Raleigh, North Carolina grind hardcore label To Live A Lie has earned its stripes as a prominent promoter and distributor of independent records for over a decade now. The brainchild of Will Butler celebrates its 10th Anniversary in August 2016 and to honour it, it has released a series of memoirs (I, II, III, IV), in which Will recounted his story and most of the bands and records to have featured on the label over the past decade. IDIOTEQ caught up with him to expound more on that, talk about the label’s origins, his view on independent punk culture and where its going next as it heads into their second decade.
Will’s commitment to DIY ethics, prolific production and distribution of independent records lead him to establish an eponymous DIY label in 2006. Now, To Live A Lie has evolved into a seminal production and ditro house churning out records from a dark mix of talent. In the following interview, Will Butler reflects upon the evolution of To Live A Lie Records, reveals how being a part of NC hardcore and metal scene has shaped him. Learn more about the labels, dozens of bands worth checking ount and read the full interview below.
Hey Will! How are you man? What’s up? How’s the summer going? As TLAL celebrates its 10th Anniversary, I guess this August will be full of reflections, memories and goals for the future, huh?
Summer has been great, the heat is killer lately but luckily living in the south there are a handful of watering holes to jump into. A ten year anniversary is such a bittersweet moment in time, so much appreciation for where I have been and where I can go but also even though I’m existing in a DIY world where I honestly never want to make it big or expand operations in any way, I always wonder where I could be right now. It is way more love and good memories than the later though. My goal of the label was to put some good work in the beginning and then be like one of the established labels who releases the most amazing records for each release they put out in a year… labels I look up to like Deep Six and 625 Thrashcore. I don’t think I’m far away from that goal and I love all the people who have supported me so far. I have been trying to put finger to keyboard (instead of pen to paper) to type out a lot of memories… every release I have done has a story behind it, each one holds a little labor of love. I have also gone out of my way to release a batch of merch that may not be branded as “holy crap this has been ten years of TLAL”, but is more or less such without saying so… did some shirts that say since 2005, reprinted the first shirts I did ever almost nine or so years ago, and did some nice enamel pins and embroidered patches. Classy mature ten year merch!
Cool! How do you recall the old times of getting into punk, running THE DEAD BODY MEN and organizing your first DIY undertakings? Considering the infrastructure and the way your local punk scene operated back then, what’s changed?
I got into punk because of skateboarding; I felt like if you were a skater you either listened to mainstream rap or punk and punk really spoke to me. GREEN DAY Dookie had just come out and seemed like an interesting first CD and OFFSPRING Smash came out a few months later so I grabbed that as well. Those were the early times of getting into punk. It was all a slippery slope from there, I grew up in terrible town for punk called Winston-Salem (home of Camel cigarettes and big tobacco), but everywhere I could I tried to new and harder punk… started stair stepping in the easiest places like the Fat Wreck comps, running into bands like SPAZZ and THE DESCEDENTS on Short Music for Short people.. hearing TSOL Dance With Me, NOFX Punk in Drublic, and of course I snagged the MINOR THREAT Discography which changed ideas of punk forever.
THE DEAD BODY MEN I ran but I almost co-ran with my band-mate Neal. He got designs made and made shirts, I got stickers and patches made. I bought a 4-track at some point and we recorded (poorly) and I bounced down the tracks into a demo tape. Neal and I took turns booking shows. We decided to go record a full length which we did and put out ourselves on a label called Positive Youth Productions as a CD-R. We did a second album following that. I think the CD-R idea was all Neal’s because his family had a little bit of money and they had a CD burner back then and we did laser jet printed labels to toss on the top. It was a great idea but it irked me that it wasn’t pro-done CDs which I think is also why I think I’ve only insisted on doing things pro with TLAL; a lot of grind labels start out doing home dubbed tapes and CD-Rs nowadays it seems.
Well, semi-honestly, we were the punk scene. What I consider similar to the punk scene back then was the metal-core scene which had all the ideals and DIY spaces and infrastructure as you call it as what I have modeled TLAL and a lot of my punk life around. A guy named Dave ran the whole setup and he did a venue called 533 Uprisings which was previously called Pablo’s but I was too young for that. He booked an array of stuff from CONVERGE to SAVES THE DAY to his own band CODESEVEN. The bigger shows were done elsewhere but most of them at 533 itself. They were cheap shows, run in a DIY fashion by him and Paul and his friends. He just created community and my parents were nice enough to let me break the silly new permit curfew laws to see some late shows.
All the early portions of my exposure to punk shaped me in a way where I can’t ever go back. These labels who subscribe to making money and having more merch than music are such a bastardization to me but they didn’t grow up on the same circumstances that I did and may not treasure the important lesson that FUGAZI/Dischord or even LESS THAN JAKE preach about keeping prices low of records and shows. I think I’m lucky and I’m also lucky I haven’t run my label into the ground. The more I watch music documentaries here and there I really identify with people like Steve Albini who believes in the ethics and then realizes how he is having trouble paying the rent for month to month. DIY ethics are the most important and although I make business-like decisions for TLAL, it really is just to stay afloat to help out the next struggling DIY band.
How do you remember your first steps when organizing a label? What factors did you take into account when selling first records? Did you consider any legal restrictions linked to starting a business activity?
I think I’m painfully OCD to where legal stuff was a major instant stress but luckily I had a lot of veterans to ask and had some green horns to help bounce concerns and we would research stuff together. Legal restrictions were minimal, only major issues involved samples on records which I have historically tried to keep at a minimum. When I started putting out ACxDC stuff I had a lot of people warn me about a certain band with a similar name coming at me with a cease and desist but that was smooth sailing (maybe until they read this or see this).
First steps were much like a giraffe but my intentions were good. I got so lucky as I’ve said.. it’s almost like the beginning was where the magic happened and then it was all downhill from there. Not really but the early days I was so amped and my friends were so amped to help. I don’t think I took many factors into account at first, I didn’t have a ton of money to put into it since I was just out of college but I had low rent and was working my first ‘adult’ job so was seeing a lot more money than I had seen before all at once so I think having some money in hand was the first steps to jump full force into it. I think my main factors were mainly social ones and hopefully I haven’t mistepped here; never put out anything sexist, never put out anything homo/transphobic, never put out anything racist. You could probably cite some weird lyrics here or there but there is a weird fine line between letting an artist be themselves and something actually very sketchy. Hopefully that wasn’t a huge tangent from your main question.
Oh, no at all. Ok, so what are the most important things young people should be mindful of when starting their own DIY distro or label?
One, is that it is NOT glamorous. Not one bit… it is a lot of work. Also, I’m a very empathetic person, so every criticism you can’t take to heart… I’ve had angry comments here or there make me want to stop doing the label but luckily all the positive feedback makes it worth it.
Lastly, don’t expect to make it big, get rich, or work with the biggest bands in your genre right away. I’ve ran TLAL as if I was (and I am) a superfan… and in that way I have never been disappointed!
How did you start trading with your partners from overseas? Do you still get a lot of orders from outside the States?
I think this genre is so specific that the scene is so small and it traverses continents. I feel like Sandro from RSR and I have probably kept each others’ labels afloat by trading and selling a bunch of those traded records in our respective countries. I do get a lot of orders from outside the US which is amazing because shipping has gone up so much in the last few years I thought that would be a major deterrent.
Has the way you choose bands to work with and quality control mechanisms you employ evolved over time?
!1100% yes. I didn’t know a single thing about audio or honestly Photoshop or InDesign and those needs for the label has pushed me to learn more and more. I’ve always been pretty OCD with audio quality and design, but it’s taken me years to feel comfortable with my own abilities. I cringe anytime I get a 400×200 pixel logo from a band but a friend showed me the magic of dropping things into Illustrator and using Live Trace to fix them up for example. Lots of quality control.
As far as choosing bands, I don’t feel like I choose them anymore. For the last few years I’ve worked with friends bands and here or there I’ve worked with bands that I corresponded with years ago (Fistula I communicated with via MySpace years ago). Honestly, as 100% lame as it sounds, MySpace was a great resource for finding bands, communicating with them, and getting things put together. The RHINO CHARGE EP was almost 100% MySpace connections. For the last number of years things have been way more organic than that but I do still find bands I love online and approach them, like IMPULSE for example.
Has running the label online became expedient and comfortable than struggling with offline displays, travels and trading the old school way?
Well I started the label in 2005 so while technology was different then, it definitely was very prevalent. I can’t claim to be old school like tape traders and people who booked DIY tours via phone. I guess because I’m a technology geek in a genre of luddites, me in 2005 was very plugged in compared to most of them. I’ve had a working online store since I started the label. One thing I’d love to clue you on that is an old school technique is something I called the punk rock post office. There is something amazing about DIY in the fact that you can put up a band and then have a place to stay in their town no questions asked. In the same way you trade off favors and one of them is driving records up to bands when on tour to help save on shipping. “The punk rock post office” is such a great old school way to get a heavy set of records to the band usually from a band or fest goer who is happy enough to get a copy of the record for the troubles. It can backfire I’m sure, but luck of the punks has been with me so far!
Printed zines has always been one of the foundations of punk movements. How has this particular part of the “business” evolved over the years? Are kids still engaged with reading zines?
Ah, I’ve always loved zines but never been that involved or when I have, haven’t been very popular with them. My biggest contribution personally has been a photo zine called Fastcore Photos. I’ve also have been very lucky to be a MRR shitworker for a few years as I was contributing photos/show reviews from my area at a moment in time and I infrequently now do interviews for both Maximum Rock’N’Roll and Short, Fast, and Loud (both A+, top shelf publications). I think zines were a cornerstone in making the global nature of punk, a more intimate thing across countries and continents and I think the Internet bridged that gap and blogs have killed off some of what makes zines amazing and personal. I wouldn’t say zines are dead but I think that zines are going the way of the CD and that is a very sad statement (well on the part of zines, less on that of CDs). There are amazing punks out there like Papercut Zine Library out of Boston who keep the culture and interest alive as well as really cool zine conferences. I think a zine is a great snapshot in time. Where as the Internet can be just a dumping ground of information (no offense to IDIOTEQ in anyway!), a zine has a lot of care of time put into each layout and image which is each meticulously cut out and placed or edited digitally. I hope kids are still engaging, I’m 32… I think I’m the last person to know what kids are doing these days!
Haha, you may be right.
Ok Will, and how about you, personally? I mean, you’ve been involved in punk for over 15 years, running a label for 10 years, and the time goes on. How do you balance the whole hardcore thing and your interests (addictions?) with your other duties and responsibilities of your day job? Do you have one?
I do have a day job, I’ve always had a day job since the formation of TLAL. I currently work at the university in my town doing IT work. The label was started when I had a job I loved, I lost that job and worked a help desk job I didn’t love and that made me push all my interest out of work and into the label. I love my job again and it is actually hard and confusing to have the two things I love but they work out. This sounds so lame but almost everything in my life is focused around music… my social life and my daily life. The good thing is NC has such a limited scene most of the time I don’t have to worry about an amazing show I might miss, I end up looking forward to the amazing show a month away that I might have to drive two hours to and go to bed at 3am and wake up at 7am and sleep it off the rest of the week. On many occasions the double work load has hampered my social and love life and right now I find it hard to find time to exercise. I do find some time to get dinner and coffee with friends, listen to records, read, ride bikes, etc. I honestly don’t spend much time cramped up in front of the TV or video games which is fine… I’ll be old one day and I finally catch up on all that, might as well be productive in life while I’m able bodied!
Alright, so what are your next steps and plans for the label, your bands, and other projects? Can we expect a 20th anniversary in 2025?
The ACxDC postcard flexi is just out. SEX PRISONER demo pressed to vinyl is not far away. Have some things on the stove that aren’t quite cooked yet: future releases from RABIG PIGS, SIDETRACKED, IMPULSE, maybe a three/four way comp of some Greensboro NC bands, etc. Repressing: MAGRUDERGRIND’s Crusher, the FISTULA LP, and the SIX BREW BANTHA newer LP. This hasn’t been announced at this point but I’m doing a semi-limited double tape for the ACxDC discography. Trying to do some glow in the dark posters for the 10th year anniversary to go with the ridiculous slew of other things I’ve made for that. There is talk of starting a band here with some of my friends who were in ABUSE. and STRIPMINES, something slow and metal it sounds like. NOCOMPLY is constantly working on new releases so expect something from us 2016. I’m a sucker for nostalgia so you better be in 2025 even if I’m some square not into punk anymore I’ll be pulling out all the TLAL stuff. On the flipside maybe TLAL will be huge and I’ll have a huge fest. Time will tell.
Wow, great! Thanks Will! Feel free to add anything you like before we sign off. Cheers for your time!
Just a major thanks to you Karol for the comprehensive interview and thanks to the IDIOTEQ readers and/or viewers for having made it to the end!
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