Firebrand Records Tries To Rewrite The Music Industry

Ryan Harvey & Son of Nun - Firebrand Records

Music has a long history of association with activism and politics but traditionally when it comes to the ‘music business’ it seems that artists with a political agenda have struggled to find the support that their more mainstream contemporaries receive. Local activist and musician Ryan Harvey seeks to help change that with his new endeavor, Firebrand Records, and to help achieve it, he’s working with Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine – one of the few truly mainstream bands who also promote an overtly political agenda. Through the label, they aim to support a roster of diverse, political musicians. I spoke with Harvey at local pub Liam Flynn’s Ale House about the new label, how it came to be, and it’s goals.

Harvey has been involved in activism since the late 90s and music for over a decade, starting with the Riot-Folk Collective, a national group that started in 2004. RFC was heavily involved in going to protests and in his words, “we were singing songs and we felt the politics were very sharp because we were actually involved in what we were singing about, or if we weren’t, we knew about it in a real way.” Around the same time Morello, guitarist for Rage Against The Machine, had started a folk project of his own under the name The Nightwatchman. “He got in touch with us and we kind of had an email friendship, so we met him a year later and we started collaborating.”

In 2006, Harvey’s childhood babysitter was killed in Iraq, which led to him working with the group Iraq Veterans Against The War. “The first thing we did with them we did this tour for a month through the rust belt where we had veterans and student antiwar activists speaking every night and I was playing music… for the the final event in Chicago i had Tom fly out and do two concerts. He was really happy to be part of it,” Harvey recalls.

After a decade playing folk punk for other activists and like-minded people, Harvey had already started to realize that he was seeing the same faces in every town when he toured, but working with Morello and other mainstream artists like Eddie Vedder brought access to new people. “It became a strategy of ours, using mainstream musicians and the forums that they’re able to create through their music to connect with people who might agree with the ideas that we were talking about,” he says, noting that “The underground is cool, you kind of have the moral high ground… but on the other hand you’re like – ‘man, there are a serious amount of people you’re able to access when you are in that mainstream world.’”

While touring in 2011, Harvey started meeting artists from around the world who were not satisfied with their reach and the idea for a different kind of record label started to coalesce, one that would be designed to help artists gain more attention (and sales) without compromising their politics or ideals. Last summer, he brought the idea to Morello, along with a list of artists who had already expressed interest and Morello was instantly on board. Firebrand was officially a go.

To facilitate their mission, Firebrand started with the standard (and much maligned) industry instrument, the record deal, and rethought it. “We took the regular recording artist agreements and we hacked them to pieces, trying to craft an artist agreement that underground artists want and need.” Harvey and Morello strove to end up with a record contract that protects the artist, which is the opposite of a normal recording contract which generally exists to protect the label’s interests.

One of their first signings was Son of Nun (aka Kevin James), a long-time Baltimore-area conscious rapper, activist, and former public school teacher. I spoke to James about signing to the label, which marks a return to music for him after a several year hiatus. “I don’t have a lot of experience with contracts and record labels, but what I’ve heard that is different about what we’re doing is the flexibility in terms of what the artist can and can’t do.” A consistent theme when James speaks about Firebrand is that he refers to the label as “we”, which is not how most artists tend to reference their record labels.

When asked what he thinks Firebrand is doing differently, James breaks it down for me: “honestly, the main thing that keeps me plugged in and makes me excited about doing this project is the fact that its a label thats explicitly about supporting music that’s trying to change the world. That’s what it’s about for me. And the fact that the people that are leading the label are artists themselves and have been in this movement for years lends credibility and a lot of trust on my part to their behalf.” He adds with a chuckle “I definitely read the contract, too.“

Since Harvey and Morello are activists as well as musicians, they are also aware that sometimes artists want to release music as part of current events. As Harvey explains, “someone might write a song about Baltimore Uprising – and they don’t want to wait three weeks for a promotion plan and for emails back and forth with their management and whatever. They might just want to upload it overnight.” Firebrand allows their artists the flexibility to release music this way, which also acknowledges the changing ways people discover music in 2015.

Though the goal for Firebrand is to spread ideas and viewpoints through music, Harvey stresses that “we are trying to be a very real record company.” They have contacts with artist management through Morello’s ties to the industry, and are working with Anti-Flag records for vinyl pressing and distribution, though Harvey predicts most sales will be digital, and any vinyl releases will have modest volume to start.

The label’s first release, a sampler entitled “A New World In Our Songs”, is available now via their web site as well as iTunes and Soundcloud. It has tracks from Harvey and Son of Nun (his track,”It’s Like That” is the bracing highlight of the album), as well other Firebrand artists like bell’s roar, Lyka Till, Built For The Sea and the Egyptian musician Ramy Essam, who was arrested by the Egyptian government, tortured and eventually driven to take asylum in Sweden as a result of his music.

Hopefully, the kind of support Firebrand plans to offer will translate into more musical output reaching more ears, as the ultimate mission of the label is to help the ideas and perspectives of their artist’s reach a broader audience. Harvey feels the label’s support could be instrumental: “Underground musicians can make money on tour, typically- you make t-shirts, you make CDs, you go on tour, you have a good time, you eat and drink, but once you get home you have to go back to work. What if we could sell even a couple thousand albums a year through digital promotion for these artists? That could be thousands of dollars that they weren’t seeing before. That could pay for your recording. That could fund a tour.”

Check out Firebrand Records: SOUNDCLOUD | TWITTER | WEB | FACEBOOK

Ryan Harvey & Son of Nun - Firebrand Records

Laibach and Technophobia @ Black Cat.

Laibach @ Black Cat
Laibach @ Black Cat
Laibach @ Black Cat
Laibach @ Black Cat
Laibach @ Black Cat
Laibach @ Black Cat
Laibach @ Black Cat
Laibach @ Black Cat
Laibach @ Black Cat
Laibach @ Black Cat
LAIBACH

Technophobia @ Black Cat
TECHNOPHOBIA

Laibach is a pretty weird band, one I never really expected to see live nor expected to actually be good, but this was a great show. I first heard of them from watching this video years ago, as part of the Wax Trax box set. It blew me away with how unlike just about anything else it was… their more recent material is less esoteric than that era of the band, but was really stoked to see this show.

SEE ALL THE LAIBACH PHOTOS HERE

Mac Miller & Domo Genesis @ Baltimore Soundstage

Mac Miller & Soundstage 2015-05-05
Mac Miller & Soundstage 2015-05-05
Mac Miller & Soundstage 2015-05-05
Mac Miller & Soundstage 2015-05-05
Mac Miller & Soundstage 2015-05-05
Mac Miller & Soundstage 2015-05-05
Mac Miller & Soundstage 2015-05-05
MAC MILLER

Domo Genesis @ Soundstage 2015-05-05
Domo Genesis @ Soundstage 2015-05-05
Domo Genesis @ Soundstage 2015-05-05
Domo Genesis @ Soundstage 2015-05-05
DOMO GENESIS

PACKED house, right after the curfew was over… it was great to see so many people having a great time at this. Also cool to see Domo Genesis play, the first time I ever saw and met him was on the very first Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All tour.

BUY MY PHOTO PRINTS | SEE ALL THE MAC MILLER / DOMO GENESIS PHOTOS HERE

Buzzcocks, Residuels & Expert Alterations @ Baltimore Soundstage

the Buzzcocks @ Soundstage
the Buzzcocks @ Soundstage
the Buzzcocks @ Soundstage the Buzzcocks @ Soundstage
the Buzzcocks @ Soundstage
the Buzzcocks
Residuels @ Soundstage
Residuels @ Soundstage
Residuels @ Soundstage
the Residuels
Expert Alterations @ Soundstage
Expert Alterations @ Soundstage
Expert Alterations @ Soundstage
Expert Alterations

Finally catching up on some photos from before Baltimore Uprising… the Buzzcocks have always been great, since the first time I saw them in 99 or so with the Lunachicks in New Orleans, they always put on a great show… fun seeing them in a big room again after the more intimate Ottobar show last time.

BUY MY PHOTO PRINTS | SEE ALL THE PHOTOS HERE

Enslaved & Yob @ Soundstage Baltimore

Enslaved @ Soundstage
Enslaved @ Soundstage
Enslaved @ Soundstage
Enslaved @ Soundstage
Enslaved @ Soundstage
Enslaved @ Soundstage
Enslaved @ Soundstage
Enslaved @ Soundstage
Enslaved @ Soundstage
Enslaved @ Soundstage
Enslaved @ Soundstage
Enslaved @ Soundstage
Enslaved @ Soundstage
ENSLAVED

Yob @ Soundstage
Yob @ Soundstage
Yob @ Soundstage
Yob @ Soundstage
YOB

Consistently great metal shows at Baltimore Soundstage. I had never seen either of these bands before. Yob was a band I’ve heard alot and enjoy, thought they might have been a “relaxed” band life before I saw them, but the life show was good. Made me want to crank the albums up when I got home. Enslaved is a band I’d always heard a lot about, but wasn’t super familiar with – they were great! Amazing stage presence, with little to no ‘kult’ stuff that can sometimes be a little much with European bands. They loved the crowd and played to the crowd (and the photographers) perfectly, really great performance.

See all the ENSLAVED & YOB photos here | BUY PRINTS of my photos, including some from this show

Napalm Death, Voivod, Exhumed & Iron Reagan tour.

Napalm Death @ Soundstage
Napalm Death @ Soundstage
Napalm Death @ Soundstage
Napalm Death @ Soundstage
Napalm Death @ Soundstage
NAPALM DEATH (featuring Erik Burke from Brutal Truth)

Voivod @ Soundstage
Voivod @ Soundstage
Voivod @ Soundstage

Voivod @ Soundstage

Voivod @ Soundstage
Voivod @ Soundstage
Voivod @ Soundstage
Voivod @ Soundstage
VOIVOD

Exhumed @ Soundstage
Exhumed @ Soundstage
Exhumed @ Soundstage
Exhumed @ Soundstage
Exhumed @ Soundstage
EXHUMED

Iron Reagan @ Soundstage
Iron Reagan @ Soundstage
Iron Reagan @ Soundstage
Iron Reagan @ Soundstage
IRON REAGAN

Great show, stacked line-up. Napalm never disappoints, though I was curious why Mitch Harris wasn’t touring with them. Hopefully that’s temporary, though Eric Burke filled in nicely. Voivod was really good and fun, though I am not a big fan of their later material, they played a bunch of classics… as did Exhumed, who even joked from stage that they would play the old material if the crowd didn’t object to a new song or two. It’s fun to see bands have a good attitude about the fans wanting to hear “the hits”. Iron Reagan, solid as always – Tony joked about how often he is at Soundstage in one band or another.

VIEW ALL THE PHOTOS HERE | City Paper gallery here

Pharmakon & the Soft Pink Truth @ Metro.

Pharmakon @ Metro Gallery
Pharmakon @ Metro Gallery
Pharmakon @ Metro Gallery
Pharmakon @ Metro Gallery
Pharmakon @ Metro Gallery

PHARMAKON

the Soft Pink Truth @ Metro Gallery
the Soft Pink Truth @ Metro Gallery
the Soft Pink Truth @ Metro Gallery
the Soft Pink Truth @ Metro Gallery
the Soft Pink Truth @ Metro Gallery

THE SOFT PINK TRUTH (aka Drew Daniel)

Two of the most interesting people making experimental music today performed to a packed Metro Gallery last week. Pharmakon’s two full-lengths, Abandon and last year’s Bestial Burden, both made it to close the top of my best of lists in their respective years. She has a way of making challenging music that easily fits into the realm of noise but also is very listenable in a way that most music from that genre is not. “Listenable” is probably not the best way to describe the hellish soundscapes she creates, yet they are extremely captivating records that seems to be able to cross over to metal listeners as well as avant-garde/experimental. I’ve seen her perform three times now and each performance she seems to bring in new elements and work with the crowd aspect more and more – at Metro Gallery, she wound her way through the crowd, getting her microphone snagged on people and furniture, at one point the audience had to struggle and pull on the microphone cable en masse as she ascended back onto the stage – it was pretty interesting to watch.

Drew Daniel (of Matmos fame)’s the Soft Pink Truth project flew under my radar for many years, but when he announced that his most recent record would be a series of Black Metal interpretations entitled Why Do the Heathen Rage?, I took notice. It’s a really odd record, idiosyncratic electronic/dance versions of classic black metal tracks. And, lest you think Daniel is making fun of the genre… well, he is, sort of, but it’s the loving sort of jibe that comes from a true fan who has encyclopedic knowledge of his source material. The record won lots of accolades, including “Best Thing Ever” from the City Paper, and has led to several pretty amazing live performances, the latest of which is the one pictured above. Really unique artist that I recommend you go see if you have a chance.

VIEW ALL PHOTOS FROM PHARMAKON & THE SOFT PINK TRUTH HERE | SEE THE CITY PAPER GALLERY HERE

BUY PRINTS HERE (including a few from this show)

A389 Bash 2015.

Haymaker @ a389 Bash 2015
Haymaker @ a389 Bash 2015
Haymaker @ a389 Bash 2015
Haymaker @ a389 Bash 2015
HAYMAKER (look at A389 head honcho Dom’s expression in that last one)

Warxgames @ a389 Bash 2015
Warxgames @ a389 Bash 2015
Warxgames @ a389 Bash 2015
Warxgames @ a389 Bash 2015
WARXGAMES

Magrudergrind @ a389 Bash 2015
Magrudergrind @ a389 Bash 2015
Magrudergrind @ a389 Bash 2015
MAGRUDERGRIND

In Cold Blood @ a389 Bash 2015
In Cold Blood @ a389 Bash 2015
In Cold Blood @ a389 Bash 2015
IN COLD BLOOD

Like Rats @ a389 Bash 2015
LIKE RATS

Sex Prisoner @ a389 Bash 2015
SEX PRISONER

Scaled down a little this year, but still a blast! I was only able to make it to half of the 4 shows that comprised this year’s event but still managed to catch a bunch of great performances, see some homies, and dodge some fireworks at Haymaker. Seeing them in that small, smoke-filled room was really a surreal highlight of my show-going so far this year.

VIEW ALL MY PHOTOS FROM A389 BASH 2015 HERE | Read my preview of the bash in City Paper

Odds & Ends: Thomas Dolby, Birth (Defects)

Thomas Dolby's first DJ performance
Thomas Dolby's first DJ performance
Thomas Dolby

Birth (Defects) @ Wind-Up Space
Birth (Defects)

Uploaded some odds n’ ends last night, among which were included the above: photos from Thomas Dolby’s (of she blinded me with science fame) first DJ performance, which was at the Paradox in Baltimore, and photos from a Birth (Defects) show at the Wind-up space, among many more. I still post photos on my Flickr, because of ease of use and the fact that I just have such a huge library already there, so if you want the raw feed, follow me there.

A note about the Dolby DJ set- it was pretty disappointing, I must say. Partially because so much effort was spent on presentation, so I was expecting something pretty cool. He had a DJ booth set up like a machine gun emplacement, with sandbags and walls and stuff, and a big projection thing going. But his DJ selections were just standard 80s fare… nothing too bad or anything, but the song selection just didn’t match up to his level of art direction.

Ed Schrader’s Music Beat, Yonatan Gat, Paperhaus, Post Pink @ Metro.

Ed Schrader's Music Beat @ Metro
Ed Schrader's Music Beat @ Metro
Ed Schrader’s Music Beat

Yonatan Gat @ Metro
Yonatan Gat @ Metro
Yonatan Gat @ Metro
Yonatan Gat

Paperhaus @ Metro
Paperhaus

Post Pink @ Metro
Post Pink @ Metro
Post Pink @ Metro
Post Pink

ESMB = best band in Baltimore! It was good to see them with a responsive crowd – there were plenty of people really stoked to see them play a hometown show. When Yonatan Gat started I was like “uh-oh, this is NOT for me” but they managed to win me over, I ended up really liking their set.

SEE ALL THE PHOTOS HERE

Marilyn Manson ‘The Pale Emperor’ Tour Opener.

Marilyn Manson @ Fillmore Silver Spring
Marilyn Manson @ Fillmore Silver Spring
Marilyn Manson @ Fillmore Silver Spring
Marilyn Manson @ Fillmore Silver Spring Marilyn Manson @ Fillmore Silver Spring Marilyn Manson @ Fillmore Silver Spring
Marilyn Manson @ Fillmore Silver Spring

I shot and wrote a thing for Noisey about the Marilyn Manson tour opener at the Fillmore… photos above, here is the text:

Yesterday, I got the all-clear to shoot the Marilyn Manson tour opener in scenic Silver Spring, Maryland. After a hiatus of sorts, my generation’s number one shock rocker is back with a comeback album, The Pale Emperor, and this show would be the first chance for live impressions. I’ve never been a Manson fan really; as a teenager, I liked some of the early songs like “Lunchbox,” and once saw him open for Nine Inch Nails, but by the time he hit full superstar mode, I was too busy listening to hardcore and screamo records to care very much about what Brian Warner was getting up to. Still, the guy is an icon—of course I wanted to see his show!

After navigating a line that literally wrapped around the block (later, I was told that concertgoers had started lining up twelve hours before doors), I went in expecting some serious 90s rockstar antics. I wasn’t disappointed. In a set filled with solid hits, Manson’s show also featured multiple costume changes (including four costume changes for the microphone itself), casual cockiness and furious anger at the sound guy, calls for fans to throw drugs on stage (he casually picked up one baggie containing an impressive amount of powder and filed it away in his back pocket for later), a contingent of women with their tops off and Manson lyrics written on their bodies, and of course, calls for the crowd to suck his dick. In true rock star fashion, any time he was done with an object—a microphone, an open bottle of water, a glass of liquor—he just let it drop to the ground, and someone would scurry over there to put it back in its rightful place without the show missing a beat.

After the show—which was entertaining enough to me, a non-fan, to stay until the end—the overall fan reaction seemed pretty ecstatic. One gothy teenager beamed at me and asked if I also thought that it had been the best concert ever. A few people I spoke to did say that they were disappointed with his vocals (though I must say that they sounded generally fine to me). I asked them if they thought that made the concert suck, and one of them replied enthusiastically, “No! Marilyn Manson can’t do a bad show!”

Read WELCOME BACK TO THE DOPE SHOW: PHOTOS FROM MARILYN MANSON’S ‘THE PALE EMPEROR’ TOUR OPENER on Noisey | SEE ALL THE PHOTOS HERE