Hitting the twenty-year mark is a pretty big deal for a record label in the modern “here today, gone tomorrow” entertainment industry. Hitting that mark as a punk rock label that has never been afraid to put out folk and Celtic releases? Well, that’s pretty damn impressive.
Co-founders Bill Armstrong and Joe Sib (who are both musicians themselves) have managed to hit this milestone thanks to an impressive roster that has included an array of influential artists over the years, including Flogging Molly, Gaslight Anthem, Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Chuck Ragan.
SideOneDummy Records was originally launched back in 1995, when Armstrong and Sib decided to merge their respective small indie labels (Sib’s label was called Side One, while Armstrong’s was Dummy). Over the years, they have become known as ahead-of-the-curve tastemakers for the punk and indie-rock scene. Armstrong took some time out of his busy schedule recently to talk about the label’s founding, its future and how Jack Johnson got away.
You guys both had your own record labels at one time. Why did you and Joe decide to merge?
We thought that two heads were better than one, and neither of us really knew what we were doing. We were just trying to figure out how to pay the rent without having to get a “regular” job or career of some sort.
Did you ever anticipate that SideOneDummy Records would not only become a full-time job, but would be around two decades after you started it?
It was a full-time job from day one, in the sense that neither of us had another job. I personally never thought about “What will SideOneDummy be like in 20 years?” because, before SideOneDummy Records, I hadn’t ever done anything for 20 years. It would have felt pretty lofty at the time.
As musicians, did either of you have bad experiences with labels before that guided how you wanted to treat the musicians you signed to your labels?
We just really wanted to create a place for musicians, run by musicians.
In starting the label, did you look to any other indies as good examples of how to function, or how NOT to?
Yes, but more on what to do than what not to do. I loved Matador, Sub Pop, Fat Wreck Chords… Fat really helped us early on. (Fat) Mike and Erin (Burkett) really took the time to answer our silly questions. Mike also gave us an unreleased NOFX track for one of our first compilations, and that really meant a lot to us. It helped us a lot, too.
What do you look for when you sign bands? How did you originally come across most of the recent bands you have signed?
Ninety-nine percent of the time, someone refers the band to us. If we like them and think we can help them out, we try to reach out. We do sign a bit based on internal consensus here. Since we are a boutique company, everyone who works here needs to feel that they can help the artist achieve their goals in each of their perspective departments.
Did you ever have a band that you turned down, who went on to do really well elsewhere?
Probably, but none that come to mind off the top of my head. We have had artists that we have discovered too late, in the sense that they had already committed to another partner. Jack Johnson and The Get Up Kids are two specific examples that come to mind.
Did you ever come close to shutting down or walking away from the label?
We have been extremely blessed that we have never had to do that. We also realize more than ever how lucky we are to have the gigs that we do have. Working with a bunch of talented artists on their different career trajectories and goals can really be a lot of fun.
You guys have put out some really big records over the years. Can you usually tell right away which bands are going to sell really well?
I really wish I could! There have been records I thought would catch the world on fire that never connected with the world like they did with me. Once a record is out for a while, you get an idea of what the “pace” of that band is. Some run a faster pace and others run a slower pace. That being said, releasing an indie album is always a marathon. You never know when you are going to get that unexpected surprise. So we try to treat every week like the first week, all the way through the album cycle, so we don’t miss any opportunities.
You hit your 20-year anniversary this year: What are you doing to celebrate the anniversary?
We started a little vinyl club that is going really well, and we’re celebrating the fact that we can still call ourselves a record label in 2015 by putting out exciting records.
That being said, what’s next for you guys?
Another 20 years, hopefully. –John B. Moore