends. We don’t do contracts with bands, so there’s definitely the opportunity for someone to take advantage of that, but no one has really screwed us over. Here’s the thing about the punk scene that not enough people talk about: we’re good people doing good stuff. To read the shit on social media you’d think it’s just some big immoral bar fight, but the truth is there’s a lot of great people conducting ethical business. Who knew?!
What is the best- selling album at Red Scare?
Ever since streaming came along, it gets a little murky as to what is the best seller. The record that has sold the most physical copies in stores is probably The Falcon Unicornography. That first Masked Intruder LP is still very popular. The Menzingers sell well, The Lillingtons Death by Television is a timeless classic that never stops selling… you get the idea!
Are you bothered when bands that you essentially discover end up leaving to record with someone else?
Not at all. Remember, these are our friends. And the reason we’re even here is to HELP them, ya know? Oftentimes we’re the ones facilitating the move. There is a band that I was disappointed to hear was moving to Fat this year. Mostly because we still had a lot of work to do with the band and the transition was a little funny, but that was a first. To answer your question, we have a lot of bands who are stoked to keep moving forward on Red Scare, so I have no shortage of shit to do.
How often to you get music sent to you by bands wanting to work with you? What do you look for in signing bands?
Oh, demo submissions? EVERY DAMN DAY. Throughout the day! Out of common courtesy I try and write everyone back, but there’s a lot. As for what we look for in bands, I have said this numerous times over the years: good people and good tunes. It helps a lot if your band has chemistry and wants to tour, because if we’re gonna invest a bunch into making your record, we’ll need the bands to work equally as hard if we’re going to break even. It’s hard to determine if a band has what it takes to stick around and I’ve definitely whiffed on a few bands we shoulda worked with.
RECENT RED SCARE RELEASES
Various Artists | Red Scare Industries: 15 Years of Tears and Beers | Red Scare Industries
Remember how dumb we were in 2004? We thought we were living through the worst presidency that would ever come along. Facebook was founded, and we assumed it was just a harmless networking site. Surprisingly, something rad did happen in 2004: the birth of Red Scare Industries! To celebrate, on Sept. 27, the label put out a comp of 15 previously unreleased songs by Brendan Kelly And The Wandering Birds, The Lippies, Sincere Engineer, The Bombpops, and a ton more. Fists up!
The Copyrights / Kepi Ghoulie | Observation Wagon | Red Scare Industries
Kepi Ghoulie and The Copyrights have collaborated in the past, so a split EP just seemed like a natural evolution of the relationship. Red Scare Industries put out this stellar 7”, Observation Wagon, on July 12. Each act contributes a new song to the effort, The Copyrights’ “Welcome Wagon” and Ghoulie’s “Observation Day,” along with a cover, with The Copyrights taking on Ghoulie’s “Are You Passionate?” and Ghoulie tackling The Copyrights’ “Four Eyes.” “Welcome Wagon” is also the first new song from The Copyrights in five years.
Sicko | In the Alternate Timeline | Red Scare Industries
The back catalog of Seattle punk legends Sicko has long been out of print, but Red Scare Industries found a solution of sorts. On Sept. 13, the label put out a 19-song anthology culled from the band’s criminally underrated four LPs, 1994’s You Can Feel the Love in This Room, 1995’s Chef Boy-R-U-Dum and Laugh While You Can Monkey Boy, and 1997’s You Are Not the Boss of Me. The tracklist was handpicked by the band and fully remastered. Sicko called it quits in 1998, but there’s hope that this collection could inspire some reunion shows!