Scene Not Heard shifts the focus from the individuals who create the best albums to take an inside look at the behind-the-scenes jobs that keep the industry running. Go beyond the music and meet the people who keep your favorite bands in the public eye…
Deathwish Inc. has built quite the reputation in its 18 years. Based out of Beverly, Massachusetts, the label was started by Tre McCarthy and Converge’s Jacob Bannon when the two needed to release a split. In its time, the label has grown considerably and is a championed name in the community. After releasing the aforementioned Hellchild and Converge split, the duo decided they wanted to see other bands get the attention they deserved, and what better way to facilitate that than by releasing their music?
Most already know about Bannon, Converge, and the artwork that goes into the label, but for this installment of Scene Not Heard, the light will shine on McCarthy.
What does McCarthy do?
“I am the co-owner and cofounder of the independent record label Deathwish Inc. I have always said simply that at Deathwish, where Jake is the artist, I am the accountant. It sums it up simply and gives a sort of yin yang vibe. In addition, I do a lot of the so-called A&R and maintain relationships with our artists while focusing on the bigger picture [and] long-term goals of Deathwish—but I’m also the person on hold with Comcast when the internet goes out, and I make sure that we have paper for the printer.”
There are a lot of factors that go into owning a label, including distribution. McCarthy is proud of how they handle their releases.
“Deathwish does a lot of our own distribution in-house, but we also work with a number of other distributors. Many labels have exclusive distribution deals; they work with large distributors—mostly—exclusively, who sell to the larger stores and music chains: Amoeba, Newbury Comics, and the like. We work with ADA; they handle those larger chains who don’t want to work with a bunch of smaller labels and just get everything from a few big distributors. They also do our digital distribution [via] Apple Music, Spotify, etc. We definitely put a lot of focus on Deathwish Direct, especially as the larger music industry collapses all around us. We not only distribute our own releases but also work with a lot of other labels and handle their distribution for them, both physical and digital.”
A lot of Deathwish Inc. is built on community. For bands looking to build a rep and get on an official label, McCarthy believes building or being part of a community is the best way.
“You need to build a local following and, then, use that local following to get on shows when the touring bands come through. And then, you have to be fucking good. Real fucking good. And you gotta hope that what you do catches someone’s attention, and then, that someone turns around to someone like me and says, ‘Hey, we played with this great band the other night. I think you should check them out.’ That person could be the singer of the touring band, it could be the person selling t-shirts—hell, it could be a friend of mine who went to the show. I go to a ton of shows, and I listen to a ton of new bands, scouring Bandcamp and Spotify, but if someone whose opinion I trust hits me up and tells me that I gotta check someone out, it carries a lot more weight.”
Deathwish have plenty of releases, but what are some of McCarthy’s favorite releases from his label?
“Like a parent is not allowed to have a favorite child, I love all of our releases the same. However, over the years, there have been a lot of records that, obviously, I have a stronger personal connection to than others. Touché Amoré’s Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me is a big one. I first saw the band at Sound And Fury in 2009, and the feeling in the air while they played—the crowd practically drowning out the entire band—was entirely magical. It was that sort of tangible energy that old folks in the scene talk about when they talk about how is was ‘back in their day,’ but it was happening right then. I met [vocalist] Jeremy [Bolm] and [guitarist] Clayton [Stevens] for the first time that night, and we started working together shortly thereafter.”
“Deafheaven’s Sunbather is another record that holds a special place in my heart. I remember stumbling across their demo on a blog and, after about two minutes of listening, thinking, ‘Who is this band? They’re great, and I want to work with them.’ Fast forward a couple years, and I am sitting on the couch in Jack Shirley’s Atomic Garden Studio, and Kerry [McCoy] is recording his guitars for the title track, and he gets to the part at about 3:58—it hit me right in the chest. Also, Dan [Tracy]’s little drum fill ride cymbal thing at 5:58 is icing on the cake.”
“It’s those small moments and feelings where you can just say to yourself, ‘Yup, this is it.’ It’s that reason why I think a lot of us do this: to be able to have a hand in getting these special moments out into the world.”
What’s McCarthy’s advice for those wanting to start their own label?
“Start young. Plan to lose money and live frugally. Work with artists who truly speak to you. Trust your instincts and go with your heart. Realize early that the more you lose on records one, two, and three makes it that much harder to put out records four, five, and six—so plan accordingly.”