By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
It's not all that uncommon for musicians and/or fans to found their own independent labels. But Owned & Operated, a new imprint out of Fort Collins, has a couple of marked advantages over most such startups--specifically, name recognition and connections.
The principals in the label bring with them loads of indie credibility. Bill Stevenson, Stephen Egerton, Karl Alvarez and Chad Price are part of All, a spinoff of the Descendents, one of punk rock's most influential groups. As noted in a previous Westword profile ("The Gang's All Here," April 26, 1995), the four moved to Fort Collins in June 1994 and put together their own studio, dubbed the Blasting Room. Although Stevenson, Egerton and Alvarez recently joined forces with vocalist Milo Aukerman for a Descendents reunion (see "Another Descent," October 31, 1996), All remains very much a going concern. Also committed to Owned & Operated are Joe Young, who has worked with Seattle-based C/Z Records (the home of bands like Treepeople and 7 Year Bitch) and Nastymix (best known for signee Sir Mix-A-Lot), and Joe Carducci, who co-owned Southern California-based SST Records during the first half of the Eighties. As such, Carducci helped introduce Black Flag, HYsker DY, the Minutemen, the Meat Puppets and many others to consumer America.
According to Young, the original idea for Owned & Operated came from Stevenson and Egerton: "They were recording all their favorite bands at the Blasting Room, and a lot of times they were having a hard time finding a label, or their labels weren't treating them right. So they said, 'Maybe we should start a label of our own.'"
Unfortunately, Stevenson and his cohorts had no idea what was actually involved in running a business. So they turned to Young, whom they had met a few years earlier. "I was working on the road crew with a C/Z band, My Name, and when we toured with All, we got to be pretty good friends," Young recalls. "Then I went to see All on a different tour, and I got the itch to go on the road again. So I went to them and said, 'Hey, what if I moved up to Fort Collins?' And they said, 'We could probably find something for you to do.'"
The final piece of the puzzle was Carducci, a longtime resident of Illinois who moved to California in 1976 with an eye toward a career in filmmaking. "I went out there to get work as a writer," he says. "But that was when the punk-rock thing was starting, and since I had an interest in music, I ended up riding that for a while." He began his association with SST in 1981--"It was around the time that Henry Rollins joined Black Flag," Carducci explains--and contributed mightily to the company's golden age. But by 1986, he says, "we were sort of in the maintenance phase. The Minutemen and Black Flag were done, HYsker DY had just gotten signed, and I was looking for a way to get back to my writing." He subsequently headed to Chicago, where he spent four years putting together Rock and the Pop Narcotic, a book about the musical span between punk and grunge. Carducci saw the opus, whose second edition was put out in 1995 by Rollins's publishing house, 2-13-61, as an effort to capture the essence of the time; as he puts it, "I felt that these bands deserved to be written into history--and I didn't trust any of the rock critics out there to do it."
Carducci later settled in Laramie, Wyoming, where he runs Provisional Films, an outfit dedicated to putting together intriguing movies on the slenderest of shoestrings. Bullet on a Wire, written by Carducci and starring David Yow of Jesus Lizard fame, was made for $14,000, yet it was accepted at film festivals in Austin, Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Munich and Rotterdam; it's likely to be released on video next year. Another Provisional offering, the bigger-budget ($30,000) Rock & Roll Punk, is in the editing process. Carducci, who penned the screenplay for the picture, describes it as "a comedy about a stoner rock band in the suburbs of Chicago--a fictional band, but one with real musicians playing the parts, like Karl from All."
With so many balls in the air, Carducci would seem to have little incentive to get back into the label game. But he wanted to assemble a companion recording for Rock & Roll Punk--and when Young and the members of All approached him about Owned & Operated, he realized that he could make his life easier in this regard by jumping aboard. "I was looking for a way so that I didn't have to sell a new soundtrack every time I had one," he says. "On top of that, I've got a lot of old tapes and stuff that I've always wished I could do something with without having to commit to it full-time. And since these guys have their studio down here and come across a lot of bands without record contracts, it all dovetailed nicely."
The first Owned & Operated release, a seven-inch by Fort Collins-based Wretch Like Me, came out this past summer, but it has not been distributed: "It was mostly to give them something to sell on the road," Young reveals. But beginning in January, Owned & Operated is stepping into the marketplace in earnest. On the docket are a Wretch Like Me full-length, New Ways to Fall; a compilation of recordings from the Blasting Room featuring tracks by the Descendents, All, Hagfish, the Lemons and others; a CD by Bill the Welder, a combo led by Bug, a Descendents roadie; and a package from Drag the River, an amalgamation that includes All's Price and Jon Snodgrass of Fort Collins's Armchair Martian ("The Martian Chronicles," May 16, 1996). "We're looking to sign other acts, too," Young says, "but we want to start slow--have it be a smaller-scale operation for the first year, so we can make sure that the releases come out on time and are promoted as well as we can promote them. I need to get back in the groove."