Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Interview With Justin Schwier From Underground Communique Records

 Editors Note: Being from Chicago and having so much love and respect for our underground music scene, it's my pleasure to give you the following interview with Justin from Underground Communique Records. We need to support, not only our underground scene, but also the labels and fine folks at these labels like Justin who make it all happen. 

Critical Mass: Thanks for taking the time to talk with Critical Mass, Justin. Can you give us a little history on how you got Underground Communique started?
Justin Schwier: No Problem at all, thanks for the opportunity. I started the label about 7 years ago. I had previously ran another label called Government Music that lost steam when I was laid off from my job in 2001…but even when that one folded, I knew I wanted to do a label again. So I got back on my feet financially and a few years later, found out that Mexican Cheerleader needed a label to put out their second album, I had co-released their debut album with Hewhocorrupts, Inc. in the Gov’t Music days, so that was the impetus to get the new one off the ground.

CM: Over the years UC has released albums by The Methadones, Four Star Alarm, Explode And Make Up and, as mentioned, Mexican Cheerleader. Any new releases coming up?
JS: Yes, I’m hovering around 50 releases now, which is kind of mind blowing. There’s always something in the works, but currently I’m waiting for the Suicide Machines/Rudiments “Skank For Brains” 2xLP re-issue, last few Ska Is Dead Subscription Series 7”s, the new Capital LP, the Vacation Bible School LP, finalizing the Methadones “Not Economically Viable” re-issue, that one’s LONG overdue.

  Later this summer I’ll also have out a 7” from Olehole, the Cutman LP who are a great band from Gainesville, a CD for a band from New Zealand called the Outsiders that are touring the US in the fall, I’ve been talking with Fid from the Measure (sa) about doing something for their last show at the Fest in Gainesville this October, but nothing is set in stone on that. I’ll also be distributing the Black Sheep Band’s 12” EP. They’re a revolving cast super-group put together by James Toland from the Black Sheep Restaurant, their record is SO good!

 Tonight is the release show for a limited CD-r Discography for an old Chicago Hardcore band called Roundhouse at their reunion show at the Bottom Lounge’s Volcano Room Bar.
CM: With all the releases you've had so far, is there one that really makes you proud? One that's made it all worth while?

JS: I say this a lot, I know it’s a clich√©, but they’re my babies, I love them all and can never decide when asked this question. Certainly a few of them have been landmarks: the two J Church 7”s I got to put out, the Pegboy Tribute Comp that was supposed to originally come out on Government Music (but took 6 years to finally get done), the Black Cross LP because they came to me and asked if I was interested, the Methadones stuff is near and dear to my heart, the Shot Baker records, the O Pioneers releases, the Capital records, I could go on and on and on, and it would eventually turn into little stories about every single release…I put a lot of time and effort into everything so I care deeply about all of them.

 I’m a put your money where your mouth is kind of guy, so I try to give every release as much effort as possible to make it worth my time and for the bands to hopefully realize that I’m not letting them down and trying to push them to the best of my abilities. I end up having a lot of nights where I’m up until 2 am furiously sending emails or working on ads and artwork and fliers and packing mail orders. I’m still learning, every release I try to learn from my mistakes and get better at doing this.

CM: Are there any bands that are signed exclusively to UC?

JS: Not really. There are a few bands I’ve done the majority of their releases, but I don’t do record contracts. I’ve had to make up informal contracts with some bands in the past, but in general I just do handshake deals. Only in rare instances have I ever done a record for a band I don’t know the people in person. So far that’s worked well for me.

CM: What was the very first UC release? And is it still in print?

JS: Yes, the first release was the Mexican Cheerleader “Kings and Kings’ Hoots” CD. Those guys are musical geniuses as far as I’m concerned, and one of the funniest and best live bands I’ve ever seen play.

CM: I know record stores are few and far between. But do you distribute any of your releases to local mom and pop record stores like Record Breakers or Reckless Records?

JS: I try to, Reckless and Bucket O’ Blood both carry all of my releases, and Record Breakers carries a few of them. Beyond that, I email other stores with release announcements, but don’t really get any feedback. I also tried to get away from consignment a few years back as a few stores went under and some stock was never recovered, and then with consignment goes keeping up with the invoice forms and tracking people down to get paid, it is a headache.

Ideally I’d love for all the local stores to carry my releases, but I can’t force them to buy records to stock in their store, so I’ll just keep emailing them updates and hope one day they’ll get in touch to carry a record or two.

CM: Are there any new bands out there that you really like? Anyone you wanna work with in the future?

JS: Oh yeah! Brett from the Copyrights has another band called the Heat Tape who are amazing. He just sent me 4 new songs to check out for a possible 7”-their new songs are incredible. I love Night Birds from New Jersey. Vee Dee and Population are great; they both have new releases on BLVD Records. Manipulation and Chicago Thrash Ensemble are both great local hardcore bands. Black God is the new incarnation of Black Cross, their 7” rules. Bridge & Tunnel are consistently great, Office of Future Plans from Maryland/DC, their EP is wonderful.

 Any of the above, eventually I’m still supposed to do a split 7” with the Arrivals and a newer band called Ghostknife from Austin, who feature Ben and Chris from J Church and Mike from Riverboat Gamblers singing and playing guitar, they’re great, but haven’t finished their recordings yet…and I’ve been wanting to do anything for the Arrivals for at least a decade, so that’ll be a dream. There’s almost always some new band to be excited about, my biggest problem is I get too excited about too much and over-commit to releases, which is where I’m at right now.

CM: Any big plans for the second half of 2011 for UC?

JS: Well, just to get all these releases out, that’s an ambitious enough of a goal. It’ll be a lot of work, but with all that’s planned it will be a great year.

CM: How can bands get in touch with you and the label? Is there a website you want to plug?

JS: You can get in touch via e-mail, check out the label website and the constantly growing distro here.

CM: Thanks again for taking the time to talk with Critical Mass, Justin. It's always great to see local indie labels releasing great music by great bands. Best of luck to you in the future. Thanks again.
JS: Thanks for the interview!


  1. That background makes it pretty damn tough to read.

  2. The background for the interview is white. It shouldn't be too hard to read.

  3. Maybe the previous poster is using an unusual browser? I tried it in both Firefox and MSIE and the white background overlays the background image, so the text is easy to read, though it would be better if it wasn't bolded.

    The comments, on the other hand, show up in a weird font that is hard to read.

  4. Consider it fixed, Rob. And thanks for the input.


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