Forming just last year, the reissue label Trust Records is devoted to preserving punk rock as an American musical artform deserving of preservation like jazz or folk. To that end, the label’s Joe Nelson and Matt Pincus have been digging deep into the catalogs of labels like BYO Records to bring some of these classic recordings to digital platforms for the first time ever. In addition, they’re putting out high-quality, audiophile-worthy vinyl reissues replete with extensively-researched liner notes to put the music in the context of the time and place in which it was made. With Circle Jerks’ Group Sex released last year – and selling out nearly immediately – the label’s next release is the seminal debut full-length from Reno hardcore legends, 7 Seconds, The Crew.
With all of that in mind, I hopped on the phone with Trust’s Nelson as he drove through Los Angeles and we discussed how the label came to be and their plans for the future.
I was really excited when I first heard about the announcement of the record label last year, just because of the slew of things that you immediately came out of the gate talking about. It was like, “Okay: we’re going to start with Group Sex. We’ll get Wild in the Streets at some point.” The thing that made me most excited, however, was the fact that you’re reissuing a slate of material from BYO Records, including The Crew. It seems as though those albums have become harder and harder to get hold of and hear in anything other than shitty YouTube rips over the last couple of years.
A hundred percent. I mean, that’s kind of why we’re doing this label is that reason, right? Looking at the BYO catalog – I’m 50 years old and that catalog and Dischord are my two touchstones as far as that era. When we were doing this label, one of our things we really wanted to do was try to get the BYO label, work with the Sterns, and get those records back out, but especially 7 Seconds. To me, there’s a handful of bands that are classic American punk or hardcore bands, and 7 Seconds is one of them. No matter what, anytime you make that list, you can’t leave them off.
Those records have been in print, but they’ve been in print and really hard to find because it was almost like 500 existed at a time. And nothing has been done to it in 20 years. Because [the Sterns] have Punk Rock Bowling, and they’re so dedicated to that, it’s hard for them to really pay attention to that label as much as they liked to. That’s why we became partners with them. It’s going to be exciting next two, three years. All of the BYO catalog will get released to deluxe format at some point.
I always found it really funny that the Let Them Know book and movie came out in 2009 and at that was right at the time where it was almost impossible to like track down a lot of BYO stuff. It was like, “Here’s this epic history of this label. I hope you like CDs.”
Yeah. Well, I mean, you got to look at – no one can do a label. We’re doing it because it’s expensive and you can’t really make a living off of it, so that’s not what our labels about. Our label is a nonprofit label and a guy named Matt Pincus is the benefactor of it and he’s the owner of it. Matt Pincus has made some money in music publishing and has a deep love and appreciation for hardcore and punk, because we both feel the same. We got our start in the music business because, as teenagers, we found punk rock and hardcore and that was it. That turned us on to music.
His idea was to use the music publishing side. He was looking at the same thing you’re seeing. He was like, “Man, BYO stuff’s hard to find,” and he started having this fear that we would lose some of these records as people and the founders and musicians died and people became more and more disconnected with each other. As it all moved into the streaming world, we were going to lose some of these titles and BYO was one that was on our radar and that’s why he wanted to do.
We came together a couple of years ago and he goes, “I will fund this label if you’ll just manage it for us,” and I was like, “Okay, that sounds fun. I’ve always want to do a punk rock label.” I didn’t realize how much work it was going to be, but a lot of the work is fun to do, so it’s not really work. The whole spirit of our record label is to try to preserve masters and make sure that at least they’re all available on streaming platforms for now and forever.
As we kind of move into the future, as we all pass away and stuff, I’d love people to be able to get a good record in 50 years, you know, and that’s going to take some work to make sure it’s in a stable place that we can pass this off to a different curator at one point to manage it for us. That’s the goal: as it’s a built, over the next 10, 15, 20 years – whatever it takes – at some point, we’ll pass it over to someone like the Smithsonian or a university or someone who can look at it historically and preserve the music well.
To that end, I really do appreciate the fact that you’re putting out these reissues and you’re not just like, “Here’s the record.” A lot of reissues are remastered and cleaned up, but it’s the same record. You’re putting in the work to create these booklets that present the historical context and the story of these bands, which is always something that really attracts me to a reissue in that it justifies its own existence for somebody who might just like know the band by name. Here, though, someone picks it up because of that and then they’re exposed to a lot more than just the music. They also hear it in the context it was made.
Yeah. You nailed it. It was kind of fun. It’s been a learning process. It’s been a growing process. Right? When we first came up with the idea of the label, it really was to digitally preserve masters. At the time, Cro-Mags’ Age of Quarrel was not available on Spotify nor was Leeway’s Born to Expire. Those were two records that Matt really loved and I loved and that’s what got the conversation going.
The idea, originally, was like, “Okay, look: music leading to a streaming age or digital age – whether we likeit or not, we need to make sure that masters are preserved in the same way the Smithsonian preserves folk music with Folkways. We got to do that.
But, in doing that, we realized right away that’s not good enough. I’ll tell you right now, the guy who really kind of opened my eyes to it was Mark Stern of BYO because, in our conversations, he was just caring about what would we do to promote the label and the bands and market the bands. And we were like, “Oh, okay. That’s something, too,” and then, as we started talking and thinking, it was like, “If we’re really going to do this properly, we’re trying to make a historical label.”
This is going to take American punk rock and hardcore from the ’70 to the early ’90s and try to button up as much as we can and preserve it, but also tell the story of that scene and why it’s so cool and special. And to do that to 7 Seconds’ The Crew – it’s a cool record, but if you’re a kid who’s never heard of 7 Seconds or just heard the name, you gotta understand why it’s cool. You have to understand the context where these kids are coming from and how Kevin Seconds and SteveYouth grew up. That makes the music. You’ll find that out in the re-issue the story is amazing and just how fucking cool that scene is.
It’s a pre-internet, pre-cellphone, under the major label radar, huge underground scene that – I’m from Southern California with shows of 3-4000 people strong. When I was going to shows, 7 Seconds was drawing 3000 people. But yeah – showing the context and the historical value of it.
The Circle Jerks release, it got such a great reception. Now there’s a 7 Seconds release and we just kind of realized, “Hey, now the physical release has to be museum-type pieces so we can explain the story and then position the music back in the marketplace at a more elevated level, so that people aren’t just listening to the songs. They’re also understanding the context behind them.” That’s where we’re at with that.
I read an interview you did with No Echo last year where you talked about the fact that you started discussions with BYO three years before you even announced the label. Can you talk to trying to track down this music? I talked with Dave Gardner a while back about those Bad Brains reissues and one of the things he talked about was just trying to find all of this music. I’m wondering if you had any of those issues, finding tapes?
Matt and I had the first inklings of talking about this probably a little over three years ago. We were just trying to figure out how to do it, and we went to every label you can think of. Shawn and Mark are in my own backyard. We had a conversation, Shawn and I, probably three years ago in Venice where it was more of a brainstorming conversation. And Shawn was really – the thing about Shawn Stern is like, there’s no bullshit filter. It’s just straight-up how he thinks about something.
Whether you like it or not, you’re going to get his real take on it. They were just kind of like, “This is what we are. It’s fine.” They were content where it was. To BYO’s credit, they pay their artists fairly. They always have. They’ve always been honest. When we started doing the deal with them, their books were great. Their stuff is buttoned up – including that they have all their master tapes and a lot of the multi-track reels. Some of them have had some water damage, but for the most part they have 90% of everything you need, which is awesome for what we’re doing.
Because you brought up Dave Gardner – Dave Gardner is our go-to remastering guy for everything we do in Trust. It’s either going to be a guy named Dave Gardner or a guy named Pete Lyman, and they both work for Infrasonic. Dave is fucking wizard at remastering. To be able to remaster from the analog tapes, as opposed to a CD or a needle drop? If you’re an audiophile, it’s a difference you can tell.
We’re in this process now with all our tapes, where we go to a restoration company called Audio Archives and a guy named Dan Johnson, who’s been doing master restoration for 20 years now. He really focuses on jazz and that really tough tape to restore. This is so funny: doing this label, I’ve learned so much about master restoration. I’m not an expert yet, but there’ll be a point where I can teach a class on it.
Anyway, there is a problem with tapes which is kind of interesting to me. I’m just gonna tell you real quick: in the ’70s, the adhesive that puts the tape onto the magnetic backing, they were using – up until the ’70s – whale oil to make it. Whale oil was an ingredient in master tapes, pre-’70s, and if there’s been water damage there, you don’t need to restore them. They’re usually pretty clean.
When they went to the synthetic – I don’t want to use whales to make master tapes, right? I’m all for it. – but the synthetic adhesive is not as good. What happened is this tapes made post-’70s, until they stopped really doing analog tapes? That adhesive breaks down and master tapes from the ’70s and ’80s are usually in pretty bad shape.
We’re in the process of restoring every single tape BYO has ever had, including multitracks and outtakes and live recordings. There’s probably a hundred reel-to-reel tapes these dudes have, so I’m excited about the BYO catalog, because if you’re an audiophile, it’s going to be as pure as you can get, because you’re going to have a restored source tape to have Dave Gardner do his remastering wizardry to.
It’s just going to sound great. The 7 Seconds record, I can’t wait for people to hear it. It just sounds great. It just makes that record – everyone who has heard it, which isn’t a lot, but Kevin, Ian Mackaye and stuff, they just raved about how fucking cool it sounds, because it sounds fuller and thicker. You gotta do the A and B with 7 Seconds. When I got it, I did A and B and I was just like, “Wow, this sounds amazing.”
And I love The Crew. I mean, I love it for kind of the songwriting and the spirit of it. The recording is a little thin, but there’s there’s problems with the recording. Not anyone’s fault: it’s just the time. I mean, these guys are making records in two days on borrowed borrowed studio time and no real professional engineer gives a shit about punk rock.