We got Scott from Harmless Records here in the studios with us
tonight. He is the man in charge, the man with the plan behind
Harmless. Scott, what did we just hear?
Scott: So what
is this plan thing youre talking about?
Mike/RFC: You know,
you got the plan.
if you say so.
Mike/RFC: You better
have a plan.
Scott: That was
some old, old Harmless stuff. A band called My Foolish Halo and
thats their track off of a 1995 compilation that we put
out called Dad, Are We Punk Yet? The song is called
What Is Shame?
Mike/RFC: If I
remember right, was that the first full length album that you
that was the first full length release that Harmless put out.
Mike/RFC: How exactly
did Harmless get its start. That record being your first
full length album it was still your 7th release at the time. Tell
us a little bit about the early days of Harmless Records.
Scott: Back then
in Chicago, everything was still demos and 7s. Not a whole
lot of bands put out albums really, except for the bigger ones.
What Im saying is that back then it wasnt unusual
to have a punk label be around and have 10 releases and have 8
of them be eps. How I got the label started though. I was
in a band called Chemical Blue in 1992.
Mike/RFC: I actually
meant to bring the 7 in tonight and sneak attack you with
funny. If you really want to, you can play the Chemical Blue track
off of Dad, Are We Punk Yet?
Mike/RFC: I was
actually going to play Toad.
Scott: Ah, even
better. Thats alright, listen to Justins show on Friday
night. He plays it all the time. Everytime I call in hes
got it waiting to antagonize me. Anyways, to say the least, its
10 years old and not that good. So yeah, I was in a band called
Chemical Blue and we wanted to put out a record. We had this local
label lined up to try and help us out, but they ran into some
financial trouble and I really wanted to see it happen. I fronted
the money and worked it out and started selling the record and
found out that I really enjoyed doing this so I thought, Maybe
I should do some more records. Chemical Blue had saved a
couple songs to do a split 7 with somebody. Which means
one band on one side and one on the other, and we found a band
to do it with and I put it out and decided to make that my new
record labels first release. It kind of went from there.
Mike/RFC: How did
you come up with the name?
no great dramatic story or anything. I was just sitting there
one day racking my brain trying to come up with a name, cuz the
first Chemical Blue 7, even though I released it, had somebody
elses name on it. We thought the label was going to help
us so we put their name on the back of the cover and when it became
clear that the label would not recover from their financial problems
and Id be the one paying for it, it was too late. So, it
still had their name on the back of it. Even though I paid for
it and its kind of my labels first release, it doesnt
have my label name anywhere on it. It doesnt say harmless
anywhere on it. So, for my second record, which was really my
first, I wanted to come up with a name and was just racking my
brains and it just sort of popped in there and I thought, Well,
Im not going to do any better than that.
Mike/RFC: The name
leaves itself open to a lot of junior high school jokes. I just
noticed that someone on your guestbook recently left a pretty
harsh message about the name. What are definitely some of the
funniest things youve heard about the label?
not as much as youd think. Just a lot of really obvious
puns on the name. When I started, it was a punk rock label, and
it still more or less is, but the joke was oh yeah, Harmless records,
and I was going to be putting out the really visceral, aggressive
sounding stuff. But of course, whenever I put out anything thats
the slightest bit light or not heavy in any way and the reviewer
doesnt like it then they say, Oh yeah, Harmless Records,
this is really Harmless. Thats really as creative as it
gets. I admit, the name is a little juvenile, and I would never
put out a compilation nowadays called, Dad, Are We Punk
Yet? but, I was a lot younger then. Ive been doing
the label for about 10 years.
going to get back into the music here. Well be back with
Scott but were going to play another song that Scott put
out. Tell us a bit about it.
a band called Walker, another older one. This was Harmless
16th release. I had put out a couple 45s for them and they
actually made it to an album. One of those few Chicago punk bands
that made it to an album, well, their really from Lafayette, IN.
Mike/RFC: Why did
people think they were a Chicago band for so long. I mean, I grew
up in Homewood and people from Homewood seriously thought that
they were from Homewood. There was a kid in my high school that
tried to find the house they lived in.
Homewood had quite a punk scene going on back then and bands used
to play there all the time and theyd play at this place
called Off The Alley and Lafayette, IN is where Perdue University
is, its about 2 and a half hours from here. Homewood is
about an hour south of Chicago so Lafayette is right in between
Homewood and Chicago.
Mike/RFC: You mean
Homewood is right in between the city and Lafayette.
I dont do radio that often, as you could tell. Id
be great doing this professionally. So yeah, Homewood was right
in between the two and it was a lot easier for Walker to get shows
in Homewood and they were a lot easier for the band to get to.
They played there so often that a lot of area people just assumed
they were from there.
(Go listen to your Walker CD right now)
Mike/RFC: We are
back. You are tuned into Radio Free Chicago on 88.7 and we got
Scott Thomson here in the studio, the man in charge of Harmless
Records. Say Hi.
Mike/RFC: We were
talking a little bit earlier about the starting of Harmless Records,
how it sort of came about. Through all that time, you must have
come up with a direction for the label. Where did you see the
label going in the early days and compare that to what you are
trying to achieve with the label now.
Scott: When I
first started out my only real agenda was to put out records by
Chicago bands that I liked. I never had a real strict policy of
sticking only to Chicago bands. It kind of by default just ended
up being that way. In the early days those were the only bands
that I had the opportunity to approach. In the later days out
of town bands would approach me but for whatever reasons it just
wouldnt work out. I realized that I actually preferred to
work in situations where I could get to know the musicians fairly
well and go see them live on a regular basis and feel like I had
some sort of connection with them, whereas if I was working with
out of town bands Id only be able to see them when they
were on tour or if I made a special trip to their town. Its
still not an iron clad rule, but I still work with 95% local bands.
I also dont really stick with just one sound. I just kind
of like to try to document some of what is going on in the city,
that I like. Ill be fair about that. I dont think
I should do a record for this band just cuz a lot of people like
them and are going to their shows if Im not into it. So
I dont try to stick to one sound and I dont go with
something that Im not into just because its popular.
The range of stuff Ive put out has really varied, partly
because what has been going on in the Chicago underground scene
has changed, but also because my tastes have changed as well.
Like a lot of the early records are very punk rock or pop-punk
and in the later records you get into more indie rock or emo or
really aggressive hardcore.
Mike/RFC: Now your
label definitely jumps around in sounds, you dont narrow
yourself into one genre, but you still have this stigma over your
head of being a pop-punk label. I know its come up in talking
to bands in the past. Why do you think you have this and how has
it affected you as a label?
actually been beginning to change over the last few years finally,
but uhm, its pretty easy. When I first started off, out
of my first 6 or 7 records, the ones that did really well were
the pop-punk records. Winepress, Walker, The Mushuganas. All of
these were pretty poppy, melodic records. And for every one of
those there was a kendokwan record, which was aggressive indie
rock, a My Foolish Halo 7 which is more abrasive. The other
stuff was in there the whole time. Its just the stuff that
caught on was the poppier stuff. A label can get itself pigeonholed
very quickly and it did take me a long time to break out of that
and since it wasnt something I was going for I wasnt
fully conscious of it, until one day I was calling a record store.
I was putting out the Traitors 7, the first record from
that band, who are pretty aggressive hardcore punk band, and I
was talking to a record store about it and the guy said, Wow,
the Traitors. Isnt that pretty aggressive for Harmless?
And I said, Oh no, no, I like hardcore, what are you talking
about. Then I thought back and could totally see how he
got that impression. Then a couple years later when I was trying
to branch out more and more a band that I would approach would
say things like, But you run a pop-punk label, and
I would respond, I only run a pop-punk label because bands
like you give me that answer. If you gave me a chance to do your
record it wouldnt be so much in one direction. But
thats years passed. I really think Ive smashed that
mold. Not that I was embarrassed of my past. It was simple, Pop-punk
had been around for a while and I had grown and matured and wanted
to branch out into other things. I got interested in new bands
and new sounds and new bands also started showing up more in the
talking about new bands and new sounds, but one of your newest
records is a discography CD by the band Bhopal Stiffs, which is
the oldest recordings that you put out on the label, yet one of
your newest releases. Tell me about how that record happened and
who the Bhopal Stiffs are. Why did you feel the need for the record
to come out this much after the fact?
The Bhopal Stiffs were and old Chicago punk band who were around
from 1985-1989. They put out a 10 song demo, a 2 song 45 and a
6 song 12 EP. They were most known for the EP, it was their
last record. The reason people were into them and were checking
out their stuff was that Larry Damore who sings for Pegboy and
Steve Sailors who was the first bass player for Pegboy played
in Bhopal Stiffs prior to Pegboy. Bhopal Stiffs were around for
a long time. They were pretty well known and pretty well liked
for back then. They did quite well in drawing crowds and all their
releases were long out of print and very hard to find. Theres
some releases that are out of print but enough were made so its
not that hard to find them, but Bhopal Stiffs records were really
hard to find. The way I got the idea, I just love Chicago music
and I have a great deal of interest in the history of Chicago
music. I have a great deal of respect for the past and those that
have done this before me. I used to play in a band called The
Letterbombs and I was talking to our bass player, Rob, who also
has a great deal of respect for the old bands, and we were talking
about stuff we really liked and records that we wished would be
re-issued. I brought up the Bhopal Stiffs and he said it was a
great idea and that I should really look into doing it. I did.
It took me a while to track everyone down and everything. The
more I talked about it and talked to others about it, the more
I realized that other people were really excited about it and
wanted to hear the stuff as well. Either they had never heard
it and were curious about it because they had heard the mention
of the band. Oh, it was two guys from Pegboy. I really want
to check that out. Either that or people that had heard
the older records at one point or had one record and not the other.
You know, there was enough of an interest in it. Even though it
was nothing like what I was doing at the time I still wanted to
release the stuff. Thats not that unusual. For example,
Touch And Go re-released the Effigies Remains Not Viewable
compilation. Thats some old Chicago punk rock and they dont
really put out records like that anymore.
Mike/RFC: But I
think the difference is is that the Effigies had lbums that came
out and had more material that came out on a wider scale than
that of the Bhopal Stiffs. What was going on in your head that
convinced you that there was a definite need for this? Also, what
has the response been after the record came out?
true. They definitely werent quite as well known as the
Effigies. I mean, a lot of older people remember them, but with
the younger crowd they werent one of those bands, since
their records were out of print, that had their records handed
down and were known about. One record that really helped a lot
that I have to give credit to is an old Chicago 7 called
Viva Chicago which was a split 7 between 2 Chicago
bands, The Bollweevils and 88 Fingers Louie. Both bands each picked
2 old Chicago punk bands to cover and 88FL chose the Bhopal Stiffs
as one of their bands and did a song called Not Just My Head.
This was sometime around 1993, 1994, and this was a lot of kids
first introduction to the band. I remember that record coming
out and really liking it and a lot of other people that liked
it I knew of and again, it was, Oh this band is great. Where
can I get their record? you cant. So it was owhen
the first idea came around. Like I said before, the more I talked
to people about this record the more I found out that a surprising
amount of people remembered this band and wanted it to come out
or had heard about the band and wanted it to come out. The response
I got has been great. It sold well. I got a lot of e-mails and
letters from people who just wrote and said, Thank you for
making this available. Im 35 years old now and I live in
California. Im from Chicago and I used to love going to
see the Bhopal Stiffs and its wonderful to have this CD
so I can listen to this stuff.
I think we should play a track off the Bhopal Stiffs CD !985-1989.
What track are we going to hear?
a track called Product of Society, actually, its just called
Product. Its off their 6 song EP entitled E.P.A.
The last record they put out. It was put out long enough ago that
there was no CD. Just vinyl.
Mike/RFC: Was there
a cassette version?
no cassette version, although it was right in that time
(Go listen to Bhopal Stiffs sucka)
Mike/RFC: OK, we
are back with Scott Harmless as he has become known around Chicago.
We just played a set of all harmless stuff starting out with the
Bhopal stiffs which we talked about earlier. After Bhopal stiffs
we heard Dance and Destroy with Mission control! Mission Control!
From the Self-Titled 7.
Scott: Yeah its
actually a limited edition 7. Theres 300 copies of
the record on two different colors of vinyl.
and right after that we heard the Wayouts. Better days was the
track and the EP that that was off of. You actually played in
that band, right?
I played guitar. That band has also been disbanded for a couple
years. We played live here on the station several times and you
guys played it a lot. WLUW was very supportive of us.
we heard Lying In States who was here live on the show last week.
The track was called People. Now, thats your newest release,
Its off their 6-song Cdep called, The Bewildered Herd.
It comes out this week.
Mike/RFC: The last
song we just heard before coming back on the air here was The
Littleman Complex. That was an Untitled, unreleased track from
The Littleman Complex. Tell me a little bit about that band. What
is going on with them?
the new band that I play in currently. We have a 5-song 12/Cdep
coming out in the next month or so.
Mike/RFC: Is that
track going to be on it?
Scott: No, that
song we havent quite figured out what we are going to do
with it yet. Its one of the newer recordings.
Mike/RFC: And youre
putting that out?
are your thoughts about, well, Ive always fought with this
dilemma. Youre in a band. You do a record label. Now if
you release your own record, on one hand it could make it seem
not as important, like, Oh, he had to do it himself because
nobody else would, whereas on the other hand if you do put
it out it shows you have enough confidence in your band to invest
the time and money into it. What are your thoughtson this?
Scott: I guess,
Ive never had a problem with it. Ive never worried
that people would think I was putting out my own bands records
because no one else would, well, maybe with the Chemical Blue
7cuz it was true, but after that I was fortunate enough
to be in good enough bands where that was never an issue. There
was other people around who had made offers to put out the stuff
from the other bands. A lot of the times the label I ran myself
just happened to be the best alternative. I mean, there was interest
though. You put out a record for my old band The Letterbombs.
The Wayouts were on a few comps and had interest shown in them.
The Littleman Complex, the same thing. Weve been on some
comps and have had offers to do records in the future. I guess
what Im saying is that enough people like the bands that
Ive been in that that doesnt really bother me at all.
Mike/RFC: The Littleman
Complex is going to be your 39th release?
its catalog number 35, but 37 and 38 are out already. What
happened was the Seven Days of Samsara Never Stop Attacking
CD and the Lying In States Cdep both scheduled afterwards, but
both bands went out on tour this summer and The Littleman Complex
was not able to because of work schedules, so I pushed our record
back to get the touring bands records out so that they would have
a record to tour on. Only seems fair.
Mike/RFC: Now youve
been doing this for almost 10 years. Youve put out almost
40 records and now, about 3 months ago you announced to a bunch
of people that you are quitting the label. What happened?
immediate and dramatic. It was just a slow process of just kind
of getting tired of it. You do something for 10 years and thats
a long time to do something. Im just not into it as much
anymore. The nature of independent record labels and independent
music and punk rock has changed a lot in 10 years and what it
means to run an independent label has changed a lot in 10 years
and Im not saying that everything that is going on now is
bad. Nothing like that. Its just that nowadays I feel that
this climate and everything just isnt really what I signed
up for. I still love music. I still love playing music. As far
as running a record company though, Im just not enjoying
it nearly as much as I used to.
Mike/RFC: Is this
a definite quit for good, or is this just a put it on the
back burner until I find inspiration?
Scott: I should
know better. I almost quit 2 years ago and told a bunch of people
and ended up changing my mind. I like to leave myself a back door,
but this time Im pretty sure this is it. Im going
to stop at least for a while. Sometimes when you get so caught
up in doing something and youve been doing it for such a
long time you really need to take a step back and not do it and
see how you feel about it. Anything that takes a lot of devotion,
like sports, musicians, you hear about this all the time, and
I guess itd be safe
to say that thats what Im planning on doing. Obviously
I still have a couple of release coming up. I have the Littleman
Complex EP. I have a Harmless Records 7 box set of a bunch
of the old 7s, so Ill still finish those out, but
Im not scheduling anything new. At that point though things
should be slowing down and Ill see how I feel.
gonna miss you Scott. We got another track from the Harmless catalog
coming up. This is Aluminum Origami off the Nymb Glass Eye
EP. Well be back with Scott Thomson after this.
(Its now time for Nymb people)
Mike/RFC: OK, we
are back with Scott Harmless and instead of chatting, were
gonna get right back into another song. That was just Nymb that
we heard. Now Scott. Youve been doing the label for a long
time. You helped me start my label by offering me helping advice.
It seems that Chicago almost has more labels than bands nowadays.
What advice can you give to someone out there starting a new label,
other than not to?
Scott: Run Away!
tough because that all depends. I think the best advice is to
just the best you can, be honest about your goals and what you
want to do with the label. I know sometimes that goals change
and you dont know exactly where you want to go with it,
but if youre really trying to make some money and put your
name on the map, just admit it and be honest with yourself about
it. If you just want to release some records with some cool local
bands you need to approach it from a completely different viewpoint.
Its hard to have it both ways. So I guess the best advice
is to just be honest with yourself. Know why you are doing it
and pursue it that way.
Mike/RFC: Can you
explain the difference between releasing a record and actually
selling a record, cuz some people assume they are one in the same
and they really arent.
true. If you are in a band or do a label you think about this
sort of thing, but to most people its like a book. They
think of the author and the story and not the publisher. Why would
you, unless youre into it? Releasing a record means you
get the recordings, pay for it, get it manufactured and the CDs
show up at your house. Actually selling a record takes an extra
step. You need to promote the record so people know it exists.
Send it to radio and magazines and get it in stores. Get it into
distributors and run ads. Hopefully if you do it well and the
band tours and hopefully it will sell well. Ive known quite
a few people who have put out really good records by really good
bands and the records have just failed miserably. They havent
been able to sell them at all. I think theres also a perception
out there that if the music is really good it will eventually
catch on. Thats not always the case and its not fair.
Ask any record label guy and theyll tell you about a great
band that no one has ever heard of. Theres a lot of factors
that go into it. The band has to play a lot, tour a lot, the label
has to do a lot of promotion. It all costs money. A lot of money,
and unfortunately you have to do this for people to know your
especially nowadays. It was easier 10 years ago. A lot of my earlier
releases sold better. There were less labels back then.
Mike/RFC: So final
advice on the label thing would be to not do it? Just dont
Scott: Ha ha
Scott, we really appreciated having you in tonight.
for having me, it was fun.
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