In this month’s Label Spotlight, we talked to Mike Nobrega of Volcom Entertainment, home to bands including Pepper, Valient Thorr, Year Long Disaster, Turbonegro, and more…
They’ve had a busy year so far with some great releases like Torche’s Harmonicraft, Riverboat Gamblers’ The Wolf You Feed and the latest on the roster, Turbonegro’s highly anticipated Sexual Harassment.
Without further ado, here’s Mike Nobrega!
Can you give us a brief overview of the label and its history?
It was Ryan Immegart (now VP of Marketing for the brand) and Volcom founder Rich Woolcott, who launched the label in earnest back in 1995 around Ryan’s band TheLINE. Ryan was a wunderkind snowboarder when he was a kid, the first sponsored snowboarder for Volcom in fact, and over time (and injury), he redirected his energy more and more into his band and they decided to just go for it and put a record out themselves. That’s pretty much the Volcom style, especially back in the day. You just went for it, and with the introduction of theLINE’s CD to the lifestyle surf/skate/snow community, the label was on its way.
If you’re old enough to recall, CDs were a popular item back then and around 1999, with the exposure on MTV and Jackass, Volcom Ent had put out 20,000 copies of the cKy record, pretty much without any major traditional record distribution. I came in shortly after cKy blew up and the major labels were sniffing around. By that time Volcom Ent had also already established itself onto the Vans Warped Tour. The label bands who were granted a “few shows” on the tour turned into a guerilla stage set up, which became “The Locals Stage” till it was finally fully dubbed the “Volcom Stage,” as it was known for around 10 years. It was primarily staffed and produced by the label team and the bands. In the early years, if your band got a slot on the stage you actually had to set up and break it down every day. No room for p*ssys, you had to REALLY want to be there to play, and knowing how to drive a forklift didn’t hurt either.
The label has always been a hybrid, long before the idea of “Bands & Brands” was an industry buzz-term and marketing plan bullet point.
What is the most challenging thing about running a record label and what makes it all worth it?
Our label is a bit unique in that, while autonomous, we’re part of this big action sports brand. For us it’s balancing the passion for the music and bands we really love while staying relevant and keeping our brand identity intact. We’re a really small team (4 people) so we all handle a lot of different things day-to-day and it’s hard to make everybody happy all the time… What makes it all worth it for me personally are days like this year’s Free Beer Party at SXSW: our whole extended family of bands, friends, musicians and artists all in one place enjoying the music scene. Seeing it all happen on stage, in real time, that’s what it’s all about.
Name a tool you cannot live without.
Although they’ll be bummed I called them tools in an article, I’d have to say the answer to the spirit of that question is our team. Mark, Reid, Kurt and of course our founding father and architect, Ryan too. They’re the people who make it all happen, bring the personality, professionalism and the party. After them, I guess it would be my car stereo; every mastering ref in the last 10+ years has been tested on that thing.
Tell us about an album that you put out that taught you the most about running a record label.
Good God, I think every release is a lesson learned pretty much, but one that stands out is also the cornerstone record to our catalog: Pepper‘s Kona Town released in 2001. After 4 years on the street, it got “discovered” by a big radio station in LA, and in the wake of great success for the record we took our lumps and learned a lot about the radio game, distribution, FCC regulations, and signing an act off to a major label. The most important part of it though was maintaining a consistent relationship with the artist through it all. We all consider ourselves family still to this day.
What are your must-listens for 2012?
I’d recommend Henry Rollins‘ Saturday night show on KCRW. He’s great and it’s a great show that’s full of surprises at every turn. You can listen live online or stream an archive that’s usually up on their site the by following Monday… On the flipside, I’ll admit my 2012 guilty pleasures right now are Santigold Master Of My Make Believe and Nick Waterhouse‘s Time’s All Gone. It gets weirder, but I’ll stop there….
Where do you see the industry headed?
Today’s industry is like buying designer knock-offs on Canal St. If I had a time machine, I’d teleport back to the 70′s. That was the gold standard of the “music business” when most of the classic, greatest songs were written in all genres and recorded properly, artists were real and most of all, it was all tangible. Records made in the 70′s sound better than records from any other decade, hands down. Technology is always great, but at the end of the day the industry needs great songs and great recordings.
What’s your funnest Orchard/Volcom memory?
It definitely wasn’t holding Jaclyn [Bertsch]‘s bloody severed finger together in a bar napkin at SXSW.