How Collect Records Are Trying To Change The Music Industry

It would be easy to wax lyrical about Collect Records. Set up in 2009 by former Thursday vocalist Geoff Rickly, their first release, in conjunction with 6131 Records, was …To The Beat Of A Dead Horse, Touché Amoré’s debut album. That was a pretty auspicious beginning, but now things are really hotting up.

Former Texas Is The Reason guitarist Norman Brannon recently joined forces with Rickly, who also happens to be the vocalist of the label’s latest signing – No Devotion, the post-Lostprophets outfit formed by that band’s five members and Rickly after Ian Watkins’ incarceration. It’s a record that serves as a (re-) launching point for the label, one which has, unsurprisingly, already seen it garner a significant amount of attention. So, with both Rickly and Brannon’s attentions fully devoted to Collect Records, it made sense to sit down with the pair – who are two of the most sincere, likeable people in music today – for what turned out to be a long, involved conversation.

What would you say is your intention for Collect Records? What do you want it to stand for?

Geoff Rickly: One of the things we just started talking about was rather than feeling important about something, you’re trying to do something important. Just doing the work and putting your head down and saying ‘I’m not always going to be perfect’. I just want to make things and I want to help people make things and I don’t want them to feel like they can’t make mistakes. I’m sure we’re going to put out some great records and we’re going to put some records that aren’t quite what they wanted to be. Coming into this, probably the best lesson I had before this was getting to do solo stuff and just be like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this so I’m going to find out if I can do it in front of people.’ What I learned was that I can, but I probably shouldn’t! Like I can get a guitar and stand up in front of people, which is a major fear of mine, but it’s not actually awesome, it’s just a thing that I did for a little while. That was a really exciting lesson for me, that I could fail in front of people after being the singer of Thursday and having that be a big deal for a while. It was really good to just be like, ‘Well, I make things because I make things, not because people expect me to be this good or expect me to be this person, but because it’s what I do.’ With that in mind, I wanted to give people the chance to have that same opportunity. That’s where I’m at now – I want to be a part of other people’s dreams and give them a place to go with that.

Norman Brannon: I was actually thinking about this question the other day. Obviously, Geoff and I have had conversations about the label, and the direction and the vision and all these things, but you can only really control so much. Ultimately, your label becomes whatever it becomes by the records you put out and by the work that you do. And so, we may have a vision that we can talk about until the cows come home, but, ultimately, how the label gets judged is going to be years from now, and we have no control over that. So if there’s any sort of thing that I want personally, it’s just to feel like everything we put out we stand behind it. It’s not all going to sound the same, it’s not all going to be the same and maybe some of it will be better than others, but I feel as long as we stand behind it, that in itself is a direction. We don’t have to define it. We define it piece by piece.

Geoff: We’re going to find an avenue where it’s like ‘This is really working’ and we’re going to fan those flames, but the way we’re going to have an arc that we plan is to plan on putting out good records and being careful about not fucking people over. It’s the ethics we can control.

How did the two of you come together and decide to do this? The label started in 2009, so why are you pushing it so much now?

Geoff: I’d done another label, and when that clearly started to not be my label anymore, I just wanted to put out some records for fun. And I put out Midnight Masses and I put out Touché Amoré. I’ve known Jeremy [Bolm, Touché Amoré vocalist] since he was 16 and I followed all his bands because I liked him as a person and this was the first one that I really loved and I wanted to help put it out. The Midnight Masses record ended up dissolving any notions of wanting to put out records because it lost like $7,000 so quickly, and I don’t have $7,000 to lose…

Norman: That’s where I come in! (laughs) No. I’m just kidding.

Geoff: So I put it away for a while, and then the Touché record took on a life of its own and that band took on a real cultural significance. And then my other partner and investor approached me about buying my guitar because I was so broke. And then he was like, ‘You put out that Touché record, you put out this, I love those records. I would love to help you do this label full-time.’ And that was great.

Norman: I was teaching college, and at the beginning of this year I was scheduled to teach the spring semester. And then at the last minute the college took one of my three sections and gave it to a tenured professor and left me in the lurch. So I made a decision that, ‘Okay, I can’t live on two sections so I’m going to give these up and see what’s going on.’ I gave those two sections up and I remember one night I went to [Brooklyn punk/metal venue] Saint Vitus and I told my boyfriend before I left ‘I’m going to go find job tonight.’ It was a joke, but literally within 15 minutes of walking into Saint Vitus, Geoff walks in and we start talking and he’s like ‘What are you doing?’ and I was like ‘I need to find a job!’ and he’s like ‘Would you be interested in working in music again?’. We started talking and it all snowballed from that night.

Presumably you’re taking Thursday’s encounters with a major label and Texas Is The Reason’s near encounters with one into account – as a blueprint for what not to do…

Geoff: (laughs) I wish! I wish we could make all the mistakes that major labels because that would mean there’s enough money to make those kind of mistakes!

I meant more in terms of your philosophy and your intentions, rather than the financial aspects.

Norman: The thing is, whether you’re an indie or a major, it’s funny, because nobody owns the marketplace. Majors are struggling to get their acts known as much as indies are, and they’re probably spending way more money than indies are to do it! Everybody is struggling. The only thing that Geoff and I are really keen on is trying to make the artist feel like they have a home where they’re safe and doing everything that we can to facilitate them in making their music and putting it in front of as many people as possible. It’s a pretty simple wish list on that level. And don’t fuck anybody over.

Geoff: Then there are like a thousand sub-goals once we get into the specifics of a record, but as an outlying ideology, that’s kind of it. I think it’s easy, too, to put yourself in any band’s position and say ‘I wish this wasn’t happening’, but there are other things where it’s like ‘I remember I didn’t like that when I was young and in a band, but then I started to see the value of it later’ – so can I talk to them in a way where I show them what it is that I appreciated later about it. Just bring that kind of experience that both of us have. I think I have 17 years and Norman has even more than that, mostly because he was doing it from such a young age. So there’s a lot of experience that we both bring to it across different bands and having different roles out of bands.

Let’s talk about No Devotion. That’s quite a brave band to be launching this with. Obviously you’re in the band, Geoff, but in terms of deciding, as a label, to release that record, how did that come about?

Geoff: On both sides it made sense in different ways. On the band side it was like, well we could jump straight to a major label probably, and there was some interest out there, but [those labels] want something very specific. They want Lostprophets with the singer of Thursday, and we didn’t want to market it that way. And those guys had kind of already left behind Lostprophets before all that stuff happened, so they were looking for a clean break anyway. We also thought it’d be good to get it together on a smaller scale and try to grow the whole project from there, rather than starting at a million miles an hour. And then on the label side it was just, ‘This could be really good. This band could get a lot of attention for the label.’ So it was developing aesthetics side by side a little bit, like if we’re going really just a doubling of resources and a very personal project to start the label with.

Norman: I’ve never thought of a counter-factual Collect where we launched the label with another band. I couldn’t even imagine launching the label with another band. Obviously because you’re in the band it felt like we’re starting this thing that’s very personal. The label’s very personal, the band’s obviously very personal. Starting this label off with complete access to a band and a complete inside feeling that we really understand the band is a great way to start the label, and it’s something that we’d like to bring to all the projects. Like - you can trust us. Bring us inside and make us a part of your aesthetic. Let us completely understand your vision and we’ll spread that out in every direction.

Were you not worried that No Devotion would be a slightly divisive band?

Norman: We knew it would be, yeah.

Surely that’s not the best way to launch a new business?

Norman: I think it is! It really made us think about everything. There was not a single fucking thing in this whole situation that we didn’t think about or discuss the pros and cons of and really go through. And I think that puts us at an advantage in terms of working with quote-unquote normal bands. Because we’ve gone through every scenario that could possibly happen and worked our way through it.

Geoff: Every day, there’s some little sign of somebody being like ‘Oh yeah, that’s not these guys. They didn’t do anything wrong. And not only are these guys not child molesters, but the band’s actually good!’ It’s day by day - we don’t have the general public’s complete trust yet because people are still not sure what it is - but every single one of those is leading somewhere. Hopefully, by the time the record comes out, people will hear music. It’ll be like ‘This is actually really good’, not ‘Am I allowed to like this?’

Norman: I had the same reservations when Geoff was like, ‘So the first project is this.’ I was like ‘Whoah! Really?!’ I had the same reservations, and then I had to think about the reality of the situation and when I did I was like ‘okay.’ I could put myself in those shoes and I saw myself in those shoes and I was like, ‘Wow. These guys really need to be heard. And they really need to reclaim their world.’

Beyond No Devotion, what do you have planned for Collect?

Geoff: A record by Black Clouds first. And Vanishing Life, which is Walter [Schreifels]. Thursday toured with Rival Schools and I grew up on Quicksand and Gorilla Biscuits. But the band didn’t come from Walter’s side, it came from the Trail Of Dead side, where I’ve known Autry [Fulbright II] forever and put out Midnight Masses, his other band. So that came through from old Collect. And then Sick Feeling, with Don [Devore] from Ink & Dagger. I did the Ink & Dagger stuff and I lived with Don for a while. So the very first releases are mostly in the family. Black Clouds was more that I saw them play and they were amazing. And there are a few other things that we’re working on.

I know you mentioned an investor, but how wise is it to start a record label in 2014 when the music industry has been slowly imploding for years. Is it sustainable? Presumably you think it is, because you’re doing it…

Geoff: I think music is sustainable. There’s money to be made enough to keep putting out music. Without a doubt. People need music, people love music. There’s more bands now than there have ever been and there’s more people listening to music than have ever listened to it. It’s easier to get, it’s more listened to. I don’t think the business model is solidified yet, which makes it scary, but it will happen.

Norman: I think the thing is, it’s always going to change. People are freaking out now about how record companies are going to survive, but people have been freaking out about that forever. The dominant format of how we consume music has changed many times in the past. We’re in the middle of a transition, so nobody knows how that’s going to shake out yet. But it always shakes out into a stable period.

But Collect isn’t just going to be music, is it?

Geoff: Yeah. Eventually we want to do some publishing, other things that are personal and can have physical artifacts like a book or art.

Norman: That’s the thing that’s really great. I like the fact that we don’t really know where the business of music is going to be. And one of the first things I said to Geoff when we started was that I don’t necessarily want to be involved with a record company because I don’t know that that’s going to be the thing. So let’s just be a music company and we’ll evolve. So right now it means records and doing things the way we know how to do them, but I’m excited by the idea that it may mean something different in the future.

Geoff: I think our goal is to get this down to where it’s a really awesome working record label that takes care of itself. And then when we’re on autopilot on the records, then start branching out. Like, I’ve planted the seeds and talked to publishers and talked to other artists and editors about different ideas, but they’re not in action. I want to be able to go towards other things that excite us.

Norman: A record label is a good foundation for so many other things. The primary objective right now is to make sure we’re finding, fostering, facilitating amazing talent. And that’s never going to go away, regardless of the industry and where the industry’s at. Whatever that means in the future, we’re fully adaptable.