When it comes to playing the music industry game, sometimes it is easiest to take the industry out of the picture altogether and do it yourself. This is the ethos behind GravesEnd Records, a self-proclaimed old-school punk label started in 2009 by a musician and Colorado transplant who goes by the singular name of Cutter. Inspired by the labels he grew up listening to in the '90s like Crass Records and Dischord Records, Cutter started his own operation in 2009, hand-making the CD sleeves, sometimes organizing recording sessions (or recording bands on his own) and handling some of the distribution for punk bands across the U.S.
Born and raised just outside of Los Angeles, Cutter and his wife Victoria moved to Colorado not long ago and have been running the small but mighty GravesEnd operation out of their home. Though the label has yet to work with any local bands here, Cutter says it is only a matter of time before he's more connected with the Denver punk scene and able to offer the support of helping bands put out records and make merch.
"The thing with record labels is that now anyone can order a thousand CDs off the internet and put out music -- we want to be more than that," Cutter says of GravesEnd's purpose. "Punk bands started off having to make their own stuff because nobody wanted to deal with them -- I grew up in that scene and with that mentality, so it just came naturally for me to want to do this."
Working with acts like Union Boys out of Boston, Skeptic? from Birmingham and Snag, based in Santa Rosa, California, GravesEnd collaborates with bands on everything from making album artwork to helping through the recording process. Cutter says when Union Boys were on tour earlier this summer, the band stopped into local rehearsal room RocketSpace and recorded an EP that will be out later this year on the label. He shares that with his own small recording set-up, Cutter is able to record bands almost anywhere if they need it.
Cutter and Victoria spend many late nights in front of the copy machine at FedEx, reproducing handmade album art in the same classic black and white photocopy style that punk bands did way back when. GravesEnd uses recycled cardstock and jewel cases for CDs from GreenDisk, a company that sells unused cases discarded by corporate music, film and software companies.
It's not just that old school punk aesthetic that Cutter likes -- it's the act of doing it yourself and giving bands a cost-effective option. In addition to putting out music, GravesEnd also produces hand-screen t-shirts and patches. "Our number one goal is to make merch for as cheap as we can so bands can sell it and make money on tour," says Cutter. "We don't pocket any money -- we just try to get merch to bands so they can sell it on the road."
Since everything is handmade, albums come out in limited runs. GravesEnd also has a small distribution network of independent record stores across the country, personal relationships cultivated between Cutter, store owners and bands. The label also sells online through its website, where all of the records are available for free streaming to give new listeners a chance to hear before they buy.
Cutter is currently in a few bands himself, including the Gilstraps and Aw Shux, an outfit he started with his brother a decade and a half ago. Aw Shux's experience with trying to make a record early on definitely shaped the role Cutter now plays within his own label. "Aw Shux was never given a fair shot at making a legit album," says Cutter. "We pressed our first album ourselves in the mid 90's on CD because our only example of what to do was (from watching) Dischord Records and Black Flag making their own albums; we thought that's how punk albums got released."
Cutter shares that he feels that there is a bit more legitimacy to his work now, making all of the CDs from start to finish -- each album individually shrink wrapped and barcoded by hand -- and then putting the money into the next release. Sometimes the label helps its bands out with gas money on the road, or advertising when it can be afforded. Overall, Cutter sees this kind of work as a way to keep a scene going nationally -- by supporting bands in multiple ways.
With an EP from The Union Boys plus albums from the Gilstraps and Los Bastards out of Sweden on deck for release in the next few months, Cutter and Victoria are keeping busy. He says he hopes to get out to more shows here in Denver and connect with punk outfits here and expand GravesEnd's catalog even further. Cutter stresses that the label isn't about him or the work he does -- it is about the bands and the scene around them and the community effort it takes to connect people to the music.
A limited selection of GravesEnd Records's releases can be found locally at Wax Trax; the full catalog is available online at the label's website, as well as online punk distribution staple InterPUNK. Watch for new, limited-run releases from GravesEnd in the coming months.
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