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|interviewed by robby sumner|
Owner of Drive-Thru Records
|E: Drive-Thru Records has been putting out some of music's greatest band for a number of years, and in doing so has gained enough infamy on the scene to make any remaining "underground" title almost ironic... what was the original motivation for starting the label in the first place?
Richard: Thanks for the compliment! We were always involved with music in some way and music has always been a huge part of our lives—“our" being my sister and I. We always wanted to be involved with music somehow, and we had a fanzine then a public access TV music show and then the label. It was just so we could put out music we loved and expose it to other people.
E: How would you describe the success of the first handful of releases you put out?
Richard: To us at the time, selling one hundred CDs was a success. We were just excited anyone bought the CD we put out. It was exciting. The first "big" release we had was Fenix Tx. We would press one thousand CDs at a time. Each time we would improve the artwork a little bit because Stefanie was doing it at the time, and she had no previous design experience. So the first pressing was really ugly art inside, by the third we added some color pictures, then we had to change our logo for the next pressing. We have a collection of all of the different pressings. We wound up selling about ten thousand of those when the band got added to the radio and majors came offering us deals. Ten thousand was huge to us
E: Did the successfulness of the label seem to escalate steadily from the start?
Richard: Not really. We signed bands we loved and we knew some of them weren't as "accessible" as others. We signed a band called Last Summer eight years ago and we knew some people would love them and some would hate them but we didn't care. We thought they were great. The band didn't ever want to be on radio or TV or anything and we were fine with that. Not that we could get them on TV or radio back then, but we were fine with their ethics anyway. We aren't looking to sign hit bands. Never were. There have been many bands we signed at the time who were different than what's going on in the scene. You have a few assholes who post on message boards and say this or that to us. I got so used to that I just laugh at it now. It used to bother me. When we first signed Finch, kids were like "Drive-Thru sucks now. They signed a band that screams! That's horrible." Six months later they all loved Finch and got more into other screaming bands. Now that scene is completely played out, but back then it was different. That sort of thing happens all of the time. I just figure they will listen to the band when the CD comes out and will hopefully like it. If not, it's fine. I just don't know why they have to bother posting obnoxious comments. The band is doing what they love, we obviously love the music, but some idiot has to put it down. I think their time would be better spent trying to do something productive in their day. Maybe start their own label and put out bands they love. Maybe promote bands they like. It's just childish.
E: After a comparatively short era of exclusively "pop-punk" bands, the label has obviously begun to show its wider range of band selections with signings like Finch and Senses Fail, and then later bands like Steel Train and your newest group An Angle. Was there ever a deliberate effort to add variety to your line-up, or have the selections stayed entirely based on what bands you find and love?
Richard: That's the thing. It drives me crazy that people say that. Our label has always had different sounding bands but people like to always bring that up. We had New Found Glory and Rx Bandits who I don't think sound the same. Finch was different than them. We signed Dashboard Confessional who was acoustic. We signed Something Corporate who were different. We always have and always will sign bands we love. It has always been diverse to a point, maybe a little more now, but that's not a conscience effort. It just happens those are the bands we fell in love with recently. Probably because ninety percent of bands around now are hardcore or screamo or Thrice/Thursday/TBS rip-offs. It's boring. So we find bands not in that scene. And those bands are great, but the bands trying to be them just don't do it well or add anything new.
E: Most bands today dream of being part of a record label like DTR, and nowadays getting signed is almost a rite of passage for working groups... do you think that this widespread belief is well-founded?
Richard: I think bands should be DIY until they get signed. It's counter productive for bands to sit around and send out demos and play one show a week. They need to work harder, make a fanbase for themselves, keep writing songs and practicing. If they can't tour, that's fine, but do something. There are a bunch of bands who are just going on tour and working their asses off and doing pretty well. It's impressive. It's tough for sure, but they are doing it.
E: These days, when you're listening to music purely for personal enjoyment, do you mentally analyze what you hear the same way you would if it were the demo of a band you were considering signing?
Richard: Definitely not. It would ruin the enjoyment of the music. I also went to film school and used to direct music videos. If I watch a movie in that mode, it ruins that too. I just get out of that zone.
E: To bring up current events--the label's recent break from MCA. It's no secret that you're glad to be free from the contract, but what will this mean to fans of the label?
Richard: It won't really affect anything as far as all of the kids are concerned. Our CDs will be in the same stores, and probably even more since Geffen sucked with distribution when they didn't care about a band. You won't see any Drive-Thru/Sanctuary bands since they can't pick up our bands and rape us like Geffen did. Those days are over! Not working with a clueless, corporate major label is just a huge relief for us. If people only knew how vile those companies are they would all be disgusted. So many shady things go on behind closed doors. We hated it. People have a lot of misconceptions about the Geffen (MCA) deal. When we started Drive-Thru in 1996 we were running it from our dining room table with just me and Stefanie running everything. Later Rich--ex-Rx Bandits and our friend--would come up and help us out a lot. Then we got the MCA deal. MCA was just a distributor. Their job was to get our CDs in stores and they would give us some funding so we could run the label. They didn't do anything else for our bands whatsoever until they came and stole the band from us. People seem to think that Geffen owned a part of our label. If they did, we wouldn't be able to leave. We never depended on someone else to run our label. We do everything the way we want to run it. I'm just tired of kids thinking Geffen owned our label or we weren’t independent before.
E: What happens regarding those bands that were Drive-Thru/MCA, like Something Corporate?
Richard: They stay there, unfortunately. We would still do anything for those bands. They are our bands. We just had to get out of that situation. Geffen thought that dangling that fact in front of us would get us to stay with them. They offered us a higher percentage of profits from all of those bands but nothing was worth staying there. Trust me, it was killing us to think we would have to leave them all there. It was really, really hard but we had to leave. Someone said it was like battered wife syndrome--Geffen kept treating us like shit and doing horrible things to us and the bands and we kept being nice to them and kept signing bands and not pulling anything sketchy, but they kept being assholes to us. This person said to us we are crazy for even thinking about going back no matter what they offer, and they were right. Honestly, the Senses Fail incident was the final straw. There are some awesome people at Geffen, it’s just that they all have a boss and the boss has a boss to answer to and shareholders who only care about profits and that's the issue. It's all money and numbers. No heart or soul.
E: How did the relationship with Sanctuary form?
Richard: We heard so many good things about Sanctuary from various people--their employees love it there, the bands love it... it's such a better vibe. They all get building careers. They aren't only about the radio hits. They understand long term. It's such a great difference. So we approached them. They didn't come to us. We were tired of meeting with major labels. The meetings were cool and there were very nice people, but we know how fake it all is.
E: Does the fact that you run the label with your sister, Stefanie, impact the direction of the label?
Richard: Not really. We have very, very similar taste. There is rarely a time we disagree with music.
E: What exactly does "running" a label entail, work-wise?
Richard: That would take forever to answer. The short version: dealing daily with bands, managers, booking agents, lawyers, printers, publishers, producers, studios, etc. E-mail/Phone calls/faxes/meetings. We have to come up with ways to market a CD, promote a tour, get a band in a studio, find a mixer for another band's CD, make sure the contract is done for a band we are signing, plan the Drive-Thru tour and comp, come up with a release schedule, while making sure kids heard the new song from a different band. And this is going on for multiple bands and projects all at once. It's a ton of work.
E: What about your job has made it the most rewarding?
Richard: Watching a band we sign go from playing to ten kids to ten thousand kids. Seeing their parents at shows singing along when a few years ago they were throwing the kid out of the house because he wasn't getting a real job or because he was leaving school. It's awesome.
E: Well thanks a whole lot, both for the interview and for your contribution to the music world.
Richard: Thanks for supporting our label! Good luck with the zine!