Back in 2006, Jeff Casazza found himself frantically driving up and down the streets near his Allston-based office, looking for a roving UPS truck that was supposed to overnight 1,200 CDs for a record release party he was flying out to in Seattle—in two hours’ time.
The party was for the band Sinking Ships, the third release from Jeff's newly minted indie rock label, Run For Cover Records. “Their EP was by far the most anticipated thing we had done at that point. I was flying out to the record release show because it was clear this record was going to do really well, so I wanted to see it in person—perhaps to confirm that there were at least some people somewhere who cared about what I had invested the last two years of my life into," he admitted. Eventually, he managed to intercept the precious cargo and make it to his flight in time to stash the haul in his overhead compartment for the cross-country flight.
A good thing, too, because just as he had guessed, Meridian ended up selling nearly five thousand copies within the first year of its release—a huge success for Jeff's label at that point. Now, 11 years later, Run For Cover Records has been behind some of the most important releases in melodic hardcore—and well beyond—of the decade. Rock and punk bands like Title Fight and Modern Baseball, mellower singing groups like mewithoutYou and Elvis Depressedly, and dark shoegazers Whirr and Westkust have all released records on the imprint.
We spoke with Jeff and label manager Tom Chiari about the importance of investing in a band, trusting your ear, and finding success by not pinning your label to one genre. Read the interview below and listen to tracks from a handful of Run For Cover signees on this month’s UO Mixtape Volume 10 streaming here.
Photos by Angela Owens
Jeff, take us back to 2004 when you founded Run For Cover Records. What were some of the best and worst times of that year?
JC: The best time was actually putting a release out, and then putting multiple releases out, and going on tour with some of the bands. Just being a part of it and slowly creating a little company. The worst times were trying to manage all of the work by myself, which I did for a long time—probably 6 or 7 years—that was really difficult for that whole time.
Tom, what year did you come on board?
TC: I formally started in 2011. I was in a band called Hostage Calm that was on the label. We signed in 2009, and then our record came out in 2010. Through the whole process, I got to know Jeff and got the feeling that I should start helping out with some things.
What is your process when it comes to looking for new bands?
JC: There’s no real rhyme or reason. Sometimes we sign a band before they’ve ever even put a release out and a manager, or booking agent, or friend sends their music along, and sometimes we sign someone who’s been a successful band for 15 years—like mewithoutYou. Obviously we put out a ton of different stuff, so there’s no real certain sound that we’re looking for. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It usually works though, we’ve been doing pretty good [laughs].
Was that a challenge at first, finding bands to sign?
JC: The biggest challenge at first was definitely finding bands. I had a lot of competition with what I was trying to do. There were a lot of labels trying to sign the same bands who had been around a lot longer. Eventually, the solution to that was just expanding the kind of music that we were working with. In the beginning, it was very focused on underground, hardcore bands, but around our fifth release—which was two to three years into it—we started putting all kinds of music out, which was a lot easier. Outside of that, the main issue was keeping up with our mail order and customer service stuff. It was getting too big too quickly.
There are no Boston bands signed to Run For Cover. What role then does the city play in the story of the label?
JC: I think it’s by chance that we haven’t worked with any local bands. I think we’ve only worked with one band from Massachusetts, ever. As far as Boston goes, and how we’re connected to the city, in the last year or two we’ve gotten way more in touch with the stuff that’s going on in the city. We have a great relationship with Converse, who just opened a Rubber Tracks Studio, and Bowery Presents, who books almost every one of our bands when they come through Boston. They work in our building, so we’ve become close with them. I wish that there were more bands that made sense to sign from the area, but it just hasn’t worked out that way.
What’s one thing you think indie labels succeed at over the majors?
JC: I guess one thing that they do consistently is give up on something if it’s not an immediate hit, which obviously isn’t really how indie labels operate. I think indie labels are more about investing in a band long term, and trying to work off of that. Sometimes, it’s something that’s not a huge massive hit, but it doesn’t mean it’s not going to be the second time around, and it doesn’t mean that band is a failure.
Some of the bigger bands you’ve worked with—Tigers Jaw, Title Fight, mewithoutYou—do they act as a gateway in discovering other acts on your roster?
JC: Yeah, I would like to think people who hear of or connect to the label for the first time by one of our bigger bands realize that the rest of the roster is probably also interesting. The goal is to have people at least want to listen to everything we put out. A lot of the smaller bands on Run For Cover get a little more attention because people trust the stuff we put out. Even though it all sounds pretty different, it can appeal to the same people.
TC: I think that’s why we’re successful. People discover the label through one of these gateway bands—now it might be Elvis Depressedly or Teen Suicide. The catalog the label has is kind of diverse and also very rewarding in that you can discover bands that maybe you didn’t know were out there before.
Who are some artists you’re most excited about working with right now?
JC: That’s a good question. The last few months have been pretty crazy for us, we just put out full-lengths for Citizen/Turnover, Elvis Depressedly, mewithoutYou, and a bunch more. I think someone that I would say we as a whole are very excited to be working with is Elvis Depressedly. [Matt Cothran’s] new record New Alhambra came out two or three months ago at this point. He’s just really an interesting character, and musician, and artist, and he just records so much music [that’s] good quality. We have another release from him coming out in the beginning of 2016 and that’s something we’re pretty excited about.
Listen to the UO Mixtape Volume 10 now.