Vision Records – Indie Label To Watch
by Matthew Scrivner
other night I received another one of those CD samplers
in the mail. Yes, the ubiquitous marketing tool of record
labels that you always see crammed into the 50-cent discount
pile at Biffs Used Record Emporium, generally containing
the half-baked hits of bands like Moms on LSD, Sex With
Elvis, and Buttery Death Monkey. Curious yet forgettable,
these poor anthologies are amnesiac documents of dead
rock-n-roll dreams, the plastic disc inevitably destined
for beer coasters or pop-art sculptures in community college
weekend art classes.
But the sampler CD from Equal Vision Records blew my mind
away, my figurative brains splattered behind me as I stood
there stunned, listening to song after song that was so
consistently strong, so consistently balanced, so consistently...
consistent, that I found myself speechless. I am rarely
Oddly enough, it also blew my wife’s mind away,
and she and I don’t exactly see eye to eye on music.
An example of this is the Maroon 5 that is consistently
blaring from her smurf blue Kia Sephia. I love my wife,
but before we were married, she couldn’t tell Jimi
Hendrix and the Beatles apart. As such it was a big surprise
to me that the following dialog occurred while listening
to the Equal Vision Records 2005 sampler:
Her: Who is this? I actually like this!
Me: [stunned silence caused by hypnotizing, layered guitar]
Her: Helloooo! Yoo-hoo, wife asking you a question!
Me: [looking at the back of the cardboard sleeve] uh,
[Ten minutes and a few more songs pass]
Her: I like this too, is this the same band?
Me: [more stunned, mind-blowing silence]
Her: [throws a newspaper at me] Hey!
Me: No, it’s a different band entirely. I think
this one is Alexisonfire
Her: Oh. This is good too. Can I borrow this CD?
So that you understand how significant this is, this conversation
would normally involve shouting to turn it down, and one
of us acting conveniently aloof. What does it mean if
two adults who cannot regularly agree on what CDs to bring
in the car end up liking the same thing at the same time?
It means Equal Vision Records is doing something right.
It means they have found in the bands they are representing
that perfect mix between edgy underground ass-kicking
and mainstream accessibility. It means that there is a
little something for everyone, but not in the same way
that giant corporate conglomerates produce a little something
for everyone. It means that many of the bands on the label
seem to strike a balance between originality, creativity,
and newness on one hand – and catchy, head-bobbing,
rock tradition on the other.
I spent some time talking about the label with Greg Sieme,
the director of New Media and Online Marketing & Promotion
at Equal Vision. It turns out the secret to their success
is simplicity and commitment.
“Equal vision is still only nine people who are
extremely dedicated to the artists and people we work
with,” Sieme explained. But dedication is only one
ingredient in the recipe. The nine people share a vision
that insists on honesty and integrity. “We don’t
want to rope people into unfair contracts or do any funky
stuff because we really consider it a family.” Sieme
further clarified that running a label is about the mutual
relationship with the artists; without the artists there
would be no label, but without a label, the artists wouldn’t
be able to quit their day jobs and pursue music full time.
Promotional material provided by the label fills in another
piece of the success story. It clarifies that in recent
years, many independent labels have embraced the corporate
mindset of “sell, sell, sell” at the cost
of quality and integrity. While Equal Vision certainly
has profit in mind, “it values much more the DIY
ethics that started the label in the early ‘90s.”
Steve Reddy, the owner of the label began his leadership
role with Equal Vision in a New York City apartment in
1993. But over the past ten years, due to the overwhelming
success, including record sales soaring 400%, the company
has moved to a warehouse in Hudson, New York.
But the label story does not end there. Apparently Reddy,
and a few of the other employees at the label are practicing
Hindus. A close examination of the Equal Vision Records
logo confirms that it is indeed a picture of Krishna,
the deity whose existential dialog with the warrior Arjuna
in the Bhagavad-Gita outlines for humanity a
message of devotion and love. While the religious path
of its employees may be of questionable relevance to the
incredible success of the company, Reddy’s belief
system could suggest to music fans and business owners
that a spiritual vision of peace and equality for humankind
has the potential to translate into sound business practices
that include profit for not only the label but the artist.
So, how is all of this manifested in the music?
for example the latest release by Armor
For Sleep, What To Do When You Are Dead.
The band has melted down all the best elements of emo,
rock, hardcore, and who knows what else, and forged a
release that has a consonance, emotional impact, and a
clarity of sound that is genuinely heartfelt and breathtaking.
On the other hand, they capture an original tone that
is edgy, brutal, stimulating, and consistently above the
mass-marketed “new rock” out there right now
like The Used. Beyond this, there is a conceptual consistency
of ideas throughout the record tying the songs together
with more than merely teen angst – each of the tracks
seem to be dealing with the possibilities of death and
the afterlife. Admittedly this would otherwise be grim
and angsty fodder for the cannon of rock-n-roll depression,
but singer Ben Jorgensen strikes a powerful balance between
grief and humor, suffering and transcendence, and his
vocal style strikes me as less of the whining, manic snivel
of similar front men. Stand-out tracks on the record include
“Stay On the Ground,” a fast-paced, catchy
froth of distortion and rhythm. I was impressed by the
honesty and originality of this band, and am pleased to
release, found a little farther outside of the mainstream
is Art Damage by the band Fear
Before the March of Flames. To be frank,
this is a hard band to wrap words around. They seem to
be barely containing a total volatility, barely concealing
an eruption of violence in their music, and each song
is itself an ode to destruction as much as creation. The
record is eye ripping and visceral, a sonic blister for
ears made somnolent by the bootlicking consumerism of
the mainstream. Fans of the Blood Brothers will find similarities,
but FBMF seems to be both more brutal, excruciating, and
explosive, as well as more complex, layered, and intelligent.
The fact that a band of this type decided to sign with
Equal Vision is testament to the support that this company
must have for the individual artistic vision that even
unique groups like FBMF seem to have.
current favorite release on Equal Vision is from the band
Vs. Shark. Their record, Right Now You’re
In the Best of Hands was released back in 2003, but
remains a strong contender as one of those few albums
in recent years I’ve found that successfully merge
disparate elements of emo, indie, and punk into something
new without it coming out contrived or overdone. The record
is smart, unpretentious, and occasionally moving. My favorite
track is “Buses / No Buses,” a song that is
both angry and gentle, upbeat, and at the same time subtle
and quietly intense.
three releases are only a few of the exceptional materials
currently available from Equal Vision. Other bands of
note include Alexisonfire, Liars Academy, Vaux, The Snake
The Cross The Crown, Codeseven, and Circa Survive.
in their label name, and exemplified by the quality and
quantity of artists represented, Equal Vision Records
is an impressive front runner of quickly growing names
in the independent music world. Keep an eye on any release
that they sponsor – it will doubtless be a powerful,
original exception among the musical mundane.
Scrivner is a staff writer for 2 Walls Webzine.)