Manic Kat Records is a New York based independent punk label that puts the artists first, placing priority on artist potential and development rather than short-term “hits.” The label is home to up and comers Rival Town, Wired for Havoc, Bad Case of Big Mouth and others.
Earlier in the week I had a great conversatin with label president Peter James to learn more about the label’s origins, its mission as a business, reflect on their year and to look forward to what’s in store for Manic Kat in 2017.
So I see the label began 2009?
That’s correct. It took shape back in 2009 but we took a hiatus for a few years, coming back about the tail end of 2014.
What was the reason for the hiatus? And how did the label first get off the ground?
We started back in 2009. It was almost an afterthought initially. My band at the time – we had shopped our record out to several majors and bigger indies way back when and we ended with Atlantic records and not happy with the situation – just walked away from it and got to point where we were like, “Look, we’ll just put it out ourselves” because we had contacts. We were just going to do it on our own, do it our way, and screw the establishment, kind of deal.
So we did that and it started taking more form and we started signing more bands underneath us where it became more of a real deal than just a vanity label.We ended up signing about four bands at that time and then the reason the whole thing kind of imploded back then was because I was running everything on my own. Everything from marketing to advertising to promotion to finding talent to A&R … you name it, I did it. Plus trying to maintain my band, and a day gig and all that sort of stuff. So I got to the point where I couldn’t handle it and needed to take a step away from it. It really just wasn’t working out the way I had anticipated it. Plus the fact that I just didn’t have the help that I needed. So I took a step back.
We took a step back and regrouped and then basically came back around the tail end of 2014. It was funny because one of the bands that I signed way back when, one of the guys in it was like, “Hey, I’m looking to start my own label. What do you think?” He said, “Would you consider bringing the label back, would you consider doing everything again?” And I was like, “Sure, but I would do thing a hell of a lot different this go around.”
Basically, putting teams in place and getting people involved so I could do what I needed to do as opposed to just trying to handle everything all in one shot. That’s the biggest difference. Years later with experience and age played a factor in that. Things I would have done differently, I definitely am doing.
It sounds like you were on track for serious burnout handling everything.
Oh yeah. I burned out quite a few times. Definitely. No sleep, just totally stressed out all the time. It was not good.
Are you still doing the band or just focusing on the label right now?
Right now, pretty much just focused on the label. Things change the older you get, in my particular case anyway. Like I said when I first started the label, it was “band first, label second.” Now it’s totally a different thing. All our bands that are signed to the roster and the label is my main priority. I have a side project that I play in, but that’s not really anything.
Reading a little about Manic Kat it becomes very clear that it’s not following the formula of the majors and that you’re all about artist development. Can you tell me a little about how the label functions, working alongside artists?
I make it very clear when I sign a band or I’m talking to a band that if you’re looking for a Geffen or and Island deal, or even a major indie like your Victory or your Fearless – we’re not at that level. We’re not that type of label. We’re very DIY, we’re very homegrown. But that said, we’re very much involved in every artist that we sign. It’s a partnership.
If they’re putting 110% into their band and their brand and getting out there and promoting – we’re doing the same thing. That’s what we look for. We’re extremely, extremely picky with the talent that we will work with because one thing I did learn from the first go-around is: there’s a ton of really talented bands, but they can be filled with a ton of ego. That’s something that I have zero patience for anymore. I’ve learned that you can pretty much trip over a phenomenal band but if you can’t work with them and you can’t have a beer with them, I don’t want to even get into any kind of contractual obligation with them. We’re very, very, very much involved in every band. Everything from the recording process to the promoting process to everything. Even a little bit of band management, too, just helping out wherever we can. Our contracts and multi-faceted.
That’s cool. I’ve heard similar things from guys at other indie labels. If they’re not chill guys in the band who are willing to put in the work, it’s not worth it for the label to get involved.
We’re still at a point where we’re putting money in – we’re getting return, which is great, but we’re still putting money in and if its something that we’re not just investing money but a lot of time, and if the guys aren’t going to appreciate it, it’s not worth it for us. It’s a slap in the face at the end of the day.
Oh yeah. So looking back on this year, you guys put out six releases?
Tell me a little about that – were there any projects that were especially challenging?
It really depends on the band. Every band has its own dynamic so there’s definitely different challenges to each. Every band is also in a different stage of development. Take a band like Bad Case, where they’re fully developed, have a management team, they’ve been on tours, they’re at a level where they’re ready to springboard to a bigger indie or a potential major.
Then you have a band that’s still developing. Everything comes with its own challenges. It depends. Every case is different is really what I’m trying to say. It depends on the release, depends on where they’re at in their careers, how much promotion and advertising and marketing and hustle you have to put into each one.
Makes sense. One band in particular I wanted to talk about is Rival Town. They’re getting some attention, even noticed them in Alt Press. Those guys are from up in my neck of the woods: Ontario, Canada. So first of all how did you get connected with these Canadian dudes?
These guys in particular, it’s really funny. I love these guys to death. They have great personality, they’re so down to earth. They’re just a pleasure to work with. They are just the stereotypical band that we would love to work with on a regular basis.
They came to us through a demo submission. This literally proves that indie labels, and especially us, we listen to everything that comes through the doors. Every demo submission through our website, or our social media or whatever, we listen to in our meetings and we “yea” or “nay” them as a group.
We have about 13 people on staff currently and it’s very democratic because we talk about everything from “do we like it,are they cool guys, can we market this, is there a niche for it? ” These guys in particular, Rival Town, they were amazing right out of the gate. They sent us a three song demo and we were all floored by it.That stereotypical “Oh, labels don’t listen to demo submissions”? That’s not true. Definitely not true. Especially on our scale, that’s what we live and breathe by. Yes, we scout bands, but demo submission is always helpful, it’s always welcome.
That’s awesome. Definitely an encouragement for guys trying to get their music out there to know that some people will actually take time to listen.
I understand you have at least one band in studio right now?
I have two bands in the studio right now and then a third one going to be coming in January. We probably have a good five or six releases just off the cuff getting ready to be slated for 2017. It’s going to be a pretty packed year.
I know right now we have When Thieves Are About (a Jersey local band) they’re in studio currently. They released a single earlier on this year but now they’re working on a full-length. We just had Jump the Sails which is based out of New York City. They just finished their record. So we’re probably looking to package them late Spring. A package tour together and then they’ll have records to promote. I’m really excited about that. Those dudes get along great. They met at one of our events and they hang out on a regular basis and that’s what it’s all about. I’m really happy that those guys clicked and they’re going to be doing tour packages together so I’m really looking forward to both their releases.
Then we have a band based out of Alaska and they’re going to be coming out here late January to start tracking their full length. So I’m excited for that too.
Right on. Starting the year off full-steam. That’s exciting. Any new artists you have your eye on to sign next year?
I have a couple that we’re in talks with currently. I can’t really tell you anything about them specifically, but if everything goes through we’re probably going to be expanding our roster I would say by the end of fourth quarter, early first quarter probably by another four bands. So getting ready for that too.
Yeah, we’re growing leaps and bounds. I’m really excited. We had a great 2016 and 2017 looks amazing for us. We’re just going to keep growing; keep doing what we’re doing.
At the end of the day we try to stay true to the artist because we all get it. A good majority of us on the label team have been in bands and have been burned by labels and have that negative connotation about labels. We’re trying to do the polar opposite.
There’s a label – I don’t know if you’re familiar, I don’t know how old you are – but back in their heyday which was probably 2004-2005, Drive-Thru Records. They were a Jersey label and then ended up moving out to California. They were very homegrown, they were very close with their bands. That’s something that stuck with me, even back then and, like I said back then, if I ever decided to run a label, that’s how I wanted it: so that we’re very close with our bands and we have a good relationship with them and if they’re happy and they’re well and performing well then everything is working right.
You have to make sure the artist is happy and you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing for them. That’s what it’s all about.
I love that. You can really tell that it’s all about the art and the artist and not just money driven, which I totally respect.
Thanks. I mean, obviously our end goal is to be a successful business and definitely make a living out of it and that’s our goal. But I tell the bands all the time, “I have to look at myself in the mirror and I can’t shave with my eyes closed.” At the end of the day I have to be able to sleep at night and be sure that I’m making the right decisions for the artist. It’s a business but I can’t burn bridges on my way. That’s not what I’m about and I know that’s not what the rest of our team is about.
Totally. The music world is a much smaller community than people realize, too.
Oh, absolutely. Look at some of these labels that have burned bridges with these artists that – I’m not going to mention any names – but these guys are big in the industry and they’re burning these artists left and right regardless of the situation. I believe there’s always three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth is somewhere in the middle, but it’s such a negative connotation. Especially if you’re looking to sign some of these bands and prove to these bands that you’re different, it makes it a little bit more difficult.
I don’t blame them. When I was in that position I felt the same thing. It makes my job and the rest of my A&R team’s job a little more difficult but I think we prove ourselves and we come across as a label that actually cares about their artists as opposed to “Here’s another four bands, so that means another four revenue streams.”
We try to look at it from a different perspective. We try to make money, of course, but I don’t want to burn these bands.
Absolutely. It’s super exciting to hear about all the energy moving into the new year. Do you have any specific goals for the year, or even a 5 year goal or beyond?
We definitely have our goal for 2017. I try not to do a five year plan right out of the gate. I know every major business should do that, it’s a standard deal, but I look at it from a little shorter term snapshot. As far as growth goes, I just look at the overall 2017/2018 and as long as we’re growing and going in the right direction as we were going from 2015 to 2016, as long as we keep an upward trend and keep the momentum going and keep doing what we’re doing in a positive way, we’ll get there. I know it’s probably not the stereotypical answer or the stereotypical way of doing things because I know everybody wants it “now” – the instant gratification thing. But we’re all about long term longevity and really taking the time to develop an artist. If there’s potential there I’d rather take the time out and they’ll get there. That’s how we see things.
As far as an overall business goal, we definitely want to be involved – years back we were involved in Warped Tour back in 2009. That’s another goal for us for 2017. It was a little premature for us for 2016, we didn’t have enough releases out at the time. We just weren’t there yet. A goal of ours is definitely to be a part of Warped Tour in 2017 for sure and then going forward.
Oh man, Bad Case and Wired for Havoc would kill on a Warped Tour stage.
Absolutely, and Rival Town. I don’t know if you heard When Thieves Are About, their single. All these bands are perfect for a Warped Tour crowd, definitely.
In closing, where is the best place to get a hold of your releases, and is there anything else you want us to know about Manic Kat?
People can definitely check out any digital stuff: iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Amazon. They’re available on every major digital outlet. We just secured a deal with FYE and HMV for distribution as well, so you can check them out there. I know Rival Town’s release is currently available on the HMV website so you can catch them there and FYE is putting our releases up there. We’re going to be expanding and hopefully getting some more distribution in the coming months.
We’re just growing and doing what we’re doing. I’m really excited. Looking forward to 2017 and beyond.